Categories
Britpop douglas kastle Gordon Brown Spice Girls Tony Blair

Blair Spice?

Am I the only one not in the least bit surprised that the day after Tony Blair steps down there is an rumours of an announcement that the Spice Girls are getting back together. There has been a lot of talk about the uneasy relationship that Gordon Brown and Blair had in recent time, but there was also supposed to be a deal between the two men that once Blair stepped down Brown would get his shot. However that back room deal is nothing in comparison to the one done between the Spice Girls and Tony Blair.

Now the truth can be known, back in 1997 when the twin behemoths of the Spice Girls and Tony Blair were both introduced to the masses the entire world was within their grasp. Alas this massive force was too much for a planet as small as what we call the planet earth, so a deal was entered only one would be allowed to exist at any one point at time, and the Spice Girls like true patriots handed in there platform shoes so that Blair could do his good work. Now his time has come to an end, but do not despair this was merely the catalyst that will lead to the new power. Now that Blair has stepped down the Spice Girls are again able to reform but this time with an extra special ingredient, Tony Blair!

Don’t believe all the talk about his new post as middle east envoy it is a ruse. The first thing Blair is doing after he gets his brand new iPhone is straight into the studio with the Spice Girls to record the greatest album recorded since Sgt. Peppers.

Categories
douglas kastle flickr geolocation geotag gps mobile picasa web albums

Picasa, map my photo, please!

Picasa web albums is a strange beast. Launched in beta over a year ago it seemed all geared up to take on Flickr. That didn’t happen and so far there has been no real move to wards making picasa the social web experience that is flickr’s power. Instead Google seem content to allow picasa web albums as a backup storage for photographs with the ability to share with other people(it is also used as a storage medium to power images hosted on blogs like this one.)

Today google announced that they have added geotag support in Picasa.

Map My Photos

For the uninitiated geotagging involves assigning a geographic co-ordinate to an image. It has been around for a long time, the military been a big user, but support has grown is recent years. The biggest impact was the release of Google maps/Earth which allowed a user to find the co-ordinates of the given location. This was then extended by the Google API plugin that allowed people to pull down the co-ordinates of that location and apply in in various ways to images, either adding the co-ordinates in the EXIF of the digital image or as tags on the flickr page hosting the image.

Last August Flickr added integrated support for image geolocation, using yahoo maps instead of google maps which has introduced geotagging to the masses. However the more discerning geotaggers are not too fond of yahoo maps and still geotag using google maps.

It is surprising that picasa web albums took so long to added geo location support. Especially since the picasa tools, picasa2 (very confusing) has had geotag support, using google earth for a while. However they might have been playing the long game on this one as in the same release they also announced mobile support for picasa web albums. With phones beginning to come with GPS as standard (now that cameras are de-facto and places like Europe are demanding that phones have GPS) all images will be geotagged in the future so the requirement to physically place a image in space will no longer fall to the user any more.

This means uploaded images to picasa web albums will be in the correct locations and the user will be able to see where the images were taken. This could be very helpful to travelers on exotic holidays. It’s easy to tag images where you are from as you more than likely know the locations intimately it is not easy if you were taken through the depths of asia.

Categories
australia beach bondi chinese douglas kastle rip-off tourists

The Australian Dream? Not for Chinese tourists!

Bondi Beach on a nice day
Originally Uploaded by NWT2005

Living in Sydney is a very interesting experience. I arrived in Oz a little over 5 years ago and took up residence down on Bondi Beach. Living near a beach is very interesting, but to live near a world famous beach means that strange and wonderful things come to you.

Once or twice a week I cycle into work and I usually cycle along the promenade down by the beach front of Bondi to check out the surf. For locals (you become one after about a year given this exceeds the amount of time a back packer will be there) we are always amused by the Asian tourist that arrive every morning still wearing their black suits, a very un-beach looking attire, and will watch them filter onto the beach like a black tide. One morning I was even asked to have my picture taken with an Asian couple who were fasinated to see me dressed up in my cycling gear, previously either wearing a surf life saver uniform or wet suit would be the pre-requisite to earn the honour of having you picture taken.

However I always felt there was something darker to the whole experience and so I was shocked, but not very surprised, to find out that Asian tourist companies are fleecing these visitors. The list starts with charging $100 to walk to walk Bondi beach. God knows what they think when they see me on my bike with my helmet on as I buzz past them, maybe that I dropped a load of cash on a season pass.

Though for an observant person some thing foul should have been flagged a long time ago. If you spend any time around Sydney you find these tourist/souvenir shops dotted around the city that are never normally open, except when a tour bus arrives. They are usually fairly non-discript office buildings, but you can see the slew of stuffed Koalas and Kangaroos inside. When the bus pulled up there are usually people standing outside with the implied threat not too enter. It never really entered my mind why. I suppose naively I had assumed that the tourist were getting a better deal than the locals, but the reality appears to be much more sour with the tour operators :

Locking tourists in shops and confiscating passports until they spend big on overpriced goods”

Having been a tourist in another country a few times and well aware of the two prices for items taking advantage of visitors might seem fair game. However it is one thing to have them innocently make the mistake and have every opportunity to walk away, it is another thing to have it mandated by greedy tour operators.

Not having the language obviously puts them at a disadvantage with virtually all communications these tourists get are from the operators. One way to break the chain might be at the customs check point. If the government could supply a pamphlet with what is and isn’t acceptable in there own language possibly with a phone number to contact to report violations. I have seen this work before, either for quarantine or during the SARs scare a few years ago, I suppose it comes down to how much of a dent to Australian reputation they are willing to tolerate.

Categories
douglas kastle eInk eReader programmable sony tattoo

Programmable Tattoos

I can’t believe I missed this announcement nearly a full year ago detailing the concepts behind a possible programmable tattoo.

The technology behind eInk has been floating around for about 6 years but it is only recently that products are finally beginning to enter the market using eInk. (I recently purchased a Sony eReader, which had to be sourced from the States as it hasn’t been released in Australia)

I have to admit the idea behind an eInk driven tattoo entered my head about 5 years ago when seeing people getting henna tattoos on the beaches of Thailand . It seems a simple stretch to imagine if you could take eInk and inject it and then you’d have a tattoo you could change every day(In turns out I was out by 3 years, a patent was filed in 1999). However eInk didn’t come out as fast or as heralded as initially though and currently technology is still only 180 DPI with slight elements of ghosting. I imagine it would have to pass some strict FDA test before it was allowed to be injected into the human body, but who knows some day people will be able to used eInk in some tattoo ink form how cool would that be? One day you have a small dolphin the next a full body moari tribal pattern, I can’t wait.

I have had an eReader for a month now, I am planning to do a review soon detailing my experiences, I will say it is very very interesting (if expensive).

Categories
douglas kastle geomas iphone location search mobile N95 trolls zurfer

Mobile Internet – The future


Nokia n95
Originally uploaded by KhE 龙.

Nokia recently released their new mobile, the N95 , which seems to me to be the first in a new wave of mobile devices that will change how we view and use internet. While the phone and the camera is old news (however at 5 megapixels thats not to be sniffed at) it was the addition of GPS and WiFi that got me really thinking, particularly what is going to happen once your computer is mobile, can always access the internet, it always know exactly where it is and is placed in the hands of the masses and no longer the domain of the geeks.

My personal feeling is that mobile internet is the next big thing. I recently traveled around Australia with a WiFi enable PDA and I was surprised by the amount of wireless nodes nearly every where I went. In some places I was able to get free internet access and access content from there.

However one of the biggest stumbling blocks that has yet to be wholly addressed is that screens on mobile devices are going to be small, even with new offerings like the iPhone due at the end of the month toting that the whole front of the phone is the screen. Personally I have found navigating the web as it currently stand clunky. However it internet won’t remain as it is currently, it will change to more effectively fit into this new format.

After I arrived back from my trip with new found wisdom on mobile internet I was surprised to find much blood in the water, both good and bad. First it turns out the the patent trolls are here already and there is a crowd called geomas that is suing verizon claiming to own location based search. They contend that the own the concept of returning search result based on the location of the search. Secondly yahoo have announced a location aware flickr app for mobile devices called Zurfer. It enables to to upload images to flickr taken with a internet enabled, GPS fitted phone and allows people to browse other images taken in the same area. I personally think that this will be huge.

People every now and again talk about a time before PC’s, before e-mail, before google, before youtube, well this is the beginning of mobile internet see you on the other side.

Categories
book douglas kastle london project terrorism vector

London book project => Terrorism Vector?

Backpackers for years are familiar with the book exchange that occurs at youth hostels the world over. Traveling for months with books can be daunting. Given a lot of time can be traveling it is usually filled up with reading. 5 years ago while I was traveling through Thailand I was going through a book every 2 or 3 days. For the month I was there I went through about 10 books, let me tell you backpacking with 10 books is no joke. I had gotten to a point where once a book was finished it was left behind, thus lightening my backpack load. I took advantage of the the take a book leave a book policy that occurs in most of the hostels we stayed in.

The system isn’t perfect mind. Usually the only books you find are the dregs left that no-one else wanted to read. It was only if you were lucky did you chance across truly decent books, however the need to lighten your backpack load was often the decision breaker.

I came across the the London Book Project which is the book exchange familiar to all backpackers being deployed on the London Underground. Initially it sounds like a great idea however it is being rolled out in London which has a bad history of terrorism. Now you have added to the mix a process where people can leave small packages lying around for other people to find. Does it take much to turn a book into a letter bomb? It is not clear from the website how the books are to disseminated. Initially they indicated that they merely went through carriages and handed them to people. What people are to do when they have finished with the books? In the paranoid post 9/11 world we live in I guess leaving them on the train will be a big no-no.

Here’s hoping that it does work out and they don’t run into any silly issues.

Categories
douglas kastle

Exposed on line

I’ve been interested in protecting ones identity, both online and in the real world, for years. When trying to explain why things like loyalty cards are more trouble than they are worth I end up sounding like some tinfoil hat wearing fruit loop. However the real world helped me out last week with an amazing example.

There is a user on Flickr by the name of Lara Jade. who is currently 17 but has been interested in photography since she was 14 and she has been posting pictures online that she has taken since then as well. All nice an innocent so far. That was until she found out that some one had downloaded one of her pictures taken when she was 14 and used it for the cover of a porn movie.

She is understandably mortified and she details what she has tried to do about it here HELP!! (please read) on Flickr – Photo Sharing! .

This is another interesting example of the perils of living your life online. The internet gives people the ability to reach thousands/millions of people while a lot of them are lovely people there are still a few rotten apples. I hope she takes some legal challenge, I believe in the states using underage images for porn is illegal and she’s not even 18 yet would be a good place to start. However this, like the Rebekka case, are only examples of what have been discovered my guess this is the tip of an enormous iceberg.

Categories
bot captcha douglas kastle ocr recaptcha

reCAPTCHA – Class

It is not often you see a service that solves two problems at the same time. I like the simplicity of this one.

CAPTCHA’s have become an unfortunate necessity of the internet, used by certain websites to block bot attacks and try an guarantee that the thing on the other end of the internet connection is a human. CAPTCHA usually take the form of an image or a warped word that a computer can’t read and only a human (it is assumed) can correctly decipher. This requires a back end image generated that knows the correct answer and can let blog comments or website registration continue once a CAPTCHA has been solved. It is an imperfect solution to the internet scourge.

“About 60 million CAPTCHAs are solved by humans around the world every day. In each case, roughly ten seconds of human time are being spent. Individually, that’s not a lot of time, but in aggregate these little puzzles consume more than 150,000 hours of work each day.”

Well if we live with it can’t we some how use it. So a crowd called reCAPTCHA have come up with an interesting technique. Some where in the world loads of old documents are been scanned and one problem that they have to overcome is OCR tools being unable to read certain scanned words, ready made CAPTCHAs.

My first thought on the matter was, if the OCR tools can’t correctly read the garbled word, how would it know if when supplied to a human user that the returned answer is correct. Simple supply 2 words one known and one unknown. Without the user knowing which if the 2 is correct the assumption is made if the user correctly enters the known word the unknown word answer is assumed to be correct.

There doesn’t appear to be support in blogger yet but I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.

Categories
copyright douglas kastle mark helprine Reservoir Dogs tipping

Copyright and tipping


Copyright is a funny old thing. It enshrines in law the ability to own an idea which is enforceable by legal means. The media some times I feel doesn’t understand how or what copyright is. When the refers to people “stealing” music, thus demonising these criminals they are in fact wrong. The law may still view the people downloading music as criminals it is not for stealing but instead copyright infringement, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it?

As it stands things covered by copyright law are not allowed to be wholly used in the public domain until the copyright expires. In most of the world the default length of copyright for many works is generally the life of the author plus either 50 or 70 years. What this effectively means is that nothing created in my lifetime will ever become available in the public domain (unless an author died very close to when I was born). In the US this date seams to track with whenever Disneys copyright on Mickey Mouse is about to run out. Every time they get close they lobby to add another 20 years to copyright duration.

There was an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times last week-end detailing an argument for what amounts to perpetual copyright. The piece in some ways blew my mind. The central argument is that the author of the piece, Mark Helprin, believes that the created of intellectual work should be no different than property and the product of the intellectual work can be owned forever, either by the original authors estate or property investors. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that a piece like this has been written by a professional writer. There are those of us in the work that the product of our work is a salary, and it behooves us to take the product of that one time work and make it work for us and our families in the future. If the work you do is successful you may gain a bonus, but come 5 or 10 years hence what ever work you did in the past has been forgotten.

The copyright reform community is crafting a reply over at Lawrence Lessig’s wiki. Which they cover the legal aspects and the cultural aspects of this nonsense piece. I have in my wanderings of the internet seen suggestion that it is only a satire but neither Mark Helprine or the New York Times come forward and admitted it.

However the whole thing reminds me of tipping and in particular tipping in America. I have worked on again/off again in America. Tipping like copyright law in America has lost it meaning. Tipping is supposed to be a recognition of an above average job. In most other cultures that is still how it works. This all holds up because the base salary is supposed to be sufficient for the employee. However in America some occupations are now been built around the concept of compulsory tipping, so much so that in the cases of waitresses, their base rate is lower than minimum wage and need to make up the shortfall in tips. So this then leads to a situation where tipping is no longer a reward of above average work but some kind of out of band sales tax. The only effective way to use tipping now is as a punitive measure, a tip is withheld if the service is bad. Tipping in America, especially for non-Americans, is captured well in Reservoir Dogs. Mr. Pink’s rant about been enforced to tip, while probably put in to make him seem weaselly has some very valid arguments :

I don’t tip because society says I gotta. I tip when somebody deserves a tip. When somebody really puts forth an effort, they deserve a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, that shit’s for the birds. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just doin their job.

Copyright law runs the risk of becoming as irrelevant. It original purpose was put in place to give artists an incentive to create work, knowing it would return future wealth. But the original length was something more like 25 years from creation of the content. It didn’t even take J.K. Rowlings or Dan Brown that long to become multi-millionaires based on there books. Now that may seem to be a bad example but are there any cases of people becoming successful 25 years after the work has been created? It will more than likely be a success or a failure when it comes out and still the the same success or failure 25 years later. With the exception of J.K. Rowlings, Dan Brown and the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien who really makes money from such hyper extended copyright, corporations like Disney and Time Warner. Does copyright really protect and incentify the content producers? Unlikely since people create and give away content for free on YouTube, Flickr, Blogging etc. It would be nice to have this all cleared up soon, but their lawyers are bigger than mine.

Categories
_rebekka censor douglas kastle flickr infringment landscape photos

Flickr Mis-step?

Flickr, currently a darling of the web 2.0 boom, which was bought out by yahoo a few years ago, is threading on dangerous ground with a recent censoring of an artist photo.

The story starts with Flickr user _rebekka a popular user based in Iceland that is well known for her picture that include self portraits and landscapes. Even though certain parts of flickr a ridden with semi naked chicks taking saucy pictures of them selves and getting a huge number of hits via titillation and not quality. _rebekka is not that un good looking but it isn’t the self portraits that have caused woes but her landscapes. It turns out some crowd in england downloaded some of her photos and sold them on as their own. No permission from _rebekka and certainly not paying her either.

Things got warmed up when she found out and contacted the English company, Only-Dreemin,  informed them of the violation and tried to resolve it. She wasn’t lucky

Things got even more interesting when yesterday she post a commentary on what happened, she uploaded the picture above and in the description she detailed all that happened. The internet found it and were disgraced and comments pored into her flickr page denouncing the company and her treatment.

That was until flickr pulled the image leaving behind the following message

“Flickr is not a venue for to you harass, abuse, impersonate, or intimidate others. If we receive a valid complaint about your conduct, we will send you a warning or terminate your account.”

That’s all! Flickr have use _rebekka as a poster child for flickr. The content of her post may be viewed as inflammatory by some, and flickr trying to run damage control did the easiest thing and pulled the image. But she at the very least deserved some behind the scenes contact from flickr. She’s popular and the images themselves came from the website. Flickr run the dangerous risk of becoming like it parent company and lose sight of what made the site successful in the first place and remembering to respect the users.

Digg got taught this lesson last week with the whole AACS fiasco, they sided with the lawyers over the users and got punished fast. The backlash to flickr may not be as extreme but this may be the start of a run of these new web 2.0 companies which are now trying to turn a profit losing sight of priorities and alienating their unrealised asset, the users.

Rebekka story needs to be heard so she’s moved it to her own blog, outside flickr’s censor space keep an on on this link for future details.

Update :

It turns out Flickr came to there sense and issued an apology to Rebekka_ for censoring her picture see here maybe there is hope for flickr yet and they have learned from the digg example, don’t mess with you assets.