I would like my twitter client to come with twitter speed numbers. I would like to know how fast my Timeline is moving in terms of tweets per hour. How fast my @mentions are moving. So then people would recommend say to get an ex number of people you follow until you reach a certain Twitter speed and then stop because otherwise you can’t possibly keep up. @mentions feed speeds would also be a measure of relevance of whatever it is you are tweeting.

The Bikera is my idea for a better bicycle sharing scheme than those that exist nowadays in many cities. It is inspired on Fon the company I founded and run and now the largest WiFi network in the world. A WiFi network offered by the people.

Here’s the plan:

You start in a town that has a bicycle culture and a low crime rate. You “seed” the town with $100 bicycles.  These bicycles, as opposed to all the other bike sharing schemes, have no electronics and no stations, they stand on their own.  They are called bikeras.  The electronics on the bikeras will come from people’s smartphones which in a year will be as all phones are now.   Bikera will also be an app.

You seed the town  with one bicycle per every 200 inhabitants.  When you start you do a blog/FB/twitter PR campaign.  Seeding means that on day one you leave all bikes standing for anyone to take.  One per block.  More where you expect more people. A town of 100,000 people would have 5000 bicycles and cost half a million to get started.  5000 bicycles is a LOT of bicycles, they would be seen everywhere.

You get a corporate sponsor and brand the bikes with this corporation’s colors and logos to help cover the start up costs. Barclays did this in London for example.

All bikes come with a simple combination lock and an engraved license plate or number. All the electronics for the bikera scheme are in smartphones that people take with them.  Not on the bike.  THIS IS CRUCIAL and very different to all bicycle sharing schemes.

Two kinds of people use the system:  bikeros or aliens.  Bikeros are the ones who have contributed $100 to the system and bought a bike to add to the system.  Aliens are anyone else.  Aliens pay $2 per bike ride.  Bikeros ride for free. The incentive to contribute a bike are to be nice but also to save $2 per ride.

In order to ride a bikera you need to open your app in your smartphone and this app will GPS your location to the bikera system.  You wil then enter the engraved number you see on the bike and immediately receive a combination back.  Then you will leave your app on as you move around with the bikera.  The app will track your movements like say Endomondo does when you work out, or Runkeeper. When you are done you will leave the bike, sign off and the system will know where the bike is.  Everyone else who opens the app will find it.

Why is this system better than Velolib in Paris or Deusche Bahn in Germany?

-rides are free for as long as you want, not for half an hour and then pay a fortune.

-you don’t need to find a parking spot for your bike which is the biggest inconvenience for Velolib that forces you to ride from station to station.

-bikes are much cheaper, they don’t have electronics as the Deuscthe Bahn system for example and don’t have costly stations with electronics as in Velolib.

-bikes are so cheap that people will not steal them, what for, there is always another one, still there are now bikes in the market for $100.  Bikera could find suppliers of decent bikes for that amount.

-you can pay students to repair bikes when reported broken by users.  They can find them with the same iPhone, Android, Symbian, Windows, Blackberry app.

-you don’t need a license to start a system like this, or if you do it should be very simple.

-because people buy the bikes you don’t need much capital.

-because towns can self organize and start their own systems, it is self franchising.

-the bikera company’s only income would be the $2 per bike ride from the Aliens or non Bikera contributors.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, at New Media Days 09
Image by New Media Days via Flickr

I am in the process of downloading a file that contains all the unedited cables that Wikileaks has obtained.  You can do the same by downloading this link using a program like Vuze. This is a 1.4GB file so it may take a while.  As far as I know it is not illegal to download it as it is not copyright material.  In any case it is probably not illegal because you cannot read whatever it is that you are downloaded as it is encrypted.  What this file is is a Poison Pill.  Assange goes, this file is open for humanity to see.

I am downloading this file for two reasons.  One is because I believe that if it was so easy for Wikileaks to obtain this information whoever our enemies are probably have it as well.  Secondly because while I had mixed feelings on what Julian Assange was doing, I am so disgusted about how Western democracies are reacting towards a person who has not been formally accused of any crime that I think it’s time to stand by Wikileaks to defend freedom of the press.

Lately I have a strong feeling that the Chinese must be rejoicing at all the “retroactive law invention” that is going on in the West to put one man in jail.  Because if Assange had been a Chinese citizen promoting transparency in China we would be lining up to give him the Nobel Prize.  We can’t demand transparency from others and censorship for ourselves.

If the US government did not want its secrets known, all they had to do was to encrypt these secrets as Wikileak’s Assange is doing with this file. As CNN argues it comes with an encryption that not one of all the encryption crackers in the world can figure out.  Think about it, we will all have this file but we will not be able to read it.  Can’t the US government do the same if something is really a secret? How can real secrets be distributed among over a million of people with easy access to matters way beyond their jurisdiction and unencrypted?   From now on, if you want a secret, encrypt it, and make it a crime to break the encryption.

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When I read articles like this one on CNN arguing how Wikileaks is providing potential target lists to terrorists I worry.  Probably so do you.  But think about this.  It was so easy for all this information to leak out that we should all wonder how safe it was to begin with.  If Wikileaks, without any special spying skills, just being there to collect info, could get all this sensitive data, why couldn’t have Al Qaeda or any other of our enemies have done or do the same thing?  While we may object to the style of Wikileaks I have no doubt that thanks to Wikileaks, USA will completely rebuild the way it handles sensitive data and as a result the safety of the system will have been improved.  Wikileaks has the effect on security that hackers have on software development.  Wikileaks found simple bugs everywhere.  It is up to the people whose job is to make us safer to fix it.  Yes, granted, Wikileaks could have given all this info to the State Department and not publish it.  But sometimes it takes a shock like this for things to really change and what should be transparent be transparent and what should be classified be classified.

Good news continue at Fon. Today we’re announcing a new collaboration with Skype, one of our first investors. At Fon, like at many other companies, we use Skype to talk to each other. I use it with my family all the time and I really think it’s a must-have application, so I’m really happy to announce we’re working with Skype to provide Fon WiFi via Skype Access.

During the initial phase of this project, we are offering Skype Access at 300.000 hotspots around the world (except Japan and UK). Anyone with a Skype account will be able to connect to a Fon Spot using Skype credit. This is a great way to forget about inserting credit card details every time you want to connect. For ‘Aliens’, connecting to the hotpots with Skype Access is super convenient. Skype will search for Fon Spots, and when a Fon Spot is in range it will show a pop up window with the price per minute to connect with Skype credit. One click, you are connected, that easy.

With this collaboration we take another step to make it easier for everyone to access the Fon WiFi network, which continues to be the biggest in the world with more than 3 million hotspots worldwide. The Skype Access collaboration is beneficial for our entire Fonero community. ‘Bills’ get to keep 50% of the revenues from their Fon Spots and ‘aliens’ get a quick and efficient way to pay for and connect to Fon WiFi. Ultimately, what we want is for Skype users to join the Fon community. All they need to do is buy a Fonera SIMPL (39€/$49) and start roaming the world for free!

After having sold over 2 million Fonera Simpl WiFi routers to telcos, we are now making our newest Fonera available to everyone online through our new Fon site. We sell it for 39 Euros / 49 USD.The Simpl is our newest palm-sized router, targeted to smartphone and tablet-PC users. With the new Fonera Simpl when you connect to Fon WiFi at home or on the go, you can Torrent,  listen to Spotify, stream YouTube videos and download and install heavy applications in a way that’s fast, simple and useful, without eating up your 3G credit and straining 3G networks.

FoneraSIMPLaltShot2The Fonera Simpl is really attractive to mobile operators. Customers only need to plug their Fonera Simpl into their fixed internet connection and can easily configure their smart devices to connect automatically to any Fon signal.  It offers several connection solutions for the SIMPL to assist users who want a hassle-free connection to Fon WiFi at home and on the go. New WPS functionality allows users to easily connect smart devices to their private WiFi signal with the touch of a button (on the back of the SIMPL). Smart devices can also be easily configured to connect automatically to the public Fon WiFi signal whenever one is within range. Fon offers downloadable connection applications for devices ranging from Android or Blackberry, based on the WISPr recommendation from the WFA, to the iPhone. The value to mobile operators from traffic offloading on overloaded 3G networks is very tangible and Fon is offering an easy and affordable solution to ease this problem and create great user experience.

The new Fonera SIMPL includes:

  • 1 WAN Ethernet port (for ADSL/Cable modem)
  • 1 LAN Ethernet port (for PC)
  • 1 SSID (Open, WEP, WPA, WPA2)
  • 1 SSID (Fon network)
  • 802.11n (150 Mbps)
  • 802.11b/g (54 Mbps) compatible
  • Detachable, external antenna

So far this is just an idea.  Indeed it is a dream that I had last night complemented with some dosage of reality added a few minutes as I woke up.  So the whole concept is very fresh on this Sunday morning.  I call it the Fon bikes and I call the Fon bicycles the Bikera (rhymes with Fonera).  This is inspired on Fon, the company I started in which people share WiFi at home buying a router called the Fonera and roam the world for free and at close to 3 million hotspots it is by far the larges WiFi network in the world.

The Fon Bikes would be a project to implement in small cities first.  Say the city of Lerida in Spain, or Geneva in Switzerland or the smaller cities of Japan which is Fon’s fastest growing country with over 100K new foneros getting Fon WiFi routers called Foneras every month.  In another way Fon Bikes is a project similar to Velolib in Paris but simpler and better.

The idea is that Fon would go to one of those towns and buy 1000 bicycles.  The bikes would be orange, the color of Fon, each one would have a unique identifier engraved in it and a simple lock mechanism that operates with a SIM card. Something like this bike that sells for only 99 pounds or this one which sells for the equivalent of 45 euros.  So say for only €50,000 you could place 1000 bright orange bikes around a town.  The unknown at this point is the SIM enabled lock.  Let’s assume that we get it for €20. So for another €20,000 we get say Geneva to have 1000 bikes with those locks. 1000 BIKERAS :)

And then the fun starts.  You tell everyone that they can use those bikes by making a payment with their smartphones of say 1 euro a ride, or they can buy a bike themselves for 70 euros and never pay again, all bikes are for free to those who donate a bike.  Moreover you tell them as we tell in Fon that if they do buy a bike for 70 euros that they can amortize it with the first 70 rentals as Fon will give them the euro it collects per rental and that after that Fon keeps half of the rental fee for building the network and system, and the person another half.  This means that you can enter the Fon Bike network, never pay again and make money with your bikera for only an initial €70 investment.

Now an obvious question is why would not just people pay €70 euros and get a bike for themselves and never be part of the system.  Many answers come to mind.  One is that by mass buying one model we can give people use of a better bike for less.  Onother one is that many times it is inconvenient to own a bike.  When you own a bike you cannot do one way trips.  If you go to work during the day you have to return at night in your bike.  If it starts raining you can’t switch to public transportation.  This system is an ideal solution for one way trips, and then there’s the speed at which you dispose of the bike anywhere.  In the Velolib system in Paris one of the biggest problems is to find one of those bike stations and if you don’t find one quickly they start charging you a lot of money for having the bike.  Here there is no disposal of the bike problem.  Lastly it is much better to be able to leave the bike in the street all the time.  Many bike owners have to make room in small apartments for their bikes, carry them up the stairs, etc.

Anyway, as I said I just woke up.  Dreamt this idea which is not a great start. And questions come to mind, like who will service the bikes or what if people just vandalize them or steal them.  But even if they steal them they would have to dispose of them somewhere, and then somebody else would “steal” them without knowing.  Because they would be public property in a way.

So instead of Fon’s “share a little wifi at home and roam the world for free” it would be “share your bike and any bike will be yours when you need it”.  I know these projects sound like anarchist cooperativism of the 1920s but what makes them less utopic is that Fon is the largest WiFi network in the world.  That Fon grows a T Mobile every month in terms of WiFi.  It makes you think if there other ways to make people fitter, healthier, alleviate pollution and reduce private cars in circulation.

Added a bit later:  two commentators have argued that if we have SIMs, we have a lock, we need electricity, why not also power a 3G to Wifi converter, charge it with a dinamo as we pedal and those bikes are also Foneras. Love this brainstormings!

Another commentator added that these bikes are also ad space, if they became say the Starbucks Bikes or something like that Starbucks may want to invest the initial money to get a city going.

And another idea that occured to me is that the homeless or unemployed could be trained on simple bike repairs and compensated for oiling the bikes, adjusting brakes, etc.  Probably they would not have gears.

Now I have to see who can make a SIM based locked managed with Smartphones or a SIM based lock Fonera 3G to WiFi.

I should add that I am a cycling fanatic ever since I was a bike messenger when studying at NYU.  And that right now…I am going biking in the Sierra outside of Madrid.

Ok, back from cycling I see somebody points a similar idea from a start up called SoBi.  I lived in NYC for 18 years and think NYC is the wrong town for something like this.  Also $500 per bike is totally out of budget.  I am thinking more like $50 bikes that nobody will want to steal because there will be so many of them that it will be worthless to steal them.  I am thinking very simple SIM based locks that could cost $20 that nobody would want to steal either.  But most of all I am thinking of places where people are educated and honest without being policed.  Places like Japan, Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, Denmark.  Interestingly in India, the country with the most poor people in the world vandalism is rare.  Vandalism is not about poverty, is about culture. The guys at SoBi, who look like a great group btw, have to spend $500 so people don’t steal a $50 bike.  I don’t want the bikeras to be locked.  I want there to be so many of them in a town that they just don’t have scarcity value.

In general I don’t see this system as a good one for USA.  People are too far apart from each other to cycle, NYC is an exception not a rule.  I also don’t see it for my native Argentina because of a general lack of civic culture, and not for my Spain where I live either except maybe in smaller cities like Zaragoza for the same reasons.

I like the idea of the commentator who says that bikes can save themselves all the electronics, that it’s the users who have the electronics.  So if the bike simply has a lock with a combination and it has a unique identifier the person emails/sms bike identifier and gets combination.  The locks can be changed around occasionally.

I’m very happy to announce that Broadcom, the leading company in providing cable solutions based on DOCSIS®, has finished adding the Fon software to its latest SDK. This is one more step, and a big one this time, into growing the Fon network towards making “WiFi everywhere” a real claim.

With this integration, Broadcom enables any manufacturer using their cable solution to make Fon ready routers in no time, saving development time and costs as well as providing professional support for future maintenance and improvement.

This has benefits for all Foneros, since it will allow the Fon network to grow even faster, for router manufacturers, who will be able to provide Fon ready solutions much faster and in a safe way, and for the ISPs, since they will be able to market Fon solutions much faster even upgrading their existing router base when possible.

All in all, great news for the WiFi market!

Image representing Sonos as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

So this is one of the posts in which I am going to argue that when I was a teenager things were better, and you are going to think that I am one of those guys who thinks that things were always better in the past.  A disgruntled modernist of sorts. But no, that is not the case.  I can’t think of anything that was better 30 yrs ago than now, except one thing, music quality.

When I was a teen, I was a fan of HiFi music.  I used to build my own speakers, try to get the best turntable I could find, and the best amplifier.  Already playing cassette tapes was consider a “no no” as the quality would deteriorate considerably compared to vinyl records. I did like CDs though, as they seem to reach the whole sound range.

Now fast forward to 2010. My children play music off their laptops, their Macs. The speakers are terrible. Sound awful. And even myself I buy a Sonos, and the quality is acceptable, but not great. So what do I do? I still buy myself amazing speakers and amplifiers and whatever I have that produces music, I send through those. And I don’t even like the sound of Home Theaters except if you are watching movies. So we have one, but in the movie at home part of the house. Home Theaters invariably have bad speakers. So our solution for the living room and dining room is to have great old fashion Denon, Pioneer and Marantz, amplifiers connected to Yamaha speakers. It is not that the equipment is old. It’s the technology that is old. Even the Sonos I don’t use to amplify the sound, nor do I use the Sonos speakers that come with the unit. I just a use a Sonos box to convert Spotify, Last.fm and even my own music library, from an input that comes over ethernet, into an audio output that goes into the Denon amplifier and the Yamaha speakers.  Something that soon amplifiers will do by themselves using AirPlay.

So in the end I walk around my home with an iPhone or HTC Nexus One (with Andronos installed) and I can play music, great quality music. And now I have both, the quality of the 80’s with the variety, accessibility and ease of use that we have 30 years later. My favorite band at the moment is The XX. My favorite song is Crystalised.

PS:  I am studying the app that was made for streaming music with a Fonera,

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Talking to my friend, a military expert, I learned that fighters with real pilots will be rare in the future. That most air battles will be fought with drones.  So instead of “the best pilots”, in the future what the air force will need, is amazing video game players to guide drones. Indeed use of drones is already common in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.  Now what surprised me was to find out that drone operators are suffering from more war stress syndrome than real pilots, a lot of it is from the thought of killing innocent people.  As bad as it sounds I think this is good news.  It shows humanity in them.  I think that pilots are stressed enough but when they kill they are also at risk, so maybe they have less remorse. Pilots are like toreros, they have the upper hand, but they can also die.  Drone operators are like toreros outside the arena.  They just zap the bull.

Personally I don’t share other people’s fascination with high tech war. I know there are bad people out there, Osama Bin Laden and others who want us dead and if they could they would nuke us.  But I also know that in the last 10 years we have lost the moral high ground that we had after 9-11, we have committed a lot of atrocities, and if anything there are more terrorists now than there were 10 years ago.  And as excited as some people may be with drones I think they make us in USA and EU look like terrorists. Moreover we armed Osama with Sting missiles and we suffer for it. These drones will sooner or later be used by Hamas, Hezbollah, and war will escalate much further.

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