Saturday, September 17, 2016

BPN 1727: The Jaguar of the real-time video phones

With some aplomb the device was put on the conference table. A company disposed of it with the message that it might have been used as a high-tech projector. The device was accompanied by a printed manual from 2003.

After some deep pondering, there was recognition: Exo'vision, a company founded by Eckart Wintzen, the early Dutch evangelist of sustainability. In 1976 Wintzen started the IT company BSO. It was not just a traditional computing company, organised in a holding, divisions, subsidiaries and departments. The management style of Wintzen was based on the principle of cell division. If a company had more than 50 employees, a new company had to be split off to preserve the creativity and independent thinking. In 1990 BSO merged with the IT division of Philips in BSO/Origin, later on part of ATOS.

After the merger Wintzen became a social serial entrepreneur and initiated several companies. Sustainability was one of the themes of his philosophy. He was irritated by the Dutch disease  of traffic congestion, promoted glass fibre infrastructures and put money in the car sharing project Greenwheels. And to reduce the traffic of the business sector he built the Jaguar under the real-time video phones: the Eye-catcher. This was in the second half of the nineties when just a start was made with separate cameras, which could be used in combination with laptops. Around 2000 Sony presented with a Vayo sub-notebook which featured a built-in camera. But the quality of these cameras was low. Eyecatcher, however, was a stand-alone device with a high resolution. The device could be connected to other low-grade video cameras, to PCs in different places. The Eye-catcher could present 1 to 4 people. Besides the visual and auditive contacts also  presentations and data could be transferred and shown.

The Eye-catcher was a slick device with a wonderful picture quality. Yet it never became a hit. That had to do with the crossing of the technological paths. Telecom was in the transition from ISDN to broadband. The low quality cameras for PCs were installed and the configuration became common. Eyecatcher became a device for niches in the business market, broadcast market and for companies with a large geographical footprint. The development of the technology was also costly. In short, the company and the device were not given a long commercial life.

This Eyecatcher device came from a warehouse, where the manager did not recognise the device and thought that it looked like a projector. In the meantime we avail ourselves of real-time low resolution video traffic via Skype and FaceTime. 

See the presentation of the Eyecatcher 3.0 by Grootlicht from 2004.

Monday, September 12, 2016

BPN 1726: Farewell to my pre-computing era

This month it is 50 years ago that I flew for the first time, with a second primer  I flew to the USA. I was going to study theology at Notre dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. The flight was a long one, from the old Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, to London, Washington DC and Atlanta for a transfer to New Orleans. Some 13 hours. The first leg to London was with BEA, British European Airways, the precursor of British Airways, the rest of the flight was made with Delta Airlines. In  Washington the passengers were picked up by a bus which looked like it was made for the moon surface, before being unloaded to pass passport control and immigration authorities.

I studied four years in New Orleans and picked a Bachelor and Master. The study was rather traditional. The lectures were listened to. Only the homiletics (preaching and public speech) were done with new media by recording with a video camera.For the rest, you used notebooks, read books and typed your papers. Books could be borrowed from the extensive library, these days called the Rev. Robert J. Stahl S.M. Memorial Library, named after the librarian during my stay.

During my study, I noticed that my scholarship was paying for my tuition and campus facilities. Yet there were other costs to be covered, So I looked around what I could do to create an income. I came up with a solution. As Dutch theology was hot at that time I got in touch with a publisher of religious books, the Paulist Press in New York, and offered my services. And I was accepted as a lector delivering reading reports about new Dutch books and after a while as translator from Dutch into English. These functions had an additional advantage; by passing on the lector’s reports and eventually the translated books to the staff, I picked up extra merits.

Above the translations: left: The sacrament of the Eucharist by G.T.H. Liesting S.S.S.; above right: The Prophet in the Nearness of God by H. Renckens S.J. (note that on the cover there is a misspelling: Renkens without a -c-); below not a translation of my hand, but I acted as the foreign rights consultant. In the USA I used as my name James M. Boumans.

During the translation work, I became acquainted with the newest piece of office appliance at that time: the IBM Selectric, a typewriter with the golf ball. Jesse R. Ortego, a fellow student, typed the manuscripts on this device. The Selectric mechanism was notable for using internal mechanical binary coding and two mechanical digital-to-analog converters to select the character to be typed. The Selectric was faster, the correction mechanism was efficient and a range of letter fonts could be used by changing the golfballs.

The Selectric was the closest device to the beaconing era of computing. For the rest life still was analogue. Television and radio were still analogue. Contact with my parents and friends was done by handwritten airmail letters. Stamps had to be bough at the post office and be licked before applying them to the envelop. Sometimes I sent an audio-cassette as a spoken letter and seldom a photograph, as development was critical of a full roll of film. Tickets for flights had to be ordered from a travel bureau. You had to dial a fixed line telephone number and for speedy messages you sent a telegram. If you wanted to know something, you had to look it up in an outdated printed encyclopaedia and for telephone numbers you had to consult a printed telephone directory.

Having completed my studies in 1970, I decided to return to the Netherlands and after some months picked up a job as editor Humanities in a reference department of a publishing company, which just had started a publishing project of 25 volumes of a general encyclopaedia. Not the regular way with library cards with references and the clippings of the last edition.This encyclopaedia project did not have a precursor and became the first European encyclopaedia project using a (mini-)computer to assist the editorial staff. For me this became my entrance into the digital world and, without being really aware of it, the farewell to the analogue world.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

BPN 1725: Dutch db Delpher is Mount Serendipity

At several places in and outside the Netherlands Dutch language newspapers, books, magazines and other text media were digitized and made accessible. The National Library of the Netherlands , university libraries, Google Books and heritage institutions have brought these files together and made them accessible. For example, more than 30 million pages of original texts from more than 1.3 million newspapers and 1.5 million magazine pages and more than 320,000 books from the 15th to the 20th century can be accessed via a single Internet address: www. You can delve into this mountain with digital pages, browse and search for relevant information, if you can read Dutch. The database has no English interface.

Digitizing books, newspapers, magazines and other text media has already become a tradition in The Netherlands. The National Library of the Netherlands  has a number of major projects to its name. The book selection Delpher emerged from e.g. National Library projects Early Dutch Books Online and Metamorfoze, but also the Digital Library of Dutch Literature and Google Books, in which Google collaborates with National Library of the Netherlands . The historical newspaper and magazine collection is now also impressive in terms of quantity and variety. Interesting are also scanned radio news bulletins from 1937 to 1989.

What can you do with such a mountain of information? You can spend much time to browse and jump from one article to another article and achieve surprising results. And a targeted search for eg. study purposes can yield a multitude of relevant results. Furthermore, the database is not only accessible to study - and professional purposes, but also individuals can retrieve a lot of information about their family and environment.

 In a study on the history of digital publishing you can find a lot of material. The rise of the newspaper archives, such as nationl paper NRC Handelsblad archive. Tap Viditel and a newspaper article in the Leeuwarder Courant about the launch of the first Dutch public online information service Viditel by former state secretary Neelie Smit-Kroes in Sneek on August 7, 1980 comes up as well as the radio bulletin that day with the notification of the launch of Prestel like videotext system Viditel. And tap Electronic Publishing and an article in the NRC Handelsblad will appear marking the publication of the book by Joost Kist, a later member of the Board of Directors of Kluwer. Likewise search for CD-I and articles appear about the launch by an enthusiastic Philips CEO Jan Timmer, doubts about the success of the medium and the death blow in 1996 by Cor Boonstra. The introduction of the Internet is marked by the Nieuwsblad van het Noorden with an article of October 15, 1994 under the title: Netherlands struggling on the electronic highway. Apart from this kind of interest, one can also look up items from his/her professional life: companies where they worked, publications, published or ads from a former employer.

For individuals Delpher is a place for self-abuse. Tap your own name and look at the result. For me there was a real surprise. I was born in January 1945. My parents lived under the bridge of Arnhem in 1944, but had to evacuate to the east part of the Netherlands. When I was born, no birth announcement could be sent to relative elsewhere in the Netherlands, because there was no working mail service. But in Delpher I found a kind of birth announcement in two newspaper items. I was not aware of the existence nor had I ever seen them in my life.

Top item of May 7, 1945: my grandfarther requests information on family members. Item below of May 12, 1945: my farther responds telling where he is with his family and announces my birth.  

Delpher is an ongoing project. New books are added. The Google Books scanning program adds files. Archives of post 1990 newspapers and magazines will be merged with the older archives. Delpher can be called Mount Serendipity: you will always find something unexpected and useful material, while you're actually looking for something completely different.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Shortlist EYA 2016

Congratulations to the nominees for the EYA 2016 Award

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Press release: Dutch e-book barometer 2Q/16

CB Press release July 12, 2016

Dutch E-book Barometer Q2 2016: rentals more popular, sales are growing again

Today CB publishes the e-book barometer showing the development of e-books in the Dutch language, second quarter 2016.

Where in the first quarter, a slight decrease was seen in e-book sales, CB sees growth again; + 9% compared to the same quarter in 2015. E-book rentals from the libary ( continues in an unabated growth (+ 87% compared to Q2 2015). The average retail price continues to drop (-0.4% compared with the previous quarter).

New to the infographic, is the share of e-book sales in literary fiction; 11.3% is significantly higher than the 6.1% e-books in total book sales.

The trend in the ratio of rental versus sales is similar to e-book barometer for the first quarter of 2016. Like the last time the sales will rise at the time when titles enter into the lease for the first time.

The number of new titles seems to have increased minimally. However, there is a decline of titles during the quarter, with a possible cleanup. So there are indeed added many new e-books.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

BPN 1724: First Dutch Digital City of 1994 will be resuscitated

There was a special session at the Amsterdam Museum, where a preview was given of the restoration of the site The Digital City (DDS). This historic site was the internet site that kicked the Dutch consumer on January 15, 1994 into the internet era. It was a project, based on the US free-nets, and started by the political-cultural center De Balie in Amsterdam and XS4ALL, the first consumer internet ISP. It was started at the beginning of the municipal elections  of spring 1994 and expanded the public media debate range from the local television, radio and print media to internet. The metaphor of a virtual city was chosen to emphasize the character of the public domain of DDS.  

First Dutch digital city
At first the information and communications services were presented in texts, but from October 15 onwards the interface became graphic. The organization received a grant from the city of Amsterdam to set up the site. The initiative received a lot of public attention on radio and television and in the press. Marleen Stikker was the  virtual mayor of DDS and the media spokesperson. And the initiative did receive a lot of attention. In fact thousands of potential online users were clamouring on the gates to get in and get a dial-up connection through DDS. After six weeks, the project already had more than ten thousand registered users. Not only internet provider XS4ALL was surprised by the interest, but also line provider PTT Telecom. 

Virtual experience 
The initial enthusiasm of DDS caused a rise and fall. DDS became an ISP, but eventually could not manage to stay in business and disappeared from the internet scene. The remains were buried with the other archives of Amsterdam Museum (the first Dutch museum to recognise digital heritage).  

Until he original files were found back in the Amsterdam Museum Archives. This led to the project ‘DDS resuscitated’ sponsored by he Amsterdam Museum, the Waag Society, University of Amsterdam and Sound and Vision. Computer science students from the University of Amsterdam and the Free University found a file of 10Mb on a hard drive. This drive had been stored for 20 years. The students restored the file in two versions: one with all data and one replicate. On June 30th, these were demonstrated as DDS version 3.0. 
In the fall DDS version 4.0 will be shown. It will be an emulation completely programmed anew "to create a modern, stable and secure functioning site”. In this version users will be able to select an avatar and can move through the city from bar to post office and library using the subway. It will bring back some of the first feelings, experienced at the introduction of DDS. As one can still walk through Pompeii in Italy and experience the Roman city as it was, so users will also be able to visit and experience the first Dutch virtual city of 1994, complete with map and guide. 

10+ years back in time 
"DDS resuscitated' is a first web archeological project in The Netherlands, which offers a view of internet as it was between 1994 and 1996. It will allow users to look back a little over a decade. Hopefully the project is a first incentive for more online projects like the first online Dutch public service Viditel 1980. It would be great to recreate this service and make it available online. It could bring back the feeling of how users digested information through the Prestel based videotex system. Perhaps the former PTT museum, now named the Museum of Communication, or the successor of PTT Telecom still might have a few tapes in their archives.

Monday, April 25, 2016

BPN 1723: Dutch country suffix .nl 30 years

Today it is 30 years since the country suffix .nl was inaugurated. Furthermore, the first land suffix was in use. The designation of countries was coined in the Netherlands.

Dutch internet pioneers Jaap Akkerhuis, Daniel Karrenberg, Teus Hagen en Piet Beertema (right) at the pensioning event of  Piet Beertema on 16 September 2004. Source: CWI.

In the Netherlands, the Mathematical Centre (MC) in Amsterdam in 1982 was in contact with Arpanet and played a role  an important role in the UUCP network of European universities. MC became the network gateway between the US and Europe. Domain names were released by Arpanet, but in 1986 a shortage of the domain names threatened for the 25,000 computers connected to the UUCP network of universities and the Arpanet. Piet Beertema, employee at MC (but from 1983 onwards CWI, Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica) came up with the solution of a country suffix in the domain name. John Postel from the Stanford Research Institute, responsible for the domain names, approved the country suffix dot country code as a proper instrument.

And on April 25, 1986 the suffix .nl was allocated to the Netherlands. The Netherlands was the first country with its own country code. On May 1, 1986 the first Dutch domain name was registered. The next domains were: (association of professional Open Systems and Open Standards users in the Netherlands); (The National Institute for Nuclear Physics and High Energy Physics); (university of Groningen) and  (Collaborating academic computing centers). Piet Beertema was the registrar and recorded the domain names. In the first two years he was not very busy, as he only registered 60 domains in his notebook. In 1989 there was only one registered domain name. Apart from academic computer centers companies could also register a domain name, but they had to show their Chamber of Commerce registration paper.

The slow growth was due to the transformation that internet underwent. Arpanet decided to continue as the military internet branch and the National Science Foundation became responsible in 1988 for academic and commercial NSFnet. On November 17, 1988, at 14:30 pm Piet Beertema linked The Netherlands as one of the first countries outside the US to the academic network NSFnet. The Netherlands brought the first, non-military, transatlantic connection to the Web.

This connection did give a boost to internet use in the academic world. But the registration of domain names only really took off from 1993, when the Dutch ISP XS4ALL on May 1 launched its Internet services to consumers on May 1, ending the first day with 500 subscriptions. And the Internet began in earnest, when the Digital City opened its gates and businesses did not know how fast they had to register a domain name in order to have an internet profile. Over the following years registration of domain names increased. In order to keep pace the Foundation for Internet Domain Registration in the Netherlands (SIDN) was founded. On January 31, 1996 the tasks of the CWI were transferred to SIDN.

End of March 2016, more than 5.6 million domain names were registered with SIDN (see SIDN statistics). The Netherlands is the fourth in the ranking of number of domain names with a country code (country code Top Level Domain - ccTLD).The Netherlands is preceded by .cn, .de and .uk.