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37signals: Highrise, not Sunrise February 12, 2007

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Finally, a release date is in sight (but not for a few weeks) for Highrise, 37signals’ web-based CRM/ address book (previously named Sunrise). It’s been expected for a long time.

Update: Preview 2: Highrise permissions and groups
Update: Preview 3: Highrise welcome and workspace tabs
Update: Preview 4: Adding people to Highrise and dealing with duplicates
Update: Preview 5: Highrise tasks
Update: Preview 6: Highrise people, companies, and the dashboard
Update: Preview 7: Highrise plays well with email
Update: Preview 8: Highrise Cases

Yahoo! Pipes February 9, 2007

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Yahoo! Pipes launched this week : a simple visual editor, and the tools for ‘anyone’ to create her own “mashup“. The words GeoRSS caught my eye, as I’d been researching it (and SMIL) last week.

Here’s the Pipes coverage; and I may write more when I’ve had time to read it properly :

3GSM preview from Dean Bubley February 9, 2007

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Next week is the 3GSM ‘World Congress’ (ie. mobile phone show), and Dean Bubley has a prediction of the hot topics.

Several are familiar from his blog (and others). Rollout of HSUPA sounds like it would (better) enable some interesting services, so I’ll keep an eye out for analysis of that.

UK : Conservative government would scrap ID cards February 6, 2007

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Via the Open Rights Group :

David Davis has written to Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, giving formal notice that an incoming Conservative administration would scrap the Government’s costly ID card project.

…and it links to a list of (Conservative Party) reasons why ID cards aren’t a good idea

Andy Kirkpatrick – “PsychoVertical” February 4, 2007

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Just back from a very entertaining evening at Andy Kirkpatrick’s PsychoVertical show. Several hundred Bristol climbers (and others) in St George’s concert hall, and a 2 hour stream of experiences and laughs. The only ‘gag’ I remember was early on, and due to acoustics and delivery speed, I can’t be sure it’s what he said! :

Climbing’s a bit like masturbation. It’s great when it’s you doing it, but not to hear someone else talk about it for 2 hours.

Anyway, very amusing; and I left with a powerful craving for pizza!

Video games – ‘moral panic’? January 25, 2007

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This week’s Economist editorial (subscription required) is the subject of an article at “Communities Dominate Brands”, both putting the ‘popular media’ dislike of ‘violent’ video games in a proper historical context. For example…

They poison the mind and corrupt the morals of the young, who waste their time sitting on sofas immersed in dangerous fantasy worlds. That, at least was the charge levelled against novels during the 18th century by critics worried about the impact of a new medium on young people.

Steven Johnson covered this theme many times, in media discussions about his book “Everything Bad Is Good For You”. His open letter to Hillary Clinton (Jul-05) is no longer available at the L.A. Times site, but I referenced part of it in a strategy paper (Jan-06); and I think it reinforces the point.

Your current concern is over explicit sex in “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.” Yet there’s not much to investigate, is there? It should get rated appropriately, and that’s that. But there’s more to your proposed study: You want to examine how video games shape children’s values and cognitive development.

The great secret of today’s video games that has been lost in the moral panic over “Grand Theft Auto” is how difficult the games have become. That difficulty is not merely a question of hand-eye coordination; most of today’s games force kids to learn complex rule systems, master challenging new interfaces, follow dozens of shifting variables in real time and prioritize between multiple objectives. In short, precisely the sorts of skills that they’re going to need in the digital workplace of tomorrow.

Math SAT scores have never been higher; verbal scores have been climbing steadily for the last five years; nearly every indicator in the Department of Education study known as the Nation’s Report Card is higher now than when the study was implemented in 1971. The last 10 years have seen the most dramatic drop in violent crime in recent memory and the national carjacking rate has dropped substantially since “Grand Theft Auto” came out.

Phone thoughts January 9, 2007

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Desirable features for my next mobile handset (without wanting it to $satisfy all). Currently use a Palm Treo 650 (which doesn’t have 3G/ wifi/ gps/ multitasking OS), and not a landline. Grouped, but no particular order :

Things that I don’t really care about :

How I listen to Music January 1, 2007

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My server is working again (after 12 months) and I’ve started to use Last.fm, so here are a few notes on how I listen to music at the moment, in case anyone has interesting comments.

My CD’s [...most of them! : **] are ripped and compressed (to FLAC files) with EAC, and the freeDB tagging manually corrected with Mp3tag. Music is streamed between my server and hifi (using SlimServer and a wireless Squeezebox v1), and a SlimScrobbler plugin sends the track data to Last.fm. Playlists tend to be albums, random, or with MusicIP (previously Predixis) …but that’s not integrated with SlimServer yet.

I buy new music I hear on the radio (or Pandora/ PandoraFM), or recommended by Amazon and blog articles. I hear unsigned bands on podcasts (Odeo : an aggregator) and may visit their MySpace pages, but rarely go to concerts. I ’subscribe’ to some podcasts with Songbird (as I said), so that the files are saved to my server (and played with SlimServer), but don’t keep them. I don’t buy downloaded music, because at that price I don’t want lossy codecs at low data rates (vs. CD’s) …and DRM [**]! AllOfMP3.com is an exception, but I haven’t used it.

Songbird has a lot of potential as a player, but it won’t read tags from FLAC files yet. So, no point using it to rate FLAC tracks in my library, and I use MediaMonkey for that. And any FLAC tracks I play with it won’t get recognised by Last.fm (even though it has its own audioscrobbler …which works for MP3), so I don’t play any!

I don’t think that SlimServer or Songbird record the number of times I play a track, nor handle smart playlists (but I may be wrong), and it’s the main reason why I began using Last.fm. When I get an iPod (or other portable device), I’d like to be able to combine the metadata it records with my other sources.

Plenty of software (eg. Songbird) seems able to handle file transfer and syncing between a library and a device, so I don’t intend to use iTunes. If the iPod firmware remains unable to play FLAC, I’d consider loading Rockbox onto it.

I’d like to set up SSH tunnelling (with Softsqueeze as the client), to stream music from my home server to workplace, and that track data would also go to Last.fm. (FLAC files are typically 1000kbit/s, but upstream ADSL is only 250kbit/s; so I’d transcode on the fly to a format with a lower data rate – MP3 or Ogg. My ISP provides static IP addresses, but others could use a dynamic DNS service – eg. dynDNS). If I got a flat rate mobile data plan, I may try streaming to my phone, but doubt it’d normally be an enjoyable listening experience.

** : “Defective By Design” sounds a good description of DRM-enabled music, not just because DRM tries to prevent playback of ‘your’ music on devices that are technically capable, but because distortion is deliberately added to the music, so that good CD rippers ‘think’ that there is a fault (…and there is : by design).

Alcatel-Lucent logo December 20, 2006

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What a shame that the old red Lucent logo is being retired. The “Infinity” branding of the new merged company looks pleasant enough, but just doesn’t have the same ‘class’. And it makes me think of a drug/ biotech company.

Early days yet, though. Plus I’m biased : I was at Lucent for nearly 7 of its 10 years, and always liked the logo.

…[via Design Observer]

Bill Gates on The Future of DRM December 14, 2006

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Some notes from a Q&A session with Bill Gates, by Michael Arrington (TechCrunch). Unexpected, because Microsoft is generally considered to be a supporter of DRM.

Gates didn’t get into what could replace DRM, but he did give some reasonably candid insights suggesting that he thinks DRM is as lame as the rest of us.

Gates said that no one is satisfied with the current state of DRM, which “causes too much pain for legitmate buyers” while trying to distinguish between legal and illegal uses. He says no one has done it right, yet. There are “huge problems” with DRM, he says, and “we need more flexible models, such as the ability to “buy an artist out for life” (not sure what he means). He also criticized DRM schemes that try to install intelligence in each copy so that it is device specific.

His short term advice: “People should just buy a cd and rip it. You are legal then.”

…Though, of course, in the UK that isn’t legal (yet).

Gowers Review December 6, 2006

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The Gowers Review of Intellectual Property, commissioned by the UK government, published its final report today.

So far I’ve only read the ORG summary, and comments from Lawrence Lessig. The recommendations seem surprisingly sensible, given that recent media coverage of it was ‘music industry’ lobbying to extend copyright (for existing works).

Tom Coates has some initial comments that include DRM and orphaned works, but his preview from yesterday is more interesting :

People in favour of copyright extension argue that it’s necessary to give artists income into their pensionable years, but for the most part artists very rarely make any money at all from recordings that record companies refuse to distribute.

Read the ORG summary.

Gizmo VoIP on mobile November 29, 2006

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Nokia announced today that their N80i dual mode phone will have Gizmo software installed. With a Wifi connection, you’ll have free calls to any SIP-compliant VoIP phone (eg. Gizmo Project softphone or AuPix AP-100! …but not the proprietary Skype), and cheap calls to other landlines and mobiles. When there’s no Wifi, you can still make ‘normal’ calls, over the cellular network.

The review at O’Reilly tells of a good user experience, and a nice integration. So, next year I may get a new Nokia (N80i or N95), because the new Treo’s haven’t excited me.

Trustguide : UK civilians on ‘cyber trust’ November 13, 2006

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The Open Rights Group discusses the 101 page Trustguide report on ‘our’ “views, beliefs and needs regarding trust, security and privacy in relation to new technologies” (eg. ID cards). It’s based on 29 workshops in the South West, Wales and London, hosted by HP and BT, in conjunction with the DTI.

In the interests of informed debate, I was encouraged (and surprised, comparing it to Radio 5 Live call-ins), that people had asked :

  1. whether a given ’solution’ can actually solve the stated problem;
  2. whether it is the best solution (eg. at that $price); and
  3. whether it is worth the possible ‘knock-on’ costs (to society and law, of reducing trust and personal freedom).

On a more ‘frivolous’ note, this also gives me a place to post the URI to the (old) “Gilbert and Sullivan” on ID cards video [initially found via plasticbag.org].

Was Skype a good purchase for eBay? November 13, 2006

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The International Herald Tribune has a seemingly balanced article, that sees benefits, but doubts that the price will be justified. That’s not a new view, nor a proven one, but the article has an interesting update of the situation, a year or so in.

Further commentary on Andy Abramson’s blog.

Strange Maps November 7, 2006

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The Strange Maps blog [via Platial] has a whole load of unusual and interesting maps, often with an historical element.

eg. The Manhattan Neighbourhoods map and general feel of the site made me think of Maira Kalman’s “New Yorkistancover, (which I was pointed at recently, but can’t remember by who).

The Information Factories (Cloudware) November 6, 2006

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George Gilder’s article in Wired magazine describes how the cloud computing model (ie. servers ’somewhere on the Internet’) moves processing away from the desktop to massive server farms (Google, etc). It mentions historic quotes “The network is the computer” (Sun) and “global computing market of five mainframes” (IBM) and some interesting numbers.

In every era, the winning companies are those that waste what is abundant – as signalled by precipitously declining prices – in order to save what is scarce. Google has been profligate with the surfeits of data storage and backbone bandwidth. Conversely, it has been parsimonious with that most precious of resources, users’ patience.

Unfortunately that strategy means massive energy cost/waste (cooling, replication), and few locations will be able to provide enough (cheap) electricity as the need scales up. Fortunately “semiconductor and optical technologies are on the verge of a new leap forward” and the current economic advantages of a ‘centralised’ solution will decrease.

SETsquared November 4, 2006

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After a brief interview (yesterday), I’ve joined the SETsquared support community, to help accelerate hi-tech startups at the University of Bristol centre.

I offered one day a month (unpaid), but they have enough mentors already, so I’m most likely to be involved on occasional review panels.

Design is how it works November 3, 2006

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SoundJam; Jeff Robbin; Jon Rubinstein; Tony Fadell; PortalPlayer; Jonathan Ive; Phil Schiller; Tim Wasko; Vinnie Cieco …and Steve Jobs :

Wired.com tells about ‘other’ people behind the birth of the iPod, and the design considerations.

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” Jobs told the Times. “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Digital rights in question as business model October 22, 2006

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Via DefectiveByDesign.org :

“Last week Billboard (the music industry publication) ran a great article about DRM and the digital music market. The article was picked up by Reuters and ran in many other publications”

The Billboard article says that any DRM scheme is likely to be cracked, and so its use inconveniences people who want to do the right thing, rather than people who want to steal music. And that it isn’t a smart way to treat customers who have a choice.

A recent Newsweek article quotes Steve Jobs saying that customers knew along that iTunes Music Store (iTMS) songs will only play on an iPod; and from the public figures [*] he’ll know that his informed customers fill the majority of their iPods with non-DRM’d songs from elsewhere. However, the sale of iPods is driven by available music, and iTMS (and its Fairplay DRM) could have been ‘merely’ a way for him to make the ‘music industry’ complicit in their sale, preventing lawsuits. The Economist says “Mr Jobs persuaded the record labels (which were panicking about illegal internet downloads) to sell music on iTunes for 99 cents per song, and then used music as a loss leader to make money from his gadgets”.

The Billboard article also says that legal digital downloads have not grown this year, and iTMS is dominant. So, if even a dominant player can only sell 24 DRM’d songs to a device probably containing thousands of non-DRM’d songs, then presumably there’s a customer need to be satisfied. Can you spot one? Thousands of artists on MySpace can.

* In 2004, itunesperipod.com had a data point of 21 iTunes songs per iPod. In 2005, Steve Jobs said “The average iTunes account holder has purchased 60 songs” (so <60 average per iPod). As of early 2006 the figure was an average of 24 tracks per iPod, according to Chris Anderson in his book “The Long Tail” (42 million iPods and 1 billion iTunes tracks over nearly 4 years)

“Downhill Battle” October 22, 2006

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New posts at the Downhill Battle ["Music Activism"] blog restarted recently, after a few months absence, (though the RSS feeds at Bloglines don’t reflect it)