Perls from Spain

Posted by Žiga Turk on 13/09/10

I'm in Seville, Spain, at a final review of an EU project. The only other meeting I was at was the kick off. Some three years ago. Also in Spain. In between I did many things. Among others I was Secretary General of the Wise Men Group chaired by Felipe Gonzalez. From Spain.

And while I sit here in a bar without internet connection, in Spain, I am reading an old talk by Larry Page. Brilliant talk. Larry invented Perl. The last language I programmed in before I took a sabbatical in politics.

I miss programming. By programming you create. You don't just talk about creation. And ...

... there is more than one way to do things in Perl.

I was a liberal when computer programming. Not a progressive. A liberal. And Larry Page Wall is a liberal:

The very fact that it’s possible to write messy programs in Perl is also what makes it possible to write programs that are cleaner in Perl than they could ever be in a language that attempts to enforce cleanliness.

True greatness is measured by how much freedom you give to others, not by how much you can coerce others to do what you want.

Personally, I think the Perl slogan, There’s More Than One Way To Do It, applies outside of Perl as well as inside. I explicitly give people the freedom not to use Perl, just as God gives people the freedom to go to the devil if they so choose.

He demonstrates that computer programming is applied philosophy ...

A universal truth only has to be true about our particular universe. It doesn’t much matter whether the universe itself is true or false, just as long as it makes a good story. And I think our universe does make a good story. I happen to like the Author.

... and psychology:

Imagine, open source is merely a byproduct of our need for family.

I will conclude with a quote for my spiritual friends:

How is duct tape like the Force? It has a light side, and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

This is deeper than most of the Dawkinsian arguments about the non-existence of God.

-- Written on my iPad with BlogPress.

Two for the price of one

Posted by Žiga Turk on 05/09/10

This post is about two issues that are troubling me on the iPad. None would be worth the trouble writing about in the first place, but together ...

First, this is a test if one can blog using Blogpres. Obviously it is not impossible, but this is no major achievement. In fact it is another reminder of how brain damaged the Safari for iPad is. Blogger has a very good browser editing interface which includes spell checking, insertion of images, links etc. Blogpress is little more than a text editor. Lucky that I remember how to code HTML directly. But I am not going to. Blogpress is not worth to be a commercial app. Period.

Secondly, I am really unhappy with the Twitter clients on iPad.




Twitterrific would be my favorite. It treats lists quite similarly as any other feed. But has a poor update algorithm and does not report what feed has new items to read. Also, at $5 for the multiaccount version, it is quite expensive.




Osfoora has perhaps the most powerfull management options. The only thing I was unable to do was create a new list. But it is a pain to read lists which is a show stopper for me. Allows to copy text inside the built-in browser which I like.




Heltweetica has too small icons for replies etc., seems slow at times and it is not very nice visually.




Tweet Time is buggy when it comes to rendering on screen. Very powerful management options. Lacks a light theme. A client with a lot of potential.




Twitter's official client has an immature GUI. One struggles with that most of the time. Again, lists are treated very differently than replies, direct messages etc.

TweetDeck was full of bugs the last time I tried.

The wait for a perfect twitter client continues. And for a blog editing tool as well.

Eckhart Tolle on iPad

Posted by Žiga Turk on 02/06/10

What is your relationship with the world of objects, the countless things that surround you and that you handle ever day? The chair you sit on, the pen, the car, the cup? Are they to you merely a means to an end, or do you occasionally acknowledge their existence, their being, no matter how briefly, by noticing them and giving them your attention?

When you get attached to objects, when you are using them to enhance your worth in your own eyes and in the eyes of others, concern about things can easily take over your whole life.

Not really. Tolle wrote this before iPad was invented. But I guess iPad, for some, is the extreme case of what he writes about. Agree?

Slovenian Referendum on Border Agreement with Croatia

Posted by Žiga Turk on 27/05/10
Tags: ,  

Since independence, the relations between Slovenia and Croatia were essentially very good. We are one of each others’ main trade partners, Slovenes are welcome at Croatian cost and Croats on Slovenian ski slopes. A few issues remain unresolved after the breakup of Yugoslavia that kept the politicians and journalists busy, but did not have much impact on trade, tourism or friendly personal relationships. One of the major issues was the border. There are a few disputed details on land and a larger chunk of disputed sea.

Image: Area of disputeed area of the sea hashed in red.

Maritime Border Issue

For the last twenty years the Slovenian position on this was fairly clear, regardless of the political parties on power. Slovenian red lines were the Slovenian contact with the High Sea and the jurisdiction over most of the Gulf of Piran, as it was under Slovenian control at the time of proclaiming independence in 1991. The positions for the negotiations with Croatia traditionally had bi-partisan support in Slovenia.

The two countries came closest to reaching an agreement in 2001 with Drnovšek-Ra?an Agreement that the two prime ministers agreed upon in 2001. This agreement was (1) compatible with Slovenian red lines and (2) enjoyed bi-partisan support in Slovenia. Later Croatia withdrew support from it. In Slovenia this agreement remained to be considered as the minimum of what would be acceptable.

The Pahor-Kosor agreement

In 2009 prime ministers Pahor and Kosor reached an agreement to submit the issue to an Arbitral Tribunal to deliver a final solution that would have to be automatically accepted by both sides. In Croatia, the agreement was given an almost unanimous support in the parliament, while in Slovenia the agreement has been criticized by the opposition parties (Janez Janša’s SDS being the strongest), but not limited to them.

Voiced opponents of the agreement cross the left-right political divisions and include fierce opponents of opposition leader Janez Janša, former and current members of coalition parties, experts on maritime law, as well as founding fathers of the independent Slovenia like France Bu?ar or respected intellectuals like Boris Pahor.

The disagreement

The opponents of the Agreement believe that (1) the agreement is not defined in a way that would enable the Tribunal to reach a decision within the Slovenian red lines and (2) that there has been no bi-partisan support for such negotiation platform with Croatia. While (1) can be a matter of debate, (2) is a fact.

Unlike the Croatian government, the Slovenian Government did not submit the Agreement to a 2/3 majority vote in the parliament (where it would likely fail) but decided, in agreement of all parties, to call a national referendum. It will take place on June 6th and the Slovenes will decide whether to go forward with the Agreement or not.

The issues of the campaign

The referendum campaign in Slovenia is generally on two issues:

  1. Can the agreement result in an outcome that will include territorial contact of Slovenia to the high seas and in the control of most of the Bay of Piran?
  2. Is Slovenia right in claiming this in the first place?

Supporter position on outcomes:

Yes, because the Agreements says that a task of the Tribunal is to determine “Slovenia’s junction to the High Sea” … applying more than just the international law. To support this impression they translated term junction as “contact” in the Slovenian translation of the Agreement.

Opponent position on (1):

No, because as also per Agreement the borders on land and sea will be determined exclusively by international law and this will result in only a half of the Bay of Piran. The border at sea will end in Italian waters making territorial contact with the high seas impossible.

They also claim, that the provision of determining the “junction” will not very likely result in territorial contact of Slovenian waters with the international waters. If this was the intent, the provision would use the term “territorial contact” and not “junction”.

The fear was reinforced by the statement in the very Law with which Croatia adopted the Agreement. In this law it claimed that “Nothing in the Arbitration Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Government of the Republic of Slovenia shall be understood as Croatia’s consent to Slovenia’s claim to its territorial contact with the high seas“. Indeed unilateral statements were not to be taken into account by the Tribunal, however Croatia, in this very same law, claimed, that the statement was made in agreement with Slovenia and that Slovenia and Croatia, together, informed EU presidency and the US about this.

Slovenia did not formally deny or protest at the time, neither did the US and Sweden. Today US, Sweden and Slovenia claim that the statement in the Croatian law is untrue. At best, then, Croatia adopted the agreement on false pretenses and it will be interesting to see how the Croatian parliamentarians will react to this act of bad faith.

Supporter position on Slovenia’s “rights”

Between the lines, through the experts and opinion makers, the case is being built that Slovenia’s claims are unrealistic. That one should get it over with. Indeed a lot of Slovenians are fed up with the matter. Large part of the international community has also been convinced, that Slovenia cannot claim more than a line through the middle of the Gulf of Piran, as per international law.

Opponents position on Slovenia’s “rights”

They claim that Slovenia has good historic reasons to expect Croatia not to make problems with a very tiny fraction of their long coastline.

  • the land border between Yugoslavian republics Croatia and Slovenia, drawn in the 1950s, did not follow ethnic lines of division. In that case the border would be on the river Mirna, giving Slovenia both coasts of Gulf of Piran and enough coastline for the 12 mile strip to have contact with high seas. Slovenia is not disputing this border though. Last thing we need is another Bosnia type mess.
  • the land border between Yugoslavia and Italy after the 2nd world war was drawn in a way in which about the same number of Yugoslavs remained in Italy as Italians remained in Yugoslavia. However, it was only Slovenians that were left in Italy, and it was mostly Croatia that gained territory and coastline. In fact the part of the Adriatic that was purely inhabited by the Slovenes (between Trieste and Monfalcone) remained in Italy. To make matters worse, the communists “encouraged” Italians to leave their homes in Yugoslavia and move to Italy. This did not help in how Italy was treating the Slovenian minority there. It was very much unlike the Germans in South Tirol.

The opponents of the referendum rightly claim that these facts are not properly reflected in the proposed Agreement and will have zero impact on how the maritime border between Slovenia and Croatia are drawn. They also believe that it would be a proof of “good neighborly relations” if Croatia would acknowledge this.

Disclaimer: The author is presenting his personal views. He is sceptical about the Arbitration Agreement.

Tag Clouds: Project Europe 2030 and Europe 2020

Posted by Žiga Turk on 08/05/10

Here is a comparison of the tag clouds for the “Project Europe 2030” report of the Reflection Group on the Future of Europe and the Europe 2020 Strategy. In both cases words like “EU”, “Europe” etc. were deleted.

First Europe 2020 then Project Europe 2030:

Rising from in the Ashes

Posted by Žiga Turk on 18/04/10

Each morning, hundreds of planes are landing in Brussels airlifting the politicians, civil servants, researchers, businessmen to meetings in the capital. Since mid last week this airlift came to a standstill. Brussels Airport has been closed and access to Brussels limited to those that can take a train or car. While this could just work for the original EU6, the train is not an option for the EU27.

But we are well in the 21st century and when we privately need to talk to someone in a different time zone, we use the Internet; tools like Skype, Google Talk, Messenger or any of the other internet technologies that allow us to see and hear the person on the other end. Researchers use more elaborate collaboration tools such as Adobe Connect, Webinar or Webex or combine voice or text chat with collaborative text editing environments such as Google Docs.

None of that is possibe with the officials in the Comission, Council or the Parliament. The first thing I noticed when moving into my office in Justus Lipsius was how well it was firewalled. Skype, of course, did not work. Even secure web pages do not work, because any decent browser would complain that the firewalls are trying to cheat with certificates. The culture of on-line collaboration with the officials is therefore non existent. Pity, because an on-line meeting with screen sharing and collaborative document editing can be more productive that a real meeting.

Here’s what should be done:

  • the Great Firewall of the Union should be opened so that at least one free “few to few” real time voice and video conferencing tool would be available. Skype, as a European invention, would be a natural candidate. This would create a culture of real time collaboration among civil servants in Brussels. It would also create pressure on the national bureaucracies to do the same.
  • a fraction of the money that the airlines will be requesting from Brussels to offset the “natural disaster” should be diverted into a buildup of in-house, secure video conferencing and screen sharing facilities. This should be IP based so that not special equipment or software purchase would be need by the participants. Like Adobe Connect. A high end system that could be used on a ministerial level should be set up as well.
  • the European council should lead by example, holding some of its meetings on-line.

People that fly to Brussels in the morning typically have to wake up between 4 and 5AM to catch a flight to a meeting starting between 9 and 10 around Schumann. They bring their sleep deprived grumpiness to the tables of European decision making and all they can look forward to are the incredible queues at the Brussels airport security controls in the evening.

Massive replacement of person-person meetings with videoconferencing could also result in a happier European politics.

I Want a NetPad

Posted by Žiga Turk on 30/01/10

We've seen the iPad. The best thing about it is that it will start a trend of cheap, affordable, useful tablet devices. Here is the tablet I am in the market for:
  1. Tablet format. It is a good idea, but hasn't been done right yet. It does not create a "laptop wall" at meetings. Draws less attention, makes you less pretentious than if you put a laptop on your restaurant table or open it up on a train. You can hold a tablet while doing a talk, discussion, lecture ... but not a laptop.
  2. A4 size exact, like all the paper I carry around. Reason: so that it does not draw attention if I put it with a stack of paper on the desk.
  3. 15 hours declared, 10 hours real battery life. I want to make one day trips to Brussels without a power supply.
  4. Would sacrifice color for longer battery life greyscale screen, usable in bright sunshine, 720p resolution minimum, 1080p optimum. Pixel density is everything if you want to read books or newspapers. I will watch movies and play games on a big screen TV or something that does not require me to hold the device up in my hands.In the cinema, I don't have to hold the screen.
  5. USB host and client. Host, so that I can give and take files from people on USB stick, connect devices such as wireless keyboard, camera, MP3 player, phone ... Client for easy upload of files and syncing with desktop.
  6. WiFi in 3G with standard SIM. You can bet 3G will be available at the boring meeting.
  7. VGA out. If I need to show a couple of slides or drawings to the audience with a beamer. HDMI optional.
  8. Mic and headphone jacks, built in mic and speakers.
  9. SD card reader. To expand storage and allow me to carry additional files with me.
  10. 80 GB of internal storage so that "omnia mea mecum porto". 
  11. Full featured terminal for the cloud, running Firefox and Dropbox.
  12. Runs full Microsoft or Open Office. If I read something, I want to be able to annotate it, make comments etc. Just like on the big machine. Why learn two environments.
  13. Runs Evernote, so that even if I read a book or newspaper, I can take notes.
A netbook with a touchscreen instead of a keyboard comes pretty close. I guess they could offer something like this for $299 by Christmas.

PS. I would also be interested in a smaller device, some 125x210mm, that would fit into a jacket pocket. Willing to compromise on Office at that size, but a decent viewer with annotations desired.

The End of the Web as We Know It?

Posted by Žiga Turk on 09/12/09

We know it as a platform where:

  • website or other on-line source (any web site or media store like iTunes),
  • media (e.g. MP3),
  • local software or client (e.g. Media Player) and
  • device (PC, Mac, Phone, Flash Drive, Netbook …)

are not coupled with each other. Many competing companies are providing products or services for each of the components.

This open model resulted in huge innovation over the last two decades, and spawned a lot of competition in creating the websites, media formats, software and the devices, driving the price down and quality up. All this possibly at the expense of the content providers who have huge problems protecting their content, because, to be universally playable, all parts of the system need to be well documented and interoperable, with any kind of security and copy protection clumsily pasted on top of it all.

Apple Closing the Web?

Kindle, Nook and much of the Apple Store stuff signal a possible end of this model. But with music and videos is it a lot like putting the ghost back into the bottle. Any device can play an .mp3 and any website can sell it. Not to mention the P2P networks.

The last major media area where the digital has not taken over the material are newspapers and magazines. So if one could make a closely linked system between a website, a device, its software and the media format, one could offer something very special to the content owners: reliability that people will pay for content and that they will not be able to copy it. And that is worth trillions! Rumors are that Apple is doing just that:

The press will be the killer app for the device, but if the people had their wallets out, they will try to sell any other digital stuff as well.

Turning the tables

On the short run at least, this closed model is good for the content authors. Quite likely a lot of quality content will be exclusive to this device. It offers a sustainable business model, contrary to the advertising model (the Google model) which is not. Why? With the economy increasingly digital, advertising material stuff to support digital content will eventually bite its tail. More and more of the digital will have to be supported with ads for less and less material.

But the closed system can be disastrous for innovation everywhere else in the chain, and disastrous for the richness of the content that we read. We have seen Apple censoring the content of its on-line store. Asking a single company for an opportunity to distribute information is open society’s the worst nightmare. It will not be one US company indexing all (European) content, it will be a company deciding what (European) content can be available on-line.

(There is little incentive for those devices to offer access to free content. It would be like selling printers who could use free ink. But surprise me.)

Need for functional separation

Therefore, the regulators will have to look at this very carefully. In the chain of digital content production, distribution and consumption we will need what was called “functional separation of telecoms”. The latter is irrelevant today. But breaking links between Amazon and its reader, Barnes Nobe and its reader, iWhatever and Apple Store and iTunes … will be essential.

The End of the Web as We Know It?

Posted by Žiga Turk on 09/12/09

We know it as a platform where:

  • website or other on-line source (any web site or media store like iTunes),
  • media (e.g. MP3),
  • local software or client (e.g. Media Player) and
  • device (PC, Mac, Phone, Flash Drive, Netbook ...)

are not coupled with each other. Many competing companies are providing products or services for each of the components.

This open model resulted in huge innovation over the last two decades, and spawned a lot of competition in creating the websites, media formats, software and the devices, driving the price down and quality up. All this possibly at the expense of the content providers who have huge problems protecting their content, because, to be universally playable, all parts of the system need to be well documented and interoperable, with any kind of security and copy protection clumsily pasted on top of it all.

Apple Closing the Web?

Kindle, Nook and much of the Apple Store stuff signal a possible end of this model. But with music and videos is it a lot like putting the ghost back into the bottle. Any device can play an .mp3 and any website can sell it. Not to mention the P2P networks.

The last major media area where the digital has not taken over the material are newspapers and magazines. So if one could make a closely linked system between a website, a device, its software and the media format, one could offer something very special to the content owners: reliability that people will pay for content and that they will not be able to copy it. And that is worth trillions! Rumors are that Apple is doing just that:




The press will be the killer app for the device, but if the people had their wallets out, they will try to sell any other digital stuff as well.

Turning the tables

On the short run at least, this closed model is good for the content authors. Quite likely a lot of quality content will be exclusive to this device. It offers a sustainable business model, contrary to the advertising model (the Google model) which is not. Why? With the economy increasingly digital, advertising material stuff to support digital content will eventually bite its tail. More and more of the digital will have to be supported with ads for less and less material.

But the closed system can be disastrous for innovation everywhere else in the chain, and disastrous for the richness of the content that we read. We have seen Apple censoring the content of its on-line store. Asking a single company for an opportunity to distribute information is open society's the worst nightmare. It will not be one US company indexing all (European) content, it will be a company deciding what (European) content can be available on-line.

(There is little incentive for those devices to offer access to free content. It would be like selling printers who could use free ink. But surprise me.)

Need for functional separation

Therefore, the regulators will have to look at this very carefully. In the chain of digital content production, distribution and consumption we will need what was called "functional separation of telecoms". The latter is irrelevant today. But breaking links between Amazon and its reader, Barnes Nobe and its reader, iWhatever and Apple Store and iTunes ... will be essential.

The end? Perhaps not, but it got you reading this. Major disruption? Sure.

Wishlist for a Perfect Twitter Client

Posted by Žiga Turk on 04/12/09

From time to time I get unhappy with my twitter experience and join the install party, trying out new clients. So far I did not find a perfect one. This is what I want:
  • handle multiple accounts
  • allow me to define groups of people I follow
  • allow the "join" and "filter" operations over streams of tweets (sounds complicated but it is in fact an enable of so many features. Think of filter like Gmail's labels and think of join like Google Reader's folder).
  • example of a "join" would be to show a single stream of all friends' tweets across all my accounts
  • examples of a "filter" operation would be to split a stream into groups, mentions, directs ...
  • notifications should be based on configurable filters too
  • show one stream (per account or not) of all directs, sents and mentions (it is a join).
  • sort messages with new on top OR old on top (I like reading from old to new, top to bottom)
  • display whole discussion thread at a click of a button (all replies)
  • display my interaction with one person (all replies and directs exchanged with another person - it is a filter)
  • allow to PASTE images into posts (like Digsby)
  • manage a user (add to group, follow, un-follow, ignore X for the next Y hours)
  • automatically split long posts into two
  • let me choose when I want to be notified (e.g. on a direct message, on a word mentioned, on a user's post) (like ???)
  • synchronize across machines, phones all read/unread, settings, groups, filters, joins ... (like Google Reader or Gmail)
  • have a no clutter interface that takes one single narrow column at the edge of the screen (like Nambu).
  • keep a local searchable backup of everything (like ??)
  • ...
Now how hard is that?

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