Charles Basenga Kiyanda

live from above the clouds

I flew Delta to go to Montreal for a short visit and some of their planes are equipped with the gogo in-flight internet service. (To be fair, I’m still flying with Delta right now.) I thought I’d give their in-flight internet service a try. I was expecting something ridiculously slow, but surprisingly, it’s more than usable. I did a quick speedcheck and the results are (wiht a server in Houston and the in-flight service hailing from the Dallas or Houston I think. I wasn’t very observant.):

Download speed: 2.38 Mb/s

Upload speed: 0.3Mb/s

ping time: 198ms

It’s actually more than usable. If I were a very frequent flyer, I might consider if they have some sort of plans with a monthly charge or something. Transatlantic flight might be more interesting. This is a 3.5 hours flight and the 13$ charge is almost worth it. If I’m not mistaken, the service price is tiered, but only¬† with 2 levels of service. Flights under 3 hours are 10$, whlile flights over three hours are 13$. Additionally, Service for pda’s and handhelds is 7$ regardless of flight time. I’m sure there’s a way to get linux (or possibly using firefox on windows for that matter) to make the system believe you’re a blackberry. It’d be interesting to check whether they’re only using the user-agent string to identify devices. Not that I’m advocating you break their terms of service. I know I’m not doing such a thing, but as a geek, I’m wondering how vulnerable their scheme is.

[Edit 10:01MT: Works fine with Hulu, which makes me wonder why the hell Hulu keeps freezing on my comcast connection at home.]

It’s the simple things

Every time I buy music from amazon in mp3 format, I’m absolutely amazed at how well it works. I’m not just talking about the no-drm mp3 stuff, that’s only half of the equation. What’s the other half? Convenience. Amazon has a download utility for their digital music sales. I was amazed the first time I tried it to see their website suggesting packages for debian, ubuntu, fedora and (I think) Suse. I was even more amazed when the install went without a hitch, their program started and the download actually worked.

Amazons download utility working flawlessly on linux

Amazon's download utility working flawlessly on linux

I recently wiped out my system on my laptop and installed the latest version of ubuntu. Even though the amazon website said the package was for ubuntu 8.10, I was, once again, amazed to see it work flawlessly with the 9.04 version of ubuntu. It’s the little things, you know…

Now, may this be a model for other businesses out there. It’s not that difficult! Just make it simple. Sell what people actually want (audio files that will work on any music player) in a convenient way. Don’t fuss around with making the killer app that will download my music, catalog it, make me coffee and take care of my playlists. Amazon’s app isn’t trying to disloge the itunes software thingie. I just want to buy music, just sell it to me already.

Funny how Amazon, without ever selling a single music player, managed to make a place for itself in the music selling niche while competing with the company that probably has a 90% market share in music players and essentially bundles its music store in with every player. Granted, amazon has lots of ressources, but they didn’t go hi-tech here. The lesson is simple. I have money and I want to spend it. Just sell me the darned thing already.

Cracks me up every time

Hulu has this intel ad on repeat these days. Cracks me up every time. I know intel’s just been fined 1 billion dollars or something of the sort. I guess it makes them evil. Still, this is just funny.

[I had to resize the thing a bit. Somehow, the widescreen youtube clips don’t jive with the standard wordpress layout. I’ll have to find a way around that at some point.]

wolfram alpha

Wolfram (Mathematica) is trying its hands at the “search engine” market. Essentially, I’d call that a “fact engine”. Basically, you put in something like “strength of hurricane katrina” and it returns all kinds of numbers and plots with the path and strength of the hurricane over time. At least, that’s what I understand it to be from a summary of a demo. It’s not launched yet and we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks.

I’m not entirely sure about how great this will be. Can’t go into details now because I have to run to a sandstorm for some experiments, but I’ll get back to this tonight. Basically, I’m not sure the people who are interested in getting “raw” facts rather than commentary are likely to for this service.

Travelling for free

The twitchhiker, found this through a news item on cyberpresse [french]. A man travelled for 30 days by leveraging his online contacts. He was following 5 rules, as follows:

  • can only accept offers from twitter users followign @twitchhiker. Can’t accept offers from a twitterers friend’s dad’s girlfriend
  • can only plan 3 days in advance
  • can only spend money on food, drinks and whatever fits in the suitcase
  • can pick between multiple offers, but if there’s only one offer, it has to be accepted within 48 hours
  • can only stay 48 hours in the same location. If he can’t move away after 48 hours, the challenge is over and he goes home

The challenge is over (if I’d known, I would have taken that opportunity to finally familiarize myself with twitter), but you can read about his travels on his blog.

This game reminds me of couchsurfing, which I’d like to try at some point. I’m a bit apprehensive about having someone spend the night at my house, especially if I have to go to work during the day. I’m not sure what the social norm is in couchsurfing about giving a key to the house to your visitors or locking them out of the house when you’re not there. Maybe I’ll start by offering to take someone around the area here if they’re visiting New Mexico.

Behind-the-scenes pictures

Two very different sets of pictures.

Behind the scenes at netflix

Behind the scenes in Afghanistan.


Ok, I flew back from Montreal last week and noticed only a few things.

  1. This time, at Montreal security, my stuff got swabbed and [well let me redact this bit too. I’m back at home, now, but I’m not sure I want to get a visit from the FBI. We’ll have to see if I change my mind.]
  2. I can now confirm the hoodie thing. I had to switch terminals in Fort Lauderdale and it turns out the airport has security in every terminal. The TSA guard again instructed everyone that “hoodies, sweatshirt and similar things had to be taken off.” He was nice enough to let a girl (who probably only had a bra under her hoodie) keep hers on. TSA vs. fashion, here we come. I’m seriously considering starting a protest group and we just strip naked every time we have to go through a TSA checkpoint.
  3. Speaking of Fort Lauderdale, if you’re going from a cold place to Fort Lauderdale and then back to a cold place, just try to find a way to carry some light shoes and coat rather than winter boots and 5 layers of gore-tex.
  4. Still on about Fort Lauderdale, turns out the Hollywood Airport in Fort Lauderdale has free wi-fi. That makes 2 in the US now, with Albuquerque.
  5. Heard the best public announcement over the intercom in Dallas while waiting for a belated flight. (Apologies to the poor girl, I don’t quite remember her name, so I’ll just make it up.) It went : “Emily Smith, please call home and talk to your mother. Emily Smith, please call your mother.” It’s even funnier if you imagine it in a Jersey accent.

Happy flight if you have to travel.

Airports and airplanes (preview)

I flew from Albuquerque to Montreal (Canada, not Missourri, thank you very much) recently and observed a few things about airports and airplane procedures

1- [This part of the post has been redacted for the time being. It turns out I’m still on travel and I figured I should wait until I’m back home before I post this. That way, if I get a visit from the FBI, I’ll be home when it happens.]

2- The days of crossing security checkpoints completely naked are coming soon! This time, while I was taking my shoes off, an agent came by and gently yelled to everyone that all “sweatshirst, hoodies and other similar things” had to be taken off. Maybe I’ll try and just entirely strip the next time I cross a security checkpoint. That ought to be fun.

3- Can someone tell me what a cross-check is and why flight attendants and airplane pilots now have to say these things on the loudspeakers? I’ve noticed that fact being advertised to all passengers now. (I don’t remember hearing the “prepare for cross-check” announcements before a couple of yeras ago.) Are they just trying to make flight attendants more obviously necessary?

Go play the game, then go download songs

Play the game You have to burn the rope here and then go download some songs. I’m not quite sure where this is going, but it’s interesting at least and even funny (at least I think so).

A sad start of the new year (for some)

I just got an e-mail in my inbox from the folks at jpgmag announcing the unfortunate demise of the magazine on January 5th. A sad start of the new year, unfortunately. I’m especially sad because, now, three of the sites I liked and touted as great examples of the new way the internet is influencing the real world. Jpgmag was the earliest of the three and most successful. A spin-off of jpgmag was everywheremag, also developed by 8020 publishing (although I think they’re called 8020 media now). Pixish was a recent offering. I’ve written about all three before and was quite excited by all of them. Unfortunately, although the everywheremag website is still up and running, the magazine hasn’t been published since issue 4. Pixish also closed it’s doors in late october 2008 and the successful jpgmag is now defunct as well. The question I have now is why? Jpgmag sold for 6$ per issue (25$ per year) and it was successfully selling advertising although I don’t know at what price, obviously. Still, it was able to raise advertising money, which implies that they sold paper copies. What would have been the “correct” price point for jpgmag to be able to make money (or at least pay its staff and production costs)? By comparison, Lenswork, another photography publication, charged 10$ per copy and sold no advertising before they decided to sell only through a subscription model and no longer at newsstands. To be fair, the company publishing Lenswork also sells other products, which might mean that some of that money supports the periodical publication, I don’t konw.

In any case, had jpgmag sold for 10$ or 12$ a copy, would they have survived? I dwell on the issue of price here since that’s the reason given by the staff for the demise of the site. They tried to seek funding, buyers, etc, but were unable to raise money. It would seem that jpgmag is the latest unfortunate victim of the economic crash. The publication model was interesting and, most importantly, boasted a sizable following. Photographers were interested in participating. If it was really only an issue of price then, it would be interesting to know how much money was needed to make it work. Maybe with some tweaks, this business model could work again and generate a vibrant and inspiring publication once again in the future.