DIY Repeating Crossbow

Hello everyone!

The other day i saw an amazing and inspiring video about making crossbow with hairpins, popcicle sticks and a short rope. The result was fairly simple but really appealing, and made me want making one. However, as always, i overdid. The result was a bigger crossbow with trigger, meant as a gift for a friend.

But it wasn’t enough. I wanted do build something more challenging, and i stumbled across this picture.

From that moment i couldn’t think of anything else, i WANTED a repeating crossbow, and even though the picture was decades (or centuries?) old, that was clear enough to start building something.
First of all, i needed the bow. I used two rectangular hairpins (i’m not sure that’s the right term for those) for the flexible parts, glued together with some cyanacrilic. For the rest of the construction i used only PVA glue.

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Meanwhile, for the body of the crossbow i used some popcicle sticks glued together, kept under pressure until dry. It took only 10 minutes to have a solid structure.

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I glued on the sides another two sticks, this time a little elevated to create a rail.

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On the back side, i cleaned the irregularities with a cutter, then i finely sanded the surface to have a smooth finish.

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I removed part of the rail, where the grip will be, then i glued the bow on the tip of the body. Now the crossbow shape is clrealry visible.

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The recharging mechanism is really similar to the one shown in the ancient illustration. I used two sticks to make the beaming, taking the measurements before cutting them in shape. Note that for the whole project i didn’t use any ruler. Just relative measuring.

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Using a metal rod obtained from a paperclip i fixed the two joints of the loading mechanism. The central moving part is visible in the photo, and has a gap where the rope will remain blocked turing the loading.

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To prevent the two beams of the loading mechanism to move indipendently, i blocked them on both sides. After the glue was dry, they were a single piece.

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Let’s take a closer look to the moving part in the center. Note that the “arrows magazine” is still not in position. If i had to make a second repeating crossbow (and i will), i would have added the magazine from the beginning. However, that is what i have: the frontal part has a smaller railing to keep the arrow (in this case, a matchstick) in position. Behind that there’s a gap for the bow rope. The rest of the beam on the bottom is very important, because it will push the whole piece down, releasing the rope and shooting the arrow.

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Once placed the arrow magazine, the crossbow looked like this:
You can see that there are two small beam on the front to guide the moving part in the right direction, preventing trasversal deviations.

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I had to try the crossbow several times (many, really) and tweak a few minor issues. Mainly, i had to add a small wooden piece on the back of the magazine to prevent the arrows to slide behind when loading, and i had to sand all the critical surfaces to have a smoother movement.
the result, however, was amazing. Today the crossbow had the first debut in the lab, and all my colleagues played with it.

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Badass.

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Who could ask for more? Well… ME! I wanted a video, and i did it!

Ok, that’s not properly modelling. But it works, and shoots arrows! I could virtually light the three matches before shooting too, with an even more awesome result!

…Maybe next time.
Stay tuned, and cheers!

The Lazy One

 

Scientists build first redox flow battery made of all-organic materials

As a storage solution for renewable energy, scientists see great potential in what are known as redox flow batteries, which hold energy in large tanks rather than compact electrode materials. A new design from Sweden’s Linköping University is a decidedly green version of this technology, swapping out scarce metals and synthetic polymers for all-natural materials.

The reason redox flow batteries are such a promising alternative to lithium-ion batteries when it comes to the intermittent nature of renewable energy is because they can store vast amounts of energy at relatively low cost. While lithium-ion batteries store energy in their electrodes and the capacity is therefore limited by the size of the device, redox flow batteries can store energy in liquid electrolytes housed in huge external tanks for months at a time.

Something that doesn’t help the eco-credentials of redox flow batteries, however, is their use of a scarce and expensive metal known as vanadium. This metal is the basis of the electrolyte solution and offers great reliability during charging and discharging, but some researchers see a greener alternative in water-based electrolytes, including the team behind the world’s largest redox flow battery in Germany.

Another area with room for improvement is the electrodes of redox flow batteries, which are typically made from a synthetic polymer called carbonized polyacrylonitrile. We’ve seen some inventive approaches to producing these components in more sustainable ways, including an MIT study that aims to craft them from ingredients in shrimp shells, but now the Linköping University team is putting forward another solution while solving the electrolyte issue at the same time, producing what it bills as the first all-organic redox flow battery.

The team’s redox flow battery features electrodes made from PEDOT, which is an organic and conducing polymer we’ve also seen used in advanced lithium-ion battery designs, and even “smart bricks” that store energy. The engineers doped their PEDOT polymer to enable it to transport the battery’s positive and negative ions, and work nicely with a water-based electrolyte laden with quinone molecules, which occur naturally in forest-based materials.

A model of the first organic redox flow battery

Thor Balkhed

“Quinones can be derived from wood, but here we have used the same molecule, together with different variants of the conducting polymer PEDOT,” says study author Viktor Gueskine. “It turns out that they are highly compatible with each other, which is like a gift from the natural world.”

The team found that the PEDOT electrodes and quinone-based electrolytes worked together to promote the flow of protons and electrons in the battery, though note the design doesn’t offer as much energy density as versions containing vanadium. On the plus side, they claim their device is very cheap, entirely recyclable and perfectly safe, opening up the possibility of installing such a battery in homes to act as a power bank for electric vehicles.

“Since both electrode, membrane and reactants are organic‐based, we can truly claim the first “all‐organic” redox flow batteries,” the scientists write in their study, which was published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Source: Linköping University

Cute cat theory of digital activism

Lolcat images were often shared through the same networks used by online activists.

The cute cat theory of digital activism is a theory concerning Internet activism, Web censorship, and “cute cats” (a term used for any low-value, but popular online activity) developed by Ethan Zuckerman in 2008.[1][2] It posits that most people are not interested in activism; instead, they want to use the web for mundane activities, including surfing for pornography and lolcats (“cute cats”).[3] The tools that they develop for that (such as Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, Twitter, and similar platforms) are very useful to social movement activists, who may lack resources to develop dedicated tools themselves.[3] This, in turn, makes the activists more immune to reprisals by governments than if they were using a dedicated activism platform, because shutting down a popular public platform provokes a larger public outcry than shutting down an obscure one.[3]

The Internet and censorship[edit]

Zuckerman states that “Web 1.0 was invented to allow physicists to share research papers. Web 2.0 was created to allow people to share pictures of cute cats.”[3] Zuckerman says that if a tool passes “cute cat” purposes, and is widely used for low-value purposes, it can be and likely is used for online activism, too.[3]

If the government chooses to shut down such generic tools, it will hurt people’s ability to “look at cute cats online”, spreading dissent and encouraging the activists’ cause.[2][3]

Chinese model[edit]

According to Zuckerman, internet censorship in the People’s Republic of China, which relies on its own, self-censored, Web 2.0 sites, is able to circumvent the cute-cat problem because the government is able to provide people with access to cute-cat content on domestic, self-censored sites while blocking access to Western sites, which are less popular in China than in many other places worldwide.[3][4]

“Sufficiently usable read/write platforms will attract porn and activists. If there’s no porn, the tool doesn’t work. If there are no activists, it doesn’t work well,” Zuckerman has stated.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Eight of America's Most Unusual Polling Places

SMITHSONIANMAG.COM | Oct. 20, 2020, 8 a.m.

Most people probably wouldn’t expect to cast their vote in a museum full of boisterous Mardi Gras-like costumes. But for anyone who lives within a three-minute walk of the Mummers Museum in South Philadelphia, in the city’s Ward 2 Division 1, that is where they will be headed to vote this Election Day.

The Mummers Museum, a 44-year-old homage to the oldest continuous folk parade in the United States, is one of the 61 polling places Ryan Donnell has documented since 2008 in his quest to photograph the most unusual polling places in America. The ongoing project, which the D.C.-based photographer embarked on in 2008, attempts to capture the process of voting in America and, in doing so, offer a view into how democracy plays out in specific regions.

“I think that idea of looking at democracy through the locations where we vote is really interesting,” says Donnell, a freelance photographer who has a background in photojournalism. “The polling places in Chicago are not like the polling places in L.A. or not like the polling places in Philadelphia or Iowa. You can see a real cross section of America through these particular places.”

The polling places Donnell photographs may not match the conventional idea of a polling place, the vast majority of which are schools, community centers and churches. However, they all conform to the overarching federal and state government requirements for polling places, such as accessibility for disabled people, as well as numerous restrictions on the local level, the main arbiter of polling place locations, that vary from locality to locality. These factors include parking space, square footage of the premises and distance between voting machines, the latter two a new priority in many areas due to the ongoing pandemic.

As Robert Stein, political scientist and professor at Rice University explains, the county clerks or other designated officials who choose the locations of the polling places have unofficial considerations as well, such as whether people feel safe voting in an area and how central the area is to the local community.

“People sometimes don’t necessarily vote where they live because when you get up in the morning, where’s the first place you go? To work, to school, to shop, to drop the kids off,” Stein says of early in-person voting, an option for voters in most states this election cycle. “And it may be that the more convenient location isn’t nearest to your house, but a large supermarket with lots of parking, 50 voting machines and one that you can easily access off the freeway.”

Each of the unusual polling places featured below will be in use in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Mummers Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mummer’s Museum. Philadelphia, 2010. (Ryan Donnell)

The Mummers Parade is an icon of Philadelphia culture and officially dates back to 1901, though locals have engaged in “Mummery”—gallivanting around town in costumes and poking fun—on New Year’s Day since the 17th century. The museum—which has been used as a polling place for many years—commemorates the time-honored tradition. “It’s a weird tradition,” says Donnell, who lived in Philadelphia for almost a decade. “So the fact that they have a polling center inside the Mummers Museum is very uniquely Philadelphia.”

One-Room Schoolhouse, Sherman Township, Iowa

One-room schoolhouse Former one-room schoolhouse. Story County, Iowa. 2014. (Ryan Donnell)

In the late 19th century, Iowa used to have about 14,000 one-room schoolhouses, the most of any state in the U.S. While many of those that are still standing, like Forest Grove School No. 5 and North River Stone Schoolhouse, are now historical sites, this 130-year-old one on a grassy plot surrounded by farmland and wind turbines about an hour’s drive from Des Moines is still serving out its civic duty—now in a different capacity. “I was standing on top of my car so I was kind of a curiosity,” Donnell says. “But as a photographer, you’re used to being a curiosity waiting for things.”

Lawn Lanes Bowling Alley, Chicago, Illinois

Lawn Lanes Bowling Alley Lawn Lanes bowling alley. Chicago, 2012. (Ryan Donnell)

Lawn Lanes is located in West Lawn, an area on the southwest side of Chicago known for its diversity. The bowling alley has served as a polling place for at least 12 years and is the designated polling place for about 750 voters in 2020. Lawn Lanes’ manager David Supanich says his father, who previously ran the establishment, agreed to offer the site as a polling place after the local ward office decided to look for a new location to decrease Election Day congestion in the area. Unusual polling places like this bowling alley are typically employed if an area doesn’t have enough public buildings that fulfill the requirements. The placement of the voting machines in a separate room of the bowling alley made capturing both the polling booths and the bowling equipment a challenge for Donnell.

Saigon Maxim Restaurant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saigon Maxim Restaurant Saigon Maxim restaurant. Philadelphia, 2008. (Ryan Donnell)

Donnell frequented this Vietnamese restaurant situated in the heart of Philadelphia’s Little Saigon when he used to live nearby. The restaurant serves as the polling place for residents of the neighborhood and features a large stage for community events ranging from birthdays to weddings. “It’s just a wonderful look at the diversity of the city,” Donnell says. “I felt like for [Saigon Maxim] it was really important to get a sense of the vastness of the restaurant because those Vietnamese restaurants and Chinese restaurants are often so big, they’re like community centers, essentially.”

Ray Lounsberry’s Shed, Nevada Township, Iowa

Ray Lounsberry Shed Tractor barn. Story County, Iowa. 2014. (Ryan Donnell)

Ray Lounsberry has opened up his agricultural garage to voters for almost two decades. A county auditor asked to use his garage because the previous polling place was too cold, deterring voters from coming to cast their ballots. The World War II veteran, just a few years shy of his 100th birthday, has regularly helped poll workers set up the area in preparation for the hundreds of voters assigned to his precinct, Nevada Township, by setting up chairs and bringing refreshments for the workers. “I feel like I’m doing a service to the county by letting them use this,” Lounsberry told Dan Mika of the Nevada Journal. “I don’t mind at all.”

Su Nueva Laundromat, Chicago, Illinois

Su Nueva Laudromat Su Nueva Lavanderia. Chicago, 2012. (Ryan Donnell)

“[The Su Nueva Laundromat] is probably the most popular one because I think it’s just the weirdest shot, you know, with the dryers and stuff like that,” Donnell says. “Again, it just shows this diversity and this wonderful multi-ethnicity aspect to American voting.” Su Nueva, a 10-minute walk from Lawn Lanes, is also located in West Lawn and is the official polling place for about 700 registered voters. Since he photographed the place in 2012, Donnell has noticed that now every election cycle, the spot will pop up in local coverage of Chicago polling places. Donnell noted that the man in the St. Louis Cardinals cap is like an homage to his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

Water Department Laboratory, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Water Department Laboratory Philadelphia Water Department testing laboratory. Philadelphia, 2009. (Ryan Donnell)

The laboratory, a sprawling brick building that far outsizes surrounding abodes, is used to test the quality of the city’s drinking water, among other water purity tests. Because there was nothing that obviously indicated near the voting machines that the polling place was a laboratory, Donnell recalls waiting for an hour or two for someone in a lab coat to walk into his six-by-six frame to show the scientific nature of the location. Stein says research has shown that the physical building where voting takes place can influence voters’ choice of candidate and their stances on issues, even if identifying iconography is covered.

Pressure Billiards and Café, Chicago, Illinois

Pressure Billiards and Cafe Pressure Billards & Cafe. Chicago, 2012. (Ryan Donnell)

While many restaurants and other small businesses that volunteer as polling places will shut down for Election Day, the ongoing billiards game on the left of the photograph is evidence that Pressure Billiards and Café, located in Edgewater, Chicago, kept business going alongside voting. The venue, which has been a polling place since at least 2012, however, still sees less business on Election Day as regulars know that fewer tables will be open. Commercial establishments like this one that serve as polling places are often compensated with a small fee—in 2015, Chicago vendors were offered $150 at minimum.

NASA spacecraft grabs sample of rocks from asteroid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A NASA spacecraft touched down on the rugged surface of the Bennu asteroid on Tuesday, grabbing a sample of rocks dating back to the birth of our solar system to bring home.

The minivan-sized OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, extended its 11-foot (3.35 m) robotic arm toward a flat patch of gravel near Bennu’s north pole and plucked the sample of rocks, the space agency’s first handful of pristine asteroid rocks.

“Sample collection is complete, and the back-away burn has executed,” Lockheed mission operator Estelle Church added seconds later, confirming the spacecraft eased away from the space rock after making contact.

The probe will send back images of the sample collection on Wednesday and throughout the week so scientists can examine how much material was retrieved and determine whether the probe will need to make another collection attempt.

If a successful collection is confirmed, the spacecraft will journey back toward Earth, arriving in 2023. Japan is the only other country to have already accomplished this.

Bennu, located over 100 million miles from Earth and whose acorn-shaped body formed in the early days of our solar system, could hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists say.

“Everything went just exactly perfect,” Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator from the University of Arizona, Tucson, said on a NASA live feed from Lockheed’s mission support building. “We have overcome the amazing challenges that this asteroid has thrown at us, and the spacecraft appears to have operated flawlessly.”

The robotic arm’s collection device, shaped like an oversized shower head, is designed to release a pressurized gas to kick up debris.

The spacecraft launched in 2016 from Kennedy Space Center for the journey to Bennu. It has been in orbit around the asteroid for nearly two years preparing for the “touch and go” maneuver.

“A lot of things could go wrong because the spacecraft’s about the size of a van, and the asteroid has a lot of boulders in it,” Lucy Lim, a planetary scientist at NASA, said in an earlier interview. “So we have to go between the boulders to get our sample, and a lot of planning went into that.”

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago.

Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life. Atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Bill Berkrot and Leslie Adler

Reversing Video and Audio Using FFmpeg

It’s very easy to reverse a video using FFmpeg because FFmpeg has a built-in reverse filter that can do this job for both audio and video! Let’s learn how in this tutorial and some gotcha’s that you should avoid.

Reverse a Video using FFmpeg

Here it is! A simple one-liner that takes your video and reverses it.

ffmpeg -i originalVideo.mp4 -vf reverse reversedVideo.mp4

And if you want to reverse the audio and video, all you gotta do is use this command.

ffmpeg.exe -i originalVideo.mp4 -vf reverse -af areverse reversedVideo.mp4

It’s as simple as that.

I used it on the Parkjoy sequence downloaded from xiph. Note, that the original video is in y4m format and I first transcoded it to H.264/AVC using crf=1 and then added timestamps for this fun experiment.

If you want to learn how to add timestamps to your video using the drawtext filter, then read this tutorial on OTTVerse.com.

Here is the original sequence

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And here is the reversed sequence – fun right?

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Caution for Large Files

The problem with the reverse filter is that it loads the sequence into memory and if you try this on large sequences, you could very easily run out of memory.

The solution for this is to split your video into small pieces or segments, reverse each of them, and join them in the reverse order (yea, remember that!).

If you don’t know how to cut a video into small pieces, check out our tutorial on trimming or cutting videos.

Facebook is working on Neighborhoods, a Nextdoor clone based on local groups

Using social networks to connect with neighbors and local services has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Facebook — with 2.7 billion users globally — is now looking at how it can tap into that in a more direct way. In the same week that it was reported that Nextdoor is reportedly gearing up to go public, Facebook has started to test a Nextdoor clone, Neighborhoods, which suggests Facebook-generated Neighborhood groups (with a capital N, more on that below) local to you to join to connect with people, activities and things being sold in the area.

“More than ever, people are using Facebook to participate in their local communities. To help make it easier to do this, we are rolling out a limited test of Neighborhoods, a dedicated space within Facebook for people to connect with their neighbors,” said a spokesperson in a written statement provided to TechCrunch.

Facebook said that Neighborhoods currently is live only in Calgary, Canada, where it is being tested before getting rolled out more broadly.

The feature — which appears in the Menu of the main Facebook app, alongside tiles for Marketplace, Groups, Friends, Pages, Events and the rest — was first seen widely via a post on Twitter from social media strategy guy Matt Navarra, who in turn had been tipped off by a social media strategist from Calgary, Leon Grigg from Grigg Digital.

From Grigg’s public screenshots, it appears that Neighborhood groups — that is, local groups that are part of this new Neighborhood feature — are like those on Nextdoor, based on actual geographical areas on a map.

From the looks of it, these Neighborhood groups appear to be triggered to “open” once there are enough people in the area to have joined, just like on Nextdoor. But unlike those on Nextdoor, and unlike Facebook groups, they are not created, built and run by admins, nor do they have “Community Ambassadors” (Nextdoor’s term). They are instead generated by Facebook itself.

Facebook said it will also suggest other local groups, although it’s not clear if these will simply be other Neighborhood groups, or local Groups that already exist on the platform, nor what this would mean for all those neighborhood Groups (small n) were Facebook’s new feature to launch more widely. We’re asking and will update as we hear back.

For now, Neighborhood groups require more permissions from you the user, and seem to be more presented rather than something you would organically find as you might a Group today.

Screenshots from Grigg’s Facebook post also show that after you click on Neighborhoods, you are asked to confirm your location to Facebook (sharing your location data being also a way to provide more data points for the company to profile you for advertising and marketing purposes).

It then suggests a Neighborhood to you to join, and also provides a list of other Neighborhood groups that are nearby, plus some ground rules for good behavior. If a Neighborhood isn’t live yet because not enough people have joined, you can invite more people to join it.

Facebook notes that when you post in a Neighborhood group, people see your specific Neighborhood profile and your posts there, but it doesn’t automatically mean they see your normal Facebook profile. You can change what gets seen in privacy settings.

Facebook then takes you through some suggested posts that you might make for other Neighborhoods, or to populate yours once it is live. (Examples in the screenshots include sharing pictures of carved pumpkins, and offering tips on local places.)

Tapping into an already-huge feature: Groups

Through Neighborhoods, Facebook is doubling down on one of the most popular ways that the social network is already being used — and by an increasing number of people, one of the only ways that it’s being used these days — via Groups, which bypass your own social graph and connect you with other kinds of communities.

Earlier this month during Facebook’s Communities Summit, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that there were more than 1.8 billion people engaging with Groups at least once a month on the social network, with more than 70 million group admins and moderators putting in unpaid hours to manage them (hello, fellow mods and admins).

“We’re going to make communities as central to the FB experience as friends and family,” Zuckerberg said back in 2019 and repeated again this month.

As Sarah pointed out back in 2014, when Groups had a mere 500 million users and communities was not at the core of Facebook’s mission statement, Facebook Groups sometimes feels like you’re on a whole different social network, where you are establishing connections with people outside of your personal “social graph” of friends, family and colleagues, and are more broadly connecting with specific communities, whether they are based on where you live or a specific interest.

That role has only grown in 2020, with many people turning to local groups during the Covid-19 global health pandemic to connect with local resources, mutual aid groups, and simply to check in with each other.

Or, to complain: my own local group that I help admin did all of the above, but also a place for people to virtually hand-wring about the crowded (and illegal) festival atmosphere in the local park, and then to galvanise feedback and support, which helped us as a community present the problem to our local councillors to get the situation (sort of, finally) resolved.

A lot of Groups use is at its best organic, not prompted or productized by Facebook, so with Neighborhoods, it seems the company is now exploring ways to more proactively, inorganically dig into that role.

That may not be a surprise. On one side, consider how many people have decided to stop sharing as much on Facebook as before, and the role that Facebook has been playing in the great misinformation-disguised-as-news heist of the century. On the other, consider how Facebook has been building out its Marketplace and providing more resources for local businesses to spur them to advertise. Building an anchor for all that with Neighborhoods makes complete commercial sense.

Knocking Nextdoor

The timing of the feature is also notable for another reason. While Facebook is vast in size and scope compared to Nextdoor, the latter has found a kind of groove in recent times. The public swing towards looking for more local resources online has meant that Nextdoor, fighting its own bad reputation as a place where people go to confirm their worst fears, make racist comments in the name of public service, and look for lost pets, has found a second life.

Things like building neighborhood assistance programs and taking a public stand on social issues has helped Nextdoor reinvent itself as the good guy. Now covering some 268,000 neighborhoods, the company is riding that wave and reportedly eyeing a public listing via SPAC at a $4 billion – $5 billion valuation.

Yes, maybe that’s just a button compared to the full suit that is Facebook. But given that Facebook already has so many of the threads of a Nextdoor-type product already there on its platform, it’s a no-brainer that it would try to knit them together.

Study finds most big open-source startups outside Bay Area, many European, and avoiding VC

Over 90% of the fastest-growing open-source companies in 2020 were founded outside the San Francisco Bay Area, and 12 out of the top 20 originate in Europe, according to a new study. The “ROSS Index”, created by Runa Capital lists the fastest-growing open-source startups with public repositories on Github every quarter.

Interestingly, the company judged to be the fastest-growing on the latest list, Plausible, is an ‘open startup’ (all its metrics are published, including revenues) and states on its website that it is “not interested in raising funds or taking investment. Not from individuals, not from institutions and not from venture capitalists. Our business model has nothing to do with collecting and analyzing huge amounts of personal information from web users and using these behavioral insights to sell advertisements.” It says it builds a self-sustainable “privacy-friendly alternative to very popular and widely used surveillance capitalism web analytics tools”.

Admittedly, ‘Github stars’ are not a totally perfect metric to measure the product-market fit of open-source companies. However, the research shows a possible interesting trend away from the VC-backed startups of the last ten years.

There have been previous attempts to create similar lists. In 2017 Battery Ventures published its own BOSS Index, but the index was abandoned. In September 2020 Accel revealed its Open100 market map, which included many open-source startups.

The high churn rates at Github mean the list of companies will change significantly every quarter. For instance, this recent finding by ROOS has only four companies that were mentioned in the previous list (Q2 2020): Hugging Face, Meili, Prisma and Framer.

Of course, open-source doesn’t mean these companies will never monetize or not go on to raise venture capital.

And Runa Capital clearly has an interest in publishing the list. It has invested in several open-source startups, including Nginx (acquired by F5 Networks for $670M), MariaDB and N8N, and recently raised a $157M fund aimed at open-source startups.

Localisation is too hard for Gmail

/ləʊk(ə)lʌɪˈzeɪʃ(ə)n/
The ability to adjust a user-interface to the user’s local language or dialect

Because I live in the UK, I speak en_GB (English, Great Britain) rather than en_US (English, Simplified United States).

Mostly, all dialects of English are mutually intelligible. Sure, the Brits love the letter U and the Americans stick a Z in every possible word. But we get along reasonably well. Except in Gmail.

Here’s my en_GB localised Gmail interface. Note how there is a folder called “Bin”.

Everyone using Gmail in en_GB will know that deleted emails go into the “Bin”.

Gmail has a handy search feature to allow you to find emails in a specific folder. For example “Bob in:spam” finds all email containing the word “Bob” in your spam folder. “Proposal in:sent” gets everything you’ve sent with the word proposal.

But it is impossible to search the “Bin” folder.

A search for "beer in:bin" returns nothing.

Why? Because you have to search the Trash folder. Because that’s the names used by Americans.

Lots of results in the trash folder.

/hɪˈdʒɛməni/

The same is true even if you’ve chosen a non-English language.
The Gmail interface in German.

Sadly, Google don’t respond to user complaints or feedback. The best you can do is hope a ranty blog post gets high enough traction on social media. Then, maybe, something will change.

If you’re building a service – remember that localisation is about much more than the GUI. All aspects of the interface need to be considered.

EU needs to think bigger to develop tech champions

Silicon Valley’s tech giants, already hardly popular in Brussels, this week learnt they now risk being placed on a European “hit list” as part of an effort by regulators to curb their market power.

Among the companies that might be targeted, there is one that would strike an ironic note among European technology industry watchers: Booking Holdings.

EU officials say Brussels has not explicitly identified companies for tighter regulation, saying instead it will set out criteria for inclusion in the hit list. But the parent of Booking.com is potentially at risk given its size and reach in the online market for accommodation.

The inclusion of one of Europe’s biggest missed opportunities in tech would underline the miserable record in creating sector leaders to rival those in the US and China.

Booking is listed in the US but was founded in the Netherlands and acquired by Priceline in 2005 for $133m. The deal was arguably one of the most successful tech acquisitions of all time, with Priceline eventually renaming itself Booking as the company came to make up the majority of its revenues. 

It is the world’s largest online travel agency, worth $75bn and accounting for about 40 per cent of global online travel agency revenues. If combined with rivals Expedia and China’s Ctrip, in which Booking owns a stake, the three companies would account for about 80 per cent of global revenues of the biggest listed participants in the market. While not exactly a Google-esque level of market dominance, the sector is consolidated and very hard for smaller-scale companies to compete in.

There are some European companies of course that have reached similar global scale, such as Germany’s SAP and Sweden’s Spotify. After that the list starts to thin out. The story of Wirecard, once the great big hope of European fintech, is best not to mention after its implosion.

The reasons why there are not more European tech champions are many and complex. But there is an enduring tension at the heart of the EU’s approach to technology and innovation. It views powerful US companies with deep suspicion while at the same time dreaming of one day cultivating homegrown groups that could rival them.

A line in an early leaked draft of the European Commission’s “Shaping Europe’s digital future” programme from last year declared that it would aim to help European companies “become the next generation of big tech”, according to a report by Wired. That line was reportedly excised from the final version, presumably because of unease with the words “big tech”.

If, as the EU’s internal market commissioner Thierry Breton has promised, the EU is going to “build a European digital ecosystem”, then it will have to be more comfortable with bigness in tech as a crucial and necessary component of success. It is not enough to pin one’s hopes on innovation alone.

Under the logic of the European regulators, a company such as Booking could be judged to be abusing its market power to the detriment of rivals.

A poorly understood part of its business model is the fact that its advantage in Europe stems from the peculiarities of the continent’s fragmented hotel market. Countries such as France and Italy have a far lower penetration of chain hotels than the US. In Italy, just 4.2 per cent of its hotels are part of chains, and in Germany just 9.7 per cent, according to Horwath HTL. In the US, chains control about 70 per cent of hotels. 

This fragmentation of the European market means it is far harder for competitors to attempt to recreate the relationships with thousands of small boutique hotels that Booking already has. Even Google has not so far managed to usurp its direct relationships with its hotels while competing with Booking at the top of the search engine “funnel”.

But the company is exactly the type of dominant online platform that Europe might have to accept if wants to have homegrown rivals to the large US tech giants. 

One parallel is Airbus, which is part of an entrenched global duopoly with Boeing. It has been able to achieve that position by being subsidised and supported by European governments that have encouraged this quest for market dominance. Few European politicians would ever dream today of arguing that Airbus should be broken up because its scale is anti-competitive and crushes innovation.

If Europe wants to compete with the US and China at the top tier in technology, it might have to be more accommodating to more emerging champions.

Miles.Johnson@ft.com

Letter in response to this article:

Brave entrepreneurship needs development capital / From Brian O’Doherty, Chief Executive, Netsso.com, Greencastle, County Donegal, Ireland