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R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

When you say Ray Bradbury the memory of another Golden Age comes back to haunt. One that has just ended when his last legend died. I know, I know, Jack Vance is still alive. And so are others, like James Gunn, but they are familiar faces only to the fans of Science Fiction, whereas Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Dick are familiar to everybody, through their books and movies. Today everybody knows about Asimov’s Foundation or I, Robot, Clarke’s and Kubrick’s Space Odyssey, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, Dick’s Blade Runner, Minority Report or Total Recall or Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles or Fahrenheit 451. They are just part of our world now. If anything, each of these masters predicted some facets of our future. Clarke made lots of predictions about the Space Colonies, Space Flight and Space Elevator. Asimov predicted social networks, created robotics out of nothing and wrote some of the most beautiful space opera about the rise and fall of Galactic Empires. Heinlein predicted the current industrial-military complex that has grown in United States. Dick, was maybe the only one interested in the human facets of the problems, and his works are mostly philosophical in nature, but no less important, because in today’s networked world, identity and privacy are extremely important. As for Bradbury, it’s not just the Martian colonization that we should thank him for, but also for his warnings related to the world without books. His fantasy works inspired an entire generation of writers, from Stephen King to Neil Gaiman. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury! Golden Age ends here. The first one at least.
Ray Bradbury with George and Laura Bush

June 7, 2012 Permalink

A Golden Age – Sustainable living, space and other frontiers

A thousand years from now people will most likely remember this year, and this last week in particular, not for the Facebook IPO or Zuckerberg’s wedding, but for the successful launch of the first private space flight: Space X Dragon. Ten years since its launch, the company of Elon Musk, former co-founder of PayPal, managed to launch the first private capsule without men on board into space. Another PayPal Mafia member, Peter Thiel, has gone on to fund floating islands. Others have launched hundreds of companies. More than any other company’s former founders or employees, the ones that came from PayPal know how to make a stand and create something beautiful. Aim for the stars seems to be their motto. This generation of dreamers more than anything, has created something that their parents hardly dreamt of. We are not that far from Gerard O’Neill’s famous space colonies, even tough many will say we don’t need them. That’s up for debate. What I admire most about Elon Musk is his vision, his ability to fight for his dreams and to follow them to the stars if needed. He is not the rock superstar that Steve Jobs was, but he is able to create and sustain billion dollar ideas out of thin air. Solar City aims to provide energy from sustainable sources to home owners, Tesla Motors will start selling electric sports car, and Space X will reach for the stars. If anything, Musk is not the new Tesla, or Jobs, but a man who can easily act as both of them, which is a rare feat in itself. It is nice to see us going back to space and resurrect dreams from the ’60s or ’70s. It almost feels like a new Golden Age. I only wonder how long will it take this time? 10? 20? 30 years? 30 days? Because if we can be sure of something in today’s world, then we can easily be sure of the fact that golden ages don’t last long.
Elon Musk
As other companies led by such luminaries as Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, or Richard Branson of Virgin fame will follow, we feel a new shift is approaching. This shift will give wings to teenagers. They will no longer dream to be just computer geeks, but hopefully will go back to hard engineering, physics and drawing boards to finally create the world their parents dreamed of. Should we move to Florida instead of Silicon Valley? I mean, of course maybe they will not move here to work for NASA, but these space companies will provide the next gold rush. A gold rush of gargantuan proportion that is, because now we are talking about the whole space: asteroid mining (gold anyone?), terraformations, space hotels, space colonies and all the other things we barely dared to dream about. Buy your house now, as tomorrow it might be too late or too expensive. Welcome to Space!

May 23, 2012 Permalink

Awards Season 2012

We are back from vacation. There are lots of news, so we will just start with Awards Season 2012.

GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS, January 15, 2012
Best Drama – The Descendants
Best Comedy/Musical – The Artist
Best Animated Film – The Adventures of TinTin
Best Actor in a Drama – George Clooney, The Descendants
Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical – Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture – Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Actress in a Drama – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy – Michelle Williams, My Week with Marilyn
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture – Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Director
 – Martin Scorsese, Hugo
Best Screenplay – Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen
Best Score – Motion Picture – The Artist – Ludovic Bource
Best Original Song – Motion Picture – “Masterpiece” – Madonna
Best Foreign Language Film – A Separation, Iran
Cecil B. Demille Award – Morgan Freeman

Best TV Comedy or Musical – Modern Family
Best Television Series – Drama – Homeland
Best Mini-Series – Downton Abbey
Best Actor in a TV Drama – Kelsey Grammer, Boss
Best Actor in a TV Musical or Comedy – Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Best Supporting Actor in TV Series, Mini-Series, or Made-for-TV Movie – Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Best Actress in a TV Drama – Claire Danes, Homeland
Best Actress in a TV Musical or Comedy – Laura Dern, Enlightened
Best Supporting Actress in TV Series, Mini-Series, or Made-for-TV Movie
 – Jessica Lange, American Horror Story
Best Actor in a TV Movie – Idris Elba, Luther
Best Actress in a TV Movie – Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce

Best Picture – The Artist
Best Director – Michel Hazanavicius, THE ARTIST
Best Screenplay – Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, MONEYBALL
Best Actress – Meryl Streep, THE IRON LADY
Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Chastain, THE TREE OF LIFE, THE HELP, TAKE SHELTER
Best Supporting Actor – Albert Brooks, DRIVE
Best Cinematographer – Emmanuel Lubezki, THE TREE OF LIFE
Best Non-Fiction Film (Documentary) – Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Best Foreign Film – A Separation
Best First Film – J.C. Chandor, MARGIN CALL
Special Award – Raoul Ruiz

The Artist
1. The Artist
2. A Separation
3. Drive
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
5. The Tree of Life
6. We Need to Talk About Kevin
7. Melancholia
8. Shame
9. Margaret
10. The Descendants
The Attenborough Award:
We Need to Talk About Kevin
A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius – The Artist
Asghar Farhadi – A Separation
The Virgin Atlantic Award:
Andrew Haigh – Weekend
Jean Dujardin – The Artist
Anna Paquin – Margaret
Meryl Streep – The Iron Lady
Kenneth Branagh – My Week With Marilyn
Sareh Bayat – A Separation
Michael Fassbender – A Dangerous Method, Shame
The Moët & Chandon Award:
Olivia Colman – The Iron Lady, Tyrannosaur
Craig Roberts – Submarine
The Sky 3D Award:
Maria Djurkovic, production design – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The Dilys Powell Award:
Nicolas Roeg

January 22, 2012 Permalink

Goodbye my friend, it’s hard to die: Part 2 – Flex goes open source

Adobe returns with another shocking news: Flex, another Flash product, goes open source. It will be continued by the Apache Foundation. While this might be a smart move, it clearly signals Adobe’s intentions to move out of the Flash ecosystem.

Once the only platform that allowed use to write once, run anywhere, the Flash ecosystem had several great tools:

  • the Flash Player – usually an Active X browser plug-in or a simple plug-in for any browser.
  • the mobile Flash Player – the mobile version of the player.
  • the Adobe Flash editor – the tool that allowed you to author Flash content and create swf files
  • Flex – an Eclipse-based Rich Internet Applications (RIA) editor that offered controls similar to those used to author desktop applications
  • Flash Catalyst – a tool for creating advanced GUIs for RIA
  • Flash Media Server – a server for delivering media content
  • DRM and codecs – were necessary to deliver video through Flash
  • A series of products like Flash Paper and others
  • A series of Flash-like products, decompilers, and RIA tools inspired by Flash which are used to output content into swf files.
  • Now that at least 2 major components are discontinued, the faith of the whole ecosystem is in doubt. This can be the beginning of the end for the Flash ecosystem, but for all the programmers who worked with Flash, the time is not lost. Many of the features introduced in HTML 5 were inspired by Flash, so this new technology is not only the deathly enemy of Flash, but also it’s true heir. If you ever wondered why HTML 5 it’s called like that since most of the new features are in JavaScript, rather than in the new HTML 5 tags, than you are already in the HTML 5 developer’s club and you know that the most important part of the new specs is JavaScript which was the basis for Flash’s ActionScript (as ECMAScript specification).

    November 17, 2011 Permalink

    Goodbye my friend, it’s hard to die – The Death of Mobile Flash

    It’s almost one week and it’s hard to realize that the inevitable eventually happened. And it happened sooner than many would have tought it would happen. It was just common sense that in order to escape from mobile development hell, one would have dump the may platforms like Flash, J2ME, and so on, and focus on a single platform: HTML 5. Of course we are only talking about development packages here, not about operating systems, but the thinking should be the same: when having to deal with thousands of devices and configurations, it’s best to keep things simple and open-source. This is the single most important reason why HTML 5 won the hearts of many so fast.

    Adobe took this decision in order to focus on mobile HTML 5. They already made a Flash like interface for one of their products: Edge. Adobe Edge has all the bells and whistles that once belonged to Flash: elements, object, stage, timelines, triggers, events, transitions, etc, all of them implemented in native JavaScript. It’s not too late for them to win this market. In fact if done right, Edge has the chance to provide the same web domination Adobe used to have with Flash several years ago. It’s just that unlike Flash in the early 2000s, this tool has a lot of competition from simple libraries like JQuery (which it already integrates quite nicely), D3, Popcorn, and many others. But by far, from a developer’s point of view, the biggest competitor is one that has not yet been released, and it’s not really focused on animations: Yahoo! Mojito, a tool that allows you to write the same code for server and client, a promise that is still the Grail for web applications, even tough it’s already several decades old. The Write Once, Run Anywhere has been the Java mantra for almost two decades, but Flash was the only technology to provide it for real. Today, by giving the mobile Flash the axe, Adobe will join a dying Yahoo! in the quest for the new web domination.

    November 14, 2011 Permalink

    The Issue of Intellectual Property and The Free Culture

    Motto: “From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” (Steve Jobs, as quoted in the biography by Walter Isaacson)
    We are safe to assume that Bill Gates has the same philosophy when it comes to Intellectual Property for the simple fact that he made a fortune from IP. And many other Internet or media moguls do. The issue is not however as simple as Jobs described it for the simple fact that the Internet changed all the rules of the game when it comes to IP in some spaces.

    Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

    Coca-Cola - original bottle patent

    Culture and Entertainment. In the cultural spaces, for example, the assumption from which most people start when they consume culture today is that culture should be free. Free open-air concerts, pirate websites and free content available on the Internet have created an idea in people’s minds that anything related to culture should be free. While in theory we can agree with this, there will always be the question of who’s paying the creators? Creating quality content takes time, talent, and dedication. The authors might have spent maybe years trying to create something valuable, but they are not able to cash. The solution is never free culture. It also can not come in the form of overpayment. How many of the movies you have seen lately were worth the price of admission? Regardless of the quality most of the DVDs cost almost the same. Let’s examine the case of the movies a little bit. I’ve just checked for some prices on the street and on-line and guess what I found? The last asian gore, a classic Dolph Lundgren feature, a simple chick flick and the last Tarantino costs the same. While this might be good news for somebody collecting movies in huge quantities regardless of the genre, in general it’s just a fact that helps the piracy even more, because some of the afore-mentioned movies might be of interest for purchasing just for the fans. Renting them on or offline is the usual solution, but it doesn’t solve the problem. The solution is deceptively simple: change the pricing and purchasing options. But how? Charging for quality is subjective (you never know how much somebody would pay for a certain movie) and also against the free culture mantra by all means, even tough it’s common practice (please check the pricing for the movies that won Oscars against those who haven’t, what do you notice?). This will remain an open problem, but purchasing options are definitely changing: from iTunes to Amazon and Hulu, entertainment and culture are available through all channels. We will not dive further into the pricing problem that is faced by the entertainment industry now. We will explore it with another occasion. One thing is clear: the desire for Free Culture and the mass adoption of piracy was not the public saying that they don’t want to pay for something, but rather the public saying that they are tired to eat crappy content and to search for years for certain albums or movies for the simple fact that the entertainment giant refuses to re-edit them. In certain countries where the payment was low and there was also a cultural gap (see former communist countries, for example) piracy flourished because publishing giants were ignorant when it came to their countries.
    What happens to the software industry? Be warned that industry people and common people might understand different things through free software. As defined by Richard Stallman, Free Software is open software, software that comes with the code, but not really unpaid software. If you want you can have free software for which you pay. How does this sounds? Counterintuitive for sure. Free software is also software offered for free legally, software for which you don’t pay money. And of course, while we don’t like it, illegal software is also free, but nobody responds for it. Now here lies the true value: who responds for this software? Who responds if this software ruins my computer? If nobody does it, then you shouldn’t be using it because you don’t know if it’s safe to use it.
    Intellectual Property at its strongest: Patents. Well this year was all about patents. Every major company had to fight at least a dozen process against patent trolls, but also against other major companies. It seems like nobody plays fair anymore. Without patents there will be no protection for new ideas, on one side, but also no source of income for inventors. And as we noticed already, it takes time and money to do something well. Patents are the real engine of the economy. They stimulate competition. Without them we will all be a bunch of copy/pasters, reduced to what the establishment already offers us, without any real capacity to bring disruptive ideas to the market. And yet even leading companies choose to eliminate it from their practices. We should all consider a patent as a recognition of his creator, an homage, as well as a guide to the invention.
    Free Culture or Fear Culture? Free Culture is a recipient for disaster in any space. Can you image tourism thriving in a world of Free Culture? Not really. There is however a thriving fear culture that prospers in the shadow of Free Culture, a Fear Culture, a culture of people that are so scared by new ideas that they prefer to steal instead of experiment.

    November 3, 2011 Permalink

    Net Original Video Content – More Than A Trend

    For many years it was enough for cable companies to redistribute the same content as the national TV networks and the same movies. That was until a company called HBO provided something different: original programs. By doing so they created series like Tales From The Crypt, Oz, The Sopranos, Sex and The City, Rome, Entourage or Boardwalk Empire and inspired a whole industry to follow their model. Even cable networks that were specialized in movies like TNT(now producers of Dallas) or AMC(Mad Men) joined the trend.
    The Internet more or less seems to follow the same trend. Of course for big retailers like Amazon producing their own content is not a necessity, but for smaller brands every bit of original content posted on the Internet can mean new fans.
    Let’s examine a little bit what are the options in the space of original video content for the Internet:

  • Webcasts – online transmissions of actual live events.
  • Webisodes – short episodes (usually few minutes) connected to TV series like Stargate, Lost, etc.
  • Short video clips – you all know what YouTube offers you. Also any respected singer, band, brand offers you a collection of its best videos. It is even recommended to put full HD tunes online.
  • Videoblogs -The video alternative to blogging.
  • Series – These are not yet on par with the TV ones, but they are definitely growing.
  • Animation – Here there is a lot of space for growth. Especially since short clips are always redistributed and almost always viral.
  • We already have more content online than we have on traditional TV. The beauty of it comes from the fact that it’s available to watch at any time (except for the webcasts, of course). Since we are witnessing a shift in advertising funds towards the Internet, we should be prepared for even more original content. In the next weeks we will present you several companies that are focused around building great Original Video Content for the Internet.

    October 25, 2011 Permalink

    One More Thing… A Biography

    OK folks! That’s the last one about Jobs. We had enough in the last months and weeks. We respect him, but it’s time to move on. He would have wanted this. Otherwise he wouldn’t have given us his famous Stanford speech.
    The reason we wrote this is to announce you that today is the official launch of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography. Isaacson wrote several successful biographies like those of Einstein and Franklin when he was approached by Jobs in 2004. The difference this time was that he was able to meet his subject and talk to him for many years and at least 40 times.

    October 24, 2011 Permalink

    Answer Engines

    A.I. has been through different waves during the last decades, from the huge interest in games to expert systems and then to semantic web, but except for games where it is obvious how A.I. technologies are used, people do not really know what is it exactly that researchers in this field do. Are they creating Terminators or are they creating something really useful like a teaching assistant?

    Last days have been full of news about A.I.: from Siri to Knewton, A.I. was everywhere in the news (at least the news about Occupy Wall Street are not about A.I.). Most of the articles were about Siri, of course, and not without merits. It is probably the closest that we have come to realize the vision of personal digital assistants, a key part of the semantic web. It is debatable if Siri is an intelligent agent, but it is clear that it represents a new wave of digital assistant. By saying this we acknowledge that what Apple gave us is far superior to the Microsoft’s ’90s shy attempt at the idea. The Internet is full of clips with Siri and also one of the major news was that it was already ported to the older iPhones like iPhone4. Steve Wozniack, the Apple co-founder, also suggested that there is more to Siri and some features he tested are not yet in the final product. That only means we’ll see them in the future, maybe in the next iPhone. Woz also suggested that this is the future: answer engines, not search engines. It’s not a new ideea since Wolfram Alpha and Quora are working on it for years. It’s just that it’s the first time when an implementation almost gets it right. Kudos to Apple. Quora is not dead. Au contraire. If Apple buys them it might be the next big thing. The Wolfram Alpha as we all know was a fiasco, so it still premature to say if this is really the new trend. People want both: the short (answer engines) and the long answers (search engines), so probably these two are not different markets, but rather facets of the same market.
    Of course search engines are not dead. We hear that DuckDuckGo finally took off. They got funding and started hiring. We hope they don’t take the Cuil route to disaster and that in some day we might be able to really see their dream come true.
    And as if all these news were not enough, we also noticed that Knewton, a start-up focused on education is really attracting a lot of press and money. Their adaptive algorithms are old ideas, but the execution and reviews are stellar. We hope they will change something.
    So as we see everything is focused around A.I. these days. As long as researchers and founders are not building Terminators we are really excited.

    October 16, 2011 Permalink

    Elegy For The Founders

    The founders have died when their creations were rising… It’s not the first or the last phrase of a famous novel, even tough it could be because this is precisely what happened during the last days. So the founders of some companies died right when their creations were everywhere. Which founders? What battle?
    Let’s stop for a moment and analyze what happened during the last days. Please bear with me even tough it will be hard to recite the names and remember what they have done.
    Of course we have to start with Steve (died on the 5th of October). He was instrumental in bringing the digital electronics era to the post-PC age into the land of the greatest consumer electronics ever created. He was so good at what he did that a one year old now thinks that a magazine is just a broken iPad (if you don’t believe this please write magazine is broken iPad). Everybody heard about him and we don’t have to wonder why he was so important. He did not eradicated some maladies like his old frenemy Gates, but he created a world in which technology can be used by everbody. He also helped creating the digital music market which he controlled for the past years.
    Robert W. Galvin (died 11.10.2011) was the head of Motorola from 1959 t0 1988 and Chairman for another 2 years. Under his leadership Motorola developed into a global leader in the semiconductor business but also into the company who pioneered the mobile phones. Maybe he was not Jobs, but his influence is still felt around the world. How would you feel today without a mobile phone?

    Then there is Dennis Ritchie. R.I.P. Dennis (09.09.1941-12.10.2011). In case you wonder who this guy was it’s enough to pronounce 2 words: C and Unix. The programming language and the operating system. If I will also pronounce Space Travel, you will realise that this guy was also important into bringing games into the digital age. Suffice to say that the PC had not one but 2 killer apps: one was the spreadsheet and the other was the ability to play electronic games and you will clearly see that Ritchie was one of the two guys who hold the keys to the future of the digital age back in the ’70s. The fourth thing I will pronounce when it comes to Ritchie is The C Programming Language. Still the best introduction to programming, still the most imitated. If anything, he and Ken Thompson are responsible for bringing programming and the digital age to the masses. The other 2 important persons that finished this process were of course Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Without them the world would have been uglier. The fact that 2 of them died at a distance of only several days is one of the reason why I wrote this elegy in the first place.
    Three founders. Not necessarily of big companies but of a way of life. Three of the founders of our modern digital life. All connected by the passion for technology and death (within several days). And not only their death but also the death of a technology they helped destroyed: film. Yes. Old film camera are now retired. All the remaining producers of film camera (Arri, Panavision, Aaton) announced in the same time that they will let go of their old film camera business. Hollywood is entirely digital anyway. There is no need to go on. Now please go back and read the first phrase. Try to complete it…You will notice it’s very hard to do it for the simple fact there is no greater honor than to die when you have prevailed. So here’s to the crazy ones who believed in a better life: may you all rest in peace. You will be forever missed, even tough we as humans have short memory.

    October 16, 2011 Permalink

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