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The hidden digital world

Monday, 25 December 2006 - My last boss spoke French and pronounced “e-mail” as “email”: enamel. The material that protects metal from rust. In 1998 I burned my first CD with MP3. Gradually these digital advances got accepted into many living rooms: mobile phones, MP3-players, DVD- or even harddisk recorders, LED-lamps. Handy gizmos at the foreground of the digital revolution. I believe new meanings come from applications that show a thus far hidden world.

An example is the SETI-project, which has been running for years now. In the time that PC’s have “left”, they can do calculations over radio signals received by the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico. Goal is to isolate signals that may refer to extraterrestrial life. Since 1999 my PC collected thousands of packages of data, calculated and sent the results back. A few months ago I discovered that my PC even found a possible candidate for further research.

There is a new service level for “free markets”. Often resulting in a kind of Darwinian “survival of the fittest”. Services and products with little demand disappear, even if their end users like them and use them. Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, wrote a book about The Long Tail. The Dutch quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad had an article about it on 14 October. The average American bookstore holds around 130.000 titles. That is the level of service to their customers. gets more than half of its revenue from titles below the best selling Top 130.000. An average American record store holds around 40.000 songs. Thus, outside these 40.000 they sell 0.0. In the internet-service Rhapsody every month each song in the Top 100.000, the Top 200.000 and even the Top 400.000 gets downloaded at least once! To great satisfaction for their users. It adds to their happiness. Without the digital age they would be stuck with the commercial and marketing considerations of the book- and record stores in the streets.

Is there not a lesson for politics? In the Netherlands we vote for parliament with around 20 long lists of candidates. A candidate needs around 65.000 votes to deserve a seat in parliament. If a candidate gets more than 65.000 these votes spill over to the candidate below him/her. If a candidate is too low on the list, and does not get enough votes, these votes go the candidates at the top of the list. That means that if you vote for a perfect candidate on number 15, the idiot on number 10 may be elected. The controversial Dutch Minister Rita Verdonk was number 2 on the liberal’s list, got more votes than number 1, her spillover put 10 people in parliament, but it is doubtful that they will follow her line of thinking/voting in the future. To serve her and their (!) voters. At the end of the elections only 150 candidates get a seat in parliament, where hundreds of others, who did get votes (but not enough), get 0 influence. I do not call for direct democracy, but for more use of the preferences of the voters.

This year I discovered (like others) that more information can be gained from a videostream about what happened before the lens than was actually recorded. One can calculate a much sharper image, and in 2007 I will launch my own software. Big televisions can show sharper pictures, even if their input is from old-fashioned television standards (sixties). And television archives be converted to HDTV, so that future generations can enjoy vintage footage in state-of-the-art quality. The military research agency DARPA, once at the cradle of the internet, wants it to make tanks aim better. For now I will try to generate some revenue by converting movie clips made with digital cameras, mobile phones and old video cameras. Between matters I got convinced that insects with their facet eyes see as sharp as we do.

More and more the world behind millions of big and small pieces of information is revealed, giving us more freedom and a more pleasant life. I look forward to 2007!

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