Ever since the beginnings of the Fairphone project I’ve been meaning to get one. I know its founder Bas van Abel from when Fairphone was a research project at the Amsterdam FabLab / Waag Society where he worked, some years before it became a company. But the timing was usually off, such that when my existing phone needed replacement there wasn’t a Fairphone available, or I didn’t want to lay out the cash for the purchase and opted for the spread out payments to a mobile service provider. On occasion I spotted one in the wild.

It seemed to go that way again when I started searching for a new phone after the summer. My current Samsung S9 is a little over 3 years old, and is now moving beyond its support horizon: no more Android version updates since a year, and monthly Android security patches have just ended to be replaced with quarterly ones for at most another year. Exploring the current market I checked out Fairphone and saw that they had no phones in stock. So I more or less resigned myself to another round of Samsung or somesuch.

Then today my feedreader surfaced an article announcing the launch of Fairphone 4, with pre-orders opening now for delivery in November. It comes with Android 11 and guaranteed 4 but planned 6 years of software support, and a 5 year warranty. Its modular design allows replacing or upgrading various components. At 536 Euro excluding VAT it comes in about 20% cheaper than the Samsung S21 I’d likely have opted for otherwise.

Delivery should be the first half of November, looking forward to it.

In a tweet Mike Haber mentioned Otter.ai, a spoken text transcription tool, in the context of making notes (in Obsidian.md). Taking a look at the Otter.ai website I tried to create an account, only to be told that the unique email address I entered was already tied to an existing account. Indeed, my 1Password contained a login that I created in March 2018, but never used. Despite, or maybe because of, the friction I feel using audio, I decided to try it out now.

I tried three things.
One, where I spoke to my laptop, while seeing the transcription written out live in front of me. This worked well, but creates odd feedback loops of self-consciousness when I read back my own words while speaking them. It’s like using a mirror to guide your hand movements, but then for speech.
Two, where I recorded myself talking using QuickTime and uploaded the resulting sound file. This removed the strange feedback loop of seeing the text emerge while talking, but had me sitting behind my laptop and manually uploading a file afterwards.
Three, where I used the service’s Android-app to dictate to my phone while walking around the house. This felt the most natural of the three.

Resulting transcripts can be manually exported in various formats from the browser interface, including flat text and to the laptop’s clipboard. An automatic export in txt would be nice to have. Otter.ai only does English (and does it well), which isn’t an issue when I’m in an English language context, but otherwise quickly feels artificial to my own ears.

From my brief tests three cases stood out for me that I can get comfortable with:

  • dictating short ideas or descriptions while on the move around the house
  • stream of consciousness talk, either while walking around the house or stationary
  • describing an object as I handle it, specifically physical books as I first go through them to see what it is about, in preparation for reading.

Otter.ai has a generous free tier of 10 hours per month and three free uploads (I assume the idea behind that it is they get more data to train their algorithms with), but the next tier up (‘pro’) gives you ten times that per month and unlimited uploads within those 100 hours for $100USD / yr. That is I think a pretty good deal, especially compared to other services.

Differences between Otter.ai and other services I found online concern 1) real time audio capture and transcription, where others mostly just provide for uploads of audio files, 2) costs, where others charge by the minute and/or generally charge much more, 3) available languages, where Otter.ai only provides English, and others cater to a wide range of languages.
All the services I looked at allow listening to audio while you go through a transcription, e.g. to add corrections.
Two European services I found are Amberscript (a Dutch company), which has a prepaid option of 15 Euro / hour (or 40 Euro per month subscription for 5 hours), and Happyscribe (a French company) which charges by the minute at 12 Euro / hour.

There is of course also the dictation built into Microsoft Word. Word supports Dutch well. Although I normally work in LibreOffice, I do have Word installed to prevent weird conversion issues working on documents with clients who run MS products. It does mean being tied to the laptop while dictating though, and of course like any other US company, including Otter.ai, all audio goes to US servers for speech recognition. Also, after the dictation there’s no audiofile left over, only the document remains. It means that odd transcriptions can remain a mystery, because you can’t go back to the original. You should do such corrections immediately in that case. After such a correction phase this is no longer an issue, then it’s just a difference with other services that are designed more towards transcription of e.g. interviews, where MS Word is geared towards dictation. In the web based Word version there’s a transcription feature separate from the dictation feature, that provides 300 minutes for free per month and does retain the audio file for you.

For now I will aim to experiment with voice dication some more. Probably for the first few days using MS Word on my laptop for dictation, and using Otter.ai’s mobile app for the same, in the three mentioned use cases. If I find it gets more useful than strange (as I’ve found it to be in previous years and attempts), I will likely use Amberscript, as it is EU based and has a mobile app. Their prepaid option of 15 Euro / hour is probably good for quite some time at first.

My blog tells me it’s 18 years ago today I installed Skype and made my first call with Dina Mehta and Stuart Henshall the same day. That was three weeks after Skype launched in public beta. I don’t remember, nor does my blog for me, when my last Skype call was. Sometime after the 2011 Microsoft acquisition for sure. Maybe when they switched from the original peer to peer to a central server model? More likely it was around the time when they confused the world by having Skype and Skype for Business as completely separate things yet using the same name, from the fall of 2016. I uninstalled it by 2019 I think. My meeting and conversation notes mention ‘skype call’ for the last time somewhere during 2015.

Are there any current p2p voip applications that can capture the fascination that Skype held in 2003? Has it gone ‘under the hood’ as a protocol, living in different silos? Or is there an existing ecosystem of apps and users still around? Is Skype p2p voip a thing that could be useful to recreate?

[UPDATE: I should have thought to look for it in my blog: I did ask the same questions about what the Skype of now would be, a little under a year ago.]

Per deze maand moet het in alle EU landen mogelijk zijn om digitaal een onderneming op te richten. Nederland is nog lang niet zover, zelfs amper begonnen met de benodigde wetswijzigingen, lees ik bij jurist Ellen Timmer in een blogpost. Daarin wordt ook verwezen naar de Nederlandse notarissen die zeggen per 1 augustus wél klaar te zijn voor wat ze ‘digitaal passeren’ noemen, en een video hebben gemaakt waarin ze denken dat te laten zien.

(link naar de video van de Nederlandse Notarissen op YouTube)

Als ik die video bekijk zie ik niet het digitaal oprichten van een onderneming. Ik zie daarin dat de notaris bereid is om een afspraak met je te maken om een videoconference met je te houden. Het gesprek ten kantore van de notaris is vervangen door een Zoom call en de documenten zijn vervangen door een PDF. Dat is geen digitale transformatie, waarin de mogelijkheden van digitalisering worden gebruikt om de wijze waarop iets tot stand komt vele malen effectiever, sneller en wrijvingslozer te maken, meestal door het proces geheel om te gooien.
De notarissen staat kennelijk alleen voor ogen het digitaal maken van wat papieren artefacten, en een beeldscherm te gebruiken voor het gebruikelijke gesprek, en de rest geheel bij het oude(*) te laten. ‘Passeren’ wordt niet digitaal door er ‘digitaal passeren’ van te maken. Dat is zoals de KvK die je nog altijd formulieren op hun site laat invullen, die je vervolgens moet printen om ze te ondertekenen en per post in te sturen, en dat dan het digitaal doorgeven van wijzigingen noemen. Met digitalisering heeft dat allemaal nauwelijks iets te maken.

Ter vergelijking kun je als niet-ingezetene in Estland, met behulp van je e-residency kaart (de mijne is verlopen) die je identiteit cryptografisch borgt, al sinds 6 jaar in een uurtje of twee (al is de recordtijd 18 minuten) geheel zelfstandig vanuit elke locatie ter wereld en op elk tijdstip een onderneming registreren. De Nederlandse variant kan dat niet, want het moet wel onder kantoortijd van de notaris, en die moet bovendien tijd voor je hebben. Wat er digitaal kan bij de Nederlandse notaris, kan pas nadat ik heb gebeld voor een afspraak zodat ik er over 3 weken terecht kan. (En als de notaris er nog niet is voor je afspraak, word je in een ‘digitale wachtkamer’ geplaatst!) In de tijd die het kost om een notaris te kiezen en daarmee die afspraak te maken ben je in Estland al klaar met het hele proces. Want daar hebben ze het registratieproces wél herontworpen vanuit wat er digitaal mogelijk is.

De uitleg van hoe je in Estland digitaal een bedrijf start wordt dan ook gegeven door de mensen die de overheidswebsite hebben gemaakt, niet door een notaris. En beperkt zich tot het uitleggen welke velden je moet invullen en welke vinkjes je moet zetten.

(link naar een webinar over het digitaal registreren van een bedrijf in Estland

* ‘het oude’ als in de papieren processen gebaseerd op de wet op het Notarisambt van 1842 en de wijzigingen uit 1999.

Open Street Map has the option to add the location, type and viewing angle of surveillance cameras.
Peter wrote about adding the cameras in his neighbourhood to the map, and says ‘we didn’t have to walk far‘ to add 47 cameras, including his own door bell. Cameras are added to Open Street Map but not shown in the usual map interfaces. The Open Street Map wiki does list a number of projects that render this information. These projects have different areas of focus and different selection criteria for information included it seems. One of them that seems most comprehensive is Surveillance Under Surveillance.

It shows about 3500 cameras listed in the Netherlands, surely a tiny fraction of the total.

And only a handful in my city, none in my neighbourhood. Again, a low number far from reality.

This reminds of a game that, I think Kars Alfrink and/or Alper Çuğun conceptualised, where you had to reach a destination in Amsterdam avoiding the views of the cameras along the way. It also reminds me how a former colleague had some basic camera detection device in his car years ago that became useless as surveillance cameras at private homes increased in numbers. It detected not just speeding camera signals, but also all those other cameras. At some point driving down a residential street, especially in more affluent neighbourhoods, the warning noises the device made were constant.

I’ll be on the lookout for cams in our area. There are I know two in our court yard (one on our frontdoor, not connected though, and one on a neighbour’s frontdoor).

Bookmarked Permacomputing and Permacomputing Update 2021 (by Ville-Matias Heikkilä)

This seems worth a read, applying permaculture ideas to our use of the web and computing in general. At first glance I associate it with Heinz Wittenbrink‘s blogging about what the climate emergency must mean for his professional field of content strategy, and it reminds me of the ecological farmer at Reboot7 in 2005 who talked to us about applying his lessons learned to web and application development.

What makes permacultural philosophy particularly appealing (to me) is that it does not advocate “going back in time” despite advocating a dramatic decrease in use of artificial energy. Instead, it trusts in human ingenunity in finding clever hacks for turning problems into solutions, competition into co-operation, waste into resources. Very much the same kind of creative thinking I appreciate in computer hacking.

Ville-Matias Heikkilä in Permacomputing