Thursday, April 21, 2011


The Second Opinion Tribune is going to change its host. Blogger by Google is nice but misses one essential element: an iOS app. To keep up with the news I would like to be able to type posts everywhere I am. I noticed that recently I did not update this blog because I was not at a computer. My iPhone is always with me and typing a quick post for the blog on it is a breeze. So, from now on, The Second Opinion Tribune will run on, which does offer an iOS app. So head on over to for the latest on the latest.

See you there,
- Henk

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rumour: Twitter business pages

Both Twitter and Facebook operate on the fiercely contested battlefield of the social web. But they do so using vastly different tactics. Where Twitter is simple and short, Facebook is complicated and elaborate.

Another difference between the two is their commercial views. Facebook made its commercial intent very clear almost from the start. Advertisements, micro-transactions in games, business pages where a corporation can describe its business, all geared towards creating a flow of money with the ultimate goal of making Facebook a profitable company. Twitter however only presented a business plan in 2010 while the service had started in 2006. In the early years there was hardly a sign that Twitter had a commercial heart. That is now changing.

In October last year, Twitter CEO Evan Williams resigned and handed the helm to Dick Costollo, the man behind the business plan and the "promoted tweets, trends and accounts". A clear indication that Twitter is changing course. And now there is a new rumour: Twitter may offer companies the possibility of corporate pages where they can profile themselves and garner interest for there products. These pages can then be used to generate followers.

Although this construction does not necessarily change Twitter's basic model of simplicity, it does worry me a little. The charm of Twitter is its simplicity and openness. This allows you to be creative and use it as you wish to use it. This is something which is a lot harder to do on closed, highly regulated systems like Facebook. Might this be the first step to be-Facebooking Twitter?

Of course Twitter Inc needs to think commercially. Just paying the monthly bandwidth bills must be a nightmare. But lets hope that this commercial thinking does not ruin the simple beauty that sets Twitter apart in a busy social network market.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Why it may not be a good idea to arm the rebels in Libya

The US and the UK are considering to arm the rebels in Libya. This may not be a very good idea. There are the considerations already touched upon in the article (linked to above): al-Qaeda involvement with the rebels and a further splitting of the international coalition. But there is one other consideration that may have far longer term repercussions.

For this you only have to know a little recent history. How did the arming of the rebels in Afghanistan work out? In the short term it worked out great - from the viewpoint of the Mujahideen and the US who wanted the Russians out of the region. However in the long term it did not work out so well.

What happened was that young people were trained in using arms. Young people with a lot of anger in them. Young people who knew no life other than the fighting kind. Then, once the war was fought the US just acted like Afghanistan had never existed and pulled the plug on any further support. Afghanistan was left with a martial youth and little or no idea how to form a nation from the rubble left by years of war. They were left hanging at the time when financial aid for education and rebuilding was what it needed. Result: extremism flourished and now the coalition forces are reaping what they sowed: war against a foe they created themselves.

The chance of the same thing happening in Libya is big. Like the Mujahideen, the rebels in Libya have al-Qaeda elements among them. Not all of them will adhere to the extremist views but neither did the Mujahideen. However when you have lived under an oppressive regime all your life, when you have nothing and your former ally has buggered off and left you stranded, an extremist promising you heaven makes you pull the trigger pointing any which way the extremist tells you to. What have you got to lose?

The US and the UK do not have a great track record for supporting a country after it has been freed of its dictator. Afghanistan and Iraq are only recent examples. Will Libya become the next ruin they leave behind? Or will it become an example of changed politics? I doubt it. I doubt Obama has the power to pull the right strings to mount a massive, long term relief operation to help rebuild a peaceful Libya. Let's hope I'm wrong.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Turing, homosexuality, an app and irony

In 1952 Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, was prosecuted for his homosexuality. He was given the choice: undergo treatment that would 'cure' him of his homosexuality or go to prison. He chose the first option. The hormonal treatment he received caused severe depression and one day in 1954 he was found dead. He had eaten an apple laced with cyanide. An inquest ruled it was suicide. A genius, worthy of the highest plaudits was mercilessly driven to death by anti-gay laws.

This week an app was pulled from the Apple app store that promised "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus". The app was initiated by Exodus, a group of Christians promoting the "ex-gay" movement. They claim they want to help people change their sexuality because they say many people are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.

How ironic is it that a device which was born from the ideas of Alan Turing should be used to promote the misconception that killed him?

The misconception lies in the fact that gays are not struggling with their sexuality, they are struggling with narrow minded people who use their religious beliefs as justification to force their views on others. They are struggling with people who make the lives of their fellow human beings a living hell by preaching doom and eternal suffering as punishment for something that can't be changed and is perfectly natural and should be a happy circumstance. They are struggling with people who presume too much and should be told to mind their own business and stop interfering with a person's most personal, most private affairs: one's love life.

There is no power in the world or outside it that can change who you love, whether the one you love is of the opposite sex or the same. Even Jesus, that super-hero of the Christian church is powerless in that matter. Trying to force sexuality into harshly defined and questionable morals results invariably in psychological pain, misery and eventually destruction. In effect the gay cure app promotes hurt and pain in a very real way. It is far more damaging than any porn-app that Steve Jobs tries so vigourously to keep out of the Apple app store. So it is only right that this app should be pulled. It is bad enough it had been approved in the first place.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Are gadgets inherently non-green

In the public eye the search for green living mainly concentrates on green energy. The picture the media paints is that once energy becomes cheap and cheerful, all our problems are solved. But is this true? Can we consume with abandon once energy becomes as green as the grass and as cheep as chips?

“No,” is what the bleak answer must be I think. Energy is just part of the equation. Another part of the equation is made up by rare earth elements. Now, the name of these elements is slightly misleading. They are not especially rare, just very hard to get at. In fact, some of these elements are pretty common in the earth’s crust. But to separate them from their surroundings is another matter.

It turns out that refining material to get at the rare earth elements is an environmentally hazardous process. Often these elements are found in ores that also contain mildly radioactive metals such as thorium and uranium. Hence the waste product of refining rare earth elements from these ores is mildly radioactive and thus harmful to the environment. Also, during the process of refining, toxic acids are used which need to be disposed off properly. And as is always the case with us humans, if there’s money to be made, some of it will be made illegally. Sadly these illegal refineries of rare earth elements tend to take the toxicity of the waste products slightly less seriously than they should.

On top of this, only a few countries produce large amounts of rare earth elements. The largest producer by far (nearly 100%) being China. And they have announced a restrictions on the export of the much wanted elements. So they are becoming rare for real now.

Apart from rare earth elements, the production of our beloved gadgets also has a huge impact on our habitat. To get a coveted game console from heap of parts to gleaming object d’amour in your living room means a huge amount of transportation, robots to power, chemicals to react, waste created and heat to generate and dissipate. So the amount of impact on the environment of the production of one gadget is much more than just the sum of its parts.

So unless we find a way to produce gadgets that use common elements that are readily available without harmful refining procedures and we are able to streamline the production process in such a way that there is no harmful waste and no energy loss I’m afraid the enjoyment of gadgets will remain a thoroughly non-green human hobby. No matter where the power to make them sing and dance in your home comes from.