Ads making sense?

Sometimes it’s really amazing to watch how the google adwords service reacts to content changes on this page… Three pope related posts, and ads for Benedict related services are displayed. Impressive, but I suppose, not too helpful for most blogs, where the content of archive pages is probably as important as the index page when it comes to determining the target group.

Maybe they should not only try to see blog posts as a content unit, but also offer a possibiltiy to adjust the speed of ad-content adjustment to avoid temporary outliers like the pope-related one…

Economics, USA

Pulling Plugs.

I’ve Seen the Lights Go Out on Broadway –
I saw the Empire State laid low.
And life went on beyond the Palisades,
They all bought bright Cadillacs-
And left there long ago.

We held a concert out in Brooklyn-
To watch the Island bridges blow.
They turned our power down,
And drove us underground-
But we went right on with the show…

Billy Joel, Miami 2017

Not many will have seen the lights go out on broadway until today (IHT coverage). Although massive power outages are not too uncommon in the US, today’s blackout is apparently the biggest so far.

The “Blackout History Project” tries to keep the memory of past ones alive by archiving personal stories of what happened when the lights went out. Personally, I remember that the big 1977 NY power failure was a major story in my 8thgrade English textbook for some reason.

Power failures are an interesting phenomenon, for they demonstrate the vulnerabilty of extremely complex systems like modern industrial societies. Sometimes we forget how much infrastructure is needed to keep such a complex web alive. And we ought not to – low tech beats high tech, every single time, if used appropriately. Just like we do it at home whenever we get annoyed at the deficiencies of one operating system or another – we hit the button, we pull the plug.

That, of course, is a controlled exercise. A power failure, by definition, is not planned. It is either an accident or the consequence of an attack. As this one, according to most commentators, was likely an accident, there will be a lot of questions, just like in the aftermath of the California blackouts a few years ago.

In a Larry King Live special edition former US energy secretary Bill Richardson stated that America might a superpower, but one with a third world electricity grid. When asked if this could happen in Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans, he said –

“Yes, it can, Larry, and the reason is that our transmission lines, our electricity grid is all interconnected. And since we have not built enough transmission lines, the existing lines have an enormous amount of electricity pent-up. In other words, overload. And what we need is basically the federal government and the states working together to allow utilities to invest in new technologies, to bring in wind power and solar and biomass, not just get electricity from the traditional coal and nuclear sources. Diversify, invest in new modern plants. But also, Larry, this is – you know, this is very technical. But the Congress has been, for years, not passing an energy bill which contains what are called reliability standards, mandatory reliability standards on utilities, many that are monopolies, that don’t want this kind of control, that says to them, look, you cannot have more power than you can absorb. And what they had here in New York – well, in the Niagara power grid is too much power, an overload of power.”

So apparently, it was an overload. No wonder somebody pulled the plug.

But the regulation part is interesting. Even though problematic incentives for utility industries seem to be more common in the US, there is no guarantee whatsoever, the EU is not replicating these mistakes while liberalising the EU energy market. In fact, I became rather scared last December when I talked to an EU energy market official and learned that there are mostly lawyers concerned with these issues.

Of course, it’s not the lawyers themselves who pull the plugs. But you might remember – lawyers don’t calculate (anything but their fees). And a bit calculus can come in quite handy when constructing institutional arrangements for complex infrastructure service providers to conduct business in. If this is not done the right way, darkness will follow, sooner or later.

Some of the lessons to be learnt from the Californian blackouts some years ago have been summerized by Paul Krugman. If your read it you will no longer wonder if it is actually legal issues that are primarily at stake here.


What’s the real deal?

Apple’s new G5 64-bit PowerPC is the new hot babe in town since, as Wired explains, –

“For the past couple of years, Mac users have been burdened with a shameful secret few would admit, even to themselves. Their machines were slower than Windows PCs.”

While pure computing power was never what made people admire Apple’s products, it seems Apple’s pricing policy and stagnant market-share somehow compelled the company to get back into the Megaflop comparison business. But computing speed comparisons are a rather tricky business, so its no wonder, Apple’s claims to have the “fastet ever” personal computer have been severely scrutinzed today. Here’s what the register says about the benchmarks. And this is a report by Eugenia Loli-Queru from OSnews that is entitled “Innovation or Catch Up?

oddly enough

I rarely just quote things. But this time, there is really nothing to add to this item from the Guardian’s Informer newsletter…

“It’s not a joke,” a Microsoft spokesperson assured AFP. But it certainly sounds like one. According to [link in French], the software giant is launching the I-Loo – a portable toilet with an adjustable plasma screen, a wireless keyboard and an internet connection. It will, the site says, consign the piles of newspapers traditionally found in the corners of bathrooms to the bin.

“The internet is so much a part of everyday life that offering people the chance to surf in toilets is a natural step,” a marketing director told AFP. “It’s fascinating to think that the smallest room could be an way in to the enormous virtual world.”

Outdoor summer festivals such as Glastonbury will probably be the testing grounds for the invention. Whether the queues outside the notoriously smelly Portaloos will grow any longer remains to be seen.

compulsory reading, Economics, intellectual property rights, music industry

They’ll get the pricing wrong.

For at least five years. If you search my blog you will find that I have repeatedly said that all attempts to sell musical downloads will suffer from problematic price policy. Apple’s new itunes download service is no exception. True, it is probably closer than anything previously seen to actually enhancing the user experience with digital music. According to wired news,

“… opening day downloads equaled the number of songs legally downloaded over a six-month period last year.”

But it is nonetheless bereft with a pricing dilemma. A dollar a tune is not always a justifiable price, even though NY Times columnist David Pogue is ridiculing criticism of this pricing policy.

In fact, for most downloads it is clearly too much, even though things are cheaper when an entire Album is downloaded – for 10 dollars. While a tenner a disk makes downloading for some albums cheaper than your local record store, it is, on the other hand, probably a prohibitive price for DRM protected material, and, moreover, a price justifiable only due to the channel conflict with the non-digital distribution universe, which still makes it necessary to spend millions on marketing songs to people who are not interested in them anyway. It is a price only justified if the advantages of the internet, especially in the realm of marketing to a smaller, but more appropriate audience, are not exploited.

Thus, a dollar a buck can just be the beginning. People will continue to negotiate this price by using KaZaa and Grokster. Record companies will continue to try to scare unwitting conservative politicians about “the end of property” as well as send cease-and-desist letters to people sharing songs.

The big unknown variable is the political one. Will politicians be willing to understand the conventional definitions of property are just not appropriate in the digital age? Or will they allow the record industry to gain a windfall from perpetuating the economic structures of previous times for an unknown amount of time? I firmly believe that eventually, the social and economic institutions will adjust to a new reality.

But again, it is a matter of pricing. This time, a matter of the price that our information societies will be willing to pay for patrolling people’s hard drives and digitally fingreprinting their lives. Maybe US Sen. Santorum’s intervention telling homosexuals that they do not have a right to privacy came at the right time. I don’t know. But it is more important now than ever to tell people that digital privacy is an important issue. Something, many people were concerned about when it wasn’t a real issue yet, back in the 1980s.

Now that it is one, people don’t seem to realise that the same mechanism that allows to reduce the prices of individual songs could be the reason for the end of civil liberties as we know it. [ author off to pay to see a film in a real movie theatre…]

Germany, quicklink


In Germany, phone-numbers starting with 0190 can be charged at imaginary rates by a service provider. No wonder some doubtful service providers call mobile phones and wait for unwitting users to just press callback. But according to heise online it is not even illegal to send spam like “Someone would like to get to know you, dial 0190-xxx to find out who”. Do I agree with this? The question basically comes down to – what kind of cultural and technological knowledge can be safely assumed from mobile phone users. What about my tech-unsavvy dad? Should he be protected or learn the hard way? I think he should be protected. If lying per se is not fraud, it should be, when it comes to a corporation lying about the underlying principle for their call.

almost a diary

Did it happen? Does it matter?

Could it actually be telling that the first press statement about a cloned human baby comes from a company, Clonaid, founded by a strange sect, the Raelians, and headquartered in Hollywood (although, Hollywood, Florida)? Currently, 62% of the people voting in a CNN online poll believe it is. They do not think a cloned baby has been born yesterday. Maybe they’re right. Maybe we have been saved from making up our minds for the time being.

But let’s face it. If it has happened already or is about to happen in the near future does not really matter. But it does matter that it will happen. It does matter a lot. The successful cloning of a human being is announcing the end of the era of sexual reproduction of mankind. Here, genetical variation will be planned or a technical mistake. It could, in some sense, mark the end of evolution. I am not going to sketch possble consequence just now, but personally, I am convinced this is bad for mankind. Very bad.

The baby that has or will eventually be born clearly is no monster. But we will all – globally – have to answer the questions if those who (will have) created her/him are. Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Physicists” gives some useful ideas about how to handle the fundamentals behind the question. I feel I should reread it, too.


Alpha Geeks

Tim O’Reilly of the O’Reilly Network gave a keynote address titled Watching the “Alpha Geeks”: OS X and the Next Big Thing at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in May this year. It was a speech about the concept of watching, well, Alpha Geeks’ [first in the digital foodchain ;-)] and hackers’ personal hard- and software innovations and analysing these as “weak signals” to catch a glimpse of the technological future.

One example he referred to was the story of a hacker-slash-developer, who is using speech synthesis (a basic version of which is included in WindowsXP) to listen to chatroom discussions while coding. O’Reilly concludes:

“Now I’ll guarantee that lots of people will routinely be converting text to speech in a few years, and I know it because the hackers are already doing it. It’s been possible for a long time, but now it’s ripening toward the mainstream.”

Ripening towards the mainstream? Get this: the furture is here already. Last week an older (and I’m talking 45 here, at least!) guy at my gym asked me about my mp3 player. Today he showed me his new iPod-like acquisition, which even includes a small (but optically magnifiable) screen to watch video.

But his main interest, he told me, is to listen to scientific documents while running on the belt. I am slightly impressed, I have to say. When’s the last time you listened to a .pdf-file at 13 km/h?

I guess running will lose the reputation to free your head rather quickly now…