Switching from Google to DuckDuckGo

I’ve been using Google since 2001, before it had become popular in The Netherlands. Back then it was a revelation: unlike its competitors like AltaVista, Google’s website was so beautifully simple, devoid of bloat. As the years passed by I’ve seen Google grow, but it has become corrupted in the process. Google has become a danger to our privacy.

That’s why I’ve taken the decision to switch to the Internet search engine DuckDuckGo. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo aims to respect the privacy of it’s users and does not track you or employ filter bubbles. At the same time, their website also features a simple design which made Google so good. It hasn’t been a complete switch though, because DuckDuckGo’s search results are not as accurate. Local businesses are an example, because I often search for them.

To see the worst case scenario, try searching for “hanting cuisine den haag”. With Google, this restaurant’s own website is the first result. With DuckDuckGo, the first result is the restaurant’s entry on the tourism website of the municipality of Den Haag. Next come the pages of this restaurant on Yelp, Facebook and TripAdvisor. Scroll further down and you see a lot of individual reviews of the restaurant on TripAdvisor. Not totally irrelevant, but of course the restaurant’s own website should be the first result.

That’s why I generally use DuckDuckGo first, but still use Google as a backup when DuckDuckGo can’t produce good results. I also still use Google News, Google Scholar and Google Books, because these services have no competing alternatives from DuckDuckGo. I hope DuckDuckGo will improve its search engine and introduce competitors for these three Google services in the future.


Embedding Flickr on my WordPress weblog

Since I switched to Flickr for hosting my photos I’ve used the Awesome Flickr Gallery WordPress plugin to embed photos in posts. To be precise I used a different version which works with the responsive theme on my weblog, because the original plugin is no longer in active development. But I wasn’t satisfied with the complexity this plugin introduced. So I switched to Flickr’s own embedding functionality. Flickr made some changes to how their photos can be embedded in December 2013. As of now, photos can be embedded with the “HTML” or the “Embed” options. The first method is the simplest way to embed without extra features. The second method shows an overlay on the photo (on mouseover) which allows you to move back or forward in the photostream. Compare:

Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

The embed option has two problems. If you use a smartphone to read my blog, you will notice huge black bars as the photo is scaled down. Also, with the overlay you scroll through the entire Flickr photostream. You can’t exclude unrelated photos, for example by only showing photos with a specific tag. This means I’ll have to use the HTML option. It surprises me that Flickr didn’t anticipate that their users desire such a feature. I hope Flickr can implement a feature to control which photos are shown with the Embed option. I’ve posted a feature request for it on Flickr Ideas.

Why Deezer trumps Rdio and Spotify

A month ago I wrote about my reasons for preferring Rdio above Spotify. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that Deezer is even better than both of these music streaming services.

I decided that getting a PayPal account to pay for my Rdio subscription was unacceptable after all, so I took another look at the second-best option, Spotify. But after some more investigation it turns out that Spotify has a slew of other issues for me.

Using a TV for music streaming

Because I’m about to move to my own apartment (more on that later) I’ve been pondering what the best way is to supply my living room with music. I’ve considered many other options, but I came to the conclusion that using a TV for this would be the most simple solution which also keeps the audio quality intact.

The Logitech UE Smart Radio which I mentioned in my previous post could also be an option, but the sound quality won’t be as good as with separate high-end speakers. Using Bluetooth to stream from a laptop to the speakers requires an adapter and will lower the audio quality, other methods of streaming also require adapters and are expensive, streaming via DLNA with Rygel is too complicated and Sonos is way too expensive.

Currently my plan is to buy the Audioengine A5+ speakers (rated very highly in this review, in Dutch) and connect those to my TV. There are smart TV apps for music streaming services which then allow the TV to stream the music and pass it on to the speakers. As a bonus I can also use the speakers when I watch Netflix or play games with the Playstation 4 which I intend to buy later. This way I only need one speakerset in my living room and no extra devices apart from a TV; the amplifier is integrated in the speakers.

My issues with Spotify

The problem with Spotify is that they only have a Smart TV app for Samsung TV’s. While I like to have some choice, Samsung makes good TV’s, so this isn’t necessarily a problem. What is a problem however is that you do not get the improved sound quality. Even though you need a Spotify Premium account (€ 10 a month) to use Spotify on a Samsung TV, you don’t benefit from the 320 kbps bitrate offered to Premium subscribers. You get the default 160 kbps bitrate. Spotify has been aware of this for more than a year and their employee wrote (see link) that there is no reason for Samsung not to support 320 kbps. Even so, Spotify has done nothing about it.

Spotify’s web application doesn’t benefit from the 320 kbps bitrate either. If you do want it you can use the desktop clients for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. But I don’t want to use the desktop client, web applications are more convenient for several reasons.

Finally, just like Rdio Spotify doesn’t accept bank transfers or iDeal. Unlike Rdio though, you can buy Spotify gift cards in physical stores in the Netherlands. While far from ideal, this would allow me to pay for a Spotify subscription without using a credit card or PayPal. Still, there is no excuse for Spotify’s inability to offer iDeal as a payment method.

I can understand an American company like Rdio, which doesn’t do active marketing on the Dutch market, doesn’t offer it. But Spotify is Swedish and they do advertise actively on the Dutch market. And Netflix (which is American) offered iDeal right away when they started operating on the Dutch market. Spotify’s Dutch customers started asking for iDeal support over a year ago, but like the bitrate problem they’ve still done naught about it.

Deezer is the best alternative

Reading through the comments on the request for Spotify to support iDeal, I noticed it was mentioned that Deezer does support iDeal. They don’t seem to mention this anywhere on their website, but I’ve confirmed that this is indeed the case. And apart from Samsung TV’s their app is also available for TV’s from LG, Toshiba, Panasonic and Philips. That’s good, because I’m considering to buy this Panasonic TV instead of a Samsung TV.

And as far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong, you’ll always enjoy the 320 kbps bitrate with their Premium+ account (€ 10 a month just like Spotify) which is necessary for using it on TV’s. Because they don’t have a desktop client, this high bitrate is available through their web application. Because Deezer has none of the disadvantages of Rdio or Spotify, I canceled my Rdio subscription and subscribed to Deezer’s Premium+ account right away.

However, apart from these two advantages of Deezer, I still think Rdio is qualitatively the better service. Its radio station functionality is much more refined, in my experience it chooses much more interesting music for me to listen. Deezer doesn’t even have a radio station for country music for example. Plus, Deezer’s interface is inferior to Rdio’s interface. Hopefully the Deezer developers could rip off the positive aspects of Rdio to improve their own service.

What I like and dislike about Rdio, my favorite music streaming service

Some time ago I started testing two music streaming services: Spotify and Rdio. The former is based in Sweden and by far the most popular in the Netherlands, the latter is based in the USA and much less popular here. Both services offer two forms of paid subscription and have identical pricing. After giving the free accounts of both services a try, I decided to start paying € 5 a month for Rdio’s Web account.

Rdio versus Spotify

I like Rdio more than Spotify because its web interface is so awesome. It looks so nice and is so easy to use, unlike Spotify’s web interface. The other notable difference with Spotify is that Rdio has a large collection of genre radio stations, with many separate radio stations for subgenres. This makes it easier for me to discover new music.

Both Rdio and Spotify have a catalog of more than 20 million songs, but the availability of specific artists is slightly different. Personally I noticed both don’t have AC/DC and only Spotify has Inna. And Rdio only has three Metallica albums available. But with such a large catalog there is enough other music to listen too.

My issues with Rdio

Apart from these lacunae in the catalog there are several other issues which I would like to see improved. I’ve posted my suggestion for improvement to the Rdio public help center:

The Logitech UE Smart Radio is not such a big issue for me. When I get finally get a job and my own home at some point, I would like to have a device in my living room which can play music from Rdio. However, I could also buy the Audioengine A2+ speakers and connect them with my laptop through USB. This would give me better sound quality than the UE Smart Radio. If I place them in my living room I could probably connect them with my TV too.

With a laptop I can also keep using the € 5 subscription instead of upgrading to the € 10 subscription which I assume would be necessary if Rdio were available on the UE Smart Radio. This is also the case for Spotify, which is supported by the UE Smart Radio. Spotify considers it a mobile device, which will only work if with their premium account for € 10 a month.

Concerning my issue with the payment methods, if they are absolutely unable to do something about it I might consider getting a PayPal account again after all, at least PayPal is free and credit cards are not.

Switching to Flickr and a responsive WordPress theme

I think it’s desirable to be independent in my life online. I pay Antagonist for my webhosting and e-mail instead of using free services for those. It gives me flexibility and benefits my privacy, because I don’t trust big companies like Google with my data. However, when it comes to hosting photos I need to be more practical. That’s why I intend to migrate all my photos to Flickr, as I said in my previous post. I will use this account.

Why I switch to Flickr

My current account at Antagonist provides me with 3 GB of storage. This is not enough to store a lot of photos: the photos made by my Nikon D5100 weigh in at about 7 MB in the highest quality and resolution. That’s why I have to resize photos significantly before I upload them to my webspace. Antagonist also has a plan for unlimited storage and traffic, but this is twice as expensive. Being unemployed now, I don’t want to pay the higher price at this time.

Another issue is that my experience with the Gallery web-based photo gallery software was not positive. Some years ago I used it to publish photos on my blogs, but I still remember it gave me trouble and that the WordPress plugin didn’t work so well. At that point I started using NextGEN Gallery which is just a WordPress plugin. It does what it’s supposed to do, but I don’t feel comfortable with having an entire photo management solution integrated into WordPress. Its usability isn’t bad, but a dedicated solution would be better. These are the reasons I think Flickr is more convenient.

If I consider privacy, I’m a lot less concerned about Yahoo having my photos than if they handled my e-mail. All my photos on Flickr will be licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license anyway, so I don’t see any significant risks for my privacy.

Changing the WordPress theme

Another issue with my blog is that the Tarski theme doesn’t display well on small smartphone displays. I have noticed that nowadays we have responsive web design to solve this problem. It turns out that the current default theme, Twenty Thirteen, is a responsive theme. Try the demo and resize your browser window to see for yourself.

I don’t like how its appearance compares with my current child theme for Tarski, but I guess I’ll just make a new child theme for this theme then. I might have stayed with the Tarski theme if its developer is going to make it responsive too, but it’s very quiet on the Tarski website.

Why I don’t want to use LinkedIn

Over the last months I’ve been receiving invites to join LinkedIn from people I know. It’s certainly a useful professional social network for finding a job. People have told me I should use it too so I can find a job more easily. They’re probably right and for practical reasons I would certainly use it, but for principal reasons I refuse. My reasons are similar to those for not using Facebook.

What if Google decided that you can only send e-mails to other users of GMail and not to users of other e-mail providers? There would be outrage over Google’s anti-competitive move and GMail users would switch to other e-mail providers. Yet this is exactly what LinkedIn is doing: it’s impossible to communicate with users of other professional social networks, such as XING and Viadeo.The key difference between GMail and LinkedIn is that LinkedIn has a very dominant position in the Netherlands, almost 3,8 million members as of November 2012. That’s probably why we tolerate this “lock-in” from LinkedIn.

I don’t like monopolies, dominant market positions or anti-competitive practices. If I would create a LinkedIn account myself I would reward LinkedIn for its behavior and strengthen its dominance on the Dutch market. I’m desperately looking for job, but not desperate enough yet to part from my principles. LinkedIn and its competitors should meet and devise an open standard so I can communicate with users of competing social networks. until then, I want none of it.

Veteran Wikipedia editor now

I’ve been looking for a job since early January now and haven’t been invited for a job interview even once, so I had to find something to keep myself occupied. Editing Wikipedia proved to be a productive use of my free time and has even become slightly addictive. I’ve been editing since 30 January 2009 (I wrote about it before here and here) but I spent the most time on it during this month and the last because I have so much free time now. Take a look at my user page to see my activity.

What I’ve done

It started when I decided to look up the article for the e-mail client I use daily, Evolution. The version I encountered before I started working on it was quite outdated, so I’ve improved it considerably to a state which is more or less finished.

As a Classical Antiquity nerd I’m quite interested in ancient Greek and Roman cities, so I ended up reading the article on Sybaris. This article had serious issues, because like many other articles on ancient cities its content was copied from a 19th century dictionary. That dictionary didn’t mention the city was excavated in the 20th century of course. After finding sources about its excavation and figuring out what the obscure abbreviations for references to ancient works meant, I give the article a rigorous update.

But as you can see it’s not finished yet because good photos are still missing. Note that three partially overlapping cities were built on the site and that it’s difficult to be certain which remains are on the photos. I only managed to add one which was sent to me by an Italian scientist I contacted, but the quality isn’t great. I’m playing with the thought of getting a ticket to Bari for € 28 with Ryanair, a second hand Nikon D5100 and the 35mm prime lens to make some pictures of this site and others for use on Wikipedia myself.

There are many more articles of ancient cities and other archaeological sites which need a lot of work. Apart from the Mediterranean world, there are also many articles about cities in Mesopotamia and South Asia. Unless I find a way to clone myself it’s simply too much, so I try to focus on a few articles and make minor improvements to the rest. This includes things such as adding the the geobox river and infobox ancient site templates to articles.

Why I do it and you should help

But why are you doing this, you might ask? Not only is Wikipedia’s mission to spread knowledge freely totally cool, it’s exciting that thousands of people read what you write. You become an authority to them to some degree, you feel like you have some power over them. If you get killed by a lightning strike tomorrow, the information you contributed to Wikipedia will still live on.

Even though I mostly edit the more obscure articles – popular articles don’t have much room for improvement – an article like Sybaris gets 5.000 visitors a month. Babylon on the other hand, to which I’ve made a minor contribution, gets 170.000 a month.

To give a motivation which is less self-serving and based on illusions of grandeur, the desire to contribute is reciprocal for me. I benefit from good Wikipedia articles written by others, so I wish to return the favor. And because I’m slightly perfectionist, it is simply frustrating for me that some articles are so inadequate. Also, contributing to Wikipedia allows me to compensate for having lost the opportunity to do volunteer work in India to some degree.

Quitting Facebook

I still remember well when I created a Facebook account on 3 March 2010. It was because I wanted to add an attractive woman I knew from the sports center as a friend, that way I could figure out from her profile if she was single (she wasn’t). Initially I asked if she had a Hyves account and I was surprised to hear that she only had a Facebook account.

Back then Hyves was still the most popular social network in the Netherlands. It had twice the number of unique visits compared to Facebook in those days, and it was only in August 2011 that Facebook passed Hyves. It’s decline in popularity hasn’t stopped since then.

If I remember correctly I also had a Hyves account, even though I hated it. It was almost like there was a competition to create the most ugly and unreadable profile page because Hyves allowed for so much customization, unlike Facebook. I loved Facebook then for its clean design, and my family and friends also created accounts not long after me.

But now the time has come for me to say goodbye to Facebook. On Monday 28 January I will remove my Facebook account. I’ll elaborate on how I’ve come to this decision.

Facebook does not use an open standard

Anyone can set up an e-mail server. E-mails can be sent to anyone on any server because open standards are used. This is quite different for Facebook: it’s under the control of one company. If I’m on a different social network I can’t add people on Facebook as friends or even send them messages. Because we don’t want to be active on more than one social network, people flocked to Facebook because everyone started using that.

As a consequence of this incompatibility between social networks Facebook has been able to lock people into using its product and establish a very powerful position. Because of the incompatibility competing with Facebook is difficult. Of course there are competitors like Google+, but they feature the same incompatibilities as Facebook.

I don’t think a lack of competition is a good thing. What if e-mail was under the control of a few big companies? It wouldn’t be acceptable if users of e-mail provider A wouldn’t be able to send e-mails to users of provider B now, would it? Then why do we accept this from social networks?

I think the solution lies in distributed social networks such as Diaspora. Another example is the microblogging service identi.ca which is an open variant of Twitter. The software which runs them is open source, anyone can start a server and users can communicate with users on other servers. There isn’t a single large company which is in control. Just like e-mail.

Maybe I’ll give social networks another try if or when these distributed social networks take off. But I don’t just have an issue with Facebook, I have a problem with social networks altogether.

The (dis)advantages of facebook

What annoys me about social networks is that many people write things which are plain uninteresting. They’re stuck in traffic jams or they ‘like’ a company which I don’t care about. This wastes my time and is the aspect of Facebook I certainly won’t be missing. Facebook and especially Twitter are meant for very short messages, which makes their content superficial. Contrary to blogs, which stimulate more reflection.

On the other hand I enjoy seeing the travel photos of people, even if I haven’t met them in person for years. Or reading about how they’re doing in life, in case what they’re doing is interesting. It serves to satisfy my curiosity. A study on Facebook users by Bumgarner (2007) reveals that voyeurism is indeed an important motivation to use Facebook.

Regarding my own behavior on Facebook, I use my blog to share my experiences anyway. My Facebook account merely serves to see what others share there while I share a minimal amount of information myself. So people won’t be missing my presence on Facebook much I guess.

Apart from these more basic desires, Facebook turned out to be useful to find old classmates. I still need to get into contact with some of them, that’s why I’m postponing the removal of my account.. It might be useful for that in the future too, but that’s too bad then.

Life without facebook

But even if it’s difficult, doing the right thing is most important. From now on I’ll be collecting e-mail addresses, weblog addresses, phone numbers and home addresses of everyone I might need to contact in the future. Since my stint in Nepal I know people from all over the world. Even if I don’t write them often I think it would be fun to meet up with them if I happen to visit their countries someday, so I don’t want to lose their contact data.

From 28 January onward I’ll be going back to the old ways of using e-mail and phone calls. My self-imposed exile from Facebook should be no problem for my family and my closest friends. No longer will I be the fiftieth person to write ‘congratulations’ on your profile when you celebrate your anniversary, I’ll just call you or visit your party instead.

Everything is a Remix and politics

Today I watched the fourth and last part of Everything is a Remix. It is a brilliant video series which explains the problems of intellectual property and much more. It is very well made and effective in communicating its message. The fourth part explains how the rules of intellectual property no longer protect the inventions of artists and inventors, but harm the common good. With that statement made, the fourth part ends, without any suggestions on how we could solve the problem. Maybe the creator of the series, Kirby Ferguson, didn’t have a desire to comment on solutions.

Recently we have witnessed the death of SOPA and ACTA being the subject of much criticism. I have already written a post about it on my Dutch weblog. I observed in that post that there are politicians who are willing to take action against these corporate attacks on the public domain. But even then, it seems we are merely defending ourselves and stopping the attack, but we don’t counterattack. While stricter intellectual property legislation may have been averted for now, it is still possible for film studios to cash in for eternity on films under their copyright, even if they are more than half a century old.

But we do have the power to make change happen with our vote. We have the Pirate Parties for example. I have not studied the political program of the Dutch Pirate Party, but if my own party the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy continues to tread on privacy and other parties don’t do enough I might be tempted to vote for them in protest.

By the way, a much longer documentary film on intellectual property I’d recommend is RiP!: A Remix Manifesto which can be watched here.

Helping with the Commit Digest

By now I have been writing for the KDE Commit Digest since the end of last year. The KDE Commit Digest is a weekly publication which reports on all the commits (changes to software code) made to the KDE software made in the last seven days. News of new Commit Digests is also posted to the KDE.news website, which is read quite often by those interested in the KDE community and software. In October 2010 the KDE Commit Digest was revived by Danny Allen after a period of dormancy. Previously he worked on the Digest all alone, and understandably it was too much work for one person. He worked on a platform called Enzyme to make producing the Digests easier and sent out a call for help to volunteers who could help him with the job. Even though the KDE Commit Digest is a very popular publication, Danny reported that he didn’t have enough volunteers yet. I really wanted the relaunch of the Digest to succeed so I decided to apply myself. So far I had always been testing free software and reported bugs, I made a failed (incomplete) attempt to rewrite the old documentation for Abiword and I translated the biblatex LaTeX package to Dutch. I felt I should contribute more to return the favour to the great KDE community which produces the software I use so often.

Over the course of the last few months I have collaborated with the other volunteers helping Danny over the mailing list for the Digest. I’m quite satisfied with how the collaboration is going even if not everyone, including me, has enough time to contribute an equal amount of work every week. Even if we can manage the workload right now, I think a few more volunteers who could help out would be very welcome. Even though I have been collaborating with these people for months it’s a pity I barely know them, but that might change when some of us could possibly meet at this years Desktop Summit in Berlin. Working on the Commit-Digest itself isn’t a very satisfying experience because it’s not work I enjoy, my motivation is rooted more in a sense of duty than enjoyment. It’s primarily the idea that I can return the favour and contribute back to a great organisation producing free software, aid in it’s promotion and the fact that the Digest is read by many people with much interest that is rewarding.