Thinking of doing The Knowledge? You may want to think again.

The archetypical London Black Cab or Hackney Carriage has been a regulated fixture in the City of London since the time of Oliver Cromwell in 1654 when The Fellowship of Hackney Coachmen was founded, later to be superseded by Parliament, the Public Carriage office and now amalgamated into Transport For London.

The thing that makes a London Taxi unique is that you can hail an available cab in the street, or climb aboard at a taxi rank and you'll be taken efficiently to your destination by a highly trained and tested driver and charged fairly according to the taximeter on the basis of time and distance.

Originally back in the 1600's the form of transport available was a horse drawn carriage which would carry nominally either two or four people. The horse was the common motive power behind the cab until the introduction in 1897 of electric cabs which started the move towards mechanisation. The limited number of electric cabs were discontinued a few years later due to problems with safety and reliability (and to think that we regard electric vehicles as a new concept now) and in 1903 the first petrol powered cabs were introduced to London. From this point the horse, noble beast as it is was destined to be put out to pasture (sorry for the pun).

The driver of a modern London Taxi has to train for typically two to four years in order to learn over 45,000 streets and landmarks in the city and environs of London and the best routes from one part of the city to another and no satnavs are allowed in the test. This includes some pretty obscure landmarks as well as the better known and main hotels and theatres etc. For example FatBoys Diner here at Trinity Buoy Wharf is one of the designated landmarks, and we often see people on motor scooters with their maps in front of them driving up to have a look and learn the location. More obscure landmarks include the only Nazi Memorial in London which is outside no. 7 Carlton House Terrace, off Pall Mall; which is now the Institute of Contemporary Arts but used to be the German Embassy in London.  

Traditionally once you've put in the hard slog of learning the roads and points of London then you'll have put a lot of miles on your moped (and likely been through a couple), physically enlarged the memory centres of your brain and after your final test can apply for the coveted London Taxi Driver's green badge and qualified yourself for a job for life that can reputedly earn you up to £100,000 a year depending on the hours you put in.

Unfortunately for the traditional hard working London cabbie, like the horse that pulled the carriage until about 100 years ago, there may well soon be one less organic entity involved in taking passengers from one part of the city to the other.

We think the perfect storm is brewing so far as this goes, and it is on a trajectory that looks to be unstoppable. Already we have social and connected Satellite Navigation in the form of products like Waze which are free for Android and iPhone users, and in the purchase of which Google invested over a billion dollars for good reason. Companies like Google are big investors in the automated vehicle and every time someone navigates with Waze, they learn most efficient routes, average speeds for the time of day, incidents to avoid,  source and destination hot spots and much more. This accumulates to more knowledge than all the London Cabbies put together could comprehend. Right now it is useful for commuters to be able to get from A to B quickly and if it is free who is going to pay for a TomTom again? Part of the reason that it is free to use is that we are all helping Google to build their route information knowledgebase and data maps - so maybe we should be the ones who are paid to use Waze!

So the electric car, the connected car, the autonomous car, the Internet of Things, the cloud of route knowledge will all converge to make for a future automated taxi service that is on a par with, or better than, the current London Black cab service.

The difference between data, information and knowledge is in the processing and application. If you recall how IBM's Big Blue supercomputer beat Chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov in 1997 this was a demonstration of brute force computing beating the same skill in a human. The same computing power multiplied and brought to bear on applications like transport will be as evolutional as it might be considered transformative.

Current state of the art in automated vehicles is still at relatively early stages, but the rate of evolution of the systems and vehicles is very substantial; such that the break out from research to production we think will be less than 5 years. It could be around 2020 or 2021 that hails the full introduction of the automated taxi to take you from one place to another in London.

The future of the black cab as we know it now - with a jolly cabbie - is thus somewhat grim unless they can evolve into the role of tour guide etc. However we'd suggest looking at how many are still driving horses and carriages in the same way. It is fun for tourists, but it is not economical transport.

We would go as far as suggesting that TFL (part of the UK government) should accept no new entries for people to start to learn 'the knowledge' from 2017.  At the very least they should be given a firm equivalent of a Government Health Warning. We'd light-heartedly suggest they apply a sticker to the registration papers for the Knowledge to state:

This qualification is as likely to lead to employment as a Media Studies Degree'.

This would be fairest for current taxi drivers who will thus dwindle in numbers over time as they continue until retirement if demand holds that long.

Many people will defend the London Black Cab, but given the choice: If you want to get from A to B and an automated taxi will take you there as quickly, possibly more safely, for a lower cost, ultimately people will vote with their wallets.

I started writing this post in June 2015, after a barbecue with friends where one of the guests had just started on the Knowledge. I was too polite to share my thoughts then, so hopefully am making up for this now. I'm sorry it has taken me over a year to get back to complete it.  In this time, the number of people who will have started their Knowledge training will have been around 1,000 (or at least that many pass their final exam annually - more start and never get to the end). This may be a thousand people with lots of investment in training ahead for not much reward down the track compared to previous generations.

The London Taxi is just one example of the impact of the scale of digital transformation in all areas of life that is ahead. We can't change what will happen which is almost predestined and luddites don't win, but if we can foresee the change, we can be forearmed. Some would say 'if you can't beat them, join them'... so if you're thinking of doing the Knowledge, we'd likely suggest that a similar amount of time spent learning computer programming might be a better long term investment. It is sobering to consider that the company that makes Black Cabs - London Taxis International, now owned by Chinese firm Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, is rumoured to be already planning ahead for designs of driverless Black Cabs - and if they're not, they certainly should be else they'll be left behind by the competition.

At Onega we spend a lot of time keeping up to date with IT trends and keeping on top of the latest releases and news. We work with companies who are at either end of the digital spectrum to enable their businesses to be competitive and to use IT to a competitive advantage. More and more IT is evolving to be an integral part of a business as opposed to an add-on function. We must all look forward and anticipate that 'if this can be automated, it will be' and you're either on the road or sitting at the side of it in life.  There are some exceptions but on the whole we can't deny the progress of the future.

A Kodak Moment

I recently had the good fortune (if that is the right term for it) to inherit a couple of vintage (1950's and 1960's) cameras. One is a Kodak Retina 35mm Rangefinder with a classic leather case like the one pictured above the post here. The other is an Ikoflex twin lens reflex camera (the type that you see people looking down and into to compose a picture - see http://www.zeissikonrolleirepair.com/page04.html if you'd like to see what these look like). The cameras may or may not work and the Ikoflex takes film that is no longer manufactured but they are lovely as works of precision engineering if nothing else.

The thing that most struck me though was one of the leaflets that were with the Kodak Camera. This was a leaflet that was published in 1981 and was a 'helpful hints' type instruction which explained how to take photographs of your television screen to best record memories of the British Royal Wedding that year between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. The hints included making sure you did not use the flash as that would cause wash out of the recorded image and on best distance for focus, exposure times etc.

This was all very interesting but mainly it made me think about how much things have changed in such a short space of time. My first thought was 'Why take photos of your TV?' but then I reconsidered and back in 1981, only very very few people had VHS video machines; which had been introduced in 1978 at a cost of £799 which is equivalent to over £4,200 as we write in 2016.

Fast Forward to today (sorry for the pun) and the VHS recorder is now seen as obsolete equipment that you likely have one of in your house if you've not moved in a while, but equally likely to be gathering dust. So in 1981 very few had a VHS recorder, it then became pervasive until recently when hard drive recorders and streaming services have taken over and, now that analogue TV transmitters have been turned off in favour of digital FreeView services, your old VHS recorder would not be able to tune to any of the channels it used to. The digital age has crept up on us in the same way that you don't particularly notice a child growing day to day, but Aunty always says 'My how you've grown!' when visiting. Small steps have made for big change and sometimes it pays to step back and consider this.

It is the same everywhere; things change and continue to change and the pace of change will only increase. I was at a client's offices at a West London architectural practice a few weeks back and talking to one of the chaps there whilst looking at (and fixing) a problem on a computer.  We got on to drafting tables and the nefarious tools and rulers that go with these and how the whole process of architectural practice has changed over a similar time frame, to the use of modern CAD workstations that allow for 3D visualisations of how a building will look that can now be sent for review in a 3D PDF, for example. Have a look at http://www.pdf3d.com/gallery.php if you've not yet seen one of these; there is a certain 'Wow!' to them which mainly comes from our conditioning that a PDF should be a representation of what is on paper.

We digress though; the key is to look forward and we can see a lot of how things will change a little at a time still to make the future. One of the big 'take aways' that I got from my time at university was that we should plan not for what is possible now, but for what will be possible in the future. This is probably one of the greatest insights that I got from any of my lecturers, in a university workshop . At the time we were studying streaming media techniques in what was then the age of the modem and 56Kbps Internet connections if you had the latest tech; so the concept of streaming media seemed somewhat academic as the accessible technology of a modem would give a particularly poor experience and be far from economic. To use a modem to download a 30 minute program that we now enjoy in real time 'on demand' with bandwidth to spare would have taken about 6.5 days to download back then continuously at 56kbps and then you'd have needed a high-end computer to play the files (if you had enough hard drive space for them!). Point made here; I apologise that we are looking back again when we should be looking forward.

What will the future hold? Some we can see, some we can't. The trick is to find the gaps and fill them to be part of making the future.

Cue some insight and predictions...

Generally if you can imagine it, progress and technology dictate that it will happen and much of what is to come is not terribly hard to imagine.

In the 1960's and 1970's Science Fiction writer Arthur C Clark defined his three laws related to predictions:

Clarke's first law:
When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Clarke's second law
The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Clarke's third law
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

Here at Onega we like to understand first principles and the history of technology as much as the present day implementations of these and in turn this allows us to connect the dots and see some of this, some such projects we've worked on and some we continue to work on.  

Technologies that may sound fanciful like gravity power for cars (we call this Hybrid Gravity Drive) are in fact practical and possible today and is most likely to be introduced to the masses by the likes of Toyota to our everyday drives well before 2020.  

The times we live in continue to witness some of the most significant changes ever witnessed in history and this will continue unabated in rate of change in the immediate foreseeable future. How we each choose to embrace this is up to us...

How many IP Addresses? Onega say hello to IPV6

Internet Standards are evolving all the time, but the fundamental addressing mechanism that allows one computer to talk to another on the Internet has been in place since 1981. Called IPV4, it allows for 4 billion network notes on the Internet which seems a lot and, back when initially only tens and then hundreds of computers were connected to the Internet, would have seemed a huge number at the time in the same way that Bill Gates was once quoted as saying that '640K was more memory than anyone would ever need'. Over time these have all been used up and allocated such that there are, in the great scheme of things, very few left. If you've come across addresses like 192.168.X.X on your network computers or 89.106.X.X for other machines etc. then these are the IPV4 addresses.

The next generation of Internet is being built on IPV6 and this will allow for a world where everything from your socks to kettle are likely to have an IP address. It will not be long before it, by necessity, becomes mainstream and in use daily. Google, Facebook and other big websites are already IPV6 enabled and everyone else is gearing up. If you have a Windows 7, Windows 8 or Windows 10 PC or laptop and/ or Windows Server 2008 or 2012 then you are most likely already using IPV6 without realising it (if you like to tinker and want to see this in action try disabling IPV6 on a Windows Server and see what happens - actually on second thoughts don't, as things stop working without IPV6 enabled internally on your network).

Onega's core service network is no supporting IPV6, and we have a new allocation of IP Addresses from RIPE (the European coordinator of IP addresses) as Onega are a Local Internet Registry. For IPV4 we have an allocation of a /21 network which gives us 2,046= hosts / networks (and we have to be careful to conserve these). Our new IPV6 allocation is: 2a04:cf00::/29 - this does not look much but actually represents a significant increase.

In numbers, this is  633,825,300,114,114,700,748,351,602,688 addresses.

In Words this is: six hundred thirty-three octillion, eight hundred twenty-five septillion, three hundred sextillion, one hundred fourteen quintillion, one hundred fourteen quadrillion, seven hundred trillion, seven hundred forty-eight billion, three hundred fifty-one million, six hundred two thousand, six hundred eighty-eight.

Yes, that's a big number and we're still getting our heads around it!

Usefully, the RIPE website has a button to 'apply for more IPV6 address ' but we suspect that this will not be called for very often. Maybe in 2050 there might be another iteration needed but right now it is hard to think of how all these addresses can be used up; even if you really do have lot of socks.

More seriously though, here at Onega we are aware that change is coming and consider this on behalf of our clients. Any new equipment we buy is considered for IPV6 compatibility, and you should avoid anything that is not IPV6 compatible as this would thus be pre-obsolete.

IPV6 as a topic is something that is currently coming up to the boil, and when it gets there it will be a very big thing. We predict it will be a salesman's dream to replace anything that is not compatible with new models that are when the time comes. By thinking about this early you can ensure a smooth transition for your networks.

Interestingly geopolitics or geotechnocratics comes into play here. Historically America had (and still has) the biggest allocation of IPV addresses whereas countries like China had a virtually nil (or very much smaller) allocation, befitting their IP addressing needs at the time (China in the early 1980's was not big on the Internet). Thus countries like China are actually way ahead of the USA now on IPV6 adoption, through the simple necessity of pressure their IP V4 allocations caused - so we see vendors like Huawei (if you've never heard of them they are a hard competitor to Cisco and have over 100,000 members of staff making all sorts of computer and communications equipment and selling all over the world including to BT) competing hard with Cisco and ahead on IPV6 support where some American companies feel like they are dragging their heels somewhat and still selling yesterday's solutions. That will change soon enough though.

This article has been written mainly for interest and a little education perhaps, and also to demonstrate that here at Onega a big part of our work is looking forward, anticipating needs of the future as much as those immediate ones of today so that we are ready to help architect transitions to the core topology that will see them through the next decades.

If you have any questions or comments on this or other issues, please don't hesitate to get in touch - we like talking tech and this is certainly something you want to 'have a strategy' on.  http://www.onega.net/contact .