Stories going round today about a putative ESPN deal to pay wireless providers so that access to ESPN content is essentially free. Salon.com puts it this way:
The defenders of “competition” and a “free market” have it all wrong. The pay-for-unlimited-bandwidth option actually restricts competition. That up-and-coming app developer with the cool new video streaming product who can’t afford to pay off AT&T or Comcast or Verizon ends up losing out. Entities with access to capital get a preferred position on our phones.
On the other side, there’s MediaFreedom.org, who sounds a free-market-based warning:
You get the point. Wouldn’t it be pretty darn terrific if Internet companies could be treated just like regular companies, allowing them to ”discriminate” or prioritize their services as consumers demand?
Net Neutrality hogties the whole ecosystem – from the network providers on down to the content, app, service and device makers. Man, what a waste of a policy lever based on nothing more than fear. We pay for “discrimination” / priority in every segment of our economy, like the mail, the airlines, shopping clubs, hot lanes, etc. It makes these services better.
I’m not so sure about this particular case and net-neutrality. By way of analogy, if ESPN put its content on thumbdrives and then courier-ed those to peoples’ houses, the result would be the same, people get the content for free. It would be goofy, but no one would protest; why then do people get exercised over a virtual method of doing the same thing?
Note that the proposed deal has nothing to do with priority – users don’t receive the ESPN content faster or cleaner than any other content, they just receive it for free.
Yes, I get that we want to separate content-providers and network-providers, and that there is a risk of a kind of "McDonald-zation" of internet content — i.e. mega-providers with money to pay for priority lock out worthwhile content from small providers who don’t have that money. But to take the McDonald’s idea one step further – McDonald’s and its kin monopolize many key locations across the US, like highways rest stops, airports, malls, etc., yet independent restaurants have not been wiped out. They are under pressure, but surely no one thinks independent eateries are going away – in fact people are willing to pay more to eat at an indie restaurant. The real problem that indie eateries have is not access – it is marketing. So, coming back to Salon.com’s comments, net neutrality will never help that “up-and-coming app developer” – that guy’s problem is not access to his app, it is marketing his app, which no amount of net-neutrality will ever do for him.
My net on this particular net-neutrality kerfuffle: Assuming access to all other content is unchanged, I don’t see the logic in trying to stop ESPN from paying peoples’ phone bills. On ESPN’s prospects for success with this strategy, I suspect people will quickly conclude the content is worth what they are paying for it.
Tomorrow, Kim, Morgan and myself head back to the place you see above – Boston, of course – a 10-day visit for me, about a 2-month stay for them. The pic is a puzzle we have on our TV-area table, a gift from good friend Kathy B. when I went on assignment. I’m afraid all I did with it was start sorting the pieces. When Kim arrived in January, puzzle-mistress that she is, it was put together in a about a week. Just for context, sitting somewhere around East Boston, I would say, I’ve put a can of Kingfisher, kind of the Narragansett of India.
Anyway, many an evening here we look at the puzzle and say, “Let’s go to that spot when we get back”. Soon we’ll be doing just that.
An odd reflection, if you don’t mind … I have a habit – when in a good mood that is – of humming, or even mumbling, popular songs as I go through my day or as I walk from meeting to meeting. Last few weeks a lot of that has been Why Do Fools Fall In Love? Can’t tell you why that song in particular. But as the trip approaches I find myself inevitably switching to Back in the USSR.
You don’t know how lucky you are, boys … see you soon.
Creative Cloud changes everything.
We believe the creative process can be better. New, more connected tools. Fonts, files, and projects always in sync. Your creative community just a click away. It’s all coming to Creative Cloud this June.
The technical net of this is:
- The apps themselves are unchanged. Your Photoshop filters still run on your hopped-up 8-core Alienware overclock job.
- The way you pay is subscription. For $19 a month you get 1 app, 20 GB storage, and some access to the “cloud services”. There are bundled deals of multiple products, a complete bundle is $600 per year, actually somewhat less than the $699 for a boxed license to Photoshop alone.
- Don’t know what the services all are yet … seems to focus on assets like fonts, templates, etc.
Response seems mixed. Looking through the Ars Technica comments there is a positive contingent, as represented by “Korgoth”:
Korgoth Wise, Aged Ars Veteran
for people without a couple grand to get all the tools. Not everyone has $2500 lying around, but most can manage $50 in a month.
Cost wise it might work out to be more in the long term, but it does offer some extras over the boxed version; and allows more people to afford it.
But a lot of folks on the other side observe that this is really a massive price increase, as bluntly described by “Voix des Airs”:
Voix des Airs, Ars Scholae Palatinae
Absolutely not. I upgrade software when the developer provides me a compelling reason to do so. Features that make it worthwhile for me to upgrade. I positively do not want to pay a subscription for a stream of "upgrades" that might be of no value to me.
Screw you Adobe. This dude will not abide.
The logic here is, if I buy PS for $699 now, and say I can use it productively for 4 years, under the new scheme that would cost me $960. I guess if I really cared about the latest-and-greatest, I’d go for cloud, but I think for 90% of users, PS already has more than they ever need, so what’s the value of these “continuous improvements”?
- I guess I don’t get Adobe’s rationale. I get they want more money, and constantly flowing money. But, surely they know a great many customers will use the same reasoning as Voix des Airs? Why don’t they keep the boxed model and offer the cloud as an option?
- I gotta believe that tons of users will use this inflection point as opportunity to look at a free alternative, like GIMP.
- If you follow this stuff you probably know that Microsoft is already in the same place Adobe is now going to, with Office 365: $100 per year for rights to install Office on 5 computers, plus 20 GB SkyDrive storage. Unlike the Adobe thing, the MS thing is a good deal.
Thoughts? Rental software good, or bad?
This picture is from a bookstore in our local mall here in Pune. Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a big stack of them in the highest-traffic part of the store. Just out of frame is a similar stack of The Devil Wears Prada.
I’m not sure what to write in this post. Mein Kampf is sold in the USA, and probably more copies are bought there every year than in India; WikiPedia says 15,000 copies per year, vs. 100,000 copies sold in 7 years, as described in this article from the Daily Beast. India is 3-4x more populous than the US, but the people with income enough to consider buying something like this are far, far fewer than in the US. I think relative to number of people able to buy such a book, it is far more popular in India than in the US.
Back in 2002 the Times of India reported on a survey where Indian college students were given a list of famous leaders and asked to select which would be best for India. Mahatma Gandhi was the the choice of 23% – Adolph Hitler was chosen by 17%, more than chose Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. How could that be? Even more dismaying is this quote in as article from Telegraph UK discussing the popularity of Mein Kampf with Indian business students:
"Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we’re happy to sell it to them," said Sohin Lakhani, owner of Mumbai-based Embassy books who reprints Mein Kampf every quarter and shrugs off any moral issues in publishing the book.
"They see it as a kind of success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan on how to implement it and then successfully complete it".
The best thing I can say on this, we need Mel Brooks in India. From an interview with Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL: Can you also get your revenge on him by using comedy?
Brooks: Yes, absolutely. Of course it is impossible to take revenge for 6 million murdered Jews. But by using the medium of comedy, we can try to rob Hitler of his posthumous power and myths. In doing so, we should remember that Hitler did have some talents. He was able to fool an entire population into letting him be their leader. However, this role was basically a few numbers too great for him –- but he simply covered over this deficiency.
So, watch this and rob the mustachioed wall-painter of his posthumous power:
My job is building software. Of course I use technology every day, for work, education and entertainment. I like to think, at least, that I’m pretty good at building and using this stuff.
But, for all that, I have a strong luddite streak; maybe folks got that from my post on Summly. I use Facebook but I am intensely suspicious of it. Of the 100 or so apps on my smartphone, I rarely use anything beyond Maps and Alarm Clock. An app like Foursquare – which bills itself as helping “… you and your friends find great places and make the most of your visits” – is to me a bizarre surrender of privacy and security for no return whatsoever. Yet these and other “innovations” have constant command of the business and technology limelight and, despite their dubious value propositions, are all making money in very large buckets indeed. Why the heck is this?
Evgeny Morozov apparently shares my curmudgeonly suspicions. His latest book, To Save Everything, Click Here, while flawed in several ways, captures in one word the cognitive dissonance of the distinctive Silicon Valley brand of improvement through technology:
Recasting all complex social situations either as neatly defined problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be easily optimized – if only the right algorithms are in place! – this quest is likely to have unexpected consequences that could eventually cause more damage than the problems they seek to address. I call the ideology that legitimizes and sanctions such aspirations “solutionism”.
So what is solutionism? Morozov relates how researchers in Japan are prototyping “augmented reality” for cooking. In this system, cameras are mounted in the ceiling and walls of your kitchen then, for example, if you are about to filet a fish, the system visually senses your intent and projects light indicators to guide you through the activity – for example with projected laser lines that indicate where to cut into the fish.
Or how about this: Bin-Cam, a system with a camera mounted inside your trash bins that records a snap every time you open and close the lid, then passes on the image to a pool of human evaluators who in turn count your recyclables, wasted food, etc. to derive a “score” for your trash. The ultimate aim is you and your neighbors will compete for badges over who has the most eco-friendly trash.
So, what problems are these things solving? Morozov’s contention is these sorts of “innovations” are both arbitrary and hurtful. Can anyone believe the augmented kitchen reality will lead to better-cut fish? What we as users need to do is just what our ancestors did: Learn how to actually cook. Bin-cam can have worse consequences. Recycling and waste are real problems, but by declaring this trivial “solution” we actually move ourselves further away from doing what needs to be done, like enacting market-drivers and regulations that generate real improvement.
Solutionism comes together with Morozov’s other bête noir, “The Internet”, when he critiques liquid democracy. In a nutshell liquid democracy purports to generate better public decisions through delegation of votes to “experts”. Should we have a carbon tax? Don’t ask me, I know little about carbon and even less on taxes. With liquid democracy what I would do is delegate my vote on the matter to someone who is such an expert. Suppose the next issue is access to emergency contraception. All I need to do is delegate to another, appropriately qualified expert. And so on. (Note to future self: If this dorky idea ever gets enacted in the USA, delegate everything to Paul Krugman.)
Morozov’s point – which seems evident to me – is that the “openess” of the “the Intertnet” does not somehow make everything that happens on it good, and that we can’t take the problems that thinkers and writers from Socrates to Voltaire to Churchill to Oakeshott all have pondered over and just “make an app for that”. Morozov writes:
Imperfection, ambiguity, opacity, disorder, and the opportunity to err, to sin, to do the wrong thing: all of these are constitutive of human freedom, and any concentrated attempt to root them out will root out that freedom as well. if we don’t find the streng5th and the courage to escape the silicon mentality that fuels much of the current quest for technological perfection, we risk finding ourselves with a politics devoid of everything that makes politics desirable, with humans who have lost their basic capacity for moral reasoning, with lackluster (if not moribund) cultural institutions that don’t take risks and only care about their financial bottom lines, and, most terrifyingly, with a perfectly controlled social environment that would make dissent not just impossible but possibly even unthinkable.
I said there were flaws in the book. One is that Morozov is really a philosopher and as such likes to quote and reference other philosophers – a lot of them; the book includes 55 pages of citations. He also comes across as really grumpy and tees off on harmless tech P-R phenomena like Clay Shirky and the TED Conference. Shirky has little cause to complain, though, here’s the #2 hit I got when I Googled Clay Shirky:
I guess Google doesn’t like Shirky either.
Denizen’s of “the Internet” have mostly harsh woods to offer on this book. Tim Wu writes:
“To Save Everything, Click Here” is rife with such bullying and unfair attacks that seem mainly designed to build Morozov’s particular brand of trollism; one suspects he aspires to be a Bill O’Reilly for intellectuals.
Slashdot has a review that focuses on the kitchen augmented reality thing, striving mightily to show how “the Internet” really can teach you how to cook, if only we could incentivize authors to write better directions. Maybe badges for authors … you see where this is going?
There’s a lot more ground Morozov covers – like how algorithms used by Amazon, Google and Facebook are obviously designed for maximum revenue generation, and not for our collective, transparent benefit – or how lifeloggers like Gordon Bell, while mostly harmless, also trivialize the productive flaws of human memory and tradition. Some of that is valid observation, some just grumpiness, less of which would have benefited the book.
In closing, while few people have ever heard the word solutionism, a great many intuitively get the point – which you can see in parodies like this:
Technology mocking itself – a good sign. Maybe I should make an app for that … ?
No, not as in malware – a program that replicates itself as it moves from machine to machine – but as in an actual dirt-loving, squirming-about, icky-spaghetti worm.
This link comes off of Boing Boing. The project is called OpenWorm, and it self-describes as:
OpenWorm is an open source project dedicated to creating the world’s first virtual organism in a computer, a C.elegans nematode. We plan to achieve this goal by 1) bringing together highly motivated scientists and engineers 2) pushing away all the red tape 3) fostering growth of a completely open computational biology community.
So, its not building a real worm – a virtual worm. The worm they are hoping to replicate – Caenorhabditis elegans – is a nematode worm about 1 mm long; there’s about 1,000 cells in each one of these tiny critters.
How is this being done? Hard to say. The project milestones are here … here’s an example:
We will show that we have built a model of C. elegans muscle cell that matches data recorded from the nematode muscle cell. In part, we will use techniques of model optimization to fill in gaps in the model parameter space (deduce unmeasured parameters). The main technical challenge is tuning muscle cell passive properties and building a larger data set (more cell recordings). Mike Vella will take the lead on this.
Do we need virtual worms? No, not as such – but we need these types of projects, that’s is what science is, right? There’s too much of the attitude these days that all R & D needs to be dedicated to obvious needs. I for one think we need more scientia gratia scientiae.
India of course has well over 1 billion human inhabitants. Tenancy of the subcontinent, however, is shared with another primate: the gray langur. In our recent trips we saw many langurs – one dashed across the road while we were driving to Ajanta so fast we could barely see. The fellow above we saw resting in shade at Daulatabad Fort. At Ajanta families of langurs rested in trees:
At Ellora the langurs were well habituated to people. In the parking lot a troop of them begged food … the langurs were like curious children, picking kernels of popcorn one at a time from outstretched hands. However getting close to these animals is not a good idea. Some carry rabies, but more generally these langurs are smart and have ways other than begging to get food from people. There are many stories posted online, like this, about langurs attacking in groups to divest people of grocery bags – pretty much anything carrying eatables. A colleague in my office related a story about langurs collaborating to steal a lady’s purse: one langur begged food, and when the lady offered, its confederate snatched the purse and immediately the first one began attacking the lady to cover the other’s escape.
These monkeys have an important place in Hindu mythology. The statue below is in Gujarat:
This is Hanuman, King of Monkeys and ally of Lord Rama in his fight against Ravana. He is holding his weapon, the gada. While the gada looks unwieldy, it was no problem for Hanuman; the monkey king was so strong that one time, when asked to retrieve a certain herb growing on a mountain but unsure of exactly which plant to pick, he picked up the whole mountain and brought that back. The ancient stories of Hanuman were the inspiration for Sun Wukong, the monkey king hero of Journey to the West.
Part of Hanuman’s story involves the gray langurs. The story is told in different ways, but the short form is this: Being monkeys the langurs were his subjects, and Hanuman commanded they follow him into battle against Ravana. Ravana used fire against them and their hands and faces were burnt black, and their langur descendants today still show the marks of the battle with the evil Ravana.
Hanuman is revered by Hindus for his many excellent qualities: Courage, Strength, Intelligence, but above all his complete devotion to Lord Rama. Alas, today Hanuman’s langur subjects have a hard life. The golden langur in particular is endangered, with only about 1,000 individuals in all of India.
No, not pictures as in tourist snaps … pictures as in data visualizations.
Wife Kim sent me a link to an interesting site, Data Stories (India). This is the blog of Avinash Celestine, a journalist with India’s The Economic Times. The idea of Data Stories is it shows interactive visualizations of different types of Indian economic and socio-metric data.
What sort of thing is Data Stories showing? The map below shows ownership of TV, Computer, Phone and Vehicle (either 2- or 4-wheeler). The darker the color the higher the percentage of households who own all those things in that area:
Where I live in Pune about 18% of households have all these things. The message here is how wealth in India is concentrated in a small number of urban centers.
These maps show worldwide per-capita income from perspective of both India (on the left) and China, on the right:
India and China are represented by flat lines in their respective graphs. The other lines represent the relative proportion of that country or region’s per capita income to the base country at that point in time.
In 1975 USA per-capita income was about 18 times that in India, and maybe 19 times that of China. But notice how in the China chart the USA line starts sloping down steeply starting in around 1977? By 2005 the USA:China ratio has dropped from 19:1 to 6:1, but in India with its more gently sloping line, the ratio has not dropped much, from 18:1 to 12:1.
What to make of these visual presentations? I’ll leave the public policy aspects of these to the side and just say: We need more of this stuff. Thinking I might make my own geographic visualization I did some quick Googles on the topic. Conclusion: There’s not that much out there that can do this quickly. Microsoft sells an add-on for Excel called MapPoint that looks quite powerful, but at $300 list for the North America edition, it’s not going to get my vote. There’s some Flash- and/or web-based tools out there, like StatPlanet and BatchGeo, but tools like these definitely have a learning curve. Isn’t there something easier?
<shameless-plug>My employer IBM has an answer, ManyEyes.</shameless-plug> ManyEyes is a free system where you can create visualizations from existing data-sets, or upload and visualize data-sets of your own. I found many India-related visualizations there, like this one:
Note to self: Government of India has many data-sets available online. Try to find a likely one and then make a ManyEyes visualization of it.
He was a Muslim warrior, both pious himself and utterly unaccepting of impious behavior in others, and a Mughal emperor who ruthlessly consolidated control over all of India but in the end, was unable to stem the erosion of his empire. His name: Aurangzeb. Though he died more than 300 years ago, his capital, Aurangabad, still faces assault today, from relentless hordes of tourists who come to look at his works and – while some may despair – mostly just take pictures.
It is nearly a month ago now that Kim, Morgan and I traveled to Aurangabad. I’ve already posted about Ajanta and Ellora Caves, and on the conditions of drought we saw on our journey. I wanted to close out the record on that visit with a bit about the city, a bit more about some about a few other visits we made and, of course, pictures.
Aurangabad is called the City of Gates; in our time there we passed by or through 3 or 4. Here is an example:
These gates in Aurangzeb’s time were all part of a system of walls that protected the city. Today the walls are mostly gone, but the gates remain.
In a way Aurangabad encapsulates the story of today’s India. Westerners who come here quickly learn that across the country there are cities with names ending in “-bad”: Aurangabad, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad are some of the largest, but there are many smaller such named cities. Almost all of these places were either established or re-named by the Mughals, the Persian/Muslim conquerors of Aryan/Hindu India, who ruled the subcontinent from the early 16th century to the mid 18th. For nearly two centuries the Mughal Empire was the richest in the world, but the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 marked the beginning of a swift decline.
One of the key forces at play in the downfall of the Mughals was the Maratha hero Shivaji. Born to a warrior clan he was raised into the family trade of being a mercenary. But Shivaji evolved a vision of freedom for his people and, after his fame and skill as a warrior grew, he began to confront the armies of the Mughals. In 1674 he established an independent Maratha Kingdom which persisted until 1818 when it became subservient to what would become the British Raj. Shivaji is a legend in Maharashtra – the Mumbai airport is named after him and school children here learn his life from comics like these (a gift from a work colleague):
This page relates the story of how Shivaji went in disguise to attack the Mughal ruler of Pune and to reclaim his childhood home, the Lal Mahal. But in addition to being a fierce and crafty warrior, Shivaji was also apparently an enlightened ruler. The Marathas of his time were a clan of Hindu warriors, but Shivaji brought many Muslims into his ranks, both as generals and as ministers.
And so it is with India today. Hindu and Muslim work together in numberless ways without any thought of religion, but the difference and the tension is always there, just beneath the surface – or sometimes above the surface, as seen in the terrorist attacks that have plagued India over the past decades, or the extreme nationalist rhetoric of politicians like Bal Thackeray.
A place that brought us closer to the conflicts of those long-ago times was Daulatabad Fort:
Kim posted about Daulatabad a few weeks ago. Side-note: See how almost all the people shown above visiting the fort are non-Indian? How can you tell? Hats. Indians never wear hats. Americans, Germans, Koreans, Russians, French: We all wear hats. On the day of our visit we encountered two large parties: one of Germans, and another of (we think) Koreans. The hawkers at these sites who sell fake ancient coins and other spurious artifacts should just switch to hats.
The northern half of India is very rocky and mountainous. For all of recorded history here military rulers have created forts on the many hilltops that define the terrain, and Daulatabad is a typical example. From the foot of the hill to the palace at the summit is several hundred meters; in many places are sheer walls with the only path a single meter wide. The entire way up is guarded by places where defending soldiers could fire projectiles or attack unexpectedly. Finally, there are two moats which make the ascent even more unlikely. This picture was taken about half way up:
To us a very interesting view was the remaining fortress walls that can be seen once you reach the top:
Aurangzeb, like overlords of the Deccan for centuries before, possessed Daulatabad. In his time the walls shown here encompassed a fortress town of soldiers, artisans and peasants. These are humbler versions of the kind of walls that must have girdled Aurangabad itself.
While Daulatabad was not built by Aurangzeb, on the last day of our trip we went to see something he had built: the Bibi Ka Maqbara, known hereabouts as the “mini Taj Mahal” – shown in the lead photo of this post. Aurangzeb built this as a memorial to his first wife, Dilras Banu. Here is an example of the massive marble carvings you find on this monument:
This carving above the main entranceway was easily 40 feet high by 40 feet wide. This pierced screen is also of marble:
While there are many and impressive ornaments here, we found particular interest in this:
This green parrot living atop one of the towers was like a tiny emerald set in a giant tablet of alabaster.
We westerners often think of India through simple images: Gandhi, Mountbatten, Slumdog Millionaire, Raj from BBT. Now in my list of images I have Aurangzeb He was an emperor, for his time arguably the richest and most powerful in all the world. His works and achievements were some austere, some beautiful, and some grim, and in the end what was important to him was swept away by an irresistible tide. He himself seemed to perceive this, for he is reputed to have said on his deathbed:
"I came alone and I go as a stranger. I do not know who I am, nor what I have been doing."
Such was our visit to Aurangzeb’s domain, where the remnants of old India’s wars and grandeur stay side by side, while the new India ponders the old emperor’s last words … were they lament, warning, or both?
Here’s some tips tip for those contemplating a stint as an ex-pat: #1, Plan to immerse yourself in local culture, food, shopping, sightseeing, travel, meeting and conversing with new people. Don’t be isolated – connect.
Tip #2: Get some video games.
Seriously, you and your family won’t be able to do the cultural ambassador thing 24 x 7. You need some downtime, some alone with your family time – you need games.
The game that has swept the Salazar household this past weekend is Dragon Island, free for iPad. This game is like Pokemon … turn based combat, with really cool monsters organized into the traditional air-water-earth-fire model. There’s a role-playing aspect as your hero character – a “monster trainer” – travels around doing the bidding of the Trainers’ Guild and piecing together the also-traditional story of a lost father and mysterious doings at the highest levels of something or other.
Who cares? It’s the planning and the combat that make this game. Seriously, once you start it is hard to stop. First, the monsters are very clever – thus far among the enemies I’ve faced are Bitewings, Mutations, Giant Crabs, King Penguins, Cult priests, Blood Priests, Baby Nessie, plus something called an “Abomination” that is animated as a fat opera singer. Second, your own monsters gain new abilities fairly quickly, and even “evolve” into new forms – for example, a “Fairy”, an innocuous Tinkerbell-like thing that puts 1 enemy monster to sleep, evolves into a “Fairy Queen” which puts many monsters to sleep, and is, shall we say, very attractively rendered.
Here’s another look at the combat screen:
There’s just the right amount of animation here, the enemies slowly floating up and down, with animated question-marks, or ZZs to indicate different conditions, and slashes or explosions to mark each attack. All this is squarely in the Dragon Quest style. and takes about 30 seconds to figure out.
Finally, this game is very forgiving. You lose lots of battles, but there’s no effect on your progress in the game. You just re-spawn in the last town you visited, your battalion of little horrors all healed-up and ready to try again. If you can’t get past a certain boss fight, no problem: Just wander around, level up your monsters, maybe capture some more, then after a while go back and try again.
Net-net: Dragon Island for iPad, super-game, get it. Now sorry, have to go – need to find out what my 20th level Bat Fiend is evolving into …