German price controls

The following probably seems quite normal to any German reading this, after all we had price controls on practically everything here until July 2001 (Shops couldn’t offer products more than 3% under list price without breaking the law.). Even today there are still price controls for books, maps, and sheet music in Germany.

Quite frankly if you are not German, forcing companies to increase their prices in the middle of a financial crisis seems strange:

The German government has forced Dubai’s Emirates airline to charge more for business class tickets on flights out of Germany to destinations in Asia and South Africa.

Emirates said the “imminent threat of significant fines” had forced it to raise the price of business fares on routes including Frankfurt to Johannesburg, and Hamburg to Singapore by as much as 20 per cent.

Emirates have said the “anti-consumer” and “commercially nonsensical” policy is unfair and they plan to raise the matter with the European Commission. Good luck to them!

Flu Trends on Google

bl-Screen shot 2009-11-12 at 21.14.52
You can check on the spread of flu in several countries on Google – they have discovered a correlation between the spread of flu and the use of their search engine for things to do with flu! One strange thing, however – most western European countries are represented, but there’s no information for the UK.

The Spanish Land Registry online

We have received the results of the land registry checks that our abogado (lawyer) in Spain has made on the plot we want to buy. I am impressed. The time to get the information was less than a week, and the land registry for the whole of Spain is on-line, with basic information available free of charge and without any formalities being completed first. The above screen-shot is part of the free information about the plot we intend to buy.

We still need confirmation that the plot is building land with no major restrictions on what we put on it, this has to come from the local authorities in Xàtiva, so we haven’t completed the initial enquiries yet.

There is a free mash-up which the Catastro Español (Spanish National Land Registry) provides, which allows you to see exactly where the plot is, superimposed on a satellite image of the area.

For 30 Euro (for 3 month’s access) you can also get much more information about the plot, but that is what the lawyer has already sent us, so we have decided not to pay for the privilege of duplicating his work.

Normally, the Spanish are not big internet users – we noticed that some quite large businesses don’t yet have a home page; a local builder we spoke to when we there a couple of weeks ago didn’t even have an e-mail address. But as far as I am aware, the Catastro Español is quite a way ahead of their German equivalent. Here you can get information on-line in Bayern (Bavaria) and Nordrhein-Westfalen (maybe in other regions, but I haven’t found them if that is the case), but it costs 8 Euro a time, you have to fill in a multi-page form to apply for access first (application fee: 50 Euro), and it does not include the possibility to make mash-ups combining the land registry plans with satellite images.

A place in Spain

At the beginning of this year, the company I work for took over a smaller competitor. Some months later (surprise, surprise) cost cutting measures were announced, which included an offer allowing early retirement. After some thought Ruth and I decided it was an offer too good to pass up, and I signed up. So I finish work in the middle of next year.

We have been thinking for some time, that when we retire, we’d like to spend quite a lot of time in Spain – we have spent the last 4-5 years doing Spanish courses and looking around the different regions of Spain to decide where we might like to spend time when we retire. We settled last year on the region around Valencia. Valencia is a nice size – not too big, but plenty going on. There are also a number of nice towns nearby. So having signed on the dotted line at work, we went down to Spain to start doing some serious research – what property can you really get for your money?

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Suicidal Music Industry

There’s an article in ars technica about “big content”:

Songwriters, composers, and music publishers are lobbying Congress to legislate the payment of performance fees into downloaded music. If music publishers get their way, they’ll be able to extract additional licensing fees from music downloads, movies, and TV shows containing their music, and even 30-second previews…

The people doing the lobbying are the mainly the major music publishers together with some hangers-on, who see revenues for CD and DVD sales dropping. They claim “you can’t compete with free”. You would think that they might eventually learn the message demonstrated by Apple’s iTunes, that you can make money competing against free services (in this case, illegal downloads) by offering a better or more convenient service. Just the same as the bottled water industry competes successfully against tap water.

In fact, there is no difference between competing against another competitor who is charging for goods or services, and those who give them away – if you don’t understand why, take a look at this explanation on techdirt or download Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price about competing with free products, which is as it happens, available free of charge.

If the music industry can only think of increased use of DRM as the way to survive and doesn’t understand how free competition works, their future looks bleak indeed.

DRM will always be broken sooner or later – the technically savvy find a way to prevent it protecting the content and people will find a way to pass the cracked content on. Only the uninformed honest customers suffer because their use of content bought legally is restricted, whereas the illegal content swappers are not. That’s no way to treat your customers.

If ISP’s are compelled to cut people’s access to the internet, if caught swapping content online, the swapping will simply move offline – today if you want to swap content offline you can lend your friends a hard disk full of content or use a legal media swapping service such as hitflip.com. The possibilities will expand if DRM spreads further. Indead, given the poor deals that artists get from established media companies, it surprises me that more artists don’t market themselves via magnatune or CD Baby and cut out the incompetent marketeers of the traditional music labels.

No brainer

I wouldn’t have thought you need to have a degree from the LSE to realise that the most effective way to reduce global CO2 emissions is to reduce the population. However that is what they have just stated in a new report (Fewer Emitters, Lower Emissions, Less Cost):

It’s always been obvious that total emissions depend on the number of emitters as well as their individual emissions – the carbon tonnage can’t shoot down as we want, while the population keeps shooting up.

This is the first time I can recall seeing someone “in authority” state what is blindingly obvious. According to the report, 40% of all pregnancies are unintended and every $7 spent on family planning over the next four decades would reduce global CO2 emissions by more than a ton, where a minimum of $32 would have to be spent on low-carbon technologies to achieve the same result.

Now let’s see the western governments finally take some sensible action on global warming for a change and ramp up aid programs for contraception and family planning in the countries with rapid population growth.

So where’s the backup going to be?

Apple is building a new 1 billion dollar data center, five times larger than it’s existing one in California. Supposedly, to start offering “cloud computing” services (i.e. allowing users to store their data on the web, or use web-based applications).

Everyone’s major concern about cloud computing, is “What happens to my data if the service goes down?”. (Another one, especially for companies, is “How secure is my data if its not in my data center?”). Apple, being Apple, is sure to have addressed that issue. So if they are going to offer cloud computing services, where is their back-up data center going to be? Unless a second location for a similarly sized data center emerges, I would guess that its more likely to be for adding capacity to Apple’s content delivery services: iTunes and App Store servers, which have in the past been outsourced to companies like Akamai.