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September 2005

Dylan

Alas, I've been way too busy this week to watch the TV screening of Scorsese's Dylan documentary, No Direction Home — but it's available very soon from Amazon UK on DVD. Gratitude to Book World for bringing the extensive press coverage to my attention (it really has been a very busy week!):

Philip has a good post-Scorsese-watching piece here. Time for me to catch up and read Chronicles


Mobility issues

We have been thinking about the ways in which pupils and staff in our school will be connecting to the web in the months and years immediately ahead. Both campus-wide wireless provision and the expectation that hand-held devices will be common figure prominently in our planning. The huge success of hand-held devices, in particular mobile phones and their ever-evolving range of roles, may make the latter appear a no-brainer, but the laptop isn't dead yet. Time will come, though, when we take our hand-helds with us around the campus, perhaps docking them back in our studies and using there a standard keyboard/screen combo. (On the integration of WiFi into mobile phones, see, for example, this Time article.)

Some colleagues are concerned about increased distraction in classes when powerful mobile devices become ubiquitous. William Blaze has some interesting thoughts about this, including the idea that laptops are primarily a problem as they can create a physical shield between student and teacher/class.

… there are three main uses for the computer in a meeting or classroom, note taking, distraction and instant research. … Using the computer for distraction is the classic anti laptop in the room case, but I'm not sold. Sure their is a certain dynamic to IM that might pull people farther away from the topic at hand, but just how much does it differ from someone handwriting a love letter, doodling or reading all the small print on whatever they pulled from their briefcase? Any additional distraction the internet might bring is easily offset by what it can add to the conversation, no? I like laptops being in a classroom for about two reasons, google and wikipedia. Fast, cheap information. An in room error correction machine. When used correctly the internet can transform a room from a closed information space, into an open one.

*****

There is no finer enthusiast for the mobile phone than Russell Beattie:

People constantly say, “I just want my mobile to make phone calls,” Right? Well the answer to this is … “Your phone is always with you, wouldn’t it be nice if helped do other things as well? Inform? Entertain? Assist you and remind you? You’re lugging the thing around 24/7 anyways, as long as it’s there it might as well be useful!” This is the thing, most people don’t realize mobile phones can do all that, and most U.S. developers just look at it as an anemic platform unworthy of their time, just like Janne said. But it’s not! It’s this great device sitting idle in the pockets of billions of people, all day every day, just waiting to be put to work! Let’s give it something to do! Now is the time! Russell Beattie

The mobile phone is a PLATFORM now. Get it? Long gone are the days when it was used for just making phone calls … Get used to the fact that mobile phones are now the most important piece of technology in the world. More important than your PC or your television or your iPod. Russell Beattie

Mobility is going to change life as we know it - in some places it has already shaped world events and changed history. The ubiquity of the technology is the key to all of this and the lowly mobile phone is the shape of the box in which all of this possibility is kept in. It’s not the computer or the laptop or the PDA, and it’s not WiFi or WiMax, it’s the modern mobile phone. That’s just the way it is … Russell Beattie

So what makes the mobile phone different from a laptop? Janne Jalkanen:

I was listening to the Supernova 2005 panel on mobility as a podcast, and got progressively angrier at the complete lack of vision from their part: everybody was treating mobile phones as just lighter versions of laptops. Then I also read Charlie's commentary on the same subject, and got rather ranty on another blog. Mobile phones are not just bad browsers on resource-constrained devices with crappy connectivity and non-free voice. This is something we Nokians keep iterating over and over. But as I uttered those words, enraged at nobody in particular, I realized that I lack the proper explanation on what really makes a phone different from a laptop with Skype. And if I can't figure it out, then maybe these people are right. Maybe mobile phones should just be treated like computers with tiny screens?

I have a few explanations, though not many: … mobile phones are mostly background devices, whereas a laptop has a tendency of consuming all your attention, becoming a foreground device. The usage patterns are fundamentally different: a mobile phone is always on, always connected, always with you. It's not a Big Brother, but more like a Little Brother, if you excuse the pun. Another difference I can think of is that a mobile phone is more of a physical object than a laptop is: The mobile phone gets decorated with covers and straps and things; the laptop stays the same …

Charlie Schick:

I definitely see that a pocketable, networked, one-hand operated device is the core of the mobile lifestyle. A laptop can never be a true part of one’s mobile lifestyle. … the phone sits in the background, waiting until you need it. Then - a call comes in, an item comes into view that is great for a video or photo, a calendar reminder goes off - and you make the choice to bring it into the foreground. Successful mobile devices are ones that are background devices that don’t force themselves into the foreground. Background activities can be listening to music, waiting for appointment reminders, carrying snippets of actionable data (contact info, calendar, some notes, a to-do list), and waiting for a call or SMS. Things like video, chat, playing games, and browsing the Web are full-time foreground activities, and, while they can be done while away from the desk, aren’t really things I consider doable while walking or driving, or even for small snippets of time.

… to create an app that is truly geared for the mobile lifestyle, you need to take advantage of the background status of the mobile device and not bring it too far or often into the foreground.

Building "background-ness" into the hand-helds of the future can only add to their value in the classroom.

*****

I took many things away from Marko Ahtisaari's posting about the shared mobile future. One tiny shard from there: the Finnish for mobile phone is 'kännykkä, meaning extension-of-the-hand'. To be this "natural", the phone has much development to undergo. Christian Lindholm has said:

The future of mobility is not a bandwith problem. We have a screen problem and that is terminal. The only way to get around it in small handhelds is to design content specifically optimised for small handsets.

Far too few of the big players are paying attention to mobility issues; Charlie Schick makes this point here. One problem, then, for schools, as mobile devices become ever more common, is that accessing web sites on them is as yet tedious, time-consuming and frequently deeply unrewarding (and expensive).  (Mobile Design has some helpful suggestions about how to adapt your website for a mobile device, prefaced by this: 'Publishing a mobile version of your content is harder than it should be. One significant technical leap must be made in order to give users a seamless experience … device detection, the relatively simple concept of routing different devices to the most appropriate content for that device.')

As things are now, we need to be candid about how we use our hi-tech phones. As far as my experience goes, I'm in broad agreement with Jason Kottke. Thumbs-up to clock, voice and text messaging. Email: last year, I ran my email through a Sony-Ericsson P900, but it was all a bit less than a pleasure. This year, with a Nokia 6630, I haven't bothered, and, like Jason, find that it hasn't mattered. Accessing the web: my preferred device for this is my laptop, too. (If the camera on my phone were better, I'd use it more. I'm eyeing the N90 come Xmas — the turn-around point in my 12 month upgrade cycle).

*****

'Next year there will be more than 2 billion mobile phone users in the world. … Mobile phones today have become ubiquitous, embedded into the fabric of everyday life. They have become a mobile essential. If someone owns a mobile phone today it is likely to be one of the three things that she always carries with her, the other two being keys and some form of payment.' — Marko Ahtisaari. And he goes on:

The mobile platform - because of its scale and its focus on the big human fundamental of social interaction - is a center of gravity for other familiar benefits and functionalities. Think of the clock. Imagine how many people wake up to a phone each morning, how many have stopped using a wristwatch. Or, to take a more recent example, the camera is now moving onto the mobile platform.

The future is definitely mobile. Schools must look to it and work out their strategies now. In fact, Marko's figures are already out of date, as Russell Beattie's post here makes clear ('Yep, we’ve hit the 2 Billion Mobile Phone mark ahead of schedule') — and see update below. Russell goes on, though, to say:

… the 2 billion number gets the headlines, but the real story to me is the penetration rates of faster networks and more powerful handsets. Over the next 18 months we’re going to see a dramatic increase in the number of advanced phones out there, which is really going to be exciting for those of us wanting to use these phones as a platform.

*****

Update (22.9.2005). Important posting that went up yesterday on Communities Dominate Brands. Much made me sit up and take note. Key excerpts:

The research organisation Ovum and the GSM Association released the data on Sept 18, 2005, that worldwide there are now 2 billion mobile phone users. …

Putting the number in context. There are twice as many mobile phones, than there are internet users of any kind. There are three times as many mobile phones than there are personal computers. There are more mobile phones than credit cards, more mobile phones than automobiles, more mobile phones than TV sets, and more mobile phones than fixed/wireline phones. In fact a staggering 30% of the global population carries a mobile phone. Since Taiwan first did it in 2001, today over 30 countries have achieved over 100% cellphone penetration rates, and even laggard USA has gone past the 50% penetration rate. In the most advanced mobile markets such as Finland, Italy and Hong Kong the typical first-time cellphone customer is under the age of 10. It is the only digital gadget carried by every economically viable person on the planet. Younger people have stopped using wristwatches and rely only upon the mobile phone for time. It is the only universal device, and the device of the Century.

Every mobile phone user can be reached by SMS text messaging (ie more than twice the number of people that can be reached by e-mail). Each mobile phone can handle payments (if the mobile operator/carrier decides to enable that ability) … And almost every mobile phone user keeps the mobile phone literally within arm's reach 24/7. Yes, 60% of us actually take the mobile phone physically to bed with us, either to use the alarm feature or to hear incoming text messages.. If we lose our wallet we report it in 26 hours. If we lose our mobile phone we report it in 68 minutes. As to those who are new to these phenomena, no, we don't only use the phone outside. In fact 70% of all phone calls are placed indoors, and a whopping 60% of all data access by mobile phone is done indoors.

… the mobile phone is becoming the evolution target for much of the converging industries. 19% of all music revenues are generated by mobile phones. 14% of videogaming software revenues come from mobile phone games. More cameraphones are sold this year than all non-mobile phone digital cameras ever sold. … there is a big future in the convergence of TV and mobile. … In fact almost all community behaviour is migrating to mobile phones, from blogging (there are more mobile blog sites already than there are regular internet blogsites - but most of the moblog sites are in two languages I don't speak - Korean and Japanese) to videogaming to dating to chat to TV-interactivity such as voting for reality shows etc.


Memeorandum

Best short appreciation that I've seen to date is from Robert. This is the key extract:

Use Memeorandum. Find any story that interests you. Now turn on Memeorandum's blog search (click preferences at the top of the page and check "Show Link Search" and click on "Done." Now, under each top headline you'll see an entry for "Link Search" that includes links to Google, Bloglines, Technorati, and Ice Rocket for JUST THAT ENTRY. This is killer because now you can really dig into the long tail (you know, those blogs that don't have many people linking to them). … Google's new entry didn't change my behavior the way that Memeorandum did.


Synchronicity

Via bowblog, a Will Self anecdote from The Independent. Steve Borwick says: 'The good thing about the paper's otherwise-annoying paid-for service is that the free taster is just long enough to include the punchline of a very good coincidence gag'. Here it is:

In this space last week, I recalled a drive through the Australian outback - from Alice Springs to Ayer's Rock - during which I managed to miss the only turn for 500 kilometres due to marijuana intoxication. The same journey was notable also for the most extreme coincidence involving children's literature. We were bombing along, the desert on either side of the thin, tarmac strip, dimming from ochre, to magenta, to purple; my wife was reading our then two-year-old son a jolly little book that had the hook line: "Children, children what do you see?" Whereupon the lector turned the page to reveal a creature, then chanted - hopefully accompanied by the compliant kiddie - "I see a green turtle looking at me!"

She had just got to the point where the chant was "I see a red bird looking at me!" when a large red bird flew into the windscreen, leaving a smear of blood, a few wing feathers and a large crack. Shocked as much by the synchronicity as the near-fatal SVR ("Single Vehicle Rollover" as this most common accident is termed in Australia) I pulled over and panted atop the wheel for a few minutes. "If you think that was a lucky escape," my wife said after a while, "on the next page there's a blue horse."


Desktop OS crossroads looming

Julian Bond has just posted about MS, Longhorn, DRM and the option to choose Mac over PC:

… I'm reading more and more about how Intel and Microsoft in conjunction with the hardware manufacturers will be bolting DRM in various forms right in the middle of the OS. I'm reading about how I won't be able to do what I want to do. The only reason I stay with XP is because so much software appears on XP first, Apple later and if you're lucky and Linux hardly at all. But if significant software I want to run is prevented from running, It's finally going to tip me over the edge to switch.

The other side to this is that MS is getting into the classic big software project mentality. Whatever the bug or feature is, it will be fixed in the version that comes out with Longhorn. Because all the software is so intimately tied to the OS, there's come a point where they can no longer ship each individual piece early and often. Everything has to wait for the big release. And that big release therefore ends up being vast and untestable. And late.

Now it looks like I'm going to be due a machine upgrade round about the time of the Longhorn release. And by chance that coincides with when Apple-Intel laptops should be available. So finally I'm being forced into making a choice that I otherwise could have put off for a bit longer. Will I stay with MS for another cycle or is this the time I jump ship? Will all the endless annoyances of Windows being added to by another load of DRM and control finally tip me over the edge?

I think I'm not alone in this. A Unix based OS with a pretty face, stable drivers, and easy access to all that OSS feels awfully attractive. Just maybe a Linux distro will be as good as Mac OSX but I kind of doubt it.

So I think this should be a call to arms to Apple and the OSS cadre. You've got 2 years or so to become a completely credible alternative. If you can manage it then you can do us all a favour and blow MS out of the water. Because everyone who currently uses XP is going to be faced with the same choice I am. And that's the perfect moment to say "'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more" and just switch.

'I think I'm not alone in this.' I've been having the same thoughts for a few months now and my next machine upgrade will also be due around the time Longhorn finally hoves into view and Apple-Intel laptops appear. I've been following the "discussion" that Cory has been at the centre of, concerning Apple and DRM (Trusted Computing), and there's still plenty of time for the picture to change substantially, but right now, if I had to say how I'll be choosing, I'd say I'll probably be going with Apple.


Getting it

Doc Searls:

It's interesting to think about the container transport concepts behind "getting" as a synonym for understanding. When you "get" what somebody says, you're saying a sum of knowledge has been delivered to you, in a form you can use. "I gather..." makes a similar assumption, through the same deep unconscious metaphor: knowledge is a substance, a commodity: something you can harvest and ship.

Doc quotes Terry Heaton's The Matter of "Getting It":

… one no longer needs to own the infrastructure in order to publish, distribute or broadcast content. This is turning the media world upside-down, and most of the traditional media response, I'm sorry, falls under the category of "they just don't get it."

Doc:

Terry goes on to give a lot of good advice. Meanwhile, however, I think we have a deeper problem, and that's with the concept of knowledge as a solid substance. Think how much of what we talk about here is provisional. It's not thought out all the way. Often (usually?) it can't be delivered as a finished product because it isn't finished, and won't be for a long time. Much of what we do is pass along interesting information about subjects we won't be done talking about for a long time.


Andrew Rasiej

Esther Dyson's Flickr photo, and she says:

He's founder of MOUSE, a nonprofit dedicated to getting computers into the hands of New York schoolchildren; now he's running for Public Advocate of New York City.

I was skeptical when he stopped by, but his message is much more than WiFi for the People. He wants transparent and responsive government, which should lead to people feeling they *can* make a difference and getting motivated to do so. The Net and broadly available WiFi are just a means to that end. As someone once said, "Your responsibility does not end with complaining." Andrew is taking up the cudgel and trying to prove all that stuff - the empowering Internet, the changing balance of power, citizen involvement - can actually happen not just in Silicon Valley among the elite, but in New York City among real people....

Doc Searls blogs:

Andrew's is a long tail campaign (if not a long tale: the election is September 13: next Tuesday). And he's is the long shot candidate here, too. The New York Times didn't make it any easier this morning when it endorsed the incumbent.

On the Op-Ed hand, Times columnist Tom Friedman last month had this to say about Andrew and what his new generation of people-connecting (and -connected) politicians bring to the table. And why we need it. Also, in the 20-20 hindsight of Katrina, why the current generation of politicians and bureaucrats suffers increasingly for lack of it.

Even if you don't live in New York, your connections can make a difference. :

FLASH: 30,000 votes could swing this thing. Shit! there's 30,000 people in my ZIP code - I could walk a pizza over to any one of them. And if you don't act, it won't happen, because Andrew's campaign has been opposed by the Democratic establishment in this town. Without We the Webizens, he's toast.

Now imagine if the New York City's #2 elected official knew he got elected due to your help, so you were welcome to drop by when you're in town, bring the kids.

Imagine a New York City government that knew the difference between a server and a waiter. Imagine helping Bloomberg get past his view that we must dig up the streets to install Muni WiFi (actual quote!).

If you believe in the values of the blogosphere and can spell HTTP, you want Rasiej to lead this assault on complacent, clueless government. That insight makes you responsible for 3 votes for Andrew Rasiej in the NYC Democratic Primary next Tuesday, September 13. This should easy and fun, because no one you know cares who is the New York City Public Advocate...

Most Netizens know 3 NYC registered Democrats. None of them give a damn who is the Public Advocate, so they'll be happy to vote for Andrew Rasiej if you just tell them it's important to go vote and to pull the Rasiej lever and that doing so qualifies them and you to join the Transition Committee.

One more thing. When you've ID'd your 3 committed voters and know that they know where & when to vote next Tuesday, ID the 3 people like you who can have as much influence on New York City as you. Tell 'em to drop the latté and get busy for, like 20 minutes. Train those 3 how to deliver 3 votes also.

Rinse. Repeat.

More info here. UK politicans, please look and learn.