Saturday, October 27, 2007

OLPC Austria T-Shirts

Aaron had already mentioned our OLPC Austria T-Shirts in an entry on his OLPC blog the other day and now I'm proud to be able to show you the first photos of it:

Needless to say that we all looked clock-stopping hot with our t-shirts during today's presentation at the Elevate;-)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

OLPC Austria @ Elevate Festival

I'll be heading out to the station in about half an hour to catch a train to Graz, a city in the south of Austria, where OLPC Austra will be featured in a presentation and workshop at the Elevate festival. Our presentation will be held tomorrow, Friday, Oct. 26th, from 11 a.m. at the Grüne Akademie so if you happen to be in Graz then do stop by! (full English information about our presentation)

Aaron and I will probably make roughly the same presentation we had at the Vienna University of Technology 2 weeks ago. I will be proposing a couple of small changes though to improve things a bit. Additionally I'm currently studying the notes I took while watching the video of our last presentation, there are a couple of things that I definitely want to improve upon. One of the things that always happen when I make a presentation or talk or something is that I speak way too quickly and don't include enough pauses to give people a time to think about what I said. I also tend to have at least one nervous gesture, at the university presentation it was a swinging right hand that kept going back and forth while I was talking. Another area I have to work on is deciding whether I'll be speaking in dialect or straight-forward German because I do have the habit of switching back and forth mid-sentence which does sound a bit odd.

Enough, gotta run if I still want to buy some food and drinks before I head to the train-station... :-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Viennale - Viennale International Film Festival

We're well into October by now which not only means that my birthday is approaching and the weather is getting crappier by the day. The most important thing going on at the moment is the Viennale - Viennale International Film Festival - a definite highlight here when it comes to movies. While I still think that the crossing europe film festival that takes place in Linz each April is the better festival the Viennale is still a great time to be in Vienna. On the day they started selling tickets, Saturday - October 10th, I got up at 10 a.m. to buy the tickets for the 10 movies I wanted to see. Unfortunately one of them has been canceled and the replacement flick doesn't sound too interesting so all in all I'll see 9 movies until the festival ends on October, 31st. While 9 movies in 2 weeks might sound a lot it's nothing compared to the 19 films I saw during this year's crossing europe which lasted 5 days. :-)

Up to now I saw 4 films with three of them being extremely good and one being mediocre. The mediocre one was called "Cocalero" and it's basically a documentary that followed Evo Morales, now president of Bolivian, during the last few weeks of his electoral campaign in 2005. I can't really pinpoint why I didn't like the film that much but I guess it's related to the fact that I spent 2 weeks in Bolivia in summer 2005. Therefore the film didn't really offer me any new insight into the country or person as I was basically aware of what was going on at the time.

The first movie I had seen was "Monkey Warfare" by Canadian director Reginald Harkema and IMDB sums up its story in this sentence: "Two ex-revolutionaries living underground have their lives turned upside down by a sexy young radical who goes from smashing SUVs to fighting gentrification with firebombs." It was an extremely good movie and I especially loved the performance by the main characters. Plus during the discussion before and after the movie the director offered to trade a copy of the soundtrack for some green beans which of course resulted in lots of laughter from the audience.

The third movie I saw was a German production called "Am Ende kommen Touristen". The main character is a young German guy who comes to Auschwitz, Poland to work there as part of his compulsory social-service (which is the alternative to military service in Austria and Germany). It's an interesting insight into his personal experience there, especially in dealing with a Holocaust survivor and a Polish girl who works in Auschwitz as a guide. Additionally it's also a look at the people who live close to a place with such a horrible historic burden. Again the main character's performance was absolutely amazing and I think all in all the film is amongst the best German productions I've ever seen.

The last film which I saw yesterday evening was a documentary from Argentina called "M". Here's what the Viennale website has to say about it:

"Director Nicolás Prividera searches for answers as a documentarian, as an Argentinean, and as a son in this unflinching look at a nation's painful history. M follows Prividera as he searches for answers as to why his mother became one of Argentina's infamous «disappeared» when he was six years old. Confronting the political militancy that swallowed up his nation in the Seventies, as well as his own unresolved confusion and rage over the loss of his mother, Prividera interviews family, friends, and comrades with open desperation about long-held questions for which no satisfying answers may exist."

While it took a while for me to get into the documentary I liked every second of its 150 minutes. It's an extremely personal and therefore very touching work. At the same time it also manages to look at the issue of the disappeared in a broader social and historic context. That combination makes it a very powerful piece of art. Even though the movie finished at 11.30 p.m. most people stayed another 30 minutes to listen to the interesting discussion with Nicolás Prividera himself.

All in all I'm very happy with the movies I've seen so far and I can't wait to get back to the cinema on Friday evening to watch the next one...

Corporate Web TV Stations

The first blog I ever started reading regularly was "Brown Knowns" by Richard Brown - VIA Technologies' Vice President of Marketing. I've always enjoyed his postings which range from travel reports (often from India) and book reviews to thoughts on current developments in ICT. Yesterday he started posting the first piece of a series dealing with his thoughts on what can roughly be called "Corporate Web TV Stations". Basically he asks the question:

"How long will it be before corporations and media change their current websites into Web TV stations?"

In today's posting he gave three reasons why Corporate Web TV Stations are set to take off:
  • News & Information are Becoming Entertainment
  • Consumers want to see the Real Face (or Faces) Behind the Company
  • Video Production, Editing, and Broadcasting Costs are rapidly Decreasing
Having read that piece I spent most of my afternoon lecture pondering this issue because something was telling me that this transition might not be happening to the degree that Richard Brown is envisioning. His core assumption seems to be that that "video content will become the centerpiece of the website" with "the text and images supporting it".

Don't get me wrong, I also believe that video content and IPTV will become an increasingly important part of the corporate and media landscape. However I personally see videos being an extension of the current text and image based content, not a replacement. Three years down the road when companies have mastered the art of utilizing video content to its fullest extent we might see Intel integrating their "audio / video center" more prominently on their frontpage. Time's partnership with CNN will also lead to more videos added to the articles on the website. Instead of looking at a fancy flash-animation on the Levi's website we'll probably also be looking at web tv commercials.

But while that 25fps content might play a significantly larger role than today I don't see it being the heart of a corporate website. I wouldn't even go as far as saying that it will be equally important to text and images. Additionally I would argue that two of the three reasons mentioned above why Corporate Web TV Stations are set to take off won't hold true in the long run:

News & Information are Becoming Entertainment: I think we can all agree that infotainment is definitely on the rise, just look at your average newspaper or tv-station out there and you'll notice that in a heartbeat. Now I'll be the first person to say that I'm very skeptical of that trend and it's certainly one of the main reasons why I basically stopped watching television 6 years ago. Of course it doesn't really matter what I think. However I do believe that one of the reasons why blogging, citizen journalism and YouTube have become so popular is that many people are feed up with all the infotainment bullshit that the big media outlets have been producing. There's certainly a trend towards raw impressions, thoughts and emotions captured by average Joes instead of listening to what Rupert Murdoch thought was good news. So why I may exaggerate a bit and be overly optimistic I do generally tend to believe that these days more people are interested in either (a) quality journalism or (b) unfiltered impressions from other non-professional reporters when it comes to news and information.

Consumers want to see the Real Face (or Faces) Behind the Company: Again I don't think that's really true. For an example of what I'm talking about I'd suggest you watch the following YouTube video from Intel called "Inspiring Innovations by Intel's Kevin Bross". Tell me: Now that you've seen Kevin Bross fly-fishing while repeating Intel's marketing message, would you say that you've seen the real Kevin Bross? Do you feel more positive towards Intel's products because you've seen one of their employees talk about it? Are you more willing to open your wallet and send its content Intel's way than before watching the video? Or did you just watch the video, forget about its message and still feel about Intel just like you did 2min 17sec ago? I thought so...

The point here is that as a mature consumer you shouldn't be influenced by those touchy-feely ads anyway. And as consumer-zombie you don't need that personal touch either because you're already sold on those fancy ads with lots of bling-bling, gorgeous women and expensive cars, telling you that buying product X will immediatly make you that much of a better person. Of course we're all victims of advertising, marketing and PR in one way or another but I don't think that seeing a company's employee rave about its products will make any difference. On the other hand if it had been Angelina Jolie who spoke about Intel's innovations then I would have certainly been inspired...

What I'm trying to say here is that companies will always regard their video-content as a vehicle for transporting their marketing message to consumers. So while videos might make a claim for being more honest or more realistic most consumers will be aware of the fact that they're still watching videos produced to a company's advantage. Therefore they'll regard videos with the same skepticism like any other material such as text and photos that was approved by the PR department of a company. Per defintion advertising and marketing will never be entirely honest. Different medium, same story.

More reasons why I think that Corporate Web TV Stations and video content in general has its limitations:

Video isn't searchable: This is of course a technology limitation that will go away at some point in the future but for now video content isn't searchable. The closest thing that we have at this point are tags but they're nothing more than a very crude approximation to the real thing. So if I'm for example looking for information on Intel's Penryn processors I enter intel and penryn and immediately I'm presented with 1.8 million results in Google. The first 5 results basically provide me with all the information I'm ever going to need thanks to the Intel website, Reg Hardware, Wikipedia and AnandTech. Now let's see what happens when I add video to the search box: The first result is a story on that contains a video about Penryn. However it mostly deals with many details that few people are probably interested in and there's little actual information on the Penryn processor. The second result is indeed a YouTube video but that one is mostly about the upcoming Crysis video game and again Penryn is only mentioned without too much relevant information. The third result doesn't even contain any video content. Looking for intel penryn videos on YouTube resulted in videos of random people talking about Penryn but again very litte real information. So basically plain-old text documents were the more relevant results of my search with video content badly trailing behind... And unless someone comes up with a very smart way of actually looking at the contents of the videos that's not going to change anytime soon. (Trust me, if it could easily be done Google would offer it now.)

Video forces me to follow a narrative: While doing the search mentioned above I was forced to actually spend 2 to 3 minutes on each video before being able to decide whether it was a relevant result for me. With a text-document it normally only takes me a second or two before being able to decide just whether it's something I might be interested in or not. Attention spans have certainly decreased thanks to the ever-increasing speed of life so asking someone to watch something that's potentially useless doesn't seem to make much sense. Plus everyone has a different speed at which he/she is able to capture new information so again video seems like a bad medium for conveying information. Viewers are forced to follow a narrative whether they like it or not. For example if I had found a comprehensive video-introduction to Intel's
Penryn I would have been forced to potentially listen to things I already know. With a text-based article it's easy to skip a sentence, paragraph or page when you feel it doesn't contain anything interesting. (On a personal note I tend to read many hardware and software reviews by looking at the first and last page of the article before deciding whether I'm willing to spend more time to read the rest.) With linear videos on the other hand you can't do that. Of course we can imagine future innovations such as embedded markers which allow you to jump between different scenes or chapters within a video. But right now it's certainly not a very flexible way of gathering new information.

So in the end what I'm really trying to say is that I believe video content will be increasingly important both on corporate and media websites. However I believe that text and images will still be the prime types of content in the forseeable future. There's certainly a shift towards video content going on at the moment but I don't think it's going to replace text and images. I rather see video as adding another dimension to the
hypermedium that is the internet. And just like radio, television, newspaper and the internet manage to co-exist as each one has a certain set of strengths different content types will also co-exist on the web.

A Vision of Students Today

Last week I discovered a great little video called "A Vision of Students Today" over on Paul Stamatiou's blog (a very interesting blog by a 21-year old computer-science student at Georgia Tech). The video was created earlier this year by a certain Prof Wesch and 200 Kansas State University's students during their "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology" course. I think it's an extremely powerful video and there's really not much to add to it, except to say that from personal experience I can attest that the observations about student life couldn't be more true!

If you liked this video then I'd suggest you also look at the famous "Did you know" video for a broader perspective of how technology influences our lives...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

LiveVote Goes Public

Kudos to Igor Faletski and John Boxall from Handi Mobility for launching their brand new Live Vote service.

Now, what you're going to ask yourself is: What is LiveVote? I could of course come up with my own description but it's too late (past 5 a.m. around here) plus it's easier to copy-paste the following text from their website:

LiveVote is a simple set of tools for interacting with mobile phone users. LiveVote users can create polls and contests where anyone can participate by sending short text messages (SMS). Our service is free of charge to you and to the participants (standard mobile phone charges apply).

Does that sound like something you might be interested in? Then head over to and check it out!

I wish them the best of luck with all their current and future endeavors and I can't wait for the next time to drink a beer (or two) with them while getting our geek on about in a discussion that's most likely going to revolve around mobile phones or usability in computing. Igor and John are definitely some of the finest geeks I have ever had the pleasure of meeting! :-)

Patrick's Mongolia photos are online!

Patrick managed to sort through the thousands of photos that he took on our trip much quicker than I did. (In fact I haven't even started yet as life has just been too busy around here. Hope to have some time to finally do that next weekend!)

So now you can find some of the amazing shots that he made while we were on that trip through the Gobi desert in his gallery on Enjoy!

"Christoph Derndofer" makes it into the OLPC community-news

What's less than 15 minutes of fame?

Half a second of fame.

And today I had that second. Or rather a certain Christoph Derndofer (my name minus an r) did. As previously mentioned I'm part of OLPC Austria and one of our current projects is to write a so-called "activity handbook" for people who want to write software for the OLPC X0 (more commonly known as the "$100 laptop"). Documentation is definitely one of the areas where the OLPC project is still lacking and therefore we decided it was time to write something ourselves. I'm not going into more details here but you can expect me to talk more about this writing project over the coming weeks and months.

For now it's good to see that OLPC really picked up on the current documentation efforts and that lead to the following paragraph in the latest edition of the OLPC community-news:

26. How-tos/documentation: A few groups have independently developed their own "how-tos" about using Sugar and the XOs. Christoph Derndofer and Eduardo Silva each took a stab at how-tos for using activities and Todd Kelsey and Val Scarlatta worked on updating the 542 Demo Notes with more detailed information from the wiki and updates for recent builds. John Gilmore wrote in with his own ideas for help files. There is a group discussion planned for next Saturday to bring these similar works together.

I hope that I can still convince them to change that meeting to Friday or something because next Saturday I'll be celebrating the birthday of one of my best friends (and my own birthday) with a party!

For now I'm happy with my split-second of fame... :)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Vision of Students Today

Last week I discovered a great little video called "A Vision of Students Today" over on Paul Stamatiou's blog (a very interesting blog by a 21-year old computer-science student at Georgia Tech). The video was created earlier this year by a certain Prof Wesch and 200 Kansas State University's students during their "Introduction to Cultural Anthropology" course. I think it's an extremely powerful video and there's really not much to add to it, except to say that from personal experience I can attest that the observations about student life couldn't be more true!

If you liked this video then I'd suggest you also look at the famous "Did you know" video for a broader perspective of how technology influences our lives...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

OLPC Austria @ "Software Engineering - Best Practices" Podcast

Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Alexander Schatten, a professor at the Institute for Software Technology and Interactive Systems at my university (Vienna University of Technology) runs a blog called "Software Engineering - Best Practices". Apart from writing about current trends in SE he also has a podcast that focuses on software engineering.

After a recent presentation of Aaron Kaplan and myself as members of OLPC Austria - a group of people that contributes to the overall OLPC effort in whatever way deemed useful and is currently the largest OLPC group here in Europe - at the university he approached us and asked whether we'd be interested in talking about the OLPC project on his podcast. So today started very early for a Monday morning as I got out of bed at 7.30 a.m...

To cut a long story short, the podcast (mind you, it's in German!) is available over here with the accompanying blog-entry being there (also in German).

Enjoy! :-)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Matrix Goggles (must see video!)

Check out the video of what this Russian artist did:

Needless to say that I'm especially fond of the ascii mode (e.g. 0min 21sec)... ;-)

Best regards,
Thomas A. Anderson

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Today was the first time...

...that I used an iPhone. I know, I know, two Apple related posts in a row make me sound like a fanboy. But trust me, that couldn't be further from the truth. But first things first:

While sitting in a lecture in the afternoon I noticed that the guy in front of me was toying around with an iPhone. Being the geek I am I couldn't stop thinking about it for the remaining (boring) hour of that lecture. This is the first time I saw anyone use an iPhone and I definitely wanted to play around with it. After the lecture I asked the guy whether I could take a closer look at his baby. And I have to say, I was a bit underwhelmed.

Yes, it has a great design. Yes, the display is stunning. Yes, the touch-capabilities are much better than anything I've ever seen.

But still, I wasn't impressed. I guess that's mainly due to Apple's marketing machine working overtime on convincing everyone just how great that product is. Once you listen to all the bullshit, the fanboy reviews and everyone else raving about a product you start believing it, no matter how sceptical you are. And if you really believe that it's a revolutionary phone and a breakthrough internet device then of course your expectations are quite high. And it's bad when the product can't fulfill those expectations afterwards.

So: No, the iPhone is not as cool as I had expected it to be. No, it doesn't even come close to the top of my "hardware I want to buy"-list. And definitely no, I won't part with €300+ of my cash especially since Apple has been treating its customers like shit lately.

As previously indicated I'm still waiting for the rollout of the FIC Neo 1973 product models which should happen over the next 2 to 3 weeks. That phone might not look as sexy as an iPhone but overall it seems to be much closer to my vision of a good mobile phone.

Monday, October 1, 2007

iPod nano is too nano

I guess most of you have heard about Apple releasing a new set of iPods the other day. So after looking through the specs and information on Apple's website I went out to a store on Saturday to check them out in person. Unfortunately the iPod touch - one that I would have been most interested in because of the UI - wasn't there as it's apparently not going to be available for a couple more weeks.

Anyway, I spent some time with an iPod nano and I have to say that it's becoming a bit too nano for me. I don't know whether I'm just clumsy or have big fingers or whatever, but these things are freakin' hard to use. I've been using an old iPod mini for the past year and in terms of its size it's just right. It could be a tad slimmer but in terms of its width and height its perfect. I really don't see how making the enclosure's dimension and, more importantly, the clickwheel smaller is improving this device. The main argument that people will have is that it's a move to accomodate the bigger screen.

Yeah, like I'm ever going to watch a video on a 2" screen! I mean, come on, who seriously spends any significant time watching videos on those thingies? Nobody? I thought so. Even the iPod classic's 2.5" screen isn't going to cut it for any serious video watching. It's only when you start moving above 3" (such as with the iPod touch and it's 3.5"480 x 320 pixel screen) can I see myself spending more than painful 2 minutes looking at a video clip or something. The only time I ever watched anything on an iPod was during a winter vaccation two years ago where I looked at an episode of Joey during a long car-ride. And that was it, been there done that.

In my opinion the only reason for making the screen larger (and sacrificing the clickwheel size) would be to allow for a better interface. Unfortunately the much marketed "Cover Flow" on that latest generation of iPods isn't anything to call home about. So you get to see your covers, big deal...

All in all, I'm going to stick with my iPod mini until it dies or something significantly better comes along. And sometimes, even in technology, size does matter and smaller isn't always better.

First 12 photos from Mongolia @ Flickr

So I finally sat down and really started to look through all the photos I took during the journey. To make the whole task a bit more managable I basically split the photos into three folders, one for each country I visited. Given that most people have been asking for photos of Mongolia I started working on those...

And I gave up after an hour because right now my head is spinning after seeing all those photos and I simply can't decide anymore which ones to include in the "best of" selection. So I decided to call it a day but not before at least selecting 12 photos as sort of a teaser for what's to come. These photos might not be the best ones, hell, they might not even be the most representative selection. But they are the ones that caught my eye and where I thought nice.

You can find my current "best of" nice selection by clicking on this link or in case that should not work just search for my photos which are tagged "TransSib" as I unfortunately can't add more photo sets at Flickr without "going pro". Which I'll probably do once I have some money in my account after my birthday later this month.

Edit: And here's one shot for the people who are too lazy to click that link above...