Archive for April, 2006

Flickr Plate

Friday, April 28th, 2006



Flickr Plate

Originally uploaded by andycarvin.

My next door neighbor’s license plate. Seriously. I kid you not.

The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog

Thursday, April 27th, 2006
name

Video of my contribution to the handwriting meme over at Flickr. Yes, that’s my actual handwriting. I shoulda been a doctor.
Note that I made “jumps” past tense. I guess I owe everyone an S.

Andy’s Video Blogging Equipment and Compression Techniques

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Earlier today I received a comment from Bill of Wild Bill & the Pioneer Princess asking a question about my video blogging equipment and compression techniques:

Andy, as a fellow vlogger (and somewhat of a newbie vlogger) I always appreciate the visual clarity of your videos. Could you share with us what equipment and software you use and especially what your final compression settings are… how do you get such clean looking videos yet still keep the file sizes manageable?
Any suggestions might be appreciated by more folks than just myself.

Good questions, Bill. Let’s start with the equipment, because that’s pretty straightforward.
I have two digital cameras I use for video blogging. Most of my videos are shot with a five megapixel Canon Powershot A610. It’s a medium size camera designed for taking still digital photos, but also allows you to shoot video. Its video mode will capture footage in two sizes: 640×480 and 320×240. You can also select between two frame rates: 15 frames a second and 30 frames a second. The more frames you have, the smoother the image quality. But more frames also means bigger video files – I’ll talk about this more in the compression section below.
My other digital camera is an eight megapixel Konica-Minolta Dimage A-200. It looks and feels like a 35mm SLR camera rather than a compact, so it’s good for people used to having a sizable camera. It also lets you shoot in two different sizes and frame rates. Visually, I find the image quality better on this camera, and it lets you adjust the manual zoom while shooting, so it feels more like a real video camera. But it has two major drawbacks: its autofocus is unreliable in video mode, often going out focus. Even worse, the autofocus motor is so loud, you can hear its gears whizzing in your footage, particularly when recording in quiet situations. So generally I use the Dimage for still photography and the Canon for video.
Regarding software, my weapon of choice is Final Cut Pro. I use version 4.5 HD, and have been a fan of FCP since I first edited with it six years ago when version 2.0 came out. Final Cut is amazing software. You could literally edit a Hollywood movie on it – and directors like Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh have done just that. Having said that, it can also be rather daunting for first-time vloggers, which is why many people use software like iMovie instead.
Another reason I like Final Cut is because it allows me to be very specific as to how I want to compress a video. Compression is simply a technique for saving the movie file so that the file size gets reduced. This is accomplished through very complex algorithms which can probably be explained a heck of a lot better by someone more technical than I. Software like iMovie will often have a limited number of compression modes – if I recall correctly – while Final Cut Pro lets you tweak your compression incrementally and experiment with different results. Similarly, you could purchase Quicktime Pro to do the same thing.
As an example, I’ve uploaded a video clip compressed in a variety of ways, so all of you can take a look and them and compare the results. I started with an uncompressed 10 megabyte file shot on my Canon A610, which shoots video in .avi format. It was recorded at 30 frames per second in full-size mode (640×480 pixels).

video demo, no compression

10 megabyte avi file, no compression, 640×480 pixels, 30 FPS.

Because the video is uncompressed, the quality is pretty good – it’s very large, yet not clunky or muddy looking. But high quality comes at a cost. Even though the clip is only 5.5 seconds long, it’s a 10 megabyte file, which translates to around two megabytes per second. If you posted an uncompressed avi video that’s five minutes long, you’re then talking about a 600 megabyte file – not exactly the kind of thing most people would be able to download. That’s why you need to compress most videos before posting them online – otherwise, they’re just too big to deal with.
To begin, I start by opening the file in Final Cut Pro, then finding “export” under the File dropdown menu. Here, there are two options. I can just convert it to Quicktime without specifying any type of compression, or I can select “using Quicktime conversion,” which allows you to compress it in a variety of ways. Converting from avi to Quicktime in itself doesn’t really change the file size, though. Take a look at this version of the video It’s saved in Quicktime, 320×160 pixels in size, but without any additional compression. Even though the video is much smaller in size, this reduces the file by only a fraction – down to 9.6 megabytes, a four percent reduction.
Since this didn’t change the file very much, I went ahead and compressed the video using several different techniques:
Reducing frames to 15 frames per second. Here I’ve exported the video using Quicktime conversion. Before saving it, Final Cut Pro lets me select a “options” button, which opens up yet another menu that lets tweak the compression settings. One of these settings is the frame rate. Normally the video plays at 30 frames a second. By changing it to 15 frames a second, it reduces the number of images saved in the video file, in this case cutting the file size nearly in half to 5.4 megabytes. The video doesn’t play as smoothly as 30 frames a second, but still looks tolerably good. In contrast, here’s a version of the same video at 10 frames per second. Notice how the smoothness of the video drops to an intolerable level. Even though the video is now compressed to 3.2 megabytes, the reduced frame rate really hurts the viewing experience. It almost feels like watching a film from the silent era – and not in a positive sense. So, try not to go less than 15 frames per second.
Using 3ivx compression at 15 frames per second. Whether you use FCP or Quicktime Pro, the software comes with a variety of compression algorithms, or CODECs, you can select from. You can also buy CODECs that are optimized for online downloads. I use one called 3ivx. It’s easy to buy online and install, and it compresses video quite nicely. Compare the 3ivx version with the previous version, both of which are set at 15 frames per second. While the basic version is 5.4 megabytes, the 3ivx version is only 1.8 megabytes. That’s more than 80% smaller than the original file.
3ivx codec, changing video size to 160×120 pixels, 15 frames per second. You can also change the size of your video. When exporting it, I clicked the option button and selected the size option, then reduced the height and width by half. This makes a much smaller video window and reduces the file size even further to 1.3 megabytes. Cutting the video screen size, of course, affects the viewing experience, as you can see by comparing these two screen sizes:


video , 320x240 video , 160x120

Two screen sizes: 320×240 pixels versus 160×120 pixels


3ivx codec, 15 fps, 8 bit mono. Don’t forget you can also compress a video’s audio to reduce file size. Once again, you can reach this menu by exporting as quicktime conversion and clicking the options button; you’ll see an audio option along with the others. The default setting for audio is 48khz, 16 bits and stereo. These settings may not mean much to you, but essentially, it allows for high-quality audio. This setting makes sense when you are using professionally recorded sound or music in your video, but if you’re just using the mic on a digital camera, chances are it’s overkill. For example, my camera records audio only at 8 bits and mono, so not lowering the settings is a waste of bandwidth. By switching the settings to 8 bits, 16khz and mono, the file size drops to 980 bytes – less than one megabyte.
3ivx codec, 15 fps, 8 bit mono, 160×120 pixels. Last but not least, we have a video clip that’s got all of these compression tricks used at once. It’s using the 3ivx CODEC, at 15 frames per second, the audio quality down to 8 bit mono, and the screen size cut down to 160×120. The result is a video file that’s an amazingly small 292 kilobytes – a whopping 97% smaller file size than the original. And amazingly, the final quality isn’t so terrible. In fact, for people who aren’t used to larger screen sizes, it’s downright tolerable. Compression techniques like this allow you to upload and download video clips through a dialup connection – and this can come in very handing when working in parts of the world that have slow Internet access.
For those of you who compares all of these techniques more easily, here’s a handy table I created. Hope this helps… -andy

The Death of a Video Blogger?

Monday, April 24th, 2006
Kevin Krutz as a boy

A childhood photograph of Kevin Krutz, part of a montage from the April 15 video blog allegedly capturing Kevin’s death

For countless members of the Internet community, video blogging has become a powerful, personal tool for capturing snapshots of life. In one case, it appears to have captured a snapshot of death.
I did not know Kevin Krutz personally, nor was I familiar with his vlog, Questions in a World of Blue, until fellow vlogger Michael Sullivan posted it to the videoblogging list earlier today. Kevin was a 26-year-old film student in Philadelphia who used his vlog to share short videos he produced for school. Many of them are dark and disturbing. In one piece, a twisted surgeon performs unnecessary surgery on a model, ruining her looks, but creates an unexpected fashion craze. Another video uses long, unflinching shots a la Martin Scorsese to capture a man violently assaulting a women at a bar. Other videos feature bizarre, though hysterical attempts to produce stop-motion animation with ground meat instead of clay.
The final video installment, entitled The Last Hours, begins with a slate noting that the video was posted “with consent of the Krutz family.” The video itself appears to come from a party; you can hear a friend narrating a home video in which he goes into a bathroom to make fun of Kevin, who appears to be throwing up in a toilet. As the video keeps rolling, the videographer and friend come to the horrifying realization that Kevin is in fact dead. There is blood on the bathroom floor, but it is not clear how he died; the implication seems to be that he passed away after massive amounts of drinking. One friend demands the videoographer to put the camera down, so the last moments we see are of Kevin at an angle, the camera resting ackwardly, as they try unsuccessfully to revive him. We then see his limp body dragged off the screen.
Dip to Black, then another slate saying the film was edited by Dom Miksit and posted by Tim Dunn, concluding with a montage of photographs of Kevin’s life, as T Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer” plays in the background:

I was dancing when I was eight
Is it strange to dance so late
I danced myself into the tomb
Is it strange to dnce so soon
I danced myself into the tomb….

The video is chilling on so many levels, no less so considering the quote posted on his vlog’s profile: “Video is a place where all the horror and atrocities you ever dreamed of can be accomplished.”
It seems this quote may have been prophetic. However, some vloggers are already speculating that the video is a hoax – a disturbing art project from an artists who relished in disturbing others. Notably, the blog doesn’t offer any details of how he died, nor does it supply an address for submitting condolences or donations. I was also surprised that a search for his blog on Technorati or news of his death on Google News yielded zero results.
If the video is a hoax, undoubtedly it will be debated for some time, praised by some for its daring and vilified by others for its inappropriateness. If it isn’t a hoax, perhaps with the posting of this video, his family and friends will be able to scare some young person – even just one person – into acting a little more responsibly with their life.
I honestly do not know if it is a hoax. If it is not, my sincerest condolences to Kevin’s family for their loss. -andy

UPDATE:

Mystery solved. Kevin isn’t dead. But hoax may be too strong a term for it either, depending on your point of view. It seems that the whole thing was a video blogging social experiment to see how the online community would react, and to explore the boundaries of what’s acceptable and what’s not in the world of vlogging. There’s an email to the VIDEOBLOGGING yahoogroup from his video blogging teacher explaining the whole thing:

Kevin is fine and well. Probably tired and overwhelmed since it’s the
end of the semester, but he’s otherwise perfectly fine. I just saw him
this afternoon in class.
I don’t know if he meant the video as a “hoax” — or a mean trick. I’d
expect it was more of an experiment to see what would happen. It’s
definitely in the “vlog dangerously” theme that Stephanie started for
videoblogging week. Perhaps this is over the edge for many of you?? Did
Kevin stretch things too far? And cross some line into something
unacceptable??
….Mostly I’m interested in hearing more discussion about whether or not
it was “okay” for him to post such a video. What buttons did he push?
If you are offended or upset or disturbed or frightened or disgusted…
then why? What is it exactly that caused your reaction? If you aren’t
any of those things, but have other strong feelings, what is your
reaction? What do you think that’s about??

As I noted on the same list before the truth came out, whether or not it was a hoax probably wouldn’t change the fact that the video may well indeed lead to a media/blog debate about the cultural boundaries of Web 2.0 in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s not. Any takers? -andy

The Monterey Bay Aquarium!

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006
girl and otter

Video montage featuring the many creatures of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Music by Drop Trio, courtesy of Magnatune Records in accordance with their Creative Commons license.

The Political Economy of Access to Knowledge

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

During a plenary session this afternoon at the A2K conference, Jamie Love of CPTech spoke about the political economy of the A2K movement. Some notes:

US and EU negotiators take a position that the more IP patents you have, the more money you’re worth. The red states say this isn’t strong enough, while greens take the position that it’s too strong.
Why “access to knowledge?” It’s a common brand for different movements – blogging, open access, creative commons, free software, etc. Developing countries said this is the one term that resonated with them. And we felt that it represented enough of what all these groups were working on that it was a good catch-all phrase for the collection of movements. Like Richard Stallman says, language is important. How can anyone argue against “access to knowledge?” That’s a good thing, right?
Stop, resist or modify the setting of bad norms. Change, regulate and resist bad business practices. Create new modes of production of knowledge goods, both commercial and noncommercial. Create new global frameworks and norms that promote access to knowledge.
Some important ideas:
- Challenge prices that harm access. Prices don’t have to be zero, as long as people can afford them.
- Challenge poorly conceived or inferior models for intellectual property reform. Why shouldn’t there be innovations? Don’t tell me you can’t improve things like the patent rules.
- Support new business models and incentives that do not enclose knowledge.
- Pay attention to livelihoods. It’s a real problem for those of us who aren’t tenured. You have to send a signal that it’s not about destroying someone’s livelihood, but trying to make it work equitably for all of us.
- The theory of local/global (he didn’t elaborate on this, though)

And that’s it for me… I have to catch a train back to Boston now. Now time for some other blogger to take over the reins for the rest of the conference… -andy

Coalition to Launch “Save the Internet” Campaign for Network Neutrality

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

This Monday, a coalition of Internet activists from across the political spectrum will officially launch the Save the Internet Campaign to fight telecom companies that are trying to create a multi-tiered Internet, where lower-income customers have less access to content and bandwidth than higher-paying customers. Quoting their new website:

Congress is pushing a law that would abandon Network Neutrality, the Internet’s First Amendment. Network neutrality prevents companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from deciding which Web sites work the best — based on who pays them the most. Your local library shouldn’t have to outbid Barnes & Noble for the right to have its Web site open quickly on your computer.
Net Neutrality allows everyone to compete on a level playing field and is the reason that the Internet is a force for economic innovation, civic participation and free speech. If the public doesn’t speak up now, Congress will cave to a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign by telephone and cable companies that want to decide what you do, where you go, and what you watch online.
This isn’t just speculation — we’ve already seen what happens elsewhere when the Internet’s gatekeepers get too much control. Last year, Canada’s version of AT&T — Telus— blocked their Internet customers from visiting a Web site sympathetic to workers with whom Telus was negotiating. And Shaw, a major Canadian cable TV company, charges an extra $10 a month to subscribers who dare to use a competing Internet telephone service.
Congress thinks they can sell out and the public will never know. The SavetheInternet.Com Coalition is proving them wrong.

Founding coalition members:
Professor Lawrence Lessig — Stanford
Professor Timothy Wu — Columbia
Free Press — Coalition Coordinator
Gun Owners of America
Craig Newmark — Craigslist.com Founder
Professor Glenn Reynolds — aka blogger Instapundit
MoveOn.org Civic Action
Consumers Union
American Library Association
Consumer Federation of America
Public Knowledge
Common Cause
U.S. PIRG
Center for Digital Democracy
Association of Research Libraries
The Service Roundtable — small business network
Afro-Netizen
Loyola University Chicago, Department of Communications
Educause
New Organizing Institute
Covenant College
Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project
Association for Community Networking
Amazing Kids
CCTV Center for Media and Democracy
Alliance for Community Media
Professor Susan Crawford
Center for Creative Voices in Media
Community Technology Centers
FreeNetworks.org
Media Access Project
Media Alliance
The Agonist
NYC Wireless
AcornActive Media Foundation
Californians Against Waste
Chicago Media Action
CUWiN
National Video Resources
Illinois Community Technology Coalition
Ohio Community Computing Network
Peacefire
Quicksilver Communications
To get involved, visit the website and let Congress know how you feel about the issue. -andy

Network Neutrality: Perspectives from Developed and Developing Nations

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Live from the Access to Knowledge (A2K) conference, Yale; Moderated by Mike Godwin, Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Speakers:
Susan Crawford, Cardozo Law Center
Michael Geist, University of Ottawa
Caio Pereira, FGV, Sao Paolo
Seán Ó Siochrú, Nexus/CRIS Campaign
Mike Godwin’s intro:
To what extent is network neutrality a missing piece to the a2k discussion? Telecom policy often doesn’t get talked about; instead it’s IP discussions.
Technologies of freedom by Ithiel De Sola Pool predicted how computer networks would be central to freedom and democracy. In the US, you have freedom of speech and freedom of the press – the govt doesn’t discriminate against content. There’s also common carriage – the telecom carriers not discriminating against content. If Pool were still alive, I think he’d also identify a third principal – network neutrality.
Neutrality as to applications – allowing everyone, whether you’re a company or an individual, to develop and run any type of application that leads to the creation and dissemination of knowledge. To do this, you need equal access to telecom infrastructure.
There’s almost no distinction between the north and south regarding network neutrality – there’s no settled paradigm yet. There is a debate going on, though not everyone’s sure what they’re debating about. The division is between those who want a simple, open, neutral network, and those who believe telecom providers need greater financial incentive to innovate, so they should be allowed to tier services and discriminate towards more profitable content.
Michael Geist:
Are all bits equal? Equal treatment of bits so that the market determines winners without limitation of access. Often called the end-to-end (e2e) principle. Non interference allows for innovation at the edges and mitigates the limited competition for consumer high speed access.
The two-tiered internet and VoIP. Shaw charging at $10 premium surcharge; videoton calls Skype a parasite; Madison River ordered by FCC to stop blocking competing VoIP services; Panama and Egypt blocking VoIP to maintain monopolies. (and others, too!)
Content blocked: Telus blocked Voices for Change website in July – it was a union site. Additional 600 sites blocked because they blocked the IP address hosting all of them; full communities lose access to sites. If you ask telco lawyers, no one new where the state of the law was, but Telus was entitled to take steps to block content. This has led to a major backlash.
Traffic shaping: Rogers Cable acknowledged that it prioritizes some content and applications over others; they get more bandwidth. Lower prioritization to file sharing, podcasting, video blogging.
Public vs. private internet: Verizon’s FIOS service delivers high def tv plus web content for those people willing to pay. Everyone else gets slower public Internet. They have exclusive deals with companies like Disney and EA Sports. They’re proud of these deals but they’re open only to those who can afford to pay for them, creating a new digital divide.
Website premiums (access tiering). BellSouth speculates about charging sites to access their customers or prioritizing some sites over others. Verizon raises similar noise about two-tiered Internet.
Policy Questions:
- Legal protection from Internet tiering?
- Is tiering even needed for network buildout?
- Is this a north-south issue?
From a legal protection perspective, customer tiering exists today – dialup, broadband, wireless, etc. Access tiering raises serious competition and innovation issues.
Canadian telecom policy review panel:
Called for the right of Canadians to access content of their choice and online applications by means of all public telecommunications providers.
Incentives: there’s lots of rhetoric, but little evidence that tiering needed for network builds. Technical costs may outweight benefits from some potential actions. Raises issue of municipal and public networks to ensure greater access and competition.
North v. South: Common issue. Developing countries may be impacted more, since VoIP offers tremendous opportunity there.
Susan Crawford:
This is almost like a religious conflict; two sides that barely even know how to communicate with each other without getting angry.
The Bellhead perspective: hardware and software are intertwined; network optimized for particular service; Internet is the last mile; carrier gets paid for the communications it carries; Internet doesn’t work because there’s no guarantee of service; services keep us safe – close relations with law enforcement.
The Nethead perspective: Network delivers packets; it’s independent of applications. The best network is a dumb network, with endpoints doing all the work. Security becomes the responsibility of the users. The internet is all about standards and relationships.
The conflict between these philosophies is like the conflict between evolution and intelligent design. Totally different world views.
VoIP is now 3.5% of phone usage in the US, or nearly four million households, as of January 2006. The cost of phone service is going down to zero. Telcos become content providers to survive.
John Horrigan: 45 percent of Internet users say they use the Net to make major life decisions – illnesses, education, etc.
In the US, we have policy that is deeply political, deeply shortsighted, and driven by incumbents of various kinds.
BrandX – cable deregulated. DSL order – also deregulated.
Whitacre: How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them…. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?”
Telcos say we need quality of service guarantees to fix a broken internet. We need to ID packets and monetize the last mile to recoup investment. No other network operates neutrally, so why should we? If it becomes a monopoly, deal with it then, but don’t tell us in advance how to build our network. That’s un-American.
What passes for broadband in the US is “the slowest, most expensive and least reliable in the developed world,” says Thomas Bleha in Foreign Affairs.
A developing nations issue. What do you do with an incumbent telco? Lay your own fiber, and work around the incumbent, like India’s Andhra Pradesh or Amsterdam; try a microinvestment strategy.
What to do with bandwidth issues? She was told while visiting England: “Only sending email, so quality of service controls make sense for access to other applications.” What are you going to do, prevent poor people from accessing movies?
The mobile Internet: the real opportunity. That’s where we’re gonna see enormous use; tiny screens will be where it takes place, not desktops.
Threats: Telecom policy becoming all communications policy; choice of viewpoint becomes critical; the ability to attach devices without permission, launch apps without permission, etc.
The Bellheads are seeking new laws, new asymmetry of information.
“This is an improper use of Internet technology.”
Caio Pereira:
Net Neutrality from a Brazilian perspective, a middle-income developing country.
In developing countries, demand is lower, lots of concentration.
Consequences:
In an a2k framework, net neutrality should be a goal for developing countries. Tradeoffs should be taken seriously – they’re often context specific. There needs to be transparency about bandwidth management in a context of scarcity, and detailed discussions about different types of discrimination and their impact on access to knowledge.
In Brazil:
Connectivity over the wires
- stagnation of fixed switched telephony – 40 mil lines
- slow growth of wired broadband access, concentrated in dsl rather than cable
Connectivity over the airwaves
The growth of fixed lines is stagnant, while mobile phones is up to 90 million lines – a major explosion
Around 3.5 mil cable subscribes – stagnant since 2000. But 90% of households have broadcast.
Around 3.5 mil broadband connections, mostly DSL.
Key networks to expand access: mobile networks, DTV transition. One key issue is net neutrality – walled gardens in mobile networks, while DTV is still strictly controlled by broadcasters. The political economy is behind access through these networks.
Seán Ó Siochrú on lowcost bandwidth for poor communities:
The principles underlying net neutrality are important, but they bare little relevance to the realities of developing countries.
We should talk either about net neutrality in rich countries or access to low-cost bandwidth in poor countries. But not both. The south is not on the same trajectory.
ICTs in poor countries: Specific form of liberalization has failed poor communities. Problems: vertically integrated operators; gsm and cdma are too expensive; weak regulatory rules; rural bandwidth mainly from VSAT; Africa pays twice as much for data flows (coming and going); fiber, where it exists, is underused.
International bandwidth. The sorry experience of the SAT3 trunk cable in West Africa. Owners are trying to protect their own interests, so there’s been little impact on bandwidth costs. Some have switched back to VSAT because it’s gotten so bad. Will the EASSy trunk cable be the same in east Africa? It’s also owned by incumbent operators, so it might lead to the same failed outcome. But they’re making lots of promises since they’re now laying the cable, and APC and Infodev are pressuring them to make the cable open access – bandwidth made available to all at transparent, affordable prices – that it’s a public good. The solution might be to get the world bank, EU and ADB to pay for the lot, in trust for countries. But probably no one will do it. It’ll only cost them $200 million. But it’s probably not politically feasible.
National backbones with a pro-poor open access approach. Open access as a solution – a potential to leverage public assets for open access. It needs strong, capable regulators, discriminating in favor of poor areas, supporting universal access funds.
At the local level, wireless IP technologies come of age, via low-cost multimedia ICTs as an alternative to switched voice and data communications. There’s a potential for empowerment: scalable, easily built and maintained, used in public areas, based on a bottom-up logic of community owned, community driven networks. See http://www.propoor-ict.net.

Eli Noam on the MacLuhanization of the Business Firm

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Eli Noam of Columbia University spoke about the evolution of the business firm, from the pre-industrial era to today’s networked world.
Suppose we get access to all of this information – what then? What’s the impact going to be? Access will lower the price and supply will go up, so it could lead to more information production.
Business info grows at 12 percent a year, scientific information at six percent. It used to take more than 30 years for one million scientific articles to be published; now it’s more like a year and a half. One typical reader can absorb about 44 bits per second when reading. Teams of four participants have lower productivity rate than one person – the committee phenomenon.
Business firms are command and control types of organizations; they exist to reduce transaction cost. The higher the costs, the greater the realm of firms and the less likelihood of competition.
Firms are structured around their most important processing tool at a given time. The earliest stage – pre-industrial – firms were basically modeled after people – families, dynastic relationships. Industry brought a new view of the firm – the machine. Firms tasks were made like a well-oiled machine, with each part having a specific task to contribute to the whole, with limited information flow.
In the 1950s, the classic business firm model was the computer – more specifically, the mainframe. Simple, rigid, centralized information, greater monitoring from a distance, hierarchical. But they didn’t endure. In the 1980s, microcomputers and networks changed everything. Firms reorganized themselves to take advantage of new tools and information flow. The networked firm.
Where will the next generation of technology take the business firm? Tools like mesh networking and ubiquitous wireless, ultra broadband, sensor networks, software agents, nanopayment systems and the like. Machine to machine communications will increase, leading to greater automation of transactions, self structured and self controlling, with low oversight.
We should expect a shrinking of the realm of the firm and the increase in the market environment in which they operate. A decomposition of large firms – and large NGOs and universities too. This reaches the fifth stage – a transactional model of organization. Smaller, self-organizing bodies, moved from the inside of a large organization to the outside.
Organizational activities not only improve from information, it gets defined by its information – very much like what Marshall MacLuhan said. The media is the message, and the information is the organization.

How Do French Chefs Protect their Recipes?

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Eric von Hippel of MIT Sloan School of Management presented this morning at the Yale A2K conference on the cultural norms of Michelin-starred French chefs in terms of how they protect ownership of their recipes.
Novel recipes are important to success. When asked about the importance placed on original recipes by their restaurant customers, the average importance ranking was 4.42 out of 5.
Chefs can copyright the graphics and text presentation of a recipe – but not the recipe itself. However, they can protect certain trade secrets, someone’s famous “secret sauce.”
They explored the use of social norms by chefs to protect their innovations. Social norms develop a set of accepted behaviors, and if you deviate you get punished severely by the community. Rules based on the premise of “Thou shalt not.”
von Hippel and his research partner sampled 500 michelin starred chefs, conducting in-person interviews, plus 150 responses by survey.
Accomplished chefs expect other chefs will not copies their recipes exactly. If they do, “we don’t talk to them anymore; we’re furious; we never communicate with them again.” Chefs expect others to whom they reveal info will not pass that info onward without permission. “If I give information to another chef I trust him not to pass it on. I do not have to say this.” And they expect others will also acknowledge them as a source. If not, their wrath will be public:
“Sir: your presentation [of my recipe] has revealed a rare ingratitude.”
Chefs frequently get requests from their peers for recipes. Around 61% said they get such requests one to five times a year
Chefs are significantly more likely to provide info to chefs they think will adhere to recipe norms. Meanwhile, copying without permission can involve both in terms of ingredients and presentation. Chef Robin in Sydney stole a NYC chef’s presentation of using test tubes to serve food. (The picture looked like a custard dessert.) He defended his actions but was ostracized from the community.
“Of course people are going to imitate and evolve what they see.” – said Chef Robin, who stole presentation of recipe, in his own defense on eGullet.com.
Responses were harsh : “The ‘evolution’ part may be where you are coming short….” “New York is watching you.”
von Hippel concluded by joking, “He has since been executed.” -andy