a lost sheep back in the fold

Well, will you look at this? Remember Tory MEP Syed Kamall, who was the author of a proposal to implement total Internet surveillance in the EU, in order to make the French record industry happy? (I’m sorry to say I spelt his name wrong.) We beat that one. But now look at him – here’s a letter he sent to today’s Guardian.

Lord Woolf and his colleagues were right to point out that the recent erosions of civil liberties are “one of the most significant changes in the life of the nation since the end of the second world war” (Report, 6 February). We already have the largest DNA database in the world and, under the terms of the Prum treaty, more and more personal data can be shared with other EU member states.

It is vital that we weigh up whether we are sacrificing too many of our hard-won freedoms in our quest to tackle crime.
Dr Syed Kamall MEP
Con, London

Quite astonishing; Dr. Kamall has been saved as a brand from the burning. Did we turn him on to a weirder life? Or just scare him? Or has his local talking points cache been refreshed? Certainly, it’s a pretty impressive statement from someone who was looking for a mandate for compulsory deep-packet inspection throughout Europe only a few months ago.

Picturing the Siege of Leningrad

Over at English Russia, Sergei Larenkov has merged historic photos form the siege of Leningrad with contemporary pictures taken from the same vantage point. Flak balloons, protective scaffolding, ruins and dead bodies juxtaposed with SUVs, modern busses, restored facades. Fascinating work.

Don’t miss his links to other photo projects down at the bottom of the post. Russian North Truckers. Ain’t No Russian City. Another Abandoned Theater.

A Little Housekeeping

The administration here isn’t changing, but we are doing a little cleaning up. At the moment, it’s confined to the blogroll. First, I’ll be pruning the blogs that have gone on hiatus. Then, probably some time next week, we will add new ones. We always want to hear about good blogs writing about Europe, but now is a particularly good time to let us know. Comment here, or drop me a note at the address under “Contact” to the right.

artificial eye

On the topic of European innovation, this demo application from the Nokia Forum rocks. Basically, it uses the Sensor API in the latest version of Symbian S60 and the phone camera to detect what you’re pointing the cam at, and show information related to it.

Tagging Barcelona

Tagging Barcelona

Naturally this information could be sucked in from the Web, which opens up the healthy possibility of not just user-generated, but unofficial user-generated markup for the cityscape with constant feedback. A simple implementation might do something like hashing the geographical position of the feature with its direction and appending that to a selected URL.

The real purpose of this is surely the old Surrealist aim, to bring the logic of the visible to the service of the invisible; to put in the horrible details of how that particular bank wants to pass the SKU of the item you just bought back to headquarters with the credit card authorisation request, all for your own good, or how the owners of such-and-such a monster warehouse ordered the staff to moon for the camera because the newspapers wrote bad things about them. (I agree, these examples are prosaic, but then, that’s me.)

The United States, Screwdriver Economy of the Web?

A sad and undignified tale from LeWeb3; it’s chilly and the conference WLAN doesn’t work, so a whole gaggle of US microsleb gadgetbloggers staged a queeny flounce. And, of course, it’s all more evidence of the eventual demise of Europe. Isn’t it always? Not so long ago, we were apparently faced with the French civil war as the first wave of the Muslim takeover. Oddly enough, the riots in Greece don’t count – the wrong kind of suntan, I suppose.

Charles Arthur points out, sensibly, that a hell of a lot of the technologies that all the other Web 3.14159 tiddlers rely on are the products of European innovation. Linux started in Finland, Skype in Estonia and Sweden, MySQL in Sweden, PHP with a Dane in Greenland.

But that’s far from an exhaustive list; he could have mentioned Python, which originates at the Dutch National Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science in 1991, the KDE desktop for Linux from Tübingen, the KML geo-descriptive language which underpins Google Earth, Google Maps, and which might have originated with an idea of Chris Lightfoot’s which I can’t now trace, GSM, UMTS and LTE mobile phone networks – so let’s leave it at the OpenStreetMap, the Symbian and UIQ mobile device operating systems, the world’s best political software team at MySociety, and even Internet exchanges themselves.

(It’s just come to mind that I use all of these.)

After all, most of the European delegates at LeWeb3 would have had their own HSPA cellular data dongles on hand; as a regular tech conference attendee, I’d say nothing is more likely than crappy Wi-Fi service, especially if it’s provided by a commercial hotspot firm who happen to have a presence in the building. There is never enough capacity, and usually it’s the combination of the Web server that serves up the login page and the RADIUS (or whatever) box that does the provisioning that fails under pressure.

But, sadly, the US delegates wouldn’t, because they don’t have proper mobile telephony there. Well, I’m taking the piss; there’s a good European company like T-Mobile, who even refused to take part in the illegal call-record analysis. I’m still taking the piss – but only a little now.

Power and

Last week, some US-based bloggers were talking about their dissatisfaction with the term, “soft power.”

Matthew Yglesias:

[C]an we retire the term “soft power” already? I always feel that it’s been popularized not so much by Professor Nye as by deranged warmongers who like the idea of terming every alternative to militarism as somehow “soft,” fluffy, and weak. Soft Power is a good book, but it’s a bad coinage for an era in which national security issues have returned as a partisan political topic, and I don’t think it’s an especially great label for what Nye’s talking about.

Here’s a suggestion cribbed from an adaptation of an old tabletop game: power and influence. Roughly speaking, power is the ability to make people do things (or suffer the consequences); influence is the ability to get people to do things on their own (to gain the benefits). NATO has lots of power (and a good bit of influence), while the EU has an enormous amount of influence, but less power. Pointy-haired bosses use their power; good businesspeople use their influence.

Influence is not a second-rate type of power (soft rather than hard); it’s a separate, if related, capacity. So: power and influence.

I wrote to some of the folks whose blogs I cited. Everyone who has replied has been positive about the suggestion. Now to see if they will actually use it, and whether we can change the usage ourselves or whether we need Joe Nye to write an article.

And Now for Two Things, Completely Different

Two productivity-enhancing additions to the internet that at least a couple of our readers may not have noticed in the last 24 hours.

Google is putting the image archive of the American magazine LIFE online. Over the next few months, this will mean access to some 10 million images, the vast majority of them never published. In the meantime, some of the best-known are already online. Add the text “source:life” to any search in Google Images to specify something from the archive. Browse pictures dating back to the 1750s, though searches max out at 200 results right now.

If you still haven’t whiled away the entire day, there’s an official Monty Python channel on YouTube. As if the site itself weren’t bad enough.

Enlarging the tubes

In my work inbox this morning, a message from TeleGeography. Their latest report on IP transit pricing is out. This bit struck me: 1,000Mbits of transit over Gigabit Ethernet in Bucharest now costs no more than it does in London – and only a couple of dollars more than in San Francisco. That’s incredible, and impressive. Talk about returning to Europe. Interestingly, the price is almost identical whether you’re in North America or Europe; but it’s higher by a factor of seven in Sao Paulo.