Posted by: glennandert | 19-October-2008

The unintended effects of stealing digital works

It is amazing how fast time flies. There has been a stock market crash and all that since my last post!

The unintended effects of stealing digital works…..

When I first started looking at electronic charts and marine navigation software back in 2003, most cruisers I ran into on the west coast of the US used 2/3 photo copies of conventional full-size paper charts. A fair number used the free C-map electronic charts and the free reader for navigation. Nobody used MaxSea (software) and MapMedia (electronic charts) – they were pretty much used by long distance racers and professionals.

When I got started with MaxSea it was pretty spendy. As I recall I spent close to $1K to buy the software, and another $1.5K to buy MapMedia charts for the south pacific, from the Marquesas west to Fiji, and New Zealand. The cost for these electronic charts was about the same as buying the several inches of paper necessary to buy photo copies of the paper charts.

So, it wasn’t cheap, but it was inline with the other essential things on the yacht, like an auto-pilot, an SSB with email, an EPRIB, etc.

Over the years I began running into more and more cruisers running MaxSea or some other reasonably capable navigation software. In the case of MaxSea, I’d say that 90% of them were running a “hacked” copy. [A “hacked” copy is one that you can manage to install without a license, and therefore without paying.]

What about charts? When I was in Mexico, I ran into a guy that would sell you a stack of CDs filled with electronic raster charts for about $20 – old and low resolution stuff that came out before the chart companies started to introduce licenses. There were similar sellers on the internet. But I’d say that 95% of people using electronic charts are using the low-res c-map versions from the early 90s that came out before licenses and can be freely copied.

This is pretty shocking, really. The quality of these old electronic charts is extraordinarily poor in comparison to a 2/3 photo copy of a printed chart. Did people have the corresponding charts in paper form? They had some, but not enough.

Irony #1: Why poor all that money into a boat and put that and your life at risk using poor charts?

Modern culture, worldwide, says that stealing digital works is OK and the norm. How many of you have music on your MP3 player that you did not purchase (a friend “gave” it to you)? Do you feel bad about it? How about movies. How many copies of movies do you have (“given” to you by your friends, or just downloaded off the internet)? How about software? And, yes, I’m guilty of this myself, though I’ve tried very hard to kick the habit.

Cruisers live off a fixed income, and are looking for any and every way to avoid spending – when you run out of cash, you have to go back to work – so there is plenty of incentive to not spend money if you don’t have to.

For the most part, what drives the creation of quality software is the ability to earn a living doing it, and competition. If nobody pays money for the charting software, at best the resulting lack of innovation results in poor software, and at worst the company that makes it simply goes out of business. Same for charts.

Irony #2: The behavior in the cruising community of stealing the software and/or charts puts the very existance of what is being stolen at risk.

Here is a personal example. Marine charts are pretty pathetic for many places in the south pacific – many were created in WW I or II, don’t show all the reefs, have reefs and islands positioned incorrectly on the chart, etc etc. So regardless of whether you use paper charts (or equivalent electronic ones), the charts can be very poor.

In Fiji I ran into another cruiser that turned me onto a program called OziExplorer that allowed you to do marine navigation using satellite images (from Google Earth, for example). Properly georeferenced satellite images are often far superior navigation tools than a marine chart. I started using this in Fiji in 2007 and loved it. I did not stop using my marine charts, but I did use satellite image navigation as an extremely valuable additional aid in the outlying areas.

Here is an example. The best chart (electronic or paper) for Mana Island in Fiji is shown below. Mana island is the fuzzy bit to the left of Sand Cay. Learjet’s track (the red line) shows running over the reef on our way in, and sitting on the reef instead of in the middle of the cute little lagoon. The navigation assistence for getting in there is with local knowledge, and/or sketch charts in an ancient cruising guide.

Here is a satellite image of Mana island. You can clearly see the pass on the west side. In fact you can see the wake of a motor boat that just left the pass. I wish I had an image with my track. If I did, you’d see the red track line going right smack down the middle of that pass.

You can zoom in and see way more detail.

This does not replace the need for daylight and being on your toes going through that pass. It does not replace traditional marine charts. And I’m sure that Google’s lawyers have something in the license agreement to prohibit you from using these images in this way. But you can see that it does give you a complete new dimension of information, with amazing accuracy.

I seriously considered making an electronic cruising guide for Fiji based on that technology (I’d find a source for imagery that was willing to license it). Pretty much every island, bay, reef, or whatever could be covered with amazing accuracy. There was so much that could be done with this, and it would have incredible value – saving lives or boats in some cases. But in the end, I decided against the idea.

Irony #3: Why spend 6 to 12 person months of time creating this wonderful product, when one cruiser will buy it (for $25), at which point it will spread like an epidemic, as one cruiser gives it away to all of his friends. Let’s see, 12 months of work, revenue $25. Hmm.

I was recently trying to help a friend install paid-for copies of MaxSea along with high quality c-map and MapMedia charts – newer versions of what I use. The dongles, request codes, license codes, etc etc that have been imposed in an attempt to prevent people from stealing the software/charts is a bloody nightmare. That and glitches in the installation software resulted in spending a couple days working on it, and failing to get it to work! It’s gone down hill from the versions I have, and according to my friend it’s actually far easier to install the “hacked” versions!

Irony #4: The mechanisms put in place to prevent people from stealing are just encouraging them to use the pirated copies!

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Posted by: glennandert | 8-September-2008

Peppermint Shrimp

No, this is not a recipe. 🙂

Peppermint Shrimp are nocturnal, protecting themselves from predators by staying out of sight most of the time. However, at night when most of the predators are napping, this shrimp forages looking for a meal. I’ve read that they do this by sifting the sand for small bits of food.

The easiest way to find these guys during a night dive is to turn off all the lights except for a small one. The remaining light will reflect off the eyes of the shrimp. Of course, when it comes time to take a photo, you have to turn on the big lights again, and poof Mr Shrimp is gone. The only technique that has worked for me is to turn on the big lights, go in trigger happy, and hope that one of the shots in those first 3 seconds comes out OK. This one did.

They are a popular inhabitant of aquariums. They will apparently clean up investations of aiptasia anemones, and make a good tank janitor. Unlike some other species of shrimp, they don’t eat coral. They apparently breeding readily in tanks, so it dosen’t hurt to find out they are so popular.

These are not big shrimp. They tend to be about the size of your baby finger. So this shot is slightly larger than life size.

I don’t know what the two bristle like appendages are on the top of its body. I’ve seen a number of photos of Peppermint Shrimp during my research, and have not seen any other photos with these appendages. Might I have the wrong species? My nephew tells me this is a Peppermint Shrimp, and he hasn’t failed me yet! This is one of the few creatures that I’ve not been able to find in Wikipedia.

This shot was taken on the wall outside of the reef around the lagoon at Mana Island, Fiji, a place I’ve written about in earlier posts.

Posted by: glennandert | 7-September-2008

Crown of Thorns

This post is about the Crown of Thorns starfish.  It is quite an impressive looking creature covered with thorns for protection, hence the name. In addition to being sharp, the spines are poisonous to humans and predators. In a way it is quite beautiful.

It is a voracious predator of coral reefs in many parts of the world. It climbs onto the coral, covering the polyps with its stomach, releasing digestive enzymes and absorbing the coral’s tissue. They can wipe out large areas of coral. The Great Barrier Reef is threatened by outbreaks of this starfish.

The following photo shows a crown of thorns on the underside of what remains of a coral. You can see the purplish arms of the crown of thorns reaching up and around the white coral.

The flowering creature standing on the rock to the left is a crinoid, which we have discussed in an earlier posting.

The Crown of Thorns has very few predators. However, I’ve read that the large humphead wrasse will feed on small ones. A large marine snail known as the Pacific Triton, or Triton’s trumpet, is also a predator. But, it has a beautiful shell and is one of the largest and most prized of all marine snails. Decimation of this snail by shell collectors has led to overpopulation of the crown of thorns, and the destruction of vast reef area.

There is a fine introductory article on the Crown of Thorns on Wikipedia.

The following photo shows a coral with one crown of thorns animal on top and another on the bottom! Yum – coral sandwich!

The following is a close up of the same pair of animals.

These photos were taken on a night dive on the outer reef at Mana Island, Fiji. See this post for further details.

Posted by: glennandert | 1-September-2008

Create the Talent Pool

I was just reading another excellent post by Dave Moskovitz, with a reference to a NZ Herald article discussing “The Blueprint for an innovative New Zealand”. Great stuff, I recommend it.

Silicon Valley is one of the great places on the planet for creating amazing technology companies. It is what it is because of an intense feedback loop of being a magnet for talent because there is money what wants to invest in great new ideas, and a magnet for money because of the incredible talent pool. How do we create that feedback loop here?

I’m still a new guy on the block (having recently washed ashore in my sailboat), but my impression is that here in Wellington there is a shortage of investment opportunities for angel investors. Further, execution on great business ideas are often blocked by a shortage of talent, not capital. Mind you, I don’t have real data to back that up, just an impression.

It’s well documented that a lot of local talent leaves everyday for jobs overseas. So I think we have a feedback loop, in the wrong direction.

I think a good place to start is with the universities. We need to be graduating world class talent from our schools. That in itself is no small feat, since you first have to attract some amazing teachers into the universities in order to create a world class learning center. It takes a lot of government support to make this happen. Funding university research is one of many necessary actions.

In the beginning, a lot of the graduates will dissappear overseas, where the action is, and where wages are higher. That will require “staying power” with this strategy.

Give the local business community the best support you can, so they can provide interesting and potentially rewarding opportunities to those graduates, and more importantly, retain the local talent pool. That means make it easy for business.

Once there is an adequate stream of graduates, then attract a few major companies to come set up technology centers here in New Zealand. Get a high flying company like Google or Apple to create a development center here. I takes a lot of government support to make it attractive for such a company to do that. Ireland did it. It can be done here. These companies create an anchor for the whole business ecosystem, a bit like a major store in a shopping center. And they are also the source of hundreds of spin off companies. Many of the new companies in the early days of Silicon Valley were people that left great local companies like Hewlett Packard to start their own companies with great ideas that HP was not interested in funding.

Invest in infrastructure. Build the infrastructure using local talent. This helps support the local business community. This also takes lots of government support.

Here is an example: Build a cloud computing center the likes of amazon.com or google. I’ve talked elsewhere about the risk to New Zealand that we are simply left behind in the wake of companies worldwide adopting this technology.

Here is an another example. We actually have a big pile of equipment all ready to go to light up all of Wellington CBD with free wireless. Do it. Invest in the infrastructure. Imagine what services you can create with that infrastructure in place – see my discussion on the iPhone replacing the PC as the personal platform. Now you are on the bleeding edge. Now the local companies can compete with the rest of the world to create these innovate services.

In the world we now live in, there are many businesses that can be operated anywhere in the world. And more will come. In a sustainable world, you can’t have people driving for an hour to get to work. New Zealand’s interest in sustainability might be part of the formula for making New Zealand a world class place for world class people to live and work.

To create another Silicon Valley, I think we need to focus on creating, and retaining, the talent pool.

Posted by: glennandert | 31-August-2008

Red Tail Turn

I was privileged to be able to see some Red Tail Turns at a Bird Sanctuary at Aitutaki Island in The Cook Islands. The sanctuary is off limits, unless you go with a guided tour. You get to stop at some stunning scenery on this tour.

The Red Tail Turn is a beautiful white bird with a really long tail made from a single/double feather. In the old times, the feathers were prized for use in ceremonial dressing. A few of the birds are held on a regular basis by the bird handler, are so are used to being held. This is one of the cruisers holding the bird:

Here is a mother turn sitting on her eggs in the bush.

And here is a little munchkin:

Here is a satellite view of Aitutaki. You can see the location of the bird santuary. There is also a tiny little motu with a “post office”. You can take your passport there and have it stamped by the Autitaki Post Office. Why? Because nobody else will have such a stamp? Or because you can have a nice drink while you are waiting?

I had to anchor ‘Learjet’ outside the pass because the depth in the pass is less than 2 meters and ‘Learjet’ draws near 3 meters. You can get a nice view of the pass in this image:

The pass was made during WWII with a bit of dynamite by those industrious Americans. Too bad they didn’t use just a wee bit more dynamite. I would have loved to been able to park inside! The channel itself is also a bit tricky, even if your draft allows you in. It can have quite a current. And there is no turning around once you get into the channel. A lot of boats send somebody in with a dinghy first to sound the waters and make sure they understand all the subtleties before venturing in on the yacht!

Posted by: glennandert | 31-August-2008

Hanavave Bay, Marquesas

I ran across these photos while putting together a presentation for the Rotary Club in Wellington. This is ‘Learjet’ sitting in Hanavave Bay, Fatu Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia, South Pacific, April 2005. This place is magical. It looks like Disney created it.

Here is the bay on another day at sunset, showing a closer view of the north side of the bay showing the lush greenery surrounding you:

When you go ashore you are greeted by an amazing valley that is guarded by huge spires and walled by massive jungle covered cliffs. It’s impossible to do it justice with a mere photo.

Oh, and don’t forget the throngs of little children trying to get your attention. In this case, 3 young boys posing for the camera, trying to look their most Marquesan.

Posted by: glennandert | 31-August-2008

Tea Party Announcement

Pamela is putting on a Tea Party! It’s going to be quite the show: Well over 100 amazing tea cups from around the world, the best tea, chocolate and you name it. For details, head off to her announcement at the very cool website we created at www.teacups.co.nz.

Here is just one of the amazing pieces of art that will be at this show:

Posted by: glennandert | 31-August-2008

Matagi Bay, Qamea, Fiji

Does this make you want to put on a snorkel?

This is one of the prettiest little anchorages that I’ve been in. I took ‘Learjet’ there in 2006. The reefs around the perimeter are gorgeous. It is a bit tricky putting the hook on the bottom in a way that keeps the whole system from touching any coral. And you want to get out at the slightest hint of any significant wind out of the north. But it is worth the effort if you have settled weather and no other boats are there already.

Don’t let the 1000 vampires worry you.

Matagi is located above Qamea, east of Taveuni:

There is a lovely resort on the island. Their website is at www.matangiisland.com.

Posted by: glennandert | 25-August-2008

Coral Polyps

This guy is such a beauty. You are looking at the polyps of the coral. They come out only at night. Any ID information on the coral itself would be appreciated.

There is a wonderful background article on polyps at Wikipedia. I’m not sure that what I have here is the same thing.

The dive site details are here.

Posted by: glennandert | 25-August-2008

Anemone Fish

This baby is from a dive on Keto Island, Vava’u Tonga, October 2006:

A relative from off a reef between Navini and Treasure in the Mamanucas, Fiji,July 2007. This was taken on a night dive with my nephew Eddie:

You can just see the coral head in the following satellite image. It comes up about 50 feet from the bottom. Eddie and I set a buoy in the sand near the reef during the day. That night we drove about 30 minutes in the dark to find the buoy in the pitch black. A bit spooky, but the dive was worth it.

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