Saturday, April 19, 2014

Who's scared of Google?

I've noticed the curious outcry of Springer's CEO in an open letter to Google's CEO a few days ago, in which he laments his company's dependence on the Tech giant, after it was picked up by different media outputs, such as the BBC and FAZ.NET.

Sure, it is easy to get scared of Google as they become more influential and powerful. But what made them so powerful? The truth is that the founders of Google have understood how valuable information and knowledge is and have implemented their strategy of saving, processing and making information and knowledge accessible. In fact, they go beyond that. They have understood which information is the most relevant and valuable, they've build the appropriate filters, built alliances (e.g. they've backed Mozilla with $300 million to be the default search engine in Firefox) and they've undermined this with their famous moonshots (self-driving cars) and their acquisitions (e.g. one of my favourite "start ups" Nest Labs). They've built a successful business around a vision and they've followed that vision, filling it with life step by step. They've done so without compromising their business model, they've rather used their successful business model to realize their vision step by step.

I do not want to defend them, Google does not need anyone who defends them. Instead, we should think for ourselves how much we'd like Google to manage the flow of information and knowledge in our lives. Google has two faces, there is the friendly face to the consumer, which the complacent consumer of the 21st century really likes to see. That consumer (or user in some cases) is all too happy to let Google worry about how to get from point A to point B, how to back-up our emails and data, where to publish our blog (guilty as charged), or find out what facebook's URL was again, and not pay anything for it. The other face is the one it shows to its costumer: To advertisers, media and publishers etc. Virtually anyone who advertises online. While users/consumers (Should we start calling them consusers?) started getting scared of Google because of privacy issues long ago, it's more than interesting to see a costumer like Springer crying out at this point.

I find it interesting and curious in particular as they've been all too happy to exploit an extortionist business model. Like other academic publishing houses, they charge academic libraries and other institutions horrendous prices for access to information that was generated, researched, and reviewed from predominantly public sources of funding. A paper I published for a conference in 2010 is available at Springer for $29.95. If you search for this article using Google Scholar, you'll find a link to the article provided by Springer but ironically also a link to the full thesis which is available on the UW Madison servers FOR FREE and it's even much more detailed than the paper.

After all, this whole issue reminds me of a short video from CollegeHumor I've seen recently: "If Google was a guy". We are all just way too lazy to do the job Google is doing for us! Okay again, guilty as charged, I guess...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is this a Banksy?

I don't know much about graffiti or street art, but I recently saw a video blog about a piece of street art which had been done by famous English graffiti artist Banksy being taken off the wall and a bit later appearing in an auction house.

Now, on my way to work today, I rode past this spraying on the wall and I was wondering if this is also a Banksy. It's just by the Camden Canal, across the "Pirate Castle" on Oval Street.

The style is certainly similar, but potentially this is just someone copying the style of big guys out there. If so, well done. I like it :-)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thanks for clearing the streets today, Maggie!

Thanks for clearing the streets on the way through Central London today, Margaret :-) It so great if you only have to manoeuver around the countless tourist groups instead of squeezing through an endless chain of black cabs and lorries. Unfortunately, won't happen every day, will it?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Thomas Hobbes!

Happy Birthday, Thomas Hobbes on your 425. birthday,

in honour of the 'inventor' of the Leviathan, I present to you here an 'orchestrated' flashmob of Ode to Joy. It is the hymn of the European Union, our modern version of your Leviathan. The institution that has rendered Europe the most peaceful continent on the planet.

In 1651, not a man on this planet could have imagined that an orchestra (I doubt that many people had seen an orchestra at the time) would 'sponateously' assemble in the city centre and play a piece of music for everyone to enjoy. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Does this man ever shut up?

On 25 November 2009, I had the dubious pleasure to attend a seminar talk by Fred Singer while working at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR e.V.) in Stuttgart, Germany. With most of the audience researching in the field of solar energy or other fields related to finding alternate sources of energy, it is comforting that Singer did not find an audience to discredit the global effort to mitigate human impact on the climate on that evening.

For those of you that don't know who Fred Singer is (good thing if you don't), I think it would be apt to describe him as a lobbyist with a background in science. It would also be safe to describe him as a global warming denier of the first hour, further known for his denial of the harmful effects of passive smoking and the depletive effects of CFCs on the ozone layer. And this list is not even exhaustive.

Unfortunately, Mr. Singer often finds more receptive audiences around the world. And it is quite impressive how much this man travels at his advanced age (now 88). His visit at DLR in Stuttgart was just one stage on a whole 'Tour of Europe'. In 2010, he was invited by German MPs of the FDP party to a discussion panel. SPIEGEL journalist Cordula Meyer reported about this visit (vol. 37/2010) in a great article about Singer's crusade. Unfortunately, Mr. Singer has not been less productive since then. He frequently publishes on, mostly discrediting research about anthropogenic global warming.

Very recently, research about the psychology of climate change deniers has been published in the scientific journal Psychological Science and I would be all to interested what Mr. Singer would have to say about these findings. The authors of the study assert that a strong faith in the free market coincides with a disposition towards rejecting climate science as well as other established explanations. The title of the paper is catchy - a good choice in this case ("NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science".) So, it seems there is evidence to claim that religious faith in free markets and the rejection of science often go hand in hand.

It is striking, in a sense grotesque, how impressively this study disarms the likes of Mr. Singer. However, he is also an academic and used to be a respected scientist, and on the other hand lobbied for several of the 'conspiracy theories' tested for in the psychological study.

Fred Singer is 88 years old. He put a lot of effort into convincing people, often policy makers, that there is no connection between second-hand smoke, the depletion of the ozone layer by CFCs, and most recently that there is no connection between climate change and human activities. Surely, these issues will not affect him at his age, unlike the generations born after him, who wish to reach that age, perhaps. So, I ask myself: When does this man ever shut up?

Maybe when we stop listening to people that reject science because it could undermine their faith in the free market. The published research gives us a good reason to do so...provided, of course, you don't reject this study as well.

Or we could fight back with the same weapons and ask: what conspirative group does Fred Singer belong to?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Modern Messiah

A few days ago, it also occurred to me how Steve Jobs is seen as something like a Modern Messiah. I admit, Apple made being a geek cool. They forged the marriage between the quirky creative world with the technical digital world, that was - at least in pop culture - previously confined to grandma's basement (I am referring to the stereotypical hacker in a Hollywood movie). Chapeau, Apple,and thanks, Steve (although we also have to give some credit to, among others, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg.)

I thought this was just good fun at the time, a bit exaggerated, I wasn't really serious about it...

Now, look what I came across today...

...the digital shrine of the binary brotherhood.

Millions have sent an email to '' and they all appear on this website. Check some of these messages out. If they don't sound religious to you, I don't know what would. Here are some of my favourites:

" ... The man who changed everything. There is no part of our world and our lives that Steve Jobs did not make a huge impact on. ... "

" ... He's truly a memorable person. I'm not an Apple fan but I admire him as he brought the world the most genius design. He'll continue his Apple empire in heaven. God bless him. ... "

I read things like "heaven got a bit smarter" and how "Apple made such a big impact" on people's lives. I am baffled by the amount of devotion. Surely, Apple is one of the game changers of the 21st century IT giants. iPods, iTunes, iPhones, iPads...surely all tech revolutions. Much like Google Maps, the Kindle, facebook, YouTube...and the list goes on.

On the other hand, they have created needs where previously there were none. They are dictating what choices their customers get to make, how they are supposed to use their devices and their products are designed to be replaced by newer models frequently. Older operating systems are discontinued, plugs are unique and change from one model to the next, and software and content for its devices is monopolized. Truly not virtuous, but not unlike church.

You might say "Dude, Steve Jobs died in 2011!" and none of the above is new to you. All over the web, one can read about Steve Jobs, the Messiah, or about Steve Jobs, the super-villain (here, here and here ,for example). Yeah, that's true, but I've only just discovered Steve's digital shrine today.

I don't know about you, but I got quite accustomed to shouting out 'Jesus Christ' upon being taken aback by - oh, say - people taking Steve Jobs for their saviour. In the same awkward sense, it's could be time to honour the new saviour by switching to 'Steve Paul Jobs'!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Robot Running @ Hyde Park

Time for share some funny stuff!

Last summer, a student from the Royal College of Art approached me for help with a video for one of his courses. He wanted to put make a clip about an idea he came up with related to our technologically assisted work-outs and he was looking for someone in front of the camera.

Here is the result:

The concept is the following: Runners are stereo-equipped, wired and connected to the devices of all kinds today. The question is whether we could be manipulated if these gadgets get hacked.

Since I'm not such a fan of running with earplugs anyway, I find the whole concept to be far fetched. The video is well done though :-)