Monthly Archives: July 2009

Beware of the Skypzzz!

Rhetoric has been always a very powerful tool in promoting both policy and business agendas.  Russian telcos are now putting the old-good argument of security in promoting legislation that may allow them to succeed where their European and other colleagues have failed.

DevilishSkypeIt seems that all around the world the telcos feel threatened by Voice over IP (VoIP) applications that run on their infrastructure and offer free of charge voice services, with Skype being an iconic example*.  Only recently, the European telecos tried to argue for unfair competition and asked to discriminate against the use of VoIP on their networks.  The European Commission took a firm stand against it arguing for principles of net-neutrality also on mobile networks.  In the US AT&T, together with Apple, work against VoIP applications such as Skype and Google Voice to be used on the iPhones.  It will be now up to the FCC to take a stand on that issue.  Finally, the Israeli leading mobile service provider, Cellecom, is also seeking ways of limiting its users’ access to VoIP and some other technologies, under the slogan of “quality of service.”  The Israeli Ministry of Communication actually took a pro net neutrality stand in this case, but the argument is still going on.

In Russia, however, the local industry decided to make the long story short and instead of appealing to amorphous concepts such as “fairness” in competition or “quality of service” it turned to a more basic instinct – fear.  According to this article, Russian telcos have warned the Kremlin that:

“…the foreign-made VoIP software, easily downloaded from the Internet, is a threat to national security because it is resistant to eavesdropping by Russia’s intelligence agencies.”

To make things a bit spicier, they also added some nationalism.  The lobbying group was quoted saying that:

“The majority of brands operating in Russia, such as Skype and Icq, are of foreign origin and therefore we need to ensure the defense of national producers in this sector”

While some civil rights activists are concerned with the state openly talking about spying on people, others view it a bit more pragmatically.  In a recent hearing on the subject it was estimated that in about 3 years 40% of voice traffic in Russia will be VoIP.  This creates a significant incentive for the industry to cooperate on legislation that “will bring order” to the VoIP market.  Indeed such an effort is currently underway in Russia.

There was limited, but critical reaction on this topic in the mainstream Russian media and  even the blogsphere reacted only on the margines; some expressed concerns, others healthy sarcasm.  I wonder though, if conversations about VoIP are going on in other countries as well, and if so, what arguments are made against and for it.

* Disclamer – I use Skype and, to the most part, like it.

Intel is doing it smart

At the last WTPF meeting I learned about the Magellan laptop project of the Portuguese government.  Every participant was provided with such a laptop for the duration of the forum, at the end of which the laptops were supposed to be donated “to children in a developing country.”  I am not sure where exactly they went, but many of the participants got to keep their laptops and were provided with a lot of information about the project.

The Magellan laptop

The Magellan initiative, named after the 16th century explorer, is a collaboration between Intel and the Portuguese government.  According to Mr. Mario Lino, Minister of Public Works, Transport and Communications, it is part of the government’s commitment to development of the “information society” in Portugal.  The aim is to deliver those laptops to 1.1 million students registered in their e-school program and supposedly 800K have been already deployed.  Moreover, the initiative is looking to expand beyond the Portuguese borders.  A number of times during the forums it was mentioned that a really large shipment of Magellan laptops (if I remember correctly about 200K) went to Columbia and shipments to other corners of the world are on their way.

The project representatives I talked to at the forum were not ready to say how much it would cost if someone wanted to by a batch of these machines.  They sold them on spot for 250 Euro a piece, but told me that the price will be negotiated per project depending on the quantities and the educational needs of the client.  From my neighbor on the flights back to the US, whose kid participates in the program, I learned that in Portugal those laptops are distributed for 50 Euro maximum (if the family is not eligible for any additional subsidies).  If the family falls in certain category, it would get not only the laptop for free, but also an internet connection as long as there are children aged 8-10 in the household and their participate in the program.

Indeed, the program is very well known in Portugal.  I was lucky enough to receive one of those laptops and carrying it around and taking it on the plane attracted both attention and comments of the locals who were really proud about their local laptop traveling to the US.

Digging into it, Magellan laptop is the Classmate PC in a different cover.  I think Intel have handled it really smart with this project.  They gave the Portuguese government the ability to repackage their Classmate PC so that it could be presented to the world as a Portuguese laptop and the Portuguese government could take the credit.  In other words, the Portuguese government rips political dividend while helping Intel disseminating their technology.  Sort of a win-win situation.

The laptops are indeed assembled in Portugal (from parts made in China), which makes it the first European laptop.  My version came with Windows XP in English, but from my neighbor on the flights back I learned that machines distributed in Portugal come with dual boot of XP and Ubuntu.  Moreover, they come with an educational software, which according to my neighbor was rather buggy and not very useful.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the software.

The size, the design, and most importantly the purpose of the laptop (and the entire program), raised an immediate comparison to OLPC and XO, but on that (and more on the specs of the laptop) in a latter post.  In the meantime, here are few more pictures of the machine with some comments.

Just to give you a sense of its size compared to a standard business card; also note the handle to carry it around

Just to give you a sense of its size compared to a standard business card; also note the handle to carry it around

An open laptop: the keybord is pretty small (designed for kids) and my version has Portuguese layout; the touch pad is nice, but I couldn't figure out how to turn off the tapping functionality; note a built-in webcam above the screen

An open laptop: the keybord is pretty small (designed for kids) and my version has Portuguese layout; the touch pad is nice, but I couldn't figure out how to turn off the tapping functionality; note a built-in webcam above the screen

Right side: USB port, SD card reader, LAN, and power

Right side: USB port, SD card reader, LAN, and power

Left side: Another USB port, headphones and microphone jacks

Left side: Another USB port, headphones and microphone jacks

The bottom view of the laptop

The bottom view of the laptop

Another bottom view, this time with the battery out

Another bottom view, this time with the battery out

Cretive Commons Monitor

I think if you are reading this blog, you must be familiar with Creative Commons (CC).  But have you ever wondered how widely spread this license actually is?  Well, there are people who are thinking about it and even started looking into the issue.  Giorgos Cheliotis is one of them.  He is currently a visiting scholar at Berkman and earlier this week he gave a talk about the CC Monitor project.

The project has been out there for three years, but the website is rather new and is still considered under development as the team is figuring out the best way to capture and analyze the use of CC licenses around the world.  They have built an online (wiki-based) platform/repository which presents the raw data and some visualizations for others to use and think about. This is what global distribution of CC licenses looks like.

Number of CC licenses globally
There are overall estimated 170,268,161 CC licenses in the world, but the map refers to a subset of them.  It includes only the ported (i.e. jurisdiction specific) licenses – those that could be linked to a specific geographic location.  Apparently, there are about 50 countries in the world that have strong CC communities who worked on translating and adopting the general licenses to the local jurisdiction.

The darker areas of the map correspond to the higher number of CC licenses in the country.  Here is for example what Europe looks like once we zoom in:

Numbers of CC licenses in Europe
If you go to the website, you can see the actual number once you hover over the map with your mouse.  The way they collect these data is through counting back-links (or in-links) to specific CC deed pages (like this one).  Of course it is not perfect, but it is more than what we had before and it is there for everyone to use.  The idea behind the site is to build a “live data wiki”, which brings its own challenges such as the data being updated constantly, but not the analysis and the explanations.

On the wiki you can find data about the individual countries and also what they call “freedom scores”.  These scores refers to the degree of openness of the licenses used in each place.  As you may know, there are different types of licenses one can give to his or her work.  This blog, for example, is licensed under by-nc-sa license, which would not score very high on the freedom scale (and I also need to fix things, so it would actually show here).  Overall, this is what the world looks like in terms of openness of the CC licenses:

Freedom index of CC licenses global
As before, the darker areas represent higher scores.  You may want to take a look at this table comparing the scores of different countries side by side.

If you have the time, I suggest you watch the talk (I wish it was possible to embed videos from Berkman website :).  Giorgos goes further into a case study, asking whether people utilize the CC licenses and actually work with the open content.  I know that I learned a lot about CC that I did not know about before.

Tackling your creative minds

I really need to tackle your creative minds with a techy/geeky question.

Veronica received a basic Arduino kit for her birthday.  If you’ve never encountered it before, there are explanations in the link and here is also what Wikipedia has to say about it:

Arduino is a physical computing platform based on a simple I/O board and a development environment that uses the Wiring library to simplify writing C/C++ programs that run on the board. Arduino can be used to develop stand-alone interactive objects or can be connected to software running on a computer (e.g., Adobe Flash, Processing, Max/MSP, Pure Data, SuperCollider).

Here is another interesting discussion of Arduino.

Basically it allows you to add interactivity to objects by hard-wiring and programing the board and adding to various sensors.  We played with it a little bit and made various LEDs blinking in various fancy ways.  But now, we would like to find a more interesting, creative and maybe even (but really not necessarily) useful project.  This is where I need your help.

What would you do with Arduino?

To start the process, here are some interesting ideas we found on the internet:

  • Taking pictures triggered by sound, movement, etc. – 1, 2 (super cool!).
  • A couple of varieties of POV – 1 and 2.
  • Twittering plants and fetuses.

And some claim that this can also be done using Arduino:


They even have a MySpace page, but this is slightly too much for us I think, at least at this point 🙂

So, what do you suggest we should build?