Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds

A friend of mine recently sent me a few videos from the musical version of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: an absolutely stunning musical based on the HG Wells’ book. Some of you might be familiar with Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds album which is 30 years old this year.

The musical starts with the song Eve of the War and two other notable songs include Forever Autumn and The Spirit of Man and features Justin Hayward, Tara Blaise and of course Russell Watson who is also responsible for the Star Trek: Enterprise theme tune 🙂

The tour was really well produced. There is an huge orchestra on stage and the production perfectly blends stage action with computer generated films and giant 3D robots which shoot laser beams into the audience.

I strongly urge people to get the DVD of the live tour, recorded at Wembley Arena, which is simply stunning. And for those of us who didn’t manage to go to the live tour earlier this year, there is good news! Jeff Wayne writes on the official forums:

This new year, for TWOTW, will be quite active again – the 30th Anniversary of the release of the original recording looms, (30 years, incredible!) and there are some new special projects being planned to help celebrate that event, for release commencing around June. We also expect to announce a third UK tour during that period for sometime early 2009, which will hopefully have, yet again, a number of new and exciting ingredients that take our live show to even greater heights – a true Mark 3 version.

Facebook to Open Source Platform

Keep back from the Platform Edge
Creative Commons License photo: Annie Mole

Inside Facebook reports that Facebook is to open source their developer platform. A spokesman from Facebook said:

We’re working on an open-source initiative that is meant to help application developers better understand Facebook Platform and more easily build applications, whether it’s by running their own test servers, building tools, or optimizing their applications. As Facebook Platform continues to mature, open-sourcing the infrastructure behind it is a natural step so developers can build richer social applications and share what they’ve learned with the ecosystem. Additional details will be released soon.

I absolutely love the Facebook platform. I recently developed a small application for Facebook. It really isn’t hard at all to develop an application if you know PHP and once you’ve got the PHP environment set up. You need to keep in mind that you can only use a subset of HTML. You can also use FBML which is dead easy. Facebook also has a SQL-like language called FQL which is dead easy if you know SQL and is a really nice way to get data from Facebook.

You can also hook into Facebook Mobile to send and receive SMS text messages for free but for some reason it doesn’t seem to have taken off amongst the larger applications yet.

I’ll write a little more about my experiences with the Facebook platform soon but it’s great news that it’s being open sourced. It certainly gives me a bit more confidence to use the Facebook platform without worrying about having to rewrite everything at a later date if it appears that OpenSocial sites will dominate.

£100,000 – the real cost of going to university

nature x2
Creative Commons License photo: B a m s h a d

As a student currently embarking on a university degree, I’m looking forward to the freedom university will offer and meeting a whole bunch of new people from across the world. But one major worry is the finance: the cost of going to university.

Many people only look at tuition fees when they think about going to university. In the UK, university tuition is roughly £3,000 a year. For a 4 year masters degree course, this adds up to £12,000.

Tuition Fees: £12,000


But there’s the cost of accommodation, which is typically at least as large as the tuition costs. The cost of accommodation varies. In some of the larger cities, a room will typically cost £120/week. In some smaller town universities, £80/week might be closer to the norm. A 40-week let on university accommodation will set you back £4,000 a year. However, in later years of university, most students will live outside of university halls and this will be more expensive. Assuming an average accommodation cost of £4,500 per year, this adds up to £18,000 over a 4 year degree course.

Accommodation Cost: £18,000


sheffield, hidden sunrise
Creative Commons License photo: paolo màrgari

There is a much bigger cost which most people don’t even think about. Because studying at university and getting a full-time job are mutually exclusive options, by choosing to go to university you are actually saying “I will not be going to work” as well as “I will be going to university”. Economists call this the opportunity cost.

By choosing to study at university, you are foregoing 4 years of salary which you would have earnt otherwise. The typical starting salary for somebody leaving school with A-Levels but no university degree is £15,000 a year. By working, you’d potentially have earnt £60,000.

Opportunity Cost: £60,000


The other significant cost which needs to be considered is housing. Over the last few years, house prices in the UK have been rising by about 10% a year. What this means is that a house which will cost £100,000 today will cost £110,000 this time next year. Leaving university with £30,000 of debt and without £60,000 of salary means that university graduates must wait even longer before they can put together a deposit and get a foot on the housing ladder. On top of that, graduates may have to take out a larger mortgage on their first home because they cannot make a large upfront payment. Obviously, the appreciation in housing value depends on market conditions, but I think £10,000 is a reasonable ballpark estimate.

Housing Appreciation Cost: £10,000


So to sum it all up, when we take in all the costs of university:

£3,000 a year for tuition X 4 years = £12,000
£4,500 a year for accommodation X 4 years = £18,000
Direct Financial Costs: £30,000

£15,000 a year could have earnt in basic non-graduate job X 4 years = £60,000
Opportunity Cost: £60,000

House price rise in the additional time you must wait before buying = £10,000 (obviously this depends on whether house prices are rising)
Housing Appreciation Cost: £10,000

Total Cost of going to university: £100,000

It’s pretty depressing reading. University is a very, very expensive enterprise. It’s easy to see from these calculations why so many lower income families find it very difficult to send their children to university.

Flying Caps
Creative Commons License photo: Thiru Murugan

But I think it also calls into question whether it’s worth going to university to study certain degrees. According to the government’s graduate prospects website, graduates in humanities earn £51,549 more in their lifetime and graduates in arts earn £34,949 more. Are the real costs of going to university greater than the benefits?

On average for all degree courses, those who graduate from university earn on average £160,000 more over their lifetime. This would still seem to indicate that going to university is good value for money. But the net benefit is probably less than people would think.

I really don’t want to put anybody off studying at university and I don’t think money should ever stop anybody from pursuing their dreams. But what is true is that going to university is an extremely expensive enterprise these days and students may be getting a bit of a raw deal.

Cuba the only sustainable developed country in the world

Creative Commons License photo: Topyti

The World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet report (full report as PDF) is an interesting read. Page 19 of the report contains an interesting observation. The graph plots Human Development Index against Ecological Footprint.

The Human Development Index is the UN’s measure for standard of living and development. “Human Development Index (HDI) is an index combining normalized measures of life expectancy, literacy, educational attainment, and GDP per capita for countries worldwide.” The threshold for acceptable human development is defined as a HDI of 0.8.

The Ecological Footprint measures the use of natural resources and effects on the ecosystem.

It compares human consumption of natural resources with planet Earth’s ecological capacity to regenerate them. It is an estimate of the amount of biologically productive land and sea area needed to regenerate (if possible) the resources a human population consumes and to absorb and render harmless the corresponding waste, given prevailing technology and current understanding.

An ecological footprint of 1 means that if everybody in the world made use of resources in the same way as the citizens in this country, the Earth could just sustain it. An ecological footprint of 2 means two planet Earths would be needed to sustain this lifestyle if everybody in the world lived like this. Of course, if the ecological footprint is more than one planet Earth, this lifestyle is not sustainable.

The Car in front is a Desoto
Creative Commons License photo: Drown

As you’d expect, the two are correlated. The higher the standard of living, the greater the ecological footprint.

It’s interesting to note that the only country which is sustainably developed is Cuba. If everybody on Earth was to adopt the Cuban lifestyle, everybody would have an acceptable standard of living and we would be operating at 80% of our planet’s ecological capacity.

What this suggests is that if everybody in the world adopted the lifestyle of US citizens, we would need more than 5 planet Earths to sustain it. The USA is obviously appropriating well more than it’s fair share of natural resources.

Of course, I’m not seriously suggesting we all adopt Cuban laws and lifestyles but I think it’s a good way of visualising how sustainable the lifestyles of different countries are. Perhaps there are a few ideas we could adopt from Cuba though.

Firefox 3 Robot Invasion

If you’ve just downloaded Firefox 3, type in about:robots in the browser address bar. You get a nice little easter egg.

I received a Firefox 3 robots t-shirt from Mozilla in the post today for being an add-on developer. It’s pretty stylish! Sorry for the quality of the photos: the t-shirt was creased and I haven’t got around to ironing it yet!

Firefox 3 T-Shirt Front

Firefox 3 T-Shirt Back

Computers and the environment

Magic Garden
Creative Commons License photo: Randy Son Of Robert

The Economist has a really good leader this week about Computers and the environment. It is estimated that data centres consumed 0.6% of the world’s electricity in 2000 increasing to 1% by 2005. Data centres are responsible for more CO2 emissions than Argentina or the Netherlands and it is estimated that the carbon footprint of cloud computing will be greater than that of aviation in 10 years.

The corollary of more computing in the sky is more and bigger data centres on earth. These are warehouses packed with humming electronic gear, and in particular thousands of servers, the powerful computers that crunch and dish up data. The biggest facilities are the size of half a dozen football pitches and house as many as 80,000 servers (see article). They are huge energy hogs: in America alone, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), data centres already account for 1.5% of electricity consumption.

It takes a long time to grow young.
Creative Commons License photo: nattu

There was an interesting analysis at the end of 2006 about the energy consumption of Second Life avatars. Second Life ran 4,000 servers at full power 24/7 and there was an average of 10,000 to 15,000 avatars in Second Life at one time. The annualised power consumption was estimated to be 1,752 kWh. This compares to a worldwide average of 2,436 kWh per year. This means the energy consumption of a second life avatar is roughly the same as a real person. Of course, in developed countries most people consume nearly 8,000 kWh so our digital equivalents are much less power hungry, but it’s still a significant figure. Food for thought perhaps.

Photoshop Mistakes

These days, almost every image that is used in marketing and promotion material gets photoshopped before. One of my favourite websites is Worth1000 which is a photoshopping contest website. The galleries contain a whole range of great photoshops. For example, check out the gallery of photoshops on life without electricity.

Today CyberNotes pointed out some photoshop mistakes. These include celebrities with three arms, headless people and hands with extra fingers. For example, check out the High School Musical 2 album cover.

There are a whole collection of photoshopping mistakes, errors and just general disasters at the Photoshop Disasters blog.

Wii Fit launches in the USA on Wednesday

Wii Fit Stand
Creative Commons License photo: włodi

For all my American readers, Wii Fit is released in the USA on Wednesday (21st May). If demand in the USA is anything like it has been in the UK, it will be extremely hard to get so get there early and shop around! is already out of stock.

I’ve reviewed Wii Fit twice and strongly recommend it.

For some reason, Wii Fit retails for $89.99 in the USA. The same product retails for £80 in the UK (equivalent to $135) making it 50% more expensive in the UK by a tune of 50%. I have no idea how they get away with this but it might actually be cheaper for British consumers to import Wii Fit from the USA (assuming Nintendo don’t use region locking on discs). Even after paying sales tax, shipping and customs duty it’ll probably still be cheaper.

Alternatively wait for the EU release on April 25th. As the EU is a free market, there are no import duties.

As an aside, for some reason Wii Fit uses imperial units (feet, inches, stone) rather than metric units (metres and kilograms) in the UK. I know most people still use imperial units in the UK but I come from the generation which is more accustomed to metric units. I wish this was a setting.

Red Links on Webpages – Avoid them?

I was catching up on Firefox 3 (which is an awesome browser by the way) today when I stumbled across a blog post about smooth image scaling in Firefox 3. The blog post actually flagged something up to me that was really interesting.

The web page in question styles all of its hyperlinks in red text without underlines:


As I read through the article, I noticed that I had a certain reluctance about following any of the hyperlinks referenced in the article. I couldn’t work out why but I realised it was due to Wikipedia which uses the same styling for it’s non-existent articles:


I noticed that I purposely avoided red hyperlinks on Wikipedia because it never led to any useful information. And it was slightly strange that the same behaviour then extended to a totally different web page which I had never visited before.

Of course, it’s common knowledge amongst web designers that people expect hyperlinks to be blue and visited hyperlinks to either be purple or a more saturated blue, but I’ve never heard of any expectations regarding red links.

It’d be interesting to know whether any of my readers had the same feeling about the links on this page or whether it’s because I spend too much time on Wikipedia.

Another interesting experience recently… one of the posters at school used red wavy underlines for all the titles. Again, it was one of those things which just annoys you and you can’t work out why. Eventually I figured it was because Microsoft Word would highlight incorrect spellings with a red wavy underline and that I’d developed some kind of “learned behaviour” in Word to correct typos and remove the red wavy underlines as soon as they appear.