The web’s best reference encyclopedia – Wikipedia

September 25th, 2005 § 1

Interesting article about the Wikipedia

Now when eBay launched, people were skeptical, because the site wasn’t trustworthy. The curious thing about trust, though, is that it is a social fact, a fact that is only true when people think it is true. Social facts are real facts, and have considerable weight in the world. The fact that someone is a judge, for example, is a social fact — the authority that attaches to judgeship is attached by everyone agreeing that a certain person has the right to make certain statements — “Court is adjourned”, “I sentence you to 5 years in prison” — that have real force in the world. Those statements are not magic; their force comes from the social apparatus backing them up.

Ebay has become trustworthy over time because the social fact of its trustworthiness grew with the number of successful transactions and with its ability to find and rectify bad actors. Indeed, the roughest periods in eBay’s short life have been when it has seemed in danger of being a platform for fraud.

The Wikipedia online encylopedia has become the best authority on the web. It is an amazing collaborative project. A new invention of human ingenuity. Some complaints of spam around the web. More complaints from the right-wing pundits about an obvious bias in the articles (i.e. articles about Marx, Castro, Chavez, Palestine are not polemical screeds in hidden praise of Adams, Reagan, Bush, Zionism).

Great and immediate reference material with live links to more in-depth material. The way the web was supposed to work. Leaves DMOZ, About.com and the Yahoo directory far behind.

As a reliable and comprehensive source may soon rival Brittanica and the other behemoths of the off-line world. Already beats them on everything computer and contemporary.

Long live the Wikipedia.

Legal Online Music: The Curated Music Gallery at Fingertips

February 11th, 2005 § 0

Finally someone gets it right with online music. A curated weekly gallery of high quality songs from both known and unknown artists. The slant seems to be rock/pop in English, but the quality is very high.

What the editor at Fingertips seems to understand better than Joshua Ellis at Mperia is that the importance of editorial filtering in promoting independent music. We don't want to have the raw Reuters or AFP newsfeeds in our kitchens spewing out the largely irrelevant (to us) news of the world. We want the sections which we follow and understand edited to a size we can digest. This is what fingertips offers:

just because there is an eye-opening amount of free,
legally available music online these days doesn't mean the good stuff is easy to find.



I believe, in fact, that good music has never been harder to find. It's quite
the conundrum, actually--there is more good music being produced than ever before
in history, and yet it's harder to find than ever.



Free, legal MP3s are particularly hard to find, as they tend to be scattered across hundreds if
not thousands of different web sites around the world.



And it doesn't help that free, legal MP3s of quality are inescapably lost in a
morass of free, legal MP3s of shall we say questionable quality. Because (alas!)
the flip side of there being more good music being produced than ever before is
(you guessed it) there is also more mediocre music (let's not call it
"bad"; people are trying their best, after all!) being produced than
ever before.

While fingertips is brilliant as online concept and music editorial, there is no commercial transaction for the artists. By sharing some quality MP3's, they do attract new fans. Many of whom will pay for CD quality versions after a short period. When you have four of the nine tracks in 128 bit MP3 of one of your new favorite albums, how long will you deprive yourself of the other five, the whole lot in CD quality? Not long is my wager.

So with quality online editorial guiding our selection to quality artists who are new to us (who very well may have had twenty year careers before we find them), all the artists need is a venue from which to offer their music. While each artist can set up his or her own website, there is a lot of redundant work, drudgery and expense in maintaining online commerce.

What independent music artists really need are places where the editorial selection is uniformly high and the prices reasonable in order to flourish and overwhelm the majors. We could call them mini-labels.

While working on the sound track album and press package for Lapinthrope, I think I may have found such a place. In France of all places. It is called Ocean Music. There are just seven signed artists, of which I am familiar with the music of three. They are all wonderful. Their music shares enough traits - sophisticated lyrics and wonderful voices - to interest one another's fans.

Lapinthrope composer Rachel Smith has just signed with them to create a new album with Clearing producer Karl Mohr.

The only catch is that while one can order the music online, one has to wait for regular CD delivery. All the music should be available for online download at reduced prices (no physical product). As I've suggested in the past, music lovers have a set monthly budget which is likely only to increase if prices go down. If the expense and trouble of trying new music is reduced, we will do more of it. And once I've bought one album from an artist in electronic format, if I like it I am likely to buy most of the rest in CD format. If I never buy the first album - time, trouble, expense - I'm not likely to buy any of the others.

Hopefully the independent music vendors and artists will click on that concept one of these years soon.

Highly recommended.

What ails France | Sony VAIO story

January 27th, 2005 § 0

France is not doing very well these days.

Prices have rocketed sky-high despite wages staying more or less in the same place.

One of the problems is the 35 hour work week. On my trip to Basque country I rode the train with a woman who works in a large Belgian bank as upper middle management. She can’t get her whole staff together for a meeting anymore as there is always someone who is not at work. The 35 hours week legislation even allows workers to set their own hours! Frankly, thirty-five hours is not enough time to do a full-time job, especially on the clock. Between arriving and leaving and lunching and coffee, there isn’t much time left to work.

Moreover, companies are paying a full wage for these part-time workers so no wonder prices have to rise.

Indicative of how things work in Paris these days is the following anecdote.

For a tiny Sony VAIO PCG-161L that I bought from my cousin, I need a power adapter. Graham lost the original power adapter at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean on one of his Arctic diving expeditions.

So I call up Sony France for the part as no one else seems to have it. Proprietary power connector. Finally get the right number and the right person on the telephone. To call one of these French 0800 numbers you have to pay between 15 and 35 euro cents/minute usually. The money extorted is divided between France Telecom and the company to whom the number belongs. So I’m paying a stiff tarif to talk to them already.

The gentleman on the other end after introducing himself as Monsieur Simon asks me for the model number. I give tell him.

“That will be 20€ please. Would you like to pay on your credit card?”
“For what?” The power adapter couldn’t be that cheap.
“To open a dossier.”

I asked him if he had this straight. I was going to call him to buy an after market part for this little box – a part that was certain to cost ten times its production cost to purchase (power adapter) and he intended to charge me 20€ to tell me if he had the part in stock or not?

Yes, he was serious. The computer was not sold originally in France and in such cases a dossier charge of 20€ is obligatory. No wonder there is so much negative press about after sales service on Sony VAIO. Finally a gentleman by the name of Monsieur Coulet, three or four rungs higher in the ladder had the good grace to tell me free of charge that they don’t have the part anyway.

This is just a single anecdote.

Another example. The internet providers also give you a toll line for tech support. They keep you on hold for at least ten minutes and then tell you that nobody is available. Repeatedly. They could tell you within 30 seconds but then they wouldn’t get to put 2€ in their pocket for every call.

We are a long way from the 1-800 number here.

Basically the deal in France now is that as soon as you do or try anything you get whacked financially three or four times. Once for the telephone fee tarif, another time for some kind of administrative charge and a third time with an absurdly high price.

So what do the beleagured French people do? They try to stay home and buy as little as possible, despite an enormous amount of advertising everywhere.

They don’t understand why foreigners are all trying to run around and do everything, as if they are unaware of the consequences of wanting too much in this world.

As well as the salarial woes consequent from the 35 hours, the changeover from the franc to the euro gave the perfect cover for a furious inflation which I gauge at about 25 to 40 per cent depending on the category. With the currency transition it is difficult for even the government to keep track of where exactly inflation is. Retailers have told me that sales are way down. Logical. When people take increases in basic cost of living, without a correspondent wage increase, their disposable income crashes. And they do less.

Lots less. So the retailers, restauranteurs and bar owners seem to have hiked the prices to maintain their revenues. Which again reduces the public. And that is the current situation in Paris. Many places are working almost exclusively for a turnover tourist/visitor population at exploitation prices.

Paris being Paris (one of the centres of world tourism), gouging works after a fashion. But no wonder the resident Parisians are running to work and home again with an ever more anguished expression.

Slashdot | Can People Really Program 80 Hours a Week?

November 25th, 2004 § 0

Link: Slashdot | Can People Really Program 80 Hours a Week?.

Absolutely.

Intelligent healthy young people can spend most of their waking hours doing simple tasks which do not require exceptional creativity. The deffinition of work which can be accomplished in a sixty hour working week is therefore non creative and repetitive.

If you are working sixty hours plus a week, then you are not doing work which taxes your mind and you are wasting your talents. Of course its on offer and does pay the bills and therefore is not neccessarily a bad thing from a financial point of view. However it is bad for your physical, mental, spititual and social health.

Variety is the spice of life, all work and no play makes jack a dull boy, addicts do not make good friends – I can think of no aphorisms which praise spending excessive time doing the same thing. Why do you think Archimedies is reputed to have discovered the law of displacement of water being equal to the weight of a floating body in the bath – most insights are generated when you walk away from the task and see the whole picture whilst your mind idles. Maybe your job is so simple that your not even thinking about it half of the time and you can solve the interesting problems whilst “working” – in which case a machine should be doing that “work”. Thats how the industrial revolution changed the world of “work” and its comming to the world of software real soon now.

If sucess is just a question of working more hours then beware, because half the world is underemployed and they are a lot cheaper than you.

Free or Not: the Case for and mostly Against Micropayments

November 7th, 2004 § 3

I hope this is not true, but it seems to be. In my own experience with Bitpass, it certainly seemed to be. I couldn't find anything that I wanted to buy and when I did find a few things that I did want (music), the prices were the same as at the Apple store (75¢ to 99¢/track). And the particular music - quite frankly - was not worth it. At 25¢/track I would have made more of an effort to find dig through the dross. This is the sort of thing which keeps major record labels in business. In the end, Bitpass kept almost my whole $5 starter account unused - obvious winners. But I never added to that account - everyone loses. The whole independent online art and music commercial space needs to be revisited with better editorial and with prices that are more in line with the costs. Whoever gets this right will be Croesus. Nothing to envy to Bill Gates. Link: OpenP2P.com: The Case Against Micropayments.

There is a certain amount of anxiety involved in any decision to buy, no matter how small, and it derives not from the interface used or the time required, but from the very act of deciding. Micropayments, like all payments, require a comparison: "Is this much of X worth that much of Y?" There is a minimum mental transaction cost created by this fact that cannot be optimized away, because the only transaction a user will be willing to approve with no thought will be one that costs them nothing, which is no transaction at all. Thus the anxiety of buying is a permanent feature of micropayment systems, since economic decisions are made on the margin - not, "Is a drink worth a dollar?" but, "Is the next drink worth the next dollar?" Anything that requires the user to approve a transaction creates this anxiety, no matter what the mechanism for deciding or paying is. The desired state for micropayments - "Get the user to authorize payment without creating any overhead" - can thus never be achieved, because the anxiety of decision making creates overhead. No matter how simple the interface is, there will always be transactions too small to be worth the hassle.

Business Wisdom from Mark Cuban, Broadcast.com founder

October 13th, 2004 § 0

Blog Maverick – www.blogmaverick.com:

In business deals, look for the fool. If you don’t see one, the fool is you.

Success and Motivation – The Benefactor Tests – Blog Maverick – www.blogmaverick.com:

7. It’s ok to yell and be yelled at

One of the rules I have is that I don’t mind if people raise their voice and even yell a little bit. At MicroSolutions, my partner Martin and I would have some knockdown drag outs. They were always short bursts. They didn’t happen a lot. When they did, I knew, and he knew, that this was an issue we were passionate about.

As my businesses grew, it happened less often because people deferred to me more often. I hated that. If someone believed strongly enough in something and I was being passionate about something, I wanted them to match my level of passion if they felt that strongly about it.

So I told people that if they thought it was the only way to get through to me, to go for it. This may not work for you in corporate America, but anyone in a family business, or in a private business of any size with a partner or two, knows exactly what I am talking about!

I would agree with this latter point. Everything is much too safe in North America. People are afraid to disagree. It’s fine in business to always be reasonable, but it is deadly for art. I remember seven minute circumlocutions from choreographers to just say “I don’t like it.” The seven minutes could be spent just creating something else.

And every step of the way.

My own brusque manners I learned in Russia and have had to shed them (with great difficulty, I was in Moscow for nearly ten years) to be able to get along in the West. The Russians do very well in the collective art forms (opera, ballet even cinema before they ran out of money). I believe it is in large part as they are not afraid to speak their minds nor hear the thoughts of others.

Apparently the same rules can apply in business.

Tim Berners-Lee on wealth and values

September 10th, 2004 § 0

“People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change – though I am making no comment on what I might do in the future. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some. This happens mostly in America, not Europe. What is maddening is the terrible notion that a person’s value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in terms of money. That suggests disrespect for the researchers across the globe developing ideas for the next leaps in science and technology. Core in my upbringing was a value system that put monetary gain well in its place, behind things like doing what I really want to do. To use net worth as a criterion by which to judge people is to set our children’s sights on cash rather than on things that will actually make them happy.”

major record labels world’s biggest pirates

July 3rd, 2004 § 1

Macbidouille, a superb French language Apple information site, has published the following letter from a record producer in France – after confirming the facts.

Apparently download royalties are for them and not for others.

I am the co-director of 5 titles on the next album of [a French artist] that is to be released in october. The artistic director has a contract with the le producer (the major) for arranging, orchestrating, and artistically direct and supervise an artist’s recordings for a determined amount of titles, as seen in the contract. According to the contrat, the client (the major) gives money to the producers as a fee on every CD sold. About that project, as paying online music dowload sites such as the iTMS had appeared, I dared asking [the major] how much I’d get for those titles from this album sold on such a site.

The enclosed mail answered quite frankly : NO FEE for me on donwloads. Which simply means [the major] will perceive the rights paid by Apple yet refuses to give any part of those to the artists, directors and other rights owners.Which is perfectly illegal. [Major] states that the contracts between us talk of a “support” such as a CD, cassette, vinyl etc., yet for downloads, there is no support, so no reason we are given anything.

Yet, [the major] is negociating with Apple about how much fee they’ll perceive on any download made of the works we’ve created for them. My opinion is, and many artists and directors agree, this is a widescale and more insidious piracy than any other.

I’ve been doing that job for over 40 years and as a mixer or a director I took part in over 40,000,000 sold disks, yet I do not even own my flat.)

Personally, I buy many records from independent artists these days but will do my best to avoid giving my money to major record labels as so little of the money goes to the artist.

Who’s the real pirate here – the major record labels.