Saturday, September 28, 2013

BPN 1662: Google introduces new search algorithm

Under the name Hummingbird, Google has introduced a new version of het search algorithm. The introduction comes on the 15th anniversary of Google.

The company started out with the search algorithm BackRub, which was based on search software available at Stanford University. The software worked with Boolean principles of AND, OR and NOT, including or excluding keywords. Besides the first searchers usually formed search arguments with a single keyword or more keywords. But as searchers become more sophisticated and are working with concepts and meanings, the search algorithm has become insufficient. In the meantime more than 90 per cent of the search questions are processed through the Hummingbird search algorithm.

This year it is 15 years ago that Larry Page en Sergey Brin incorporated their company and started to work in the garage of Susan Wojcicki, who is now a senior Google executive. On September 27th, 1998 their index system had surpassed Yahoo’s search engine in indexed terms. Interesting is the fact that Google started to collaborate with Yahoo! In 2000 and became their standard search provider. In the same year Google announced the first index with a billion URLs, thus becoming the largest search engine in the world.

The founders of Google knew each other from 1996 onwards. As postdoc students of Stanford University they had started to work together on a search engine, which they called BackRub. The system, on which they based BackRub, was already in use on the servers of Stanford for more than a year, but was abandoned as it used too much band with. By 1997 Page and Brin decided that BackRub needed a new name. After a brainstorm, they selected the name Google, a pundit on the mathematical term googol, which stands for 1 followed by 100 zero’s. The new name also reflected their mission aiming at organising a sheer unending quantity of information on internet.

Friday, September 20, 2013

BPN 1661: Hopes reconstruction Philips Pavilion Expo ’58 dashed

Every competition has its winners and losers. In the European competition Cultural Capitals 2018 the Maltese capital Valletta and the Dutch city of Leeuwarden were the winners. Of course the capital of the Frisian province was very happy. In The Netherlands it had left the cities of Maastricht, The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven behind. All those cities had like Leeuwarden put together a bidbook (see bidbook Leeuwarden). 

Reconstruction Philips Pavilion Expo ‘58
In all those bidbooks you will find fascinating plans. The Eindhoven bidbook contains a plan to reconstruct the Philips pavilion of the Expo ’58 in Brussels and rebuild. The Foundation Reconstruction Philips Pavilion wanted to let the building arise in the Eindhoven neighbourhood of Strijp-S for 8,5 million euro. The reconstructed pavilion should serve as a living lab, where artists and designers could make use of the most advanced technologies. As Eindhoven did not win the bid, the municipality will not put up any money for the reconstruction. So the Foundation will have to collect the money itself. It will take a year to get the sum together; otherwise it will abandon the plan for reconstruction.

 Why reconstructing the pavilion?
You can ask why a building of 1958 has to be reconstructed again. There are pro’s and con’s. One reason against it would be that the Expo ’58 has already a monument in Brussels, the construction of aluminium spheres, the Atomium. But of course the pavilion is a landmark of futuristic architecture. Having such a retro building in the neighbourhood would be a tourist attraction. The pavilion was built by the design bureau of the famous French architect Le Corbusier, but the design was executed by his assistant Iannis Xenakis. However after the Expo ’58 the building was demolished with the permission of Le Corbusier as it had not been designed for eternity. The argument that the reconstructed building would serve as a living lab and as an inspiration to artists and designers is interesting destination, but also an expensive one. The real reason for reconstructing the pavilion should be that the pavilion plus the performance called Poème Electronique marks the beginning of multimedia and the transition from analogue multiple media to digital multimedia. 

Starting point of multimedia
In this bold architectural pavilion Philips presented its first large multiple media performance. At the World Exposition of 1958 Philips wanted to symbolise progress and innovation: light, sound, electronics and computing. The idea was generated by Louis Kalff, the art director of Philips. He gave the assignment to the design bureau of Le Corbusier, who involved the Greek architect Iannis (Yean) Xenakis and the French-American composer Edgar Varèse. Iannis Xenakis would design the pavilion, Varèse would take care of the music and Le Corbusier was in charge of the images and the sound and vision.
The ground plan of the pavilion took the form of the human stomach with a surface of 1.000 m2 and a height of 22 meter. The construction technology used was innovative, as it existed of a geometric construction with pipers and blocks of concrete. The interior was empty with standing room for 500 people.

The visitors got to see a slide show with images projected all around 360 degrees, supported by electronic music coming from 400 speakers. The multiple media show named Poème Electronique, lasted 480 seconds and demonstrated the history of mankind in sound and vision with images from nature, masks and old cultures, armoury, children, matures seniors, cities, birth, life and death.
The object of the project was to produce and present a show, in which sound and vision will mix into one entity and offer a gross spacious experience (Gesamtkunst). The spectacle started with the announcement: ‘Philips has designed automatic devices which introduces a new art form with borderless opportunities, namely the electronic cooperation of light, colour, image, word and music in space. The electronic poem shows how our mechanised civilisation strives after a future new harmony.  
‘However the cooperation between the artists was less than expected. Besides, the 75 year old Varèse got into conflict with the sound experts of Philips. Yet the visitors left the pavilion flabbergasted, overwhelmed by the images, sounds and technological pinnacles.
The pavilion, which had costed Philips 6 million Dutch florins (less than 3 million euro), was demolished after the World exposition and the creative production sank into oblivion. Poème Electronique was revived in 2005 and could be experienced at a conference in The Hague. The slide projectors were replaced by a few PCs, while the 400 speakers were replaced by a few surround boxes. The 480 seconds long performance can now be seen (but not experienced) on YouTube with a Dutch language introduction and on an English language internet site.

(Fragment in italics comes from the Dutch language book on Pre-internet: Toen digitale media nog nieuw waren – Pre-internet in de polder (1967-1997)).

Saturday, September 14, 2013

BPN 1660: Every Dutch e-book buyer is a potential pirate

Dutch book publishers fear for piracy. Lagging behind the music, movie and game industries, it thinks that it will be able to eradicate e-book piracy. From now on, the data of every buyer of e-books with a watermark will be registered and kept in a database for at least two years. The watermark will have the name of the buyer on every page and a few invisible marks.

The Dutch entertainment police BREIN has made it mandatory for internet booksellers and book distributors, using the distribution platform eBoekhuis of CB , formerly Central Book House, to register e-book customer data  and to provide those to the foundation BREIN, when asked for. The booksellers in the Netherlands and Belgium will have to retain the data for two years.

Recently, a large number of Dutch e-book publishers disbanded DRM , the lock on e - books. They were convinced that the DRM lock hindered selling e - books hinders. E-books could not be copied to multiple devices. With a watermark in Adobe EPUB and PDF formats , distribution over more than one platform is possible. Through the watermark the book can be traced back to the original buyer, who does not need to be the uploader. The 2,500 participating booksellers in the Netherlands and Belgium are required to sign an agreement with the foundation BREIN to exchange the data in case of abuse .

This obligation seems to conflict with the privacy of the e-book buyer. BREIN says it will not chase private uploaders, but it will go after identifying (commercial) uploaders of particular torrent sites.
MP Astrid Oosenbrug of the Dutch Labour Party has asked parliamentary questions to the Minister of Security and Justice whether e-book shops are allowed to register personal data and keep these data for at least two years .

Doubts about the BREIN method
In the Dutch language book publishing world there is doubt as to the method BRAIN wants to apply . The largest e-book webshop has already indicated is not sign the agreement. Academic publisher Springer SBM states that illegal copying and distribution of e – book, has not affected  sales. Also General publisher Meulenhoff Boekerij does not believe that  watermarking will eliminate piracy, but it may help to reduce piracy . On a publisher of Meulenhoff Boekerij says: " Piracy often arises from dissatisfaction. You need to offer the buyer a good price and no hassle" .

The question is now whether the watermark , registration and data retention will deter pirates from copying and distributing. The e-book buyers , who have paid for an e - book copy , will not easily pass the book for duplication. In addition, most online webstores store purchases in personal libraries for the reader in case of loss.

The question is now whether e-book buyers will shy away from a purchase due to the registration and data retention. For now every Dutch buyer of a watermarked e-book  is a potential pirate. Besides you can wait for it: one day in the near future a collection of personal data  of buyers of a watermarked e-book will be found in a street on the street, just as happens to government and banking data.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

BPN 1659: WSA Grand Jury 2013 in Tallinn, Estonia (8)

Just imagine: one startup to almost 1000 Estonians. That is the remarkable statistic about the wave of startup activity in Estonia in the 10th anniversary year of Skype. Their company names cover the full alphabet from A-Z. All these companies are located at the TechnoPol IT park in Tallinn. The Technopol IT park is a cooperation of the Estonian business community, the government and the university. The park is almost symbolically situated next to the international airport. The startups can and do fly out at short notice.

The success of the intensive business started in 2000 when the Estonian government began working on an e-government. But it the e-gov innovation did not take place in just a void. Estonia had already a fine IT infrastructure. The e-Cabinet was eventually shaped by four independent IT companies. But also businesswise IT was doing well. In fact Estonia became the cradle of Skype. When this company was sold to eBay in 2005 for 1.9 billion euro, part of the money was ploughed back in the country, creating a wave of startups. Skype, in the meantime part of Microsoft, has still a substantial subsidiary of 400 people in Estonia (see photograph).
Healthcare is an area of attention. The care sector has formed the eHealth Foundation, which develops health care solutions for in the hospital with tablets, but also mobile solutions, while on-the- go, for example in an ambulance.

The range of applications and systems is very wide. The firm Defendec has set apart the company IoT (Internet of Things), which creates machine-to-machine solutions, solving smart streetlight plans.  

One of the winners of the World Summit Award 2013 is GoSwift. This is an application for truckers who want to cross the border from Estonia to Russia. This used to be a problem with long waiting times, lots of waste and garbage as well as selling tickets to the highest bidder. By setting up a queu management system waiting times have been cut down, waste and garbage reduced and corruption cut out.

Monday, September 02, 2013

BPN 1658: WSA Grand Jury 2013 in Tallinn, Estonia (7)

Estonia is a fine European example of e-government. As it has a short constitutional history, its government could choose new opportunities without lugging its history along. So having written its constitution, the Estonian government started looking at new methods to conduct its way of governing. By August 8, 2000 the government held its first e-Cabinet session in its government house, Stenbock. The system was procured by the Government Office and provided by by four Estonian IT companies. In the meantime the system has become a usual feature.

The system is used for public consultations, inter-ministerial consultations, submissions of drafts to the Government and the Parliament. For the citizens and organisations it offers opportunities to add their comments to drafts and keep themselves informed on new drafts and changes. The system is also linked to the State Gazette.

The e-Cabinet system is used for preparing the sessions of Government, sharing documents and information with ministries and in preparation of meetings. The e-Cabinet is also used for the sessions of the Government. And naturally the system is used to keep the digital archives of relevant documents. Users of the e-cabinet are members of the Government and roughly 500  officials involved in the preparation of the decisions; each user category has distinct privileges.

The ministers can find in the e-Cabinet session agendas, agenda items and documents in digital form since 2000. The minister can read documents, summaries and decisions, but also mark positions and add comments to each agenda item. And sign documents, electronically.

You can ask of course why the e-Cabinet was needed? Has the governance improved? From the perspective of the government the movement of information on paper documents was slow. There was occasional disorder of documents and puzzles on various versions. Most agenda items were discussed, while they could have been hammered through with a few annotations. This all lead to long meetings of 4 to 5 hours or more. But this has changed now. There is early information on agenda items, fast and simple access to all documents needed. Pre-session voting by expressing opinions before the meeting. And no paper dossiers.
It is clear that the e-cabinet is not just software, but that it addresses processes. Things have changed and new questions have emerged and answered such as digital archiving, data protection, user privileges. Besides the information does not stand alone, but has to work together with other systems. But the problem of one or many comes up: too many information systems may become a major issue. But the lesson learned is: KEEP IT SIMPLE. As a spin-off of the use by the ministers , officials are using the system, but also the citizens and organisations.

The digital tools have changed over the years. In 2000  every minister had its desktop computer, as can be seen from the photograph of the first e-Cabinet session on August 8, 2000. Now each minister has a portable computer, as can be seen from a photograph taken on August 30, 2013. But this will soon be history too. Before the end of the year the ministers will answer to the principle of BYOD, bring your own device.

Of course the Esonian story sounds like a fairy tale. However in 2007 Estonia was subjected to a major cyberwar during a dispute with neighbouring Russia. This led the country to put together a ‘Tallinn Manual’ on how to defend against cyberwarfare.
The e-Cabinet is a success story. Coming from the Netherlands where we pride ourselves to be in the front of the digital movement, Dutch e-government can still learn a lot from Estonia. Of course we have an ID, the so-called DIGID, but we cannot sign documents using the digital ID. Of course we can take notice electronically of new legal proposals, however Dutch organisations and citizens cannot participate in the preparations or debates. The aim of this project was the development of an electronic e-participation system that enables citizens to submit ideas, discuss them and vote for them. It all started in June 2001 when the Estonian government launched a public participation portal named “Today I decide” (known under the Estonian acronym “TOM”). The TID+ project is inspired by the experiences with the TOM tool. The Dutch government meetings are still not completely digital; there is still a lot of paper involved.  But there are more differences. In Estonia they have 13 ministers for 1,4 inhabitants. In the Netherlands we have also 13 ministers, supported by 7 State secretaries, for 16 million citizens. In the Netherlands we abolished online voting as privacy was not guaranteed. In Estonia online voting facilities were implemented in Estonia in 2005, and accounted for a quarter of votes cast in the 2011 elections. Of course here the ID card is at the heart of the online voting. And no less than 95 per cent of the Estonian population files taxes online.

The e-Cabinet experience has a spin-off in the e-Governance Academy. The Estonians are now training officials in various countries in e-government such as Belarus, Haiti, Moldavia, Mongolia, Palestine and Tajikistan. The e-gov Academy also supplies master programs to universities. And the experience is also applied close to home in local and cross-border programs.  

Sunday, September 01, 2013

BPN 1657: WSA Grand Jury 2013 in Tallinn, Estonia (6)

No, it was not the 10th year anniversary of Skype, nor the preparations of the soccer match between Estonia and the Netherlands that a group of 25 people from some 20 countries around the world arrived in Estonia. The 25 people formed the Grand Jury of the sixth edition of best content competition, the Grand Jury members of the World Summit Award which event had been invited to Tallinn, Estonia. The national Estonian expert, Katri Ristal, had been able to organise a three day program with the help of the Estonian government, Estonian IT companies and the European Union. And an interesting three days it has been. The schedule shows slots for judging the shortlisted 111 submission in the eight categories. But there was also an exchange between IT companies and the government.

The old city and ports in one picture
It was our first time in Estonia. Flying into the country it looked much like the Netherlands. It is flat and I am told that the highest point in Estonia is under the 400 metres. The driver that picked us up at the airport, hearing that it was the first time in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, made a detour in order to show the old city. It is a very compact walled city with towers, a lot of cobble stones and picturesque handy craft shops. From the window in the hotel room, we looked out on the seaport and the old city. Tallinn is a much visited city for people on a cruise on their way to Russian city of Saint Petersburg. Daily cruise ships arrive with hundreds of visitors, who crowd the city. Also every two hours a ferries arrive and leave for Finland, Sweden and other destinations.
Estonia is an interesting, fast growing country. It became independent in 1991 from Russia. This has given the country the advantage to become a new state with a new constitution. By August, 8, 2000 the cabinet became an e-cabinet, where the 13 ministers did not handles paper files any more, but digital files. Estonians citizens have a digital ID and they can use their ID card for placing signatures. The country also has an e-guard, a voluntary organisation defending the digital government and business systems. The country has also become a cradle for new technology. Estonia is the home of Skype, which was launched 10 years ago. The sale of Skype to Microsoft has brought its founders millions of euro, which have partly been invested in new companies in Estonia.  

The event started with a get-together at the Austrian embassy. As Austria was the initiator of the World Summit Award, the Austrian diplomatic corps often opens the event of a Grand Jury or an Award ceremony. Now it was the turn of the Austrian ambassador Ms Renate Kobler (3rd from the left) to be the host. Also the Dutch ambassador drs. Jos Schellaars was present.