Douwe Osinga's Blog: June 2005

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The key to commercial filesharing

Grokster lost and the Big Guys won. What happens next is anybody's guess, but one thing that seems possible, is that the movie & record companies will try to take over the p2p space by introducing legal variants, i.e. variants where you have to pay the content. They tried this before and if they'll try it the same way, I fear they'll fail the same way. Here's why.

People like file sharing because its free, but also because it really is sharing. Not only are the files shared (stolen some would say), but there is also sharing in storage and bandwidth going on. So if you try to charge for this, suddenly I don't have much of a point of leaving my directory of downloaded movies open, or leave my bittorrent client running even after I have downloaded my movie^H^H^H^H^Hlinux distribution. I'm paying for this, so why should I share.

The solution is pretty obvious of course: instead of just charging people for using the content, record/music companies, should pay their users back if they share their music/movies with others. Whether the model is like Apples, i.e. pay per track, or Yahoo's, pay per months, if the record companies would give some money back to the people that spread the music, people would suddenly like to share, because it brings something.

More over, dedicated fans would even more enthousiastically try their friends to listen to their music/watch their movies and it would even provide somewhat of a businessmodel for fansites, something that can only be good for the entertainment industry.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Blogging on Cellphones

A couple of days ago I had a little time to kill and I had my cell phone with me. So I thought I'd give blogging a retry. Now I didn't go online or anything, I just fired up mobile word and starting typing or rather tapping away. It went pretty well and when the tram came, I had composed the following post:

They teach children literature in school, even though less and less people read books let alone literature. It makes you wonder if this time wouldn´t be spend more productive on teaching children about things they´ll actually will be doing like watching TV.

Film is of course an accepted art form, so teaching cinema might be a first step. Seinfeld of course could be another class. But in general I do think that watching TV is an acquired skill and I don´t mean the optimization of the zap process. You get a lot of information offered - processing it the right way is non-trivial. The EU is working on legislation to limit advertising aimed at children, but wouldn´t it be better to strengthen childrens immune system against misinformation, rather than to merely postpone the inevitable moment of confrontation?

I kinda stand by the content, but after pasting it in my normal blog editor, I realized it is a lot shorter than most of my posts on subjects like this. This probably has to do with the fact that the screen is smaller and it is harder to enter text, which seems obvious at some level, but it also means that my brain is perfectly willing to compress an argument because of a medium without telling me.

If you look at the books of philosophers you kinda get the same thing; Artistotles wrote a lot of books, but they're very short; his complete works fill about half a book of Kant. Probably back then writing books was a lot of physical work so they kept them short. Come to think of it, probably not such a bad idea. Everybody should just write books on cell phones and we call could read a lot more books in the same time.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Project Resurection

Two projects belonging to the group of all time favorites among visitors had been off line for ages. I just patched them and they seem to work again.

Number one is Google share, a rather simple script that allows you to enter a domain (for example 'beatles') and contenders (that'd be john, paul, george and ringo). It will then lookup at Google what percentage of pages that contain beatles, also contain any of the contenders, i..e what is their share in pages.

The second one is one of my very first projects at least the first one that took out the server it ran on due to being overly popular. Mindworld starts with a map full of random pixels and asked every visitor for one specific random pixel whether it should be sea or land if all the pixels are to be a map of the world. Slowly a worldmap emerges, but one that describes the average idea of people of the world.

Google share died when I moved servers and missed a crucial graphing package. Now it outputs html. Mindworld is now running on MySQL which should be better than the pre-beta Python DB it ran on. We'll see.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

More Albania impressions

I've been back from Albania for about a week and still haven't gotten around blogging about it in some more detail. I think I'm not going to either, but here are some things that were remarkable:

  • They are building hotels like crazy. Quite some people said stuff like 'Albania, isn't that a war country/the poorest/most criminal of Europe.' Some people in Albania seem to think they can overcome these image problems and become the next Turkey/Tunesia

  • There are not a lot of tourist yet. It is kinda strange walking around a beach full of beach chairs and shiny new hotels, but nobody else around. One time we went to a restaurant and the cook/waiter received us like he had been stranded on an island for years and we were rescueing him.

  • Not all of these shiny new hotels stay up. A disturbing site, a row of new hotels, some of them not even quite finished and in the middle one that broke down. It becomes even more disturbing if people are still living in the half of the hotel that stays up.

  • Under communism cars there were no cars in Albania. Now there are. Roads of course are not really up there with the rest of Europe, but the cars are. I counted and 50% of all cars on the road were Mercedes Benzes. Not bad for the poorest country of Europe.

So this is my theory. There are people in Albania with money. These people think that Tourism is the next big thing after whatever it is they did to get there money in the first place. These people like German cars. Albania might have building regulations, but these people have ways around them if they exist. So they build fast and cheaply, brazing themselves for the hordes of Western European tourist that might start pouring in any time now. I think these people are going to be dissapointed.

Not so much because of the tourist that won't come. Most people have short term memories when it comes to political turmoil and with a little help of some of the big European operators the public will accept Albania as the next tourist destination, just like they accepted Gambia, the Dominican Republic and Kenya.

No, the problem is that nowadays you need something extra to make it in this world as a tourist destination. Cities like Prague, Paris or San Francisco attract people automatically. Indeed in smaller cities like Venice or Florence are running the risk to be completely overrun by tourists.

But if you're not on anybodies radar and just going for the sun&see masses, you're basically just competing on price. I'm sure at some point somebody from L'Tur or so will come and talk to the Albanians saying, I can bring you 5000 Swedes. However, I'm paying only 1.50 a night. And if you don't like that, well, I'll send them Tunesia. Don't get me wrong, Albania does have some special stuff, like some ancient ruines and a couple of intereting castles, but it'd be a long time before people will actively decide in masses to come to Albania for that.

Until then, it is basically a race to the bottom for the 'other destinations'

Saturday, June 18, 2005

World66 and the press

Of course it is mostly due to the success of the Wikipedia, but Open Content is hot. World66, the Open Content Travel guide I helped founding and still kinda run, recently also attracted some attention. About two weeks ago I got an email from a Wired journalist with a bunch of questions, which I answered in detail with lots of vision and wisdom. She published a lengthy article on Open Content, where my interview answers where condensed to something like 'mostly harmless' or in this case,  Other public wikis are out there, like travel guide World66 and a few sites serving open-source programmers. But still.

A fascinating article appeared on Kuro5hin, which was subsequently linked to by a number of other sources, among others, Slashdot, about which companies Google should buy. World66 was also mentioned, but may be a little too wild for Google, they said. On the World66 blog my brother wrote about this:

'"We can't comment in this stage," would be a good official reaction, but "this is our phone number" is equally good. It's +31-20-3449480.' Exactly. And should any other big cash laden company be interested, it is not too late to put in a bid.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Using the other nerve cells too

It is often said that we're only using 10% of our brain or so. Might be true. But of course in general we're only using 10% of our body as anybody can attest who has been doing a stiff workout program without preparation - all those unused muzzles complaining suddenly. And all those nerve cells that we could use to feel pain, heat and pressure - usually they are just asleep. But we could use them to extend our capabilities.

A couple of years ago there was an experiment where blind people were given back a limited sight ability by hooking up a camera to a device on the skin of their back that would exert pressure according to what the camera saw. I can't find back the link, but I think the resolution was rather limited, so there might have been only 80 pixels in a row or so, only reacting to light and dark. Still it had some value. This is a typical example of using those nerve cells that are doing nothing normally. The amazing thing of course is that the brain figures out pretty quickly what this extra input is and what it should do with it.

Most people can already see, however, so for them it is not very useful. However, I suspect we can create a very similar thing to make ordinary people see in infrared/ultraviolet or maybe sonar or radar. And while were at it, adding a little compass to shoes could make your feed aware of what is North. I trust the brain will start picking up these signals and give the direction sense impaired a better change to not get lost.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Albanian Espresso

The espresso in Albania is of surprisingly high quality. It is one of the good things about being an ex-Italian colony. You see things like that a lot when you travel. English colonies tend to have great railways, see India, Egypt or Southern Africa. The French colonies usually have at least local bakeries that do nice baguettes. Germany didn't have a lot of colonies, but the ones they have and where I've been to, Namibia and parts of China (Tsingtoa) at least have excellent beer. And the Dutch, well, we had Indonesia for a good four hundred years, with great culinary consequences too: the best Indonesian food available in Europe is to be found in the Netherlands.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Time travel

So we're back. It was a nice trip. Albania looks better in real life than on paper, more about that later. Apart from the destination, it was that funny old time warp thing again you get when you go somewhere strange for a week.

The first days seem like a week. The second day you're walking along the ruins of a Greek city spotting turtles and you're thinking 'was it only yesterday I was in Zurich?' Of course the slow time doesn't last and before you know it, you're planning the rest of the trip in more detail. Worse, towards the end of the trip, time speeds up even more and it seems like one moment you have time to visit three highlights, the next you don't and you have to really hurry to make it back in time for the ferry to Corfu (from where our plane left).

And it doesn't stop there; The two hours to get to the airport turn out to be short face to face with the deficiencies of the Greek bus system. And the bus doesn't stop at the airport either (would hurt the profits of the taxi people) so one ends up running with luggage towards the terminal.

With 42 minutes before take off we enter the building. No problem, you'd think, but there are about 300 mostly Germans before us that still have to make it through a security checkpoint before checking in. Check the big board, may be the flight is late.

Neither our departure time, nor our home city is mentioned. What's going on? We check the tickets. Yes, 11:30 it says. Check the date, yes Sunday. Guy next to us says when prompted it is Saturday, however. Now isn't that odd.

Somehow during the week we missed Thursday and lived one day in the future ever since. Anyway, it gave us a nice bonus day on Corfu. Longest vacation day of the trip.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Switzerland is expensive

Switzerland is expensive. Not a very original title, of course. But if you live here and you weren't born here, from time to time you have to remark that and as a blogger from time to time you have to post about it. By and large I'm okay with it. So the odd pub charge 9 franks for a glass of beer, supermarket meat has sometimes trouble staying on the good side of the 100 franks a kilo limit, Switzerland is rich and Google doesn't pay badly. It is a matter of high quality standards and you get what you pay for: Zurich is expensive but also the most liveable city of the planet.

For example, you can swim in the river for free. For the Swiss the swiming being free is the notable part of that sentence, for the rest of the world probably more the fact that you can swim in the river without protective clothing. Actually the Swiss declare proudly that the water of the Lake Zurich is of better quality than drinking water in most countries (and is certified drinkable). Anyway, but it doesn't have to be free. The Swiss have the notion of Badies, swimming pools, except for that these are actually wooden constructs floating on the river with a hole in the middle where you can swim. For 6 franks you can go in and swim in the hole, which is the river. Many people do.

The Bahnhofstrasse is another example. They just don't sell cheap stuff. And to drive the point further home, there is one ATM that allows you to withdraw money only if you ask for more than a thousand franks (which is slightly over 800 US dollars).

Back to the title of this Blog. Calling with a cell phone can be. I have a prepaid phone and pay about 69 rappen (1/100 of a frank) per minute. Oh well, it does come with GPRS access and the GPRS access even works outside of Switzerland and if you stick to simple Google queries, how expensive can that be. Let me tell you.

I couldn't call anymore and had to put new money in my prepaid account. 50 franks I put in. But after typing the 16 digits security code, it told me that my new balance was now 32 franks. Odd. So I called the phone company people. They told me that I probably had gotten a negative balance and that that could happen if I used the Internet outside of Switzerland. Well, I had accessed Google 3 times in Germany, but I didn't really see how that could have gotten me from a positive number to minus 18 or so. The lady on the phone wasn't so sure and wanted to lookup some numbers.

While I waited, the word 'thieving' went in my head searching for the word 'bastards' just to be ready, you know, which was a good thing, because they made a descriptive duo for sunrise, the phone company in question: they charge you 2.50 SFrs per access (I thought this was supposed to be an always on network) plus a whopping 80 Franks per megabyte. Still seems stiff for three searches, but it is possible.

So that's why I sometimes have to say: Switzerland is expensive.