Monthly Archives: December 2010

Recycling telephone booths

What is one to do with the phone booth? Probably a question that quite a number of incumbent telecommunication operators have asked themselves since the turn of the century.

Mobile phones and laptops connected to the Internet via GPRS or some other fancy technology have slowly but surely put a dent in the utility and usage of the phone booth. In certain places, the actual service they render has dramatically evolved. In the UK they serve as shelters and  advertisement. In Switzerland, some of them are equiped with defibrillators. 

In China one municipality has plans to turn them into Wi-Fi hotspots. Provided the fixed-line functionality is kept – not everybody has a mobile phone yet – this makes sense: first, not everybody is connected non-stop and hence spots to reconnect to the Internet are welcome, at least until the price of a non-stop connection becomes financially reasonable; second the location of existing phone booths has usually been carefully thought of and match the distribution of population. Now add a quick-charging mechanism (for both mobile phones and laptops) and  there might be a second life for the phone booth.

Cities of science

Is science the product of countries or of cities?The measurement of scientific production is usually done either at the country level (e.g., patents filed in a country for a given year) or at the organizational level (scientific papers published by a university). In a recent paper a team of Danish researchers used a different unit of analysis, namely urban conglomerations, and sketched the evolution between 1996-98 and 2004-06 (see table on the right).

Provided you evacuate the delicate question of what constitutes an urban conglomeration – here defined as distgances reachable by a 40-minute commute from a city centre – one finds the ‘usual suspects’ but one can’t fail to notice the new comer in the top 10, Beijing.

Actually if one scrolls further down the ranking, some of the other new kids on the block are Seoul, Teheran, Istanbul, Singapore and Sao Paolo.

Not surprisingly either, once you factor in the quality of research, i.e. the impact factor, the ranking looks different, this time with Boston on top and only two non-US (Paris and Tokyo) in the top 10.

1996-1998 2004-2006
London Tokyo-Yokohama
Tokyo-Yokohama London
San Francisco Bay Area San Francisco Bay Area
Paris Beijing
Osaka-Kobe Paris
Moscow New York
Boston Osaka-Kobe
New York Boston
Amsterdam-Hague-Rotterdam-Utrecht Amsterdam-Hague-Rotterdam-Utrecht
Los Angeles Los Angeles

Looking East, looking West

While China’s Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting India, Huawei announced its plans to invest USD 2 billion into India over the next 5 years in the field of research and manufacturing.

Huawei’s strategy makes a lot of sense. First, it consolidates its presence in one of the world’s center of telecommunication R&D. Second, by locating operations in India, it circumvents potential “Buy India” campaigns. Third, it gets even closer the fastest growing telecommunication market in the world.

Both countries already have deeper ties than one may think. The overall amount of deals to be signed during Wen’s visit ranges between USD 16 and 20 billion – close to the total amount of deals signed between India, France, the UK and the US this year. China is already India’s largest trading partner. So, one can only wonder what could come out of a stengthened partnership between India and China once both governments start to align their interests. Maybe then could the 21st century become the Asian century.

Chinese Wiki (维基) Leaks

It is hard to resist the temptation of peering through the Wiki Leaks sand glass and trying to find something novel about China. So, how wicked are the revelations, if at all? Well, for anybody following Chinese affairs, there isn’t much to bite on:

-  local GDP figures are man-made: nothing really new here as official Chinese statistical data, while improving, remain rather un-reliable
- the government ordered the attack on Google: here too there was a widely shared presumption that the greenlight had been given by Beijing
- China’s growing role in Africa: could Beijing really be more transparent as to its intention on the continent?
- a scenario having Seoul taking the lead in case of re-unification between the North and the South: given the thorn in China’s foot that North Korea represents, military strategist would have not been doing their job if they had not considered this alternative

Now, what would be really astounding is to have Wiki Leaks reveal cables sent by Chinese Embassies around the world.

China's social(ist) Internet

One tends to equate the Internet in China more with censorship and heavy-handed social contol by the government. Another side of the Internet is emerging in China: the use of online maps by netizens to highlight social issues.
blood_s1.jpg waste_s.jpg
Take for instance the “bloody map” (left) which tracks the illegal government land seizures or the water pollution map (right) which gives a detailed view of pollution at the local level for the whole of China. Going back to 2003 the first initiative lists around 70 cases and encourages other netizens to contribute any similar instances. The second one now includes an air map.Both projects are interesting on two counts. First, they are bottom-up efforts by the Chinese civil society to raise awareness of issues with social implications. Second, they are tolerated by the government, as long as they are kept within certain limits – for instance, some comments relating to  evictions are deleted from the blog.Maybe one day there will be a corruption map.