April 19, 2010

The 4th Port and Robbery Planr. Fact or fiction?

This post is not about a Port nor about Port. In stead, it is about the mysterious Fourth Port. Most people don't even know that it exists. I can assure you though that the fourth port, which I will hereafter abbreviate as P4, is real and is going to become extremely important for the Dutch and perhaps the entire European energy market.

The Dutch energy market has been privatized several years ago, meaning that energy production (electricity & gas) has become competitive. Consumers can choose what provider to buy energy from. Recently (2008), the Dutch government has also decided that energy production and energy distribution should be done by separate companies. That's why Dutch energy providers are being split into two parts: a free (as in freedom), private company that only provides energy services, and a public company that takes care of the distribution of that energy to end consumers. So the government stays in control of the infrastructure for energy distribution, but no longer the commercial activities being deployed on it.

The Netherlands currently have 8 regional grid operators for distributing electricity and 9 for distributing gas to end consumers. The public grid ops build and maintain the distribution infrastructure, including the installation and maintenance of metering equipment at end consumer addresses (homes, industry). All energy providers can provide their product (gas or electricity) via these public grids. The end consumer should normally only deal with the energy provider. They will get a bill for consumed energy by the provider, not the operator. But since the grid ops own the metering equipment, the consequence of all this is that the grid ops must facilitate the energy providers in their need for data on energy consumption.

It boils down to this: grid ops distribute and measure, energy providers produce and sell to end consumers (like your self).

Are you with me so far? Here's what P4 is for: providing a central facility for obtaining metering data and controlling end consumer connections to the grids. Ultimately, this is a single, national facility. Use cases include:
  • read individual consumption status
  • batch read multiple statuses
  • enable and disable individual connection
All these operations should be made available through a standard web service (SOAP). So, P4 is a web service. Needless to say, this web service should be really really secure. We don't want to create an easy facility for the evil minded to black us out, do we?  In the thieving business for instance, being able to predict when you are not at home (by mining your consumption data) or even have control over darkness in your street (switch off connections) could be very helpful. Imagine the plethora of evil Google Maps mash-ups (looking like my sketch below) you will get that allow you to zoom in to street level, select a block of houses and click the "black out" button (you will have to do the manical laughter yourself). However convenient this may look to you, this is not what P4 is intended for.

In spite of these security and privacy related issues, the Dutch energy grids are evolving towards the smart grids that are envisioned by the government. At the moment, P4 mostly consists of a number of standards specifications and has been partly implemented by some of the grid ops. Several 10-thousands of smart meters have been rolled out in the Netherlands so far, but they can't be queried centrally through P4 yet because of the above mentioned privacy issues that have yet to be resolved.
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April 14, 2010

Should I help promote Pluggio?

I got an email today from Justin Vincent. Doesn't ring a bell? Well, he's the guy behind TweetMiner, and of lately, Pluggio (The Helpful Twitter Client). TweetMiner basically is...was an RSS reader combined with a Twitter client. It allowed you to quickly and easily tweet about items from your RSS feeds. It also allowed you to schedule when your tweets were to be submitted to Twitter. After it got extended with multi-acount support and support for other social networks such as facebook and LinkedIn, TweetMiner was renamed to Pluggio (which still provides all those useful functions of course).

I use Pluggio every now and then, but not to its full potential (yet?).

Here's what Justin wrote in his email:

Pluggio needs your help!

Are you (or someone you know) a blogger?
If so we would love it if you could blog/review Pluggio.
I've created a bloggers resource page with pics and videos:

No worries if you're not interested or don't have time!

Thanks for reading :)


If you follow the provided link you will read that you could get a FREE 1 year account if your blog gets over 10k unique visitors/month. It could be interpreted like this: Don't bother to help if your blog gets 9999 unique visitors per month or less. My blog only gets about 100 UV's/month, not including my dad (Hi dad, you're always welcome, you know that). So, I shouldn't even bother to bother. My blog is practically invisible, so, whether I like or dislike Pluggio, hardly anyone would see it.

But besides the above threshold, I find it interesting that Justin makes this appeal at all. Maybe I have been moving in the wrong circles, but this hasn't happened to me before. I have accounts for many online services including several twitter clients (Seesmic, PeoplBrowser, ...), but none have ever requested this from me. As far as I am concerned, this is a unique request. I wonder what Justin is exactly after? He is reaching out to popular bloggers to write about Pluggio, so exposure must be a big part of it.

Justin, I hope your Pluggio will get the exposure increase you are after. I am giving you the exposure this post gets. If you're lucky, it'll hit 50 visits. At your service!

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April 09, 2010

iPads are like toilet paper

What an iPad (and iPhone) has in common with toilet paper:
  1. easy to use touch interface
  2. it gets dirty during use
  3. it doesn't last long
  4. it is disposed of when you no longer want to use it
Hold on, don't stop reading yet. Give me a chance to explain:
In a way, it is entirely true, especially the part about iPads being just as disposable as toilet paper. All of Apple's iProducts can be used until the internal battery that you can't replace (well, you technically can, but normal users won't be able to) can no longer hold its charge anymore (it doesn't last long). But even before the battery dies, you will feel that your iProduct is becoming of less use sooner than you think. It will become old and obsolete sooner than its battery and you find you no longer want to use it anymore.

It is the effect of a brilliant and broadly applied business strategy: produce things people want and will want to replace with newer versions before they actually become useless. A profitable business is a business where you are able to sell something lots and lots of times. The best products are the ones people use and
dispose of, such as toilet paper, shaving knives, tooth brushes. Car vendors usually try to apply this strategy, and also most vendors of consumer electronics. So Apple isn't really being exceptionally evil in this respect. They're all guilty.

People have also been calling Apple evil because of their over-protectiveness with respect to their technology. Apple is often accused of being too closed, and of obstructing the spreading of open standards. I believe that Apple "just" wants to make sure that the quality of the products is as high as we have come to expect. Apple stuff usually looks good and works great out of the box (even that box looks great). Applications for the iPhone and iPad have to go through a strict process of approval before they can be offered on the App Store. Apple wants to control the whole chain: from hardware design and production to software design and production, including third party software. And they are obviously very successful at that.

Accusations such as mentioned above often surface around successful businesses. Apple started out as everybody's hero, but now they're a dominant player, they are suddenly evil. That's just how it goes. Admiration turns into envy and suspicion. It happened to Microsoft, and it is now happening to Google too. Trust seems to be inversely proportional to size and success. But that is somewhat besides my point.

My point is that Apple produces disposable technology. And since Apple products are very fashionable and have moved into the domain of luxury goods such as watches and jewels, people are subtly urged to always have the latest model. I am curious about the environmental impact of this all. How bad is it that we are disposing of technology that is still perfectly usable? By what numbers does this happen? Is it even a problem at all? What is the ecological footprint of an iPhone, or an iPad? To what extend can their parts be reused?

Humor me.

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April 02, 2010

Agent Martin

Today, I was listening to the devnology podcast (6th edition). This relatively new podcast hasn't been able to keep my attention for long so far. Most of the time I listen to the first few minutes, and then I usually "zap" away to another podcast that happens to be on my iPod. Not today, because they had interviewed Robert Martin, or "Uncle Bob". Such an inspiring personality. He speaks in a manner that makes you think twice before doubting what he says, let alone criticize.

While I was listening, I kept thinking what a familiar voice he has, although I was sure I had never heard Uncle Bob speak before. I read some of his books (a long while back), but I had never heard his voice. But still, that thought kept nagging in the back of my mind. Robert speaks in a calm manner and seems to have thought about every word he says. It is almost as if he reads from a live script in his head. That is partly true of course, because he is obviously interviewed lots of times and he often speaks at conferences and such. So, he must have a lot of statements in his head where he draws from on those occasions.

And then it hit me. He sounds just like that character "Agent Smith" from the Matrix. Especially when he seems to be re-saying a profound statement. A statement like this for instance: "I tended to dislike high level languages, because they separate you from the metal". When he said that my primary thought was "yeah, he's right, we lost touch with the metal".

At a certain point in the interview, Uncle Bob remarks upon certification. He gives an analogy on how doctors become doctors and how lawyers become lawyers. That takes years and costs lots of money, but at a certain point, you have proven yourself worthy of the title. According to Uncle Bob, it is not at all like that for programmers. I quote: "Do we need something like that for programmers? Maybe we do. Do we have something like that? No. Are there attempts to pretend that we are going to make something like that? Yes, there are certification programs out there that are utterly meaningless, but they confer upon the developer this title of being certified. This is a disaster". Wow. So true.

Here is another quote from the interview. More or less Uncle Bob's exact words: "for 50 years, programming has been if-statements, while-loops and imperative statements. There are interesting ways to structure them, cute ways to organize them, but it comes down to statements, selections with if, looping with while, and that's what programming is. And it is going to stay that way for a very long time". Now picture Agent Smith. Dark shades, immobile face, dryly stating the above. If you are not "The One", you won't think of bringing anything against those words.

Just listen to the interview (if you are a developer, it is definitely worth your while), and hear for yourself:

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