Wednesday, 27 January 2010

My Google Phone - the Nexus One

So I've had my N1 for just over a week now, and you know what?  It makes my ipod touch look a bit dated: the screen looks a bit washed out soft compared to the N1's amazing sharpness and colour.

A few people commented that they thought I worshipped at the Apple temple, so why no iPhone?  Simple: a) the only way to get one here is to jailbreak it, which I'm unwilling to do for something so expensive, and b) the nexus is cheaper and (hardware-wise) better.  It's actually made me reflect on the cult of Apple, and I think they are heading down the Sony path of too much lock-in. The 'but we do it to protect our customers' line is getting a bit, dare I say it, seedy.  So, while I'm happy for Apple to look after my music and some media (ipod touch, old ipod, macbook pro and mac mini for the TV), I'd like a bit more freedom with my personal device (phone, GPS, 'reality augmenter'). 

So, I've gone Android.  And it's growing on me like a proper favourite tune, rather than one of those over-played catchy tunes that you love then hate.

Now, the iPad ... that's another story... I suspect most people will buy it out of curiosity, rather than because it fits any compelling need in their lives.  After all, what can it do that a laptop + smart phone can't?  Nothing.  The phenomenal success of the iPhone wasn't Apple's marketing, it was a ground-breaking product widening an existing mobile niche (ipods), so that you didn't have to carry around 2 portable devices.  The apps bit was a huge bonus.  The iPad is more a filler.  You use it sitting down... like a laptop. Or walking about... like a phone.  My phone has 800x480 resolution.  I'd guess that's not much less than the iPad's.  So, it's basically a giant phone for the visually impaired...  ;o)

Haiti's history: bullied and blackmailed independence

This was emailed to me by my wife, so I don't have the original publication source (happy to add should anyone with more knowledge stumble upon this post).  It's a pretty lamentable tale, and it certainly puts America's chest-thumping about independence into perspective...

The Hate and the Quake

Published on: 1/17/2010 by Sir Hilary Beckles
THE UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES is in the process of conceiving how best to deliver a major conference on the theme Rethinking And Rebuilding Haiti.
I am very keen to provide an input into this exercise because for too long there has been a popular perception that somehow the Haitian nation-building project, launched on January 1, 1804, has failed on account of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption.
Buried beneath the rubble of imperial propaganda, out of both Western Europe and the United States, is the evidence which shows that Haiti's independence was defeated by an aggressive North-Atlantic alliance that could not imagine their world inhabited by a free regime of Africans as representatives of the newly emerging democracy.
The evidence is striking, especially in the context of France.
The Haitians fought for their freedom and won, as did the Americans fifty years earlier. The Americans declared their independence and crafted an extraordinary constitution that set out a clear message about the value of humanity and the right to freedom, justice, and liberty.
In the midst of this brilliant discourse, they chose to retain slavery as the basis of the new nation state. The founding fathers therefore could not see beyond race, as the free state was built on a slavery foundation.
The water was poisoned in the well; the Americans went back to the battlefield a century later to resolve the fact that slavery and freedom could not comfortably co-exist in the same place.
The French, also, declared freedom, fraternity and equality as the new philosophies of their national transformation and gave the modern world a tremendous progressive boost by so doing.
They abolished slavery, but Napoleon Bonaparte could not imagine the republic without slavery and targeted the Haitians for a new, more intense regime of slavery. The British agreed, as did the Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese.
All were linked in communion over the 500 000 Blacks in Haiti, the most populous and prosperous Caribbean colony.
As the jewel of the Caribbean, they all wanted to get their hands on it. With a massive slave base, the English, French and Dutch salivated over owning it - and the people.
The people won a ten-year war, the bloodiest in modern history, and declared their independence. Every other country in the Americas was based on slavery.
Haiti was freedom, and proceeded to place in its 1805 Independence Constitution that any person of African descent who arrived on its shores would be declared free, and a citizen of the republic.
For the first time since slavery had commenced, Blacks were the subjects of mass freedom and citizenship in a nation.
The French refused to recognise Haiti's independence and declared it an illegal pariah state. The Americans, whom the Haitians looked to in solidarity as their mentor in independence, refused to recognise them, and offered solidarity instead to the French. The British, who were negotiating with the French to obtain the ownership title to Haiti, also moved in solidarity, as did every other nation-state the Western world.
Haiti was isolated at birth - ostracised and denied access to world trade, finance, and institutional development. It was the most vicious example of national strangulation recorded in modern history.
The Cubans, at least, have had Russia, China, and Vietnam. The Haitians were alone from inception. The crumbling began.
Then came 1825; the moment of full truth. The republic is celebrating its 21st anniversary. There is national euphoria in the streets of Port-au-Prince.
The economy is bankrupt; the political leadership isolated. The cabinet took the decision that the state of affairs could not continue.
The country had to find a way to be inserted back into the world economy. The French government was invited to a summit.
Officials arrived and told the Haitian government that they were willing to recognise the country as a sovereign nation but it would have to pay compensation and reparation in exchange. The Haitians, with backs to the wall, agreed to pay the French.
The French government sent a team of accountants and actuaries into Haiti in order to place a value on all lands, all physical assets, the 500 000 citizens were who formerly enslaved, animals, and all other commercial properties and services.
The sums amounted to 150 million gold francs. Haiti was told to pay this reparation to France in return for national recognition.
The Haitian government agreed; payments began immediately. Members of the Cabinet were also valued because they had been enslaved people before independence.
Thus began the systematic destruction of the Republic of Haiti. The French government bled the nation and rendered it a failed state. It was a merciless exploitation that was designed and guaranteed to collapse the Haitian economy and society.
Haiti was forced to pay this sum until 1922 when the last instalment was made. During the long 19th century, the payment to France amounted to up to 70 per cent of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
Jamaica today pays up to 70 per cent in order to service its international and domestic debt. Haiti was crushed by this debt payment. It descended into financial and social chaos.
The republic did not stand a chance. France was enriched and it took pleasure from the fact that having been defeated by Haitians on the battlefield, it had won on the field of finance. In the years when the coffee crops failed, or the sugar yield was down, the Haitian government borrowed on the French money market at double the going interest rate in order to repay the French government.
When the Americans invaded the country in the early 20th century, one of the reasons offered was to assist the French in collecting its reparations.
The collapse of the Haitian nation resides at the feet of France and America, especially. These two nations betrayed, failed, and destroyed the dream that was Haiti; crushed to dust in an effort to destroy the flower of freedom and the seed of justice.
Haiti did not fail. It was destroyed by two of the most powerful nations on earth, both of which continue to have a primary interest in its current condition.
The sudden quake has come in the aftermath of summers of hate. In many ways the quake has been less destructive than the hate.
Human life was snuffed out by the quake, while the hate has been a long and inhumane suffocation - a crime against humanity.
During the 2001 UN Conference on Race in Durban, South Africa, strong representation was made to the French government to repay the 150 million francs.
The value of this amount was estimated by financial actuaries as US$21 billion. This sum of capital could rebuild Haiti and place it in a position to re-engage the modern world. It was illegally extracted from the Haitian people and should be repaid.
It is stolen wealth. In so doing, France could discharge its moral obligation to the Haitian people.
For a nation that prides itself in the celebration of modern diplomacy, France, in order to exist with the moral authority of this diplomacy in this post-modern world, should do the just and legal thing.
Such an act at the outset of this century would open the door for a sophisticated interface of past and present, and set the Haitian nation free at last.
Sir Hilary Beckles is pro-vice-chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Spinning rum yarns through the centuries

Gotta love this short article about the origins of "rumbullion" (rum), grog, bumboo and other such colorful language used to describe the Caribbean's favorite booze.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Why walled gardens are a limited strategy in online ventures

This story prompted me to think about the longevity of Apple's App Store. Apple's secretive and power-crazy ways may yet be its undoing (again - that's why it lost the PC wars: because it insisted on vetting every piece of hardware you plugged into your Apple computer).  In its effort to ensure its customers are truly locked in Apple vettes all App Store apps. Not only has it garnered criticism for:-
  • taking too long to vette apps
  • blocking apps that may compete with its own products (god forbid!)
  • being laughably draconian about age ratings for apps
  • allowing wholly inappropriate apps
.. but it has now added to that list with allowing legally questionable apps.  That's the trouble with dictatorship, even beautifully designed, "lickable", "insanely great" dictatorship: too much control is not sustainable.

Take Facebook, another walled garden.  You can put your content in and share it, but don't expect to take it out again, or have any rights to it.  Now, in the short term who cares?  Sharing your thoughts, pictures and affinities is much more exciting and interesting than how they might be used by an unknown third party.  But what about the longer term?  The biggest demographic in Facebook is 30-40 year olds. The youngsters are not using it.  Is it because it's a 'certain age' tool, or because the yoof have more sophisticated views about their online interactions and privacy?  Facebook's business model (what there is of it) is based on loyalty: its main advantage over Google as an advertiser is that its users stick around for a lot longer - minutes vs the seconds we tend to hover at most other sites.  How does it protect that loyalty?  By subtlely manipulating your privacy and removing your rights to any content you submit.  Effectively, your loyalty is not to Facebook, but to your friends on Facebook - the wisdom of the crowd.  That's not very sustainable as a business model.

Google, for all their dominance and the fear that invokes, have got it right, I think.  They have no walled gardens: there are APIs everywhere and you can move data out as well as in.  Fundamentally, they win and retain market share by offering customers what they want, efficiently.  They want your loyalty but appreciate that the core of that is transparency: you're making choices based on the best possible information, not based on coolness factor, or lock-in because Apple didn't mention that you can only use iTunes with your iPhone or Facebook didn't tell you that there's no easy way to export your personal data, or even see how it is being used.  Don't expect bells & whistles and "lickable" user interfaces.  Just solid, simple products that play nicely with others and gradually evolve - like nice children.  Now there's a sustainable business model.

I'm really not a Google-vangelist: I don't think that they can do no wrong. But I do think that they appreciate that walled gardens weaken you in the long term because just as they hoard super-normal profits, they also breed complacency.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Google Nexus One phone - it's about software, stupid!

From a business perspective, the amazing thing about the ipod/iphone isnt the device, it's itunes. The device is simply the enticement and lock-in to the service, which is where the real revenue is made.

For Google, the Nexus One is simply a delivery mechanism for Google Voice and associated services.

The trouble with other smart phones (including the iPhone) is that they are locked to carriers. Why is that a problem? Imagine your cellular phone company being like your phone company or ISP: you pay a flat rate for a pipe. No plans or charges per call/text/whatever. Your modem isn't owned by them, and nor is your landline phone (the concept seems laughable now).

It's a dream for you, and a nightmare for your cellular provider, who is pushed away from the customer to become a wireless packet herder. So how does a software/service provider reach your dream? By providing you the means to untether from the carrier. Once you're unfettered, you're much more likely to focus on what matters: the software services, and not the proprietariness of the network's packages. Google Voice aggregates your phone numbers into a single voice service, so that, effectively, you no longer need a number, except as a legacy.

Just go big with the thought for a second: imagine if everyone had untethered phones with services like Google Voice. Knowing your carrier-provided phone number would be like knowing your computer's IP address: useful for diagnostic purposes only. In the age of avatars and 'screen names' isn't it quite remarkable that we still have phone numbers?

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Whatever happened to Second Life?

Here's a really interesting article by Barry Collins at PC Pro about a recent visit to Second Life, three years after his initial visit. He tells the story well, and it's a thought-provoking conclusion.