There’s a whole second Internet out there, in mainland China. It’s hugely innovative and we in the west can learn a lot from what’s going on there.

We have Google and Bing: in China they have Baidu. Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are the Twitter equivalents, Renren is Facebook. The Chinese eBay is Taobao (owned by Alibaba). NetEase is like Yahoo without the miasma. There’s a robust variety of big Chinese websites. Online games, too, Western juggernauts like World of Wacraft are also-rans compared to local games.

Here in the US we tend to dismiss the Chinese Internet as a backwater, some second-rate place that clones American technologies while laboring under the yoke of communist oppression. Nothing could be further from the truth, there’s a lot of interesting innovation and an enormous ecosystem developing independently in China. As a small example, consider maps. Baidu launched indoor maps before Google. Sina Weibo just blew past Twitter in mapping microblog posts. And no one can touch Baidu’s awesomely unique isometric pixel art maps.

I’m trying to learn more about Internet development in China but unfortunately I don’t read Chinese and surfing via Google translate is pretty bad. (Maybe I should try Baidu Fanyi). But thanks to a tip from Richard Chen I’ve been reading the Tech in Asia blog, a great bit of news coverage of consumer Internet stuff in Asia. About 10 posts a day, not just China, most quite readable. The Economist’s new expanded Chinese coverage is also helpful for a broad perspective.

What I haven’t found is a good source for technical innovations. Where is the Chinese open source community, what is their GitHub, their Hacker News? There’s Chinese Linux distros; are there app server frameworks, NoSQL datastores, nerd fights over semicolons? There’s a lot of very smart computer scientists in China, where is their hacker output?

I can’t post this without a word on why the Internet in China is a separate place. Most US coverage talks about China’s censorship, in particular the “Great Firewall” that blocks politically sensitive topics (like Gu). Censorship is absolutely part of the Chinese Internet and is deplorable. But I think most of the division is simple language and cultural boundaries. A quarter of Web content is in Chinese and Americans never read it; why should we expect Chinese to read English content? There’s also a healthy dose of trade protectionism: China is explicitly trying to develop its own Internet industry to be independent of the US. Maybe we should start cloning some of the Chinese innovations.

  2012-04-23 21:39 Z

We should stop using the words “theft” and “stealing” when talking about unlicensed use of intellectual property. Those words should be reserved for physical property, for things limited by scarcity.

A bunch of the news coverage of Oracle v Google talks about Google “stealing” Java or the “theft” of Oracle’s intellectual property. It is common to talk about downloading music or video as “stealing” or “piracy”. That language is prejudicial. What Oracle is really claiming is that Google has used some of its patents and copyrighted material without a license. Downloading Game of Thrones is not “theft”, it’s “unlicensed use”.

I think copyrights and (appropriate) patents are important; I’ve made my own living by creating intellectual property. One of the great challenges of the Information Age is figuring out how to control intellectual property. But applying 3000+ years of physical property law to intellectual property doesn’t make sense. When I take your cow, I deprive you of the use of your cow. When I copy a song I don’t deprive anyone of the song. Intellectual property is fundamentally different from physical property. We should use different words when describing their misuse.

  2012-04-19 16:07 Z

The Keurig B60 single cup brewer makes good coffee. I’m not much of a coffee snob and am perfectly happy with any decent American brewed coffee. For me and Ken, this K-Cup brewer gizmo is better than a generic drip coffee pot.

The main advantage is convenience. We can have a cup of hot fresh coffee in about three minutes; faster if the machine is already on. Any time of day, without the hassle of making a fresh pot (or, guiltily, microwaving leftover coffee). The other advantage is consistent quality. The coffee just tastes better, I think partly because of freshness and partly because of precise temperature control during brewing.

The downside is cost. Even in bulk, my preferred coffee is about $0.65 / 10oz mug. That’s about double what I paid for drip coffee made with decent beans from my local coffee shop. You can use your own cheaper grounds in refillable K-Cups (the ekobrew works OK), but a bit of grit gets through and it’s a hassle to fill and clean. The brewer itself is also expensive, but it’s a surprisingly complicated and well made machine.

Keurig sells a confusing variety of K-Cup systems and now has a new incompatible system called Vue. The B60 special edition looked like the right feature set to me, although I’m already wishing I had some way to hook it directly to my plumbing so I don’t have to fill a water tank.

Update: thanks to Adam for pointing out that the K-Cup patent expires in September. The price of a cup should go down then, it also probably explains why Keurig just introduced an incompatible new system with no obvious major benefits.
  2012-04-12 00:39 Z

I feel pretty lost without my iPhone, doubly so when traveling. Here’s some of the iPhone apps I found useful on a recent trip to France. Many of these apps cache data on the phone, both to save on roaming charges and for responsiveness.

MapsWithMe ($0): street maps. Caches vector data from OpenStreetMap and then renders maps on the phone. I used to use OffMaps but their raster tile approach just takes up too much space. With MapsWithMe I could download super-detailed maps for all of France with no sweat.

Navigon ($20 – $100): turn-by-turn driving directions. No need for a standalone GPS, the voice prompting and routing is good enough to drive all over France and Norway. Shop carefully to avoid their random pricing; right now it’s $65 for all of Europe, or $90 for just France. TomTom is a strong competitor. Bring a car charger.

Wiki Offline ($10) and AllOfWiki ($10): cached copies of Wikipedia. Really great for research. The 5GB data dump is text only and has some formatting issues, but it’s usable. Both apps work well and you only need one; I think I slightly prefer the Wiki Offline UI.

Accio French-English ($5): translation dictionary. There’s better language software out there, Accio is cheap and good enough for quick lookups.

Photogene² ($1): photo editing. Photogene makes it easy to crop, correct exposure, and upload. iPhone 4S photo quality is great and I really like uploading photos on the fly during a trip; I’ve been home 3 weeks and still haven’t gotten to the 200 photos on my “real” camera.

Twitter ($0): social networking. Tweets are the Internet’s postcards. Particularly good with photos. I’m still looking for a way to archive all my tweets into a journal; here’s a Storify view of my trip to France.

Traboules ($1): Lyon sightseeing. Only useful if you’re going to be in Lyon, I’m linking it here because it’s remarkable. The tourist office commissioned an augmented reality iPhone app; you look through the iPhone screen to see the world with overlaid markers for the Traboules, a hidden bit of Lyon.

  2012-04-09 18:42 Z