What’s Next For Livesheets (part 3) – Why Supernode?

When we first started working on this project we spent ages trying to decide on a name. We tried hundreds of ideas.

When we eventually settled on Livesheets, we found it did the job, but it never seemed to have the electricity about it that the concept deserves.

The name Livesheets clearly suggested being alive, implying its connectivity, and also alluded to spreadsheets. But this was perhaps its critical flaw. Of all the characteristics of spreadsheets that we wanted to ape, the sheet was not one of them. We’ve been named after main feature we won’t have.

So, with the move to non-profit it was time to find a new name.

I always felt the name needed to reflect the noun we used for the nodes. We jumped through wild hoops trying to conceive new and fantastical names for these objects; these blobs. But through all that, I never seriously considered using the word ‘node’: I thought it was technical and would be off-putting.

But it turned out that wasn’t true. When I started asking people, it transpired that virtually everyone has at least a vague intuition for what it means. Not in it’s narrow, technical, network theory sense, but in its broader english language sense. People know the word. And if I show people a picture of one, well, there’s no other word for it. It’s a node.

Everything we are doing is based on nodes; visualisations, data, functions: they’re all nodes. Even groups of nodes are nodes. And this is the key. Nodes can be grouped into bigger nodes. And those in turn make still bigger nodes. And bigger. And bigger. We’re simply made of nodes.

But all these nodes; yours, mine and everyone elses, they sit within one huge universal node. The universe of nodes. This is what makes the system so hugely connectable. And what do we call this one huge node? Well, it’s a supernode. Clearly.

This is what we are trying to create. What other name could we choose?

So welcome to the Supernode.

We’re gradually moving our activity to the new non-profit foundation. It’s going to take a little while, but it is underway. And when we finish the rebuild we’ll be launching it there, not here. So follow us. Watch what’s going on. Sign up to the newsletter. And please help us if you can. We need it. Over at thesupernode.org

Daniel Maxwell

What’s Next For Livesheets (part 2) – Why Non-Profit?

So why have we gone non-profit?

I spent years working in Excel modelling and often felt blindingly frustrated by the difficulty of doing basic calculations in Excel. But more than that, I had this fully formed vision in my mind of a way of making calculations that was incredibly easy to use – whether you’re working with huge complexity or vanishing simplicity. Either way, I could see how we could achieve that.

More than anything else in the world, I just wanted this tool to exist. Creating it as a company was what I thought would be the easiest way to make it happen. I always felt it needed to be a ubiquitous, open, and freely available tool. Obviously it needed to be mostly free. But it’s also a tool for computation. Conceiving a revenue model in there is easy to do, and I thought would be the easiest way to make it real.

But I started to think:

What would have happened to Wikipedia if it had been a private company?
How would they ever have persuaded people to donate their time just to help out a profit making company? In perhaps a similar way, we need a lot of people to engage with and get on board with what we’re doing. If we are going to make this real, we need generous donations of time from a huge range of people. I want those people to know for sure that the work they are doing is for the good of the world, and when they share their work it is always going to be free. No Facebook-style privacy or weird ownership issues.

What would have happened with the email protocol if it had been privately owned?
Email is free, the protocol is freely available, and anyone can build on it. If that had been owned by someone, what would have happened? Perhaps we would have ended up with dozens of competing platforms. We’d have had years of compatibility issues, and half the world would have been excluded. Email would have been worth so much less to the world if it had been a private enterprise.

Open computation is the same. We need a completely open system that anyone can use, that anyone can connect to, that is always free, and that anyone can build on and make use of. I don’t want sections of the world to be excluded through pricing or have to worry that chunks of it might suddenly disappear or be taken into private ownership. We need to know it’s always going to be free.

By turning the work we’ve done in Livesheets over to the new non-profit Supernode Foundation, we have created an asset lock. This means it is protected by law. The company is founded with charitable aims of opening knowledge and making it possible for any data, functions and visualisations to connect; it can only pursue those aims and can never hand it over to anyone else or do anything that violates those aims.

I believe we really can create a world where no two people ever have to do the same work twice. I believe we really can make every child into a rocket scientist. And as a non-profit foundation we have protected those aims.

Daniel Maxwell

What Next For Livesheets? (Part 1)

A big change to Livesheets and the way it is being run: I’ve decided to make it a non-profit company.

Technically, I have started a new non-profit company and will be handing over the software and work we’ve done to the new company to continue to develop and run it.

The new company is going to run the software under the name Supernode.

We have been in the process of rebuilding the software for some time, and it’s still a little way from being finished, so until that happens, Livesheets will continue to run from here, and I’ll be continuing to build and add models to the gallery.

While we rebuild though, the new non-profit company is getting started. It is called, formally, the Supernode Foundation, and will reside at http://thesupernode.org.

At the time of writing, the site for the new company is live but unfinished (none of the links work, but you can see the front page, at least). We’ll be finishing it over the next few days.

I feel that non-profit is the way it should have been from the beginning. It’s a positive move, it matches exactly my motivation for building this, and I hope reassures users that at the core of this is a service that is free and open and always will be.

I’ll be writing more about my reasons for doing this in a separate blog post.

Dan Maxwell

How much more dangerous are lorries for cyclists?

I came across a statistic that lorries are involved in 50% of cyclist deaths, despite making up only 5% of traffic.

So how much more likely are they to cause an accident?

Enter those percentages and you can see that lorries are 19 times more likely to cause an accident than other vehicles.

What if we didn’t have petrol/gas?

One of the reasons petrol/gasoline is so useful is because it packs a lot of energy into a small space.

Specifically, about 36MJ per litre (that’s 36 million joules per litre).

To get a sense of what this feels like, think about how hard you work at the gym. You know when you’re on the machine and it tells you you’re working at 100 Watts? If you work at that rate, then in order to generate as much energy as is contained in 1 litre of petrol, you would have to stay on the machine for over 4 days solid (or, another way of looking at it shown below, is that it’s the same as 100 people being on the machine for 1 hour each)

Using that first calculation, if you drive a car with fuel efficiency of 40 Miles per Gallon for 50 miles, you’ll use 5.7 litres or roughly 205 million Joules.

Put this number back into the second calculation, and you’ll see how many days in the gym that amounts to.