Monthly Archives: January, 2006

Gizmo, Skype and the garden


I’m getting more and more fond of Gizmo. If you haven’t met it, Gizmo is very similar to Skype, but based on open standards. It hasn’t always got Skype’s firewall-traversing capabilities and sound quality, but it’s pretty close, getting better all the time, and in some ways is nicer to use.

It’s hard to argue with Skype’s 60M registered users, though, 6M of whom are typically online at any one time, and I use and like Skype too. So why do I think Gizmo is important?

It’s because I see a fairly clear analogy here between Skype and the walled-garden approaches of online systems such as AOL in the past. David Beckemeyer made this point in his e-Tel talk; AOL could never hire enough people to compete with the innovation happening on the internet, and in the end they had to let their customers out of the garden. Skype is in the same position, and they are smart enough that they must know this. In fact, they may even be using AOL as their model: start closed, get a few million on board, and then open things up when you’ve built a big enough brand.


In the meantime, most of the innovation in telephony is happening around Asterisk, which is to telephony what Apache is to the web. Everything that happened with text and graphics in the early days of the web is starting to happen now with voice. I can do all sorts of really fun stuff with the Asterisk server I have at home, and the e-Tel conference has been full of other people doing other fun stuff with it.

But I cannot connect to it using Skype, not without paying, anyway, and it cannot connect to my Skype session. Gizmo, on the other hand, is perhaps the Netscape/Mozilla of this new world, and I can do so much more with it. I have UK phone numbers which will forward to my Gizmo session here in California. For free. I can use Gizmo to call up my Asterisk server and listen to MP3 files and podcasts stored on my hard disk. For free. I can connect directly to Google Talk, or to dedicated VoIP phones. For free. Some of this I would have to pay for with Skype – much of it I could not do at all.

The Skype guys deserve their success, for showing people that VoIP works, and can work well, and doesn’t have to be complicated. But as with the web, open standards will win in the end, and keywords like SIP, IAX, Asterisk and XMPP are the ones to watch out for if you want to see the next big thing coming.

L.A. is a great big freeway…

Randy\'s Donuts

…put a dollar down and buy a car

Well, yesterday I put a few more down and rented one. I was driving from LAX to Orange county, about 40 miles, and the nice man at Alamo offered me a very cheap upgrade to a convertible, which I couldn’t resist.

So I was cruising down the highway, feeling truly Californian, gazing at the HOLLYWOOD sign on the hills through the fronds of the palm trees lining the road, and wondering if I would actually get sunburn in January. And I had some sense of why so many million people want to live here.

Unfortunately, I met most of those millions as I tried to make my way back to the airport in the evening. Those 40 miles took three hours. This has happened to me here before. And I decided I probably wouldn’t be one of the millions, not, at least, until I can afford a helicopter.

Platform of choice

Once again, a certain platform was noticeably more popular than any other at the O’Reilly Emerging Telephony conference.

Christine Herron, pictured here in the glow of her screen, has been blogging the conference pretty thoroughly.

Interesting statistic

From Jeff Bonforte’s talk this morning:

“There are more people in the US with rotary phones than with Vonage accounts.”

Apparently there are over a million people with rotary phones (and still paying for them on a monthly basis).

8 o’clock shadow

BART platform

Thanks to my jetlag, I was up and about earlier than usual yesterday morning, as evidenced by the shadows on this section of a BART platform.

I was in San Francisco for a meeting and did some clothes shopping at the same time. I’ll be sure to wear some flowers in my hair, I thought, but it would be nice to wear something else as well.

I walked out of the store clutching my bag, crossed Market St in glorious sunshine, and my mobile rang. It was BA telling me they’d found my suitcase…

Bad movie physics

Rose and I have always been amused that cars in movies always explode if they fall off a precipice, or even roll down a somewhat small hill.

On the Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics page, there are a few more examples. Have you noticed that flashes and bangs from distant explosions tend to arrive at the same time? That bullets generate pleasing sparks when hitting things? These and other topics are discussed here. The site points out, for example, that if people hit by shotgun blasts were really blown off their feet and through the nearest window, the same thing would happen to the person holding the gun…


I’ve landed at San Francisco, but my suitcase hasn’t. I am both combatting my jetlag, and postponing the laundry I’m going to have to do in the bathroom of my hotel room, by playing with the Ixus 750 that I bought in Duty Free on the way out. Lovely.

SFO Marriott

Jewel Case Calendar

Now, this is quite a nice idea.


scene from movie

I borrowed a digital-8 camcorder from a friend – thanks, William! – because I wanted to salvage some footage from a few old Hi-8 tapes, which will soon be completely obsolete and unreadable.

The main thing I wanted to save was a little 2-minute clip about BrightBoard, the project which formed the bulk of my PhD work. This ‘video figure’ was done at the end of 1995 to accompany a paper I presented at the CHI96 conference. Click the picture to see a much younger and thinner Quentin… [12MB Quicktime H.264]

E-Mail Is So Five Minutes Ago

A Business Week article suggesting that email’s role is… well… if not superseded then at least diminishing rapidly.

I think rumours of its death have been somewhat exaggerated. But as my spam filters, of necessity, become ever more stringent, so I have to spend more time reading the logs to check for unjustified rejections. There may well be scope for wider adoption of an email model where, by default, no messages are allowed, and you have to contact me in person and get a code before I can receive any messages from you…

Still, the gist of this article is that email’s often not a very efficient way to communicate, and they may be right there.

Tickr for Flickr

If you have a Mac and you don’t need to get any work done for a bit… Tickr for Flickr is remarkably addictive. You type a word into its search box and it displays, along one side of your screen, a scrolling band of photos which have that tag on Flickr. It’s very nicely done. If you want some good words to get started, try ‘coniston’, ‘scuba’ or ‘night’…

Apple Surpasses Dell’s Market Value

On Slashdot:

Nine years after Michael Dell said he’d shut down Apple and give the money to the shareholders, Apple has passed Dell in market value, at $72,132,428,843 compared to Dell’s $71,970,702,760…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser