Douwe Osinga's Blog: August 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

US$ 197 or the ecosystem of mobile software

These smart phones have the drawback that they can do everything and have many options, but then after a while you find yourself using only the SMS and the phone after a while. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, I used the browser and the contacts quite a lot too, but still I thought it was sub-optimal. So I visited Handango and went a-shopping.

Or rather, I sat down and thought about how I could make my phone the most useful. Email is one thing. Blackberries I think still rule the mobile email market, but after I installed ProfiMail and configured GMails Pop option on it, things looked quite nicely. The interface is done a bit odd, but quite effective. It has all the usual email features, but that is kinda unusual for cell phone mail programs.

Next on the list was a good terminal client. Now this might not be something for everybody, but in my work I need to check on things that run on remote servers and that is where ssh comes in. I experimented a little with the free Putty clone, but it doesn't work well with the virtual keyboard, that is, if you activate the virtual keyboard, you won't be able to see what you type. PockeTTY doesn't have this problem (isn't free either, but goes for 19.95 or so, so that's not too bad).

The next program I got me was TomeRaider. Originally I think the idea behind this program was that you could write little scripts that 'raid' a site and convert it into something readable from a phone/PDA. But you can also download preconfigured archives of pages. I got me the Wikipedia (or really the wikipedia from a year ago; the current English text is 850MByte or so compressed, the one from a year ago is only 500, which sits more comfortably on a memory card of 1GB). I also downloaded the IMDB; one thing I do on my phone is check movie reviews when in the video store; being able to do this straight away is less painful.

Next stop is BetaPlayer. It is a nifty player that does most of the common movie formats on Windows Mobile. Seinfelds play quite nicely, even the rips from years ago that were very popular and of bad quality; you don't notice the bad quality so much on the tiny screen. Pocket Video Maker is an option for you if you want to be able to convert like DVDs for play back on your phone. Should work fine for recorded TV shows too.

The last thing I installed is Mame, or Multi Arcade emulator. Not so much since I care about these computer games, but because I like the idea that games that needed a huge arcading machines a couple of years ago, now play fine in emulated mode in something that fits in my pocket. Amazing progress.

Anyway, one of the interesting aspects of this whole thing is the software ecosystem. You have the commercial PC ecosystem of course, with the high prices. Then there is open source, where everything is free. But cell phone software is not free, but just relatively cheap, from 5 - 25 dollars or so. I like that. It makes it possible to try stuff and buy stuff without having the urge to pirate the programs since they are so expensive.

I actually had my own little adventure in this ecosystem. When I first got my hands on a P800, a way cool phone back then, I wanted to write software for it. And I did. Conway's Game of Life. In Java. Around the same time I came across said Handango. They offered the option for publishers to sell their software through there website and I signed up, more to find out about the service than to make money. I put up Conway's life for 1 dollar and watched to money stream in, about one sales a month or so.

I never thought about it anymore, but during my buying spree in mobile land I thought, well, maybe I can use my incoming money (all 14 dollars or so I guessed) to buy this software I want, so I checked my account: 197 dollar. Of course most of it has been send to me to an address I no longer live in the form of checks that cost more to cash then they are worth. But still. I'm part of the ecosystem.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How to end terrorism. Part II

As promised my other plan to end terrorism. I think this one is better than the last one, but I don't expect a lot of support for it, so here we go.

My plan to fight terrorism is like Seinfeld: do nothing. See, the point of terrorism is to spread, well, terror. Terror is spread by the attacks of course, but only a little. The press and all things around it amplify it by orders of magnitude. Terrorists don't try to kill people to kill people, but to make other people scared of being killed. The more it plays on tv, the more we talk about, the more the terrorists get what they want. So I say, we just start ignoring them. Sure we take a few hits, but if you add everything up, it is not worse than a month of traffic accidents.

And the terrorists will just stop if they see nobody pays attention. It is like the old question, 'what if they gave a war and nobdy came?'

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

How to end terrorism. Part I

I thought of two ways to end terrorism. Neither will be popular I'm afraid. The second one will require heroism. The first one, discussed here, will be more like what we're going to do.

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
Franklin D. Rooseveld

We'll see. I'm guessing a lot of people are willing to give up some freedoms for temporary safety. I guess it all depends on what you mean with temporary and with essential, but not a lot of people who saw how many cameras the London police could access to track down these terrorist went, hey, we should protect our privacy. That could have been me on the camera.

'Big Brother is watching' you was a great quote to make people scared of the intruding eyes of a central government, but for most people in the West, terrorism seems much more of a problem than the vague thread of a upcoming dictatorship. So we agree that the policy should be able to listen in on phone conversations, go through Internet logs and use cameras in all the good fight against Very Bad People. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

And right we are. The only problem with this approach is of course that it is just bits and pieces. A camera here, a phone tab there, it just doesn't add up to much. What if we would take the fundamental approach and just fase the fact that privacy was a twentieth century pipe dream to begin with.

Let's first get rid of cash. It is outmoded anyway, we have plastic money. The banks impose usually some silly transaction costs on payments with electronic cash, but they only do that because they can (they would do the same on cash if they could). In the fight against terrorism, I'm sure they'll gladly forgo this stream of income. Then make all flow of money registered, whether by electronic cash, credit card or direct debit. Then lets put a GPS tracker on every person. Most people have a trackable cell phone anyway, so not much is changing. Finally build a big datawarehouse to keep track of everything.

We'll want some sort of access system in place of course, preferably in such a way that the police and such can only with a court order get information out, but other than that, with such a system in place, terrorists won't have much of a chance. Neither have any other criminals really. All criminal/terror money streams can be easily tracked down. For any crime happening at a certain time/place we'll always know who was present. For any suspicious person we'll know all the people he talked to more than normal.

I don't think this is the way we should go, but I do think we'll probably end up there. Step by step and all willing of course. If fighting terrorism doesn't do the trick, I'm sure stopping sexual predators will. Next time a better solution that will be less liked.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Trees with USB Connectors

The more we go wireless, the more we need wires to charge all those gadgets. It is really a drawback. Let's say I'd wanted to put a mesh network over a forest. Technically it is not that hard and it is not that expensive. Get a bunch of wireless routers, put something smart in there to make them talk to each other and do multiple hubs, add one UMTS adaptor and you're done. The problem is of course that they all need power too and if you're going to put power lines to each of 'm, well then you might as well throw in a data line. That's why I think we should put USB adaptors on trees.

USB is not just nice for exchanging data; it also works great to power all these gadgets. So if we could somehow manipulate trees into powering USB outlets, we could do great things. It will probably take a while before Genetic Engineering gets to the point that this will happen automatically, but it should be possible to build some sort of USB plug that you hammer into a tree, connects with the tree juices and using a fuel cell convert this into electricity.

Sure we could work out something solar powered, but solar powered things tend to be very big and we like out gadgets small. Plus trees are big & solar powered and they look so much nicer than most other solutions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On not decaying in the cold clay

I sometimes worry about the Netherlands. It's a great country with a long tradition of tolerance and pragmatism, but lately with all the foreigner-panic and people saying all the wrong things and the rejection of the EU constitution, I start to doubt. However I just read a small article about my home country that made me smile and realize: we still got it:

Like in many countries, there are nudist beaches in the Netherlands. Sometimes, however, if you have people going to the beach all naked and when they start rubbing sun lotion on each other, well, they get really into it. More and more people seem to have sex on these beaches which then offends the Nudists, who insist that nudism is about being natural, not about sex (though sex can be natural too, of course). It also made some local governments wanting to close down the nudist beaches at all. So guess what the Dutch Nudist Federation wants to do about it?

Of course. They want to government to designate certain beaches as sex beaches. People that want to have sex go those beaches, people that just want to be naked can go to the nudist beaches

Thursday, August 4, 2005

At the wikimania

So I'm at the Wikimania. When I first heard about it, I did ask to be a speaker; always seems to be a good way to get to know people. Unfortunately, I was told, I was too late and a poster presentation would have to do. Interestingly enough when I arrived here, it said on the program and on my badge that I was a speaker. More over, I will have to speak at 9:30 on a Saturday!