I’m back

I’m back from the East Coast. Philadelphia airport is surprisingly easy to get to. Also, I had a cheesesteak sandwich before leaving the confines of the City of Brotherly Love.

Looking forward to chillaxing at home this week until CES begins and I head out for Africa.

I got a book deal!

“When the things got for real, I got up in the fold /
and put into practice all that I was told.”

– “The Inkwell”, Blue Scholars

Things are getting pretty freakin’ real right about now, that’s for sure. I just got a book deal. Yeah. Really. A book. Like you know, one of those things that’s printed on dead trees and sits in libraries and stuff. Maybe you’ve heard of ’em? I’m going to have an entry in the Library of Congress! Holy guacamole, I’ve never been more overwhelmed and excited at the same time!

So yeah, a book. The tentative title (likely to change, I’m open to suggestions) is Planet Internet: The Liberating Effects of a Wired World. It will examine how the Internet has played itself out in different countries around the globe, particularly in Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. Each of these countries has an incredible story to tell as to how the Internet has affected their socities and has been influenced by a handful of individuals.

You might remember that I started this project back at Columbia and went to Estonia for a week in March 2005. This was the seed of what became a full-fledged book proposal and sample chapter, focusing on Veljo Haamer of WiFi.ee. That proposal stayed tucked away in my hard drive, and I sent it to a few random agents, hoping to get something. None bit, until Sam Freedman directed me to Rutgers University Press, whom I’m honored to say will be publishing my book. The book is due out sometime in 2009. Jeez, that’s like after the next president will be elected.

So as a result, I’m going to be stepping back my role at Engadget from Senior Associate Editor to Contributing Editor, which means that I’ll be working part-time, most likely when I’m not out and about in the world. I will continue to freelance for other publications as much as possible.

My tentative plan as of now is to go to Senegal for three weeks (followed by a shorter trip to Europe) in January (9th until February 14th), then spend the next two months at home in Oakland, followed by about 3-4 weeks in Korea, two months home, then 3-4 weeks in Estonia and Europe, two months home and then about a month in Iran in October 2007. The manuscript is due in July 2008, although I’m shooting to have it done sooner than that.

I can’t believe that I’m actually embarking on this. On the one hand I feel very excited and have had loads of encouragement from my colleague, family and friends. On the other hand, I feel overcharged with such a huge project. The maximum length of this book is 90,000 words (for you non-journos out there, that’s 360 double-spaced typed pages) — by contrast the longest piece of journalism that I’ve ever done was my Master’s thesis, which came in at just under 5,000 words.

This project is literally 15 times larger in every conceiveable way than what I’ve done before. I feel like I’ve taken step one and two in doing narrative journalism (I took Sam‘s class and wrote the proposal), but now I’m being asked to take on step 10. I don’t know that there’s any other way around it, other than to dive right in, but it’s freakin’ scary nonetheless. But I know that I’m up to the task.

So here’s what I’m asking from you, my friends. In the immediate term, I’d love to know anything that you know about getting research grants, as I’m in dire need of some. Also, if you’re feeling particularly generous about helping me with my research, I’m passing my digital hat around via my PayPal account. Honestly, any small amount would really really help me a bunch. Yes, international travel is expensive, but one night’s lodgings in Senegal will cost me under $10. Anything that you feel is appropriate will be rewarded with my cooking you dinner at my house in Oakland, if you’re in town. (Also, if you have any contacts in any of these countries [mainly South Korea, Iran, and Senegal] who might be useful for me to talk to and/or might let me stay with them, please do let me know.)

But by far, the easiest way to contribute to my research is to help me find links pertaining to the Internet in those four countries. So I’ve set up a del.icio.us account to help the cause. Any link that you want to send me, just tag as “for:planetinternet” — I’ve got a big list already going.

Thanks guys — I know that I can’t do this project without you.

2007 is going to be a hell of a year.

Five bloggy facts

I’ve been tagged by Glenn Fleishman for the latest blogger meme du jour. I’m supposed to list five things that most people don’t know about me.

1. My only run-in with school authorities came when I was in kindergarten. I was suspended for one day for biting Lee Kramer, a friend of mine (yes, we’re still friends) on the hand. Basically, at recess there was a shopping cart full of balls (for four-square, handball, etc.) and it was always a struggle to get the first ball. The one day I got a ball first, other kids tried to take it away from me — I got upset and bit the hand closest to me, which was Lee’s.

2. I didn’t got to my first large-scale concert until I was 16 and saw MC Solaar at the Paléo Festival Nyon (Switzerland) in 1998.

3. I’m obsessed with geographic oddities. In particular: Nauru, Pitcairn Islands, but also Kaliningrad, Northwest Angle (Minnesota), and Sealand.

4. I really love international pop music (particularly rap) in languages that I don’t speak. My iPod contains tracks from Tarkan, Lee Ssang, Toe Tag and lots of others.

5. I actually prefer wearing suits to wearing tuxedos, because as an amateur musician all throughout high school and college, I had to put on the penguin suit on a regular basis. I don’t have very many opportunities to wear suits. (I have a fantasy that one day I’ll get a swanky three-piece suit, or preferably, a zoot suit, complete with a fedora.)

I tag Paul Boutin, Alex Farivar, Daniel Zhu, Marie Javins and Dallas Bluth.

WashPost: In Balmy Europe, Feverish Choruses of ‘Let It Snow’

The Washington Post:

Moscow is not alone in the unexpected warmth — it stretches across the continent.

Preliminary data from the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service, and the University of East Anglia indicate that 2006 has been the warmest year in Britain since record-keeping concerning weather conditions began in central England in 1659.

Trees are sprouting leaves in Switzerland. And low-altitude ski resorts across the Alps look more like springtime meadows. “We are currently experiencing the warmest period in the Alpine region in 1,300 years,” Reinhard Boehm, a climatologist at Austria’s Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics, told the Associated Press in Vienna.

Boehm was one of the authors of a European Union-funded climate study that found similar warming periods in the 10th and 12th centuries. But, he said, it’s warmer now, and “it will undoubtedly get warmer in the future.”

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warns in a report this month “that climate change poses serious risks to the snow reliability of Alpine ski areas, and consequently to the regional economies that depend upon winter tourism.”

I’m off to the East Coast!

I have a way-the-hell-too-early flight (read: 07h15) to Baltimore tomorrow. I spend about 24 hours in the DC area before hopping on a train to New York with my parents on Dec. 20. I’ll be busy nearly every minute, either working or visiting with friends, and then I’ll have an encore ride of the Hartford Chinatown bus (featured in my Master’s thesis) on Dec. 23, where I’ll be spending Christmas vacation with my assembled family.

A Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah, Solstice and New Year to all!

I’ll be back in Oakland on the evening of December 28.

Update: I forgot to ask. Anyone know of any good WiFi cafés in Manhattan? Preferably near Penn Station or Midtown? (If not, that’s ok.)

Weather Weirdness

[Screen grab taken around 8 am Pacific.]

How is it that it’s colder at night in Oakland than it is in New York? And that my aunt in Hartford (where I’m headed later this week) tells me that there’s no snow on the ground? And that the cars on our street got frost last night?!?!

What is going on?

Would you rent a MacBook for under three bucks a day — for three years?

So here’s the deal: Apple France and French ISP Orange are hooking up to provide French consumers with a rented MacBook and 1 Mbps DSL for €60 ($79.50) a month. That works out to about €2 a day. (You can upgrade to 8 Mbps DSL for an additional €5 per month.)

The catch is that you have to sign up for three years, but that includes three years of Apple Care.

Louis-Pierre Wenes, executive director of France Telecom’s domestic operations compared this deal to getting a €150 rebate on the price of a MacBook (€1099) plus an additional two years of AppleCare (€319) — in that €35 that pays for the computer x 36 months = €1260. However, M. Wenes didn’t explain what happens at the end of the three-year deal. (There also appears to be a rent-to-buy option, but it’s unclear how that works out.)

Either way, if you in France and you’re one of the first 200 people to sign up, Orange will toss you an iPod shuffle for an additional euro.

I know a lot of people who would take this deal (possibly myself included) in a heartbeat.

[via MuniWireless]

The Economist: Roaming holiday

This is a piece I wrote for The Economist’s latest “Technology Quarterly” guide (December 2, 2006). You’ll just have to take it on faith that I wrote it, given that there’s no byline.

Hed: Roaming holiday
Dek: Communications : New gizmos that combine audio guides with satellite tracking let tourists explore cities at their own pace

WHEN Melissa Mahan and her husband visited The Netherlands, they felt imprisoned by their tour bus. It forced them to see the city according to a particular route and specific schedule*but going off on their own meant missing out on the information provided by the guide. On their return home to San Diego, California, they started a new company called Tour Coupes. Now, when tourists in San Diego rent one of their small, brightly-coloured three-wheeled vehicles, they are treated to a narration over the stereo system about the places they pass, triggered by Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology.

This is just one example of how GPS is being used to provide new services to tourists. “What we really have here is a technology that allows people to forget about the technology,” says Jim Carrier of IntelliTours, a GPS tourism firm which began offering a similar service over a year ago in Montgomery, Alabama. The city is packed with sites associated with two important chapters in American history, the Civil War of the 1860s and the civil-rights movement a century later. Montgomery has a 120-year-old trolley system, called the Lightning Route, which circulates around the downtown area and is mainly used by tourists. On the Lightning Route trolleys, GPS-triggered audio clips point out historical hotspots.

Another GPS-tourism firm is GoCar Rentals, based in San Francisco. It provides open-air vehicles, based on a scooter engine with a fibreglass frame, similar to those used by Tour Coupes. Customers must follow a prescribed route to hear the GPS-triggered information. This limits the scope for exploration, but Nathan Withrington, the firm’s founder, says that people tend to visit the same few sites. “Why not guide them to 10% that they want to see?” he asks.

Other firms, such as CityShow in New York and GPS Tours Canada in Banff, Canada, offer handheld GPS receivers that play audio clips for listening to while walking or driving. In South Africa, Europcar, a car-rental firm, offers a device called the Xplorer. As well as providing commentary on 2,000 points of interest, it can also warns drivers if they exceed the local speed limit.

If such services prove popular, the use of dedicated audio-guide devices could give way to a different approach. Tourist information delivered via mobile phones could be updated in real time and might also incorporate local advertising. So-called “location-based services”, such as the ability to call up a list of nearby banks or pizzerias, have been talked about for years but have never taken off. But aiming such services at tourists makes a lot of sense, since people are more likely to want information when in an unfamiliar foreign country. It could give mobile roaming a whole new meaning.