Monthly Archives: December 2011

Twitter redux

  • Cory Doctorow on the coming battle against general computation:youtu.be/HUEvRyemKSg
    (eminently lucid, as always. Compare to Brad Feld below, same argument, with additions)
  • Epicure on the finance industry – a necessary service, like garbagemen bit.ly/vlLgxI
    (“The nature of investment banking—and, dare I say it, management consulting, too—is not one that demands deep thinkers, brilliantly inventive innovators, or even virtuoso synthesizers of disparate intellectual strands. We want smart, fun, dedicated, aggressive youngsters who can work like animals, day-in, day-out, for as long as it takes. As you can tell, this is not a particularly nuanced or diverse set of criteria”)
  • Great: How Maskelyne hacked Marconi’s radio – in 1903bit.ly/smUHM6 (via schneier.com)
  • Brad Feld puts #SOPA in context: ideas.4brad.com/content-indust… 
    (compare to Cory Doctorow above – Brad uses airlines as example, Cory wheels. Both metaphors work.)
  • Eric Raymond on flavors of anti-intellectualism: esr.ibiblio.org/?p=4001
  • O’Reilly on changes in publishing. Excellent summary.oreil.ly/uvTght Wish Norwegian publishers would read and act.
  • Good product: Logitech wireless earphones wp.me/p1Ug4Q-hq
    (an example of how excellent customer service can make up for a weakness in an otherwise excellent product.)
  • Excellent article by James Fallows: Hacked! bit.ly/qErjlP What to do not to lose years of email.
    (Backup, backup, backup. Unless you know Eric Schmidt.)
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Good product: Logitech wireless earphones

I spend a lot of time on teleconferences and giving presentations via the Internet. I have tried a number of headphones and microphone setups. Most of them are good, but the last four months I have used a Logitech wireless earphone system (Logitech Wireless Headset H760 With Behind-the-head Design (981-000265)). These headphones have quickly become my favorite. They are comfortable to wear, and the battery lasts three-four hours (you can use the headset while it is charging, with a standard USB cable). The sound is decent and the microphone is good enough to use for online presentations and for automatic dictation. I am actually using them now, for this blog post, using DragonDictate 11.

One of the reasons I like them is, of course, that I can wander around the kitchen or my office while dictating or presenting online. Another is the very intuitive user interface: If you want to mute the microphone, all you have to do is turn the microphone boom to an upright position. This is a very natural movement, and you are never in doubt about whether your microphone is muted or not.

I actually have two of these headphones. The first one I got four months ago. Unfortunately, since I have a large hat size (and they are a little bit on the delicate side) the headset broke – it cracked along the slide that goes behind the ears. I needed to use the headphones right away, so I take them and started using them, and then forgot about them. Eventually the crack widened and I had to call Logitech customer service, who promptly sent me a new pair which I am using now. The customer service call was quick and painless, and the Amazon employee I first communicated with assured me that my problem would be fixed promptly. Which it was, making Logitech customer service another reason to recommend this product.

Twitter redux

  • Good list of business articles: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/27/this-year-in-small-business-the-best-reads/
    (I especially liked the article about how the next bubble is going to be in higher education – when parents see their offspring moving back home after four years at $50K each, they will start to wonder if not something else – community college first, for instance – will make more sense.)
  • Keep getting questions about a paper I wrote about “Organizations as brains” in 1992. Should have published it. bit.ly/sHCfvK
  • Woman freed from kidnapper through Facebook update:mashable.com/2011/12/27/fac… FB with panic button?
  • Digitalt Personvern har passert 500,000 innsamlet! Hva med et romjulsbidrag? digitaltpersonvern.no/bidra/
  • Excellent article about the insane security theatre:vanityfair.com/culture/featur…
    (This article in Vanity Fair nicely summarizes the many paradoxes of security. A few simple acts, such as locking the door to the cockpit, actively tracking luggage, and the mental change that has taken place in airline passengers (that is, that they now will attack a hijacker rather than accede to his demands) as led to a situation where we are now much more secure against hijacking them before. The many high-cost initiatives, such as full body scanners, explosive residue detection, and no-fly lists have not resulted in any appreciable improvement in security.)
  • Bloomberg with Economic History Blog:bloomberg.com/view/echoes/

Twitter 24-hour redux

  • A coming disruption in supercomputers? bit.ly/sSTxPd Amazon takes on really big iron.
    (this one has all the hallmarks: Cheap alternative, incumbents showing their best stuff and pointing out all the things the newcomer can’t do. But 30,000 processors at $1250/hour is hard to beat. And the virtual supercomputer is on a falling price curve.)
  • New Teslas might make electric cars competitive with normal onesbit.ly/w1cxGW
    (300 miles’ range, 30 minute to 50% charge, 4 passengers. This is beginning to look like a car.)
  • The Atlantic has a good outlook for tech in 2012 – not too pie-in-the-sky: bit.ly/up95ri
    (maybe a trifle boring, but the future tends to be more of the same.)
  • The more data you produce, the happier organized crime is to consume it youtu.be/6ueKilyThQg #digitaltpersonvern
    (Information stored is information vulnerable. Or as a @forsberg said: The only way to make sure nobody has access to a list is not to make the list.)
  • A lament for nickfromfulham wp.me/p1Ug4Q-he
    (Why doesn’t BBC put their stuff on Youtube? Here is my heartfelt opinion)
  • Dual SIM phones may be next step in BYOD mobile strategiesbit.ly/tlcCgO
    (or maybe just a stopgap fix, since connection prices are falling)
  • IT department can become hostage to cloud services bit.ly/s1dfaa
    (Hard to fiddle with someone else’s cloud.)

A lament for nickfromfulham

(or, why BBC should put their material on Youtube).

The future of TV is on the net. Too bad the leading TV producers don’t understand it.

imageThis year I am living in the US, without a TV. So far I have not missed it – we have Netflix for movies and Youtube for music and clips. Having to chose your programming yourself means zero hours channelsurfing on the sofa, and a delightful lack of background noise from breakfast TV shows and similar junk.

But – what to watch when you want a little fun? For my youngest daughter (she is here in Boston to take a year of US high school) and I Friday nights have been spent in front of our nice 23 inch monitor, wathing Never Mind the Buzzcocks, a great, wild, satirical quiz show about pop music. And when I want to relax by myself, there is the unsurpassable QI, a [deeply intelligent/self-indulgingly moronic] quiz show with a pop science bent. Or I can watch some of BBCs great series, such as Stephen Fry’s programs about the English language.

Through Youtube, I have come to know and appreciate comedians and actors such as Bill Bailey, Phill Jupitus, Jo Brand, Noel Fielding, Alan Davies, Jimmy Carr, Sean Lock, Rich Hall, John Sessions, Rob Brydon, David Mitchell and Dara Ó Briain, just to name a few. I have learned a lot and laughed even more. The episode where Emma Thompson describes how she used her body to terrify Stephen Fry to complete breakdown or where Jack Dee serves the mother of all putdowns to Sandy Toksvig and Ronni Ancona are complete jewels.

Which brings me to a sad point: The channel NickFromFulham, who (assuming there is a Nick and he is from Fulham) has put up all these videos, was recently shut down from Youtube. Where should we go now for our witty and intelligent entertainment? You see, almost none of the stuff that BBC produces is viewable outside the UK, except in short snippets, on DVDs, or on the anemic BBC America channel, for which we would have to get a TV, and then put up with programs that are both delayed and also watered down in terms of swearwords, sexual and scatological references and much of the Britishness that makes Britain both British and bearable.

The funny thing is, of course, that if it wasn’t for Youtube’s technical capability and NickfromFulham’s diligent uploading and characterization, I wouldn’t know much about QI and nothing about Buzzcocks. Which makes me wonder a) what else is out there, not just in BBCland but in many TV stations around the world, and b) why the heck doesn’t BBC (and NRK, its Norwegian state-funded equivalent and all others) put their stuff out in digital format?

To the first point: I gave a talk to NRK in June, about disruption in the media industries and so on. As part of the discussion of how to strategize for the future, I urged them to fill up available spots in their many channels with stuff like QI – quality shows that have a very local appeal, but in an increasingly global world will have global appeal without sacrificing quality. When you treat your viewers as intelligent, they will act intelligently. To quote David Foster Wallace, in his his brilliant essay E Unibus Pluram:

TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.

The point being – with infinite channel capacity, you can attract a large audience, in many countries, by not pandering to the lowest common denominator. (The fact that QI is one of BBC’s most watched programs shows that the common denominator may, in fact, not be so low after all.)

The future of TV is on the net – but in order to attract people to the net, you have to release your best stuff, and gradually become the source and context of quality entertainment rather than a prison of old business models. And incidentally, slamming the door in the face of your biggest fans is not the way to go about it.

As for us? Well, my daughter is 17 and an accomplished net surfer. She can easily find and download the next episode of Buzzcocks from one of many pirate sites. Not that I like it, but what can I do? (Well, IP spoofing and going to BBC’s web site in the UK itself would be another option.) Or I can watch something else, which, of course, lowers the commercial value of all those actors and comedians participating in the things I would like to see.

Incidentally, here is one of the most watched Norwegian skits on Youtube. Let’s see if you understand it, even if it is in Norwegian (with subtitles):

The morning browse

  • Time to switch back to Firefox? bit.ly/vICWB6 I have gotten used to a few of the Chrome apps, myself
  • Wolfram Alpha and Siri secures Christmas entertainment bit.ly/uXCpCy
  • Martin Freeman seems a good choice as Bilbo youtu.be/G0k3kHtyoqc
  • Scott Adams’ take on “Race against the machine”: bit.ly/uBCxxv
  • Bionic eyes where you can zoom in. bit.ly/ufN7Tq Singularity, here we come…
  • The Name of the Rose “was the first and last of [Umberto Eco’s] good books” bit.ly/tPD4UE Agreed.

Waiting for Christmas (with help from Tim Minchin)

Tim Minchin, UK-based Australian comedian, composer and contrarian, performs what is my favorite Christmas tune, his “White wine in the sun”, which manages to be sentimental, smart, atheistic (or at least skeptical) and deeply felt, which I think everyone should be. Especially at Christmas, which is about so much more than religion.

And I am not just saying that because I am 3501 miles from home, with the family arriving for a prolonged Christmas visit, or because, just like me, Tim met his wife when he was seventeen and they stay together, but because this song describes the best parts of Christmas – indeed, the whole purpose of Christmas – quite precisely.

Looking forward to Christmas far to often is attributed to consumerism (at least for small children) or has to be legitimized through some religious reference, such as the inevitable pre-Christmas op-eds about how we are losing sight of what the holidays are all about, etc. etc.

So, this year as any other, I am looking forward to Christmas with our little rituals.

Just as long as it isn’t white. All our snow gear is in Norway. Snow would really let us have an American experience…