Everything online is finders keepers

Geplaatst: februari 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Everything you stumble upon on the internet is free. I usually don’t pay for free stuff. Legally this may not hold up, but in practice, it is how the internet works. Given that I just said that everything online is free, you might ask why I still spend money online, because I do. Well, that is a long story…

At the Queensday flea market I bought an SNES for 10 euro. I handed the kid the money, he gave me the SNES. He got rid of his old junk, I added a classic to my collection. Trade like we have been doing for millenia. But what if I could get a second SNES by copy/pasting it as if was a pdf. One keystroke and bham: two SNESsen in stead of one. How much would I have been willing to pay in that case?

The Pirate Bay Logo

Economics 101 teaches us that producers will continue to produce untill making one additional unit incures more (additional!) cost than revenue. The market price will be equal to the additional cost of this last unit. So digital products are free: copy-paste. That would make it impossible to sell digital information, right? No, you can sell it. Once. After that, someone will eventually upload your information, freely available for anyone with an internet connection.

For producers that want to sell their product more than once, there is copyright: it forbids me to, after I’ve bought a product, to sell it again. It is illegal to copy paste for me, but the producer of the original content is free to do so as many times as he likes. Sounds like a golden business, but it is based on fear. Fear to be prosecuted. However, there are always a few idiots (heros?) who try to challenge the law. Information is basically free: a logic consequence of the zero-marginal costs when copy-pasting. Any law dealing with information in the marketplace that fails to address that is a waste of paper: either it is impossible to execute, or it is needlessly repressive.

iTunes store logo

And I still pay for online information. In iTunes, I can download a song for one euro. I could of course download the same song using a torrten. However: I would have to wade through pages with unsollicited porn commercials before I can donwload anything. The ease of use that iTunes offers is worth more to me than the one euro that Apple charges me. So online providers of content: if the value that your content has to me, minus the cost of irritation that I incur for getting it, is higher than the price you ask, than I will buy your content. Happily. All you need to know is  what I value most and what  irritates me most. Finally: you shouldn’t mind that I give your information away for free. But if you made getting the information as easy as iTunes did, people will most likely come to you, not to me. And gladly pay you that one euro per song. 

There is other information that I am willing to pay for: information that does not exist yet! Like water-quality of river Rhine. I can not analyse those samples myself, so I pay for someone to do it for me. As with the iTunes store before: I am not paying for the actual information: I am paying for the cost of creating that information. As soon as I have that excel sheet with measurement values, I am going to share it with other scientists for free. Free since it costs me nothing to copy that excel sheet and the original cost to the producer have been covered by my initial payment. It would almost be unethical to not share te data for free when all costs have already been covered. So researchers: once you are done with your own research share your raw data!

Long story short: I do not pay for information. I pay for the reduction in effort when I do not have to gather information myself. And I am willing to pay good money for reduction of effort. Want to make a buck on me: make my life easy.

Therefore I state, as my 9th proposition:

Everything online is finders keepers, not founders keepers!

Thanks to economist Michel, political pirate Jorrit and information theory specialist Steven for all the discussion we had that lead to this proposition.


We sloten in mineur af. Na 3 uur interviews afgewisseld met videofragmenten concludeerde ik dat het voeden van 10 miljard mensen problemen oplevert. Die gaan nog groter worden. En we zien niet direct een oplossing. Zelfs als de wil er is, zijn de economische incentives zodanig dat verandering nog wel even op zich laat wachten.

Dinsdag 14 januari was ik de host en curator van TEDxDelft Cinema in Lumen. Ik had gekozen voor een zomergasten-achtige setting waarin ik prof. watermanagement Nick van de Giesen en economiedocent Michel Frijns interviewde over voedsel. We hebben het gehad over wat nou eigenlijk organisch of biologisch eten is, over de zin en onzin van lokaal geproduceerd eten, over de efficiency van de transportwereld, over externe kosten van vervuiling die niet in de voedselprijs zitten, over dat we makkelijk de wereldbevolking kunnen voeden met de huidige aarde, maar dan wel veranderingen zoals leeglopende rivieren moeten accepteren.

Hieronder staan, kort toegelicht,de video’s die we gedurende de avond hebben laten zien.  Lees de rest van dit artikel »

Een avond waar een professor watermanagement, een docent economie en een thuiskok met elkaar in gesprek gaan, afgewisseld met ludieke, schokkende,  informatieve stukken cinema. Klinkt leuk? Mooi, dat lijkt mij ook. Dus: 14 januari 2014 om 19.30 in filmhuis Lumen in Delft: TEDxDelftCinema, met als host/curator: ik!

Cupcakes (work in progress)

Mijn cupcakes (work in progress)

Want die thuiskok, dat ben ik. Een kant van me die ik niet vaak buiten de privé-sfeer etaleer. Behalve als ik taart moet meebrengen naar werk. Dan ga ik los. Bij de eindpresentaties van “meten aan water” had ik dus 50 cupcakes in 4 smaken mee.

TEDxDelftCinema is een avondvullend programma in filmhuis Lumen waar een curator de kans krijgt zijn visie/inspiratie te delen, gebruik makend van video fragmenten1. Toen Rob van TEDxDelft en Jerome van Lumen mij vroegen om een avond TEDxCinemaDelft te verzorgen was het onderwerp snel gekozen. In het nieuws hoor ik regelmatig over misstanden rond de productie van het voedsel waar ik zo van hou. Ik doe daar niets mee en sluit moedwillig mijn ogen. Daarom heb ik mijn vrienden Nick van de Giesen en Michel Frijns uitgenodigd om met mij op het podium plaats te nemen en te bespreken of er iets mis is in de voedselwereld, hoe dat komt en of we er iets aan kunnen doen. Het wordt een soort zomergasten, maar dan live in een bioscoop.

Dus 14 januari vanaf 19.302 staan Nick van de Giesen, Michel Frijns en ik in Lumen voor TEDxDelftCinema. Komt allen! info hier. Reserveren via 015 214 0226.

1 Aangezien dit onder de TED vlag gebeurt, zal een aanzienlijk deel van de videofragmenten TED materiaal zijn

2 tot ca. 23.00

from the Grand Theft Auto games: pisswasser

from the Grand Theft Auto games: pisswasser beer

Rockstar Games names its fictitious beer in GTA games “pisswasser” not knowing how appropriate this is for most Dutch beers. Pisswasser containing the piss of the Germans. Why? Because 37 percent of Dutch drinking water is filtered river water. The same river water that upstream countries (the Germans…) use to discharge their sewers into.

No wonder that we want to know what kinds of pollution are present in river water. When alarmingly high levels of heavy metals were found in river water in the 1970’s, water treatment practices had to be improved to filter heavy metals out of our drinking water. Recently, low levels of pharmaceuticals in river water were detected. Levels so low, that we do not need to worry for our drinking water safety. Yet…. It is a fair guess that the source of pharmaceutical pollution is discharge by humans: either by excreting, or by flushing un-used pills down the toilet. A fair guess is what scientists would call a hypothesis: an idea to be tested.

Today an article that I wrote1 is published in which that idea is tested: is pollution of river water with pharmaceuticals caused by humans excreting or flushing down pills? Conclusion: yes it is. For 20 out of our 42 tested pharmaceuticals we were able to link specific pharmaceuticals to specific demographic groups. For example: Carbamazpine is best explained by the number of male elderly.

The best field work ever

The best fieldwork ever

The best field work ever

The best fieldwork ever

In the best fieldwork ever, Nick, Stijn, Jop and I drove all the way from the source of the Rhine to the Dutch-German border, stopping every 30-ish kilometer to take a water quality sample. Corine tested the samples for traces of 42 different chemicals. I downloaded the height map of Europe from Hydrosheds and the demographic data per municipality from Eurostat. By combining height- and demographic- data sources I calculated how many people, divided by sex, age and nationality, live upstream of each sampling point. Finally I combined our fieldwork results with the downloaded data to link specific pharmaceuticals to specific demographic groups.

And that is how I found out that Jopen beerthe best beer in the world – being brewed here in my hometown, uses German pisswasser. Because the demographic group that explained the occurrence of pissing-pill Hydrochlorothiazide best proved to be “the Germans”.

Luckily, the Germans treat their sewer discharge in water treatment plants before dumping it in rivers. Dutch drinking water companies filter and purify river water before delivering it to our taps. And the Jopen brewery applies a final osmosis filter before brewing the best beer in the world. Result: pisswasser. Very clean, super tasty pisswasser.


1together with my co-authors Nick van de Giesen and Corine J. Houtman.

Further notes:

The results must be interpreted with care: correlation is no causation. The best predictor for sleeping drug oxazepam is the presence of girls under 15 years of age. Oxazepam is hardly ever prescribed to young children. But we can learn this from our results: the presence of young girls in a region does increase the local consumption of sleeping drug Oxazepam.

For the 22 pharmaceuticals for which we could not identify a dominant demographic group we must conclude that either: our dataset was not rich enough to identify the dominant group, or human consumption is not the main source of pollution. Diazepam, another sleeping drug, showed a spike in measured concentrations somewhere after Basel, just before Strasbourg. This is typical of point source pollutions and can not be explained by only looking at human population.

Finally, I’d like to repeat the acknowledgements from our article: We like to thank Stijn de Jong and Jop Jansen of Delft University of Technology for preparing and taking part in the fieldwork trip. We like to thank Laurene Bouaziz and Wouter Berghuijs of Delft University of Technology for their help in collecting the online discharge data for this research. We like to thank Olivier Hoes of Delft University of Technology for his help with the GIS-analyses. Finally, we would also like to thank Scott Tyler of the University of Nevada, Reno, for coining the phrase ‘medicinal footprint’.