Daily Archives: December 20, 2012

Advent music: The Civil wars “O Come O Come Emmanuel”

It’s December 20th. You need Christmas music. Good Christmas music. Here you go:

If you want to buy it, you can get it here.

The Civil wars “O Come O Come Emmanuel” – YouTube


General Motors: not a success (yet)

This New York Times article has a good summary of where things stand with G.M. It starts with this: NYT: U.S. to Sell Stake in G.M., and it has this money quote

Nearly four years after what became a $49.5 billion bailout, the Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that it would sell 200 million shares back to the company for $5.5 billion, then sell an additional 300 million shares by early 2014.

Currently, the exit would produce a loss of more than $12 billion for taxpayers

It’s seems to me that while the timing of this is partly a post-electoral move, it is also a realization on the U.S. Government’s part that it was never going to get its money back from G.M. directly. It was time to cut the strings and move on. Also, I think Americans do benefit from the auto industry still being alive, and while Ford didn’t benefit directly the way G.M. did, Ford did indirectly benefit from having others in the automotive business besides themselves. I think Americans benefit from having Ford and G.M. competing, assuming that the latter can turn itself around. Finally, if G.M. does sink in the future instead of swim, then it has no one to blame but itself.

(Thanks to Jaimewoo for this link.)

Boston Dynamics: how to market yourself on the fears of others (Robot watch)

Videos of robots created by Boston Dynamics have been circulating alot around the Web lately. Here’s one of them, an older one called RISE

Imagine that crawling up your balcony or nearby tree. Or imagine dozens of them, all over your house.

I find it interesting that Boston Dynamics, which is in the business of making military robots, is also very good at promoting themselves with their videos. People that would not watch videos of jet planes or artillery are fascinated by their videos, even if the former videos and weapons could be just as sophisticated as the latter. Boston Dynamics is good at downplaying the military role of their robots, but I am positive that the expectation of the military is that these robots could eventually be used in warfare. (The U.S. military is not funding these machines to help you clean your house.) We watch the videos, partly in admiration and partly in fear.

I think one of the reasons that these videos do well is the air of fear they possess. The robots aren’t doing domestic things. They look harmful, even if they aren’t shown doing anything harmful or potentially harmful. People that have commented on them note that. That’s not necessarily the fault of Boston Dynamics: humans have been worried about robots for along time. (Asimov’s Laws of Robotics are what they are for a reason.) But Boston Dynamics doesn’t do anything to dissuade us that we shouldn’t fear these robots, either. We fear robots, most of all for their potential to overwhelm us. The videos by Boston Dynamics show us that robots are well on their way to doing that.

It’s just a matter of time before we see videos of swarms of small robots or drones like in Minority Report. Or large troops of headless biped robots attacking an outpost. Or a pack of robot dogs pursuing soldiers. This, as much as anything, is the future.

The Canadian Justice System on the niqab in court: some thoughts

A close decision on whether or not a Witness may be required to remove niqab while testifying: top court (The Globe and Mail). The entire article and decision should be read, but a key passage is this:

In its 4-3 decision, the court said there are times when even a significant religious belief must bow to other social and legal concerns.

“An extreme approach that would always require the witness to remove her niqab while testifying, or one that would never do so, is untenable,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said, writing on behalf of several of the judges in the majority.

“The answer lies in a just and proportionate balance between freedom of religion and trial fairness, based on the particular case before the court,” she said. “A witness who for sincere religious reasons wishes to wear the niqab while testifying in a criminal proceeding will be required to remove it if (a) this is necessary to prevent a serious risk to the fairness of the trial, because reasonably available alternative measures will not prevent the risk; and (b) the salutary effects of requiring her to remove the niqab outweigh the deleterious effects of doing so.”

I believe this is a fair decision, though I am interested in knowing what others think. My thoughts towards the niqab is similar to what Voltaire said on free speech, namely, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. I think women should not have to cover themselves up, period. But I think they should have the right to decide to do so if they want to. I think there are better ways to fight for the rights of Muslim women that making them take off what to do them is a very important garb. Finally, I also think that Canadian courts can find a way to accomodate this right while not infringing on the rights of the accused. Let’s see.

What Apple and Amazon get right and what Instagram and Facebook and others get wrong

This blog post, Stop your bitching; you’re not paying for it! – Sensei Blogs, is typical of some of the critics who argue that users of Instagram have no right to get mad. If you agree with the assumptions of the author, it makes sense. However, I am here to argue that you should not agree with those assumptions.

First off, I would argue that the title of this blog post could apply not to you, but to Instagram, Facebook, etc. They should be delighted they are getting such a sweet deal. Not only all this free content from you, but they are getting free promotion / advertising from you and they are getting your social graph…ALL FOR FREE.  Quite the deal, yes? Many companies would love all that free content and advertisers. Somehow social media sites feel that they have a right to it. They are wrong: they do not have a right to it. Look at MySpace, or Friendster, or any of the many start-ups trying to get your content and promotion and social graph. That stuff that you possess, that you create, has alot of value, and no one has a right to it.

You might then argue: my content is not valuable. First off, it is very difficult to say what is of value. I have blog posts that have only a few views, and blog posts that have tens of thousands of views. That’s just me. Multiply that by many bloggers and you have a Long Tail in action. And if your social media site (e.g. Instagram) is seen as valuable by a lot of people, then big name companies will flock to it and bring alot more value to it. Likewise, if no one cares about your site anymore (e.g. My Space), then you can forget about getting big name companies to your site unless you are willing to pay them a lot of money. That’s right: even those trivial blog posts and photos of cats add up one way or another.

Furthermore, the service that social media sites are providing is not all that valuable. I am sure their IT people work hard. But really, is there anything about the technology used by Instagram, or Facebook, or any social media company that is so advanced, so revolutionary, that you think: if I don’t use this site, my life won’t be the same? If anything, the sites that provide you email provide a much more valuable service than social media sites. Likewise, the technology of social media sites is not difficult to recreate. What makes Facebook powerful is not the souped up PHP code that they write: it’s the social graph you bring and the activity you engage in there. People use Facebook despite the technology, not because of it. People use Instagram not because of the filters, but because of the others that they want to share photos with.

You might argue: well, they need to make money. Sorry, but no one is entitled to that. Ask journalists and other quality writers: they provide a much more valuable service than social media sites, and they have a devil of a time making money. Same with many folks creating things on the web. Everyone is having a hard time making money, and social media sites are no more entitled to it than anyone else. Is that good? No. Is it the way it is for many at this time? Yes.

Which brings me to Apple and the App Store. Apple has a different model than social media sites. With Apple, you create content (i.e., an app) and if it is of good quality, you can put it in the App Store and make money from it. The chances of you making money are slim, but the chances of you making money on Instagram or Facebook is none. Likewise if you publish an e-book on Amazon. You have some chance of making some money from it. I think the way of the future is in content aggregators that pay content creators for their content. Aggregators that respect your content, not try and rip it off.

When people say: “if you are not paying, you are the product, not the customer”, tell them that they have it wrong. If you are not paying, you are the staff, not the product. And as the staff, you expect to benefit somehow.  Demand payment or good service, and if you don’t get it, go elsewhere. You aren’t beholden to any site, and the material you create has value to you and lots of other people. Expect more for it. Don’t settle for being taken advantage of and used. You deserve better.

Over time, the sites that provide more value to users will win over sites that don’t. Business models that rip off users will become archaic. You can be skeptical, but I would advise any start-up that wants to win work on developing a tangible rewards program. Over time those will companies will be the winners.