30/01/2007

ROGER WATERS CONCERT REVIEW

Last night was a magical evening. Roger Waters' show at North Harbour Stadium was one of th emost impressive shows I've ever seen. It was equally as impressive as November's U2 gig if Waters himself didn't make as good a frontman as Bono.

My review of the Roger Waters gig for the Herald is here.

While I consider myself a diehard Floyd/Waters fan, there are plenty out there even more in love with the music than me as feedback to the Herald review has revealed. Take the slightly disturbing view of Herald reader Peter Wright who wrote to me via email:

Just some thoughts on your review of Roger Waters!

"...even the supreme guitar playing of Andy Fairweather-Low couldn't save Leaving Beirut..." How dare you criticise a new song, just because you don't have the intelligence to enjoy it or understand it. What you call 'meandering' Water's calls 'feeling' or 'empathy'. I have listened to this song for about six months since it first was played in Europe last year in it's new form. And prior to that in it's original longer form with narration, it was quite moving. If you know anything about Roger Waters' music, it is that it grows on you over time as you appreciate the depth to it. Maybe you grew up on popcorn and the Spice Girls. Either way you are the wrong person to write reviews. "In fact, if there was any weakness in Waters' show, it was the lack of new material." I can't believe your review criticises his new material, then complains about a lack of it. Why bother playing any new material when people like yourself have 'Walls' around them and can't enjoy it. Or are living in the past and only want to hear 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. Thankfully his true fans can enjoy all of his music and celebrate in his genius. If you want to widen your musical horizon and enjoy his new material check out the opera 'Ca Ira' or listen to it at www.roger-waters.com. It is truly outstanding! Have a great day Peter! Oh, by the way, have you bought any Abba albums lately? Give them a listen, you might enjoy them! They are probably more your style.

25/01/2007

MICROSOFT, BROADBAND AND ME ON TV

Good bag of feedback to today's Webwalk column which was in turn based on the deluge of feedback to the last story I wrote about broadband. The horror stories keep pouring in. Microsoft's response to Peter Gutmann's criticisms of the DRM features of Windows Vista, is the subject of this Herald story I wrote in today's paper.

FEEDBACK TO THE MICROSOFT STORY:
T Bridges writes:
Seems as though this article further edifies the current Mac OS 10.4 and the up-coming 10.5 as far superior operating systems. Seems as though Vista is yet just another buggy, inferior OS.If you have used Mac OS 10.4 yourself, you would conclude it is far superior technically and aesthetically to Windows XP, and gathering from what I've seen and read thus far, Mac OS 10.5 is simply gonna blow Vista out of the water, even Microsoft have clearly have attempted to (poorly) imitate features of MAc OS 10.5 in Vista

And finally, here I am on ASB Business for the first time, talking about a silly decision by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission to float the idea that consumers who do not protect themselves online with a minimum level of security software, should be liable if their money is swiped in a phishing scam. It sounds like the worst idea ever and even the NAB and Commonweath Bank and the Australian Bankers Association has already come out and said they don't intend to follow through on it.

Anyway, was worth getting out of bed early to discuss it...

Peter Griffin: Fibre's needed in our backbone, not lowly copper
Thursday January 25, 2007By Peter Griffin
Peter Griffin
The news media are often a good gauge of public opinion - and a sounding board for what's really annoying people.

In the past that has been everything from bank fees and leaky buildings to high petrol prices and crazy waterfront stadium schemes.

But if the stream of messages sent to the Herald by readers these days is anything to go by, slow and unreliable broadband is the current bugbear of the masses.

On an almost daily basis I personally receive broadband horror stories from readers. The pattern is familiar: a user upgrades from dial-up to broadband to free up the phone line and surf the web faster. The promised speeds aren't delivered, so the customer complains, receives shocking customer service and gets angry and distrustful of broadband providers.
Take the case of Sione Tu'akoi:

"Three weeks ago we decided to move our internet from Clearnet dial-up and signed up with Xtra broadband. To our horror the Xtra broadband speed is slower than Clearnet dialup connection," he wrote.

Despite complaining, speed testing his line and sending the results to the Xtra experts, Sione hasn't heard a bean back from them - and he's furious.
Ian Mead owns a computer business and says he is well able to identify with what he calls "Telecom's wholesale failure to deliver".

"My customers frequently complain that, to them, it seems they are being pushed from dialup to ADSL and receiving heftier bills for a similar service which is not what broadband is supposed to be."

Others are angry that the speed at which you can upload data to the internet is limited on many plans offered by internet providers, to 128Kbps. That makes sending large files a tediously slow process and is a problem for many small businesses who are increasingly exchanging documents and photographs online.

Many factors influence what broadband connection speeds you get and it is not always Telecom's fault if the pipe isn't delivering what was promised.
But enough dissatisfaction has been voiced since Telecom and its competitors dramatically increased maximum download speeds last year to suggest there's a gap between the promise of broadband and what is being delivered.

As a result, the internet industry risks alienating customers, just as they expect them to start paying more for web access.

Telecom's competitors are itching to take advantage of local loop unbundling to take business off Telecom.

"The year will bring early access to Telecom's copper and the ability to provide a truly differentiated offer to consumers," iHug boss Mark Rushworth told the Herald last week.
But will these different services mean better services, and more specifically, better and more reliable download speeds?

No, says a former Telecom engineering consultant, who spent 10 years working for the company but does not wish to be identified.
"ADSL was developed in the US by Bell Labs, in the mid 1990s, as an interim measure before the telcos needed to install optic fibre cable to all subscribers," he said.

"The telcos here and overseas found they could make a quick buck from the perception, by the customer, that they were getting a high-speed internet connection."
In other words, as long as we're relying on Telecom's copper wires, we're going to be a frustrated bunch of web surfers.

No national residential fibre network has ever been laid by Telecom and while TelstraClear installed a hybrid fibre cable network in parts of Wellington and Christchurch, it was thwarted in reaching the Auckland market when its plans to string overhead fibre cables through the suburbs met with resistance in 2002.

Laying fibre now isn't out of the question, but it's so expensive to do that no telco, Telecom included, would approach such a project with enthusiasm.

The former Telecom consultant for one thinks wireless technologies such as WiMAX, a faster and longer-range alternative to Wi-Fi hotspots, are the only hope. Internet providers like CallPlus, Woosh and NZWireless agree. They're all using WiMAX and envisage it offering an alternative to Telecom's copper wire network. TelstraClear has spent upwards of $50 million building a wireless network in Tauranga with similar aims.

Industry analysts have long pointed out that the inherent delay or "latency" in wireless transmission will never make it an effective technology to deliver demanding services such as high-quality internet telephony, internet TV services, video on demand and real-time gaming.
This year will see two different approaches from internet providers as some focus on making the best of Telecom's copper while others look for alternatives in new technology.
Serious money and market share is at stake.

In the meantime, keep on the case of your ISP if your broadband is flaky. Arm yourself with the results of your speed tests and get used to that on-hold music. At least you can take comfort in the fact that many others are doing exactly the same.

FEEDBACK:
Andrew wrote:
Liked the story on the need for fibre. Apart from all the general lack of service and support, xtra are also cheating on their usage agreement. The go large traffic management policy says "So if you are using the Go Large plan and run peer-to-peer applications during busy periods, we may manage the peer-to-peer and other 'non sensitive' traffic to limit the congestion it causes for other users." which appears to be a load of bollocks (unless you consider http & ftp traffic to be non sensitive). It appears that whenever their traffic shaper detects any p2p connection, even at low speed (I tried with mine throttled to 1kbs) it lowers the bandwidth for the entire connection. See
2-viewtopic-t-451.phtml
for a few others experiencing the same thing.

23/01/2007

WIRELESS HDMI = LESS WIRES IN THE LOUNGE

Posted below is my most recent Herald on Sunday column about the wireless HDMI Philips was showing off at CES earlier this month. The article didn't appear on the Herald website - maybe something to do with the new position of my column in the paper. Hot Technology has become Tomorrow's World and will take on more of a Sci/Tech look and feel rather than straight gadgetry...

Also, see my Herald story about the Mobile WiMAX devices that were on show at CES ahead of Sprint's launch of these types of services in the US.

Finally, an article I wrote for the Weekend Herald about the state of broadband in New Zealand - I've had a huge number of responses to this story and will be doing a follow up based on them in the next week...

TOMORROW’S WORLD

by Peter Griffin

A couple of things were glaringly obvious at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month – flat screen TVs are getting bigger and better quality and high-definition content is no passing fad.

But those who buy LCD or plasma screen TVs and high-definition disc players in the next year to enjoy better picture and sound quality are going to come up against one annoying reality – even more cables cluttering your lounge.

Newer flat-screen TVs, home cinema projectors, computers and video game consoles come with HDMI (high definition multimedia interface) connections which ensure the best quality signal is transferred from your player of choice to your TV screen.

The cables are generally thicker than the composite cables that connect most DVD players and Playstation 2 consoles to TVs. If you have several high-definition devices, you may have two or more HDMI cables snaking into the back of your TV. It looks pretty ugly.

But Dutch electronics maker Philips has come up with a way around that. At CES it showed a wireless HDMI system. It consists of two small boxes – one plugs into your DVD player, the other into your high-definition TV. Using ultra wideband frequency, the content is beamed through the air – no cables needed, at a range of up to 25 feet. The other can be tucked in behind your TV set. The best thing about it is that there’s no degradation of the high-definition signal sent wirelessly. Philips says the wireless system is capable of shifting 1080p high-definition video, which is the highest quality level supported by this new wave of flat-screen TV screens.

You don’t have to use a Philips TV to make it work – the wireless system will work with any HDMI-capable devices. As Sky TV takes its new set-top boxes high-definition and HD-DVD and Blu-ray recorders become more widely available, these little rectangular HDMI connectors are going to appear in numbers in your living room – the equivalent of the computer USB slot.

And while there are often slight delays associated with wireless technologies, Philips claims any delay is unnoticeable with its system. Certainly, the demonstration at CES was impressive. Philips wireless HDMI is also compatible with the high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) system many TV makers are supporting to prevent movie piracy. Other companies including Asus and Tzero are also getting into wireless HDMI, which looks to be the new standard for home theatre systems without all the wires. The wireless HDMI devices are likely to go on sale in May for around US$300.

petergnz@gmail.com

TV IN A FLASH

USB flash drives are so common that companies give them away like promotional pens these days. But it’s amazing how useful they are. You can use them to shift digital files between computers. Some of them even act as music players. Now USB-maker SanDisk is taking it a step further with USB TV. Drag video files on your computer onto the USB TV and then connect it to your TV with a simple dock, letting you play the video back on your TV screen. No DVD player, cables or additional hardware needed.

www.usbtv.org

A CHANCE TO SHINE

If one phone unveiled at CES managed to drag some attention away from Apple’s crowd-magnet, the iPhone, it was LG’s Shine – a pretty new phone that turns into a mirror when it’s in standby mode. It’s a sleek silver device that like the first generation of Motorola RAZR, isn’t the best featured phone around but wins most of its points for looks. There’s a two megapixel camera, Bluetooth and a music player. But watch as that screen clouds to become a mirror. Perfect for retouching your make-up.

www.lg.com

THE WEB AT A SNIP

It combines elements of Web 2.0 darlings MySpace, Del.icio.us, Flickr, but you’re unlikely to have heard of Esnips.com, a website that combines social networking with online storage. At Esnips you are given for free, one gigabyte of storage to host digital content you want to share with others. Upload movies, photos, documents, anything you want and make them available to a select few or the general public. You can comment on the media posted, subscribe to new updates via RSS and with 1.2 million Esnip users, come across likeminded web surfers.

www.esnips.com

17/01/2007

THE FRENCH DO ATOM HEART MOTHER

If you're a Pink Floyd fan you'll be interested in this 35 minute video of a bunch of talented French musicians, dancers and choir singers performing the band's 1969 class ic Atom Heart Mother in its entirety. Atom Heart Mother is one of the more obscure and overlooked Floyd albums. It transitioned the band from the psychedelia and pop of Piper at the Gates of Dawn and A Saucerful of Secrets to Meddle the album that with One of these Days and Echoes showed the way forward for the Roger Waters-dominated group.

The video is very well put together and features some excellent musicianship and performance. It's a great shame that the Floyd never filmed Atom Heart Mother. It's an unusual piece of music and the band have largely disowned the album, but it definitely deserves its place in the back catalogue as an important work that paved the way to Dark Side of the Moon.

Also of interest is the Abbey Road series of concerts that features the Floyd's David Gilmour performing tracks from his great new album On An Island. The shows kick off next month, being shown on Channel 4's More4 channel in the UK. We might be able to catch it streamed on the website. Check out Live At Abbey Road for info about the series which also features live recordings from the likes of Dave Matthews and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

I recently managed to get hold of a copy of some circa 1970 recordings of the Floyd performing Echoes during some John Peel sessions. The recordings are amazing. You'll find them out there in the world of torrents...

Also...any Floyd fan needs to add Brain Damage to their favourites. It's the best source of FLoyd-related news on the web and the redesigned site looks great. Only a couple of weeks till the Roger Waters concert and Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety... I can't wait.

15/01/2007

Don McGlashan's Warm Hand

Heading back from the US for the fourth time in as many months, I sat back and listened on Air New Zealand's in-flight entertainment system to Don McGlashan's magical solo album Warm Hand. I was never a huge fan of the Mutton Birds, though Anchor Me and their cover of Nature have to go down among the best songs to come out of NZ.

My favourite McGlashan material is the stuff from The Front Lawn albums. If you grew up in Auckland, songs like Andy will have particular resonance. I've listened to Warm Hand several times and I have to agree with my Herald boss Russell Baillie, the Time Out editor who suggested it was "underfed" and that the definitive McGlashan solo album is still a chapter away.

Still, Warm Hand has three brilliant songs - opener This Is London, the glorious Miracle Sun (though why Don didn't reprise the fantastic chorus for a anthematic ending is puzzling). That song incidentally seems to have evolved from the theme music to that great NZ Post ad, which Don must have penned in his other guise as hardworking session and soundtrack musician. The album highlight however is Toy Factory Fire. It's about a devastating fire in a Bangkok in May, 1993 and tells the story of the New York PR man who helped cover up the shocking details of what happened in the sweatshop factory.

As the PR man, working late, looks at the photos of the fire's aftermath he managed to keep from the press, he reflects on the nature of his job:

I look at the photographs once more in the Manhattan sunset
The same light falls on the one of my wife and my kids
Then I put them back in the file
Permit myself a smile
Keeping them hidden was the best work I ever did

‘Cause people like us, we do make the world better
And if it's better for us, it's better for everyone
I open the window to the rush hour sirens on West Street
I see the Power and the Glory all over this town
All over this town...

NZ'S WEB 2.0 PROMISE

So, were Google's mega-rich bosses holidaying in New Zealand or do the world's wealthy just make a habit of lending each other their private jets? Whatever the case, they didn't appear to visit Eurekster in Christchurch.

The year appears to have got off to a good start for NZ tech companies if the latest reports ring true - Christchurch video email provider, Springdoo is reported to have done a deal to buy into a UK company that will list on the AIM exchange. OpenCloud secured $15 million in funding and Right Hemisphere seems to have struck a lucrative deal with Indian software developer Tata.

Springadoo sounds interesting...

"Springdoo intends to do for email, what MP3’s did for music," according to its website. I don't know much about them, but they are funded by the people behind Cookie Time, in particular Michael Mayell, who is a director of the company.

Late last year I did a story on Guy Pope-Mayell, which never made it onto the Herald website for some reason. I've republished it below. Guy is a great guy, full of energy and a real advocate for much needed change in the way dyslexia is approached in this country. Springadoo will be worth keeping an eye on...

My Weekend Herald piece looking at some of our companies unlocking the potential of Web 2.0

UNLOCKING THE MIND'S POTENTIAL

by Peter Griffin

It was an executive retreat with a difference – instead of paperwork and Powerpoint presentations there was clay, lots of clay.

Christchurch-based cookie-maker Cookie Time is known throughout the country for its big chocolate chip cookies.

But it has also been home to a management experiment that’s seen founder and managing director Guy Pope-Mayell put his senior executives through a course designed for people with dyslexia.

“It was a group of executives stepping outside their comfort zone,” said Pope-Mayell, who in April took his top people away for four days of unorthodox training.

“They got a huge amount out of it and it helped me gain an insight into how these strategies are equally applicable to a non-dyslexic individual.”

The techniques of Ron Davis, a dyslexic American who learnt techniques to cope with his disability and now designs learning materials for dyslexic children, formed the basis of the course.

Pope-Mayell’s children – 10 year-old Shey and 14 year-old Elijah, are both dyslexic and it was during a course run by Davis in Auckland two years ago that his wife Suzanne was able to confirm that she too was dyslexic.

“Dyslexia is seen as something complicated, which you can’t do anything about,” said Pope-Mayell.

The Davis techniques however, are remarkable for their simplicity. Dyslexics are “picture thinkers”, often struggling to deal with written language, something that can prove a real problem in the business world.

On the other hand, the ability of dyslexics to bring a different perspective to a problem or challenge makes them a huge asset as employees – if colleagues attempt to understand their disability. In Pope-Mayell’s experiment, melding objects out of clay allowed his executives to explore business concepts in more tangible ways.

“We made a clay model of a ball and then a ball that had been squashed flat. Then we put a clay arrow between the two.”

The concept was change management. Time management was another concept explored using clay.

“When you understand what time is, something rooted in the fact we are a planet revolving around the sun, you begin to understand why you’re having difficulty managing time,” he said.

Five months on, Pope-Mayell says Cookie Time is still counting the benefits of the executive retreat.

“I’m not joining the dots but since April, it’s been the most creative and productive time in Cookie Time’s life.”

He estimates that 20 per cent of Cookie Time’s 80 staff is dyslexic to some degree.

“I can tell through their behaviour and avoidance strategies that emerge,” he said.

It meant some staff preferred talking on the phone to communicating via email, offering input at meets rather than in reports, something Pope-Mayell is happy to accommodate.

Studies suggest 7 – 10 per cent of the population is dyslexic, though few companies implement policies to help dyslexic employees maximize their potential.

“There’s also a lot of money to be saved in recognizing your staff is dyslexic.”

Pope-Mayell said he knew several chief executives of large, successful New Zealand companies who were dyslexic.

“They’re supported by personal assistants and senior managers. They’re passionate, visionary and really know how to empower people.”

While designing leadership courses for high-flying executives based on the techniques taught to Cookie Time’s executives could spawn a research field and lucrative line of business in itself, Pope-Mayell has no plans to expand on the experiment.

He said he’s more interested in the “big picture” issues around this hidden disability, such as making sure that dyslexia is picked up in kids early and that they’re taught coping techniques to minimize its impact.

As managing trustee of the Cookie Munchers Charitable Trust, Pope-Mayell, was constantly receiving letters from parents describing the toll dyslexia takes on their children’s confidence and self-esteem.

“The pain is huge. Kids are so anxious about going to school they’re waking up in the middle of the night and vomiting.”

For Shey, who has been completing Davis programmes for two years now, the frustration and self-doubt is receding.

“He realizes he has a dyslexic mind. We’re very much out the other end now.”

THE MAD BUTCHER ON HIS DYSLEXIA...

Some of the most inventive and commercially savvy minds the world has ever seen were also dyslexic minds.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and IBM-founder Thomas Watson all had the disability but the dsylexic’s visionary mindset as well.

Local business luminaries who are dyslexic include bungy jumping pioneer and tourism entrepreneur A.J. Hackett, Five-time Oscar-winner and Weta Workshop boss Richard Taylor and “Mad Butcher” Peter Leitch


The rugby league fanatic who owns a nationwide chain of 35 butcher shops didn’t realize he was dyslexic until after he was married.

“When I was at school they didn’t know about dyslexia. When you’re born with it, you think it’s normal,” he said.

He doesn’t dwell on his dyslexia, “otherwise, you’d get nothing done”.


“I get things around the wrong way. I’ll ring the wrong number, I’ll say the wrong thing, ‘shut the door’ instead of ‘open the door,’” said Leitch.


“And I don’t have a lot of faith in my spelling. I don’t get into big letters to people. But the email has helped my spelling.”


Leitch had never given much thought to whether his dyslexia influenced the way he’s gone about building his business.


“I’m not a great business man. If I was I’d be as rich as Tindall. I’ve a passion for people, I love serving people. I’m just a hard worker.”


As for the stigma often associated with dyslexia, Leitch said he’d never experienced it.


“Quite frankly, I don’t give a f*** what you or others think. I’m bullet proof that way.”


Dyslexic business people often adapt their work routines to avoid dealing with large amounts of written information.


Virgin founder and billionaire Richard Branson prefers conference calls and hand-written notes to email and typed memos, a result of his dyslexia.


Cisco chief executive John Chambers’ dyslexia makes him a “voice person” happier to leave 40 to 50 voicemails on people’s phones each day rather than compose written messages.


Another dyslexic, billionaire telecommunications magnate Craig McCaw was able to bluntly sum up the polar-opposite effects dyslexia has on people’s lives.


“People are either defeated by dyslexia or they become much more tenacious.”


Leitch said he was thankful he hadn’t been stuck with a more debilitating condition.


“As much as it’s a disease or illness, the great thing is you won’t die from it. I’d rather have it than have cancer.”


TELECOM'S NEW YEAR PRESENT

Surprise, surprise... Telecom has once again greeted the New Year with price increases, this time a $1.85 line rental increase for many people. The cost of calling 018 from a mobile will be bumped up to 75c per call.

Telecom has for years raised its prices early in the New Year in line with CPI increases. Normally the announcement drops much earlier in the year, in the hope that news of the increased charges will be lost in the mix of stories about the summer road toll and New Year rowdiness at Whagamata etc.

What it says to me is that 2007 is a good year to start looking seriously at VoIP. Use Skype to call long distance - get all your friends around the country and overseas onto it - you'll all save money and it's easy enough for my mum to operate so the bar is set very low (no offence mum).

When I was in the US, I looked at the premium-based VoIP service, Vonage. It's very good in that it takes any of the complexity out of making VoIP calls and is competitively priced. We have our own less-mature services from the likes of WorldXChange and Slingshot. They're worth checking out if you have your broadband business with those providers or are looking to change operator. I'm going to make it my priority this year to try and inform readers how best to unplug from Telecom completely. I hope some new and improved offerings from Telecom's competitors makes my job easier.

As for the extortionate 75c charge for calling Telecom on your mobile, I haven't done the figures, but I'd say it's almost cheaper now to connect to www.whotepages.co.nz on the web browser of your phone and searching the listings than it is to call directory.

14/01/2007

CES: OVER ALL THOUGHTS

I'm in Seattle, relaxing at the airport before my flight to San Francisco then on to Auckland.
I've been using T-Mobile wi-fi hotspots to stay online during my time in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Seattle and I must say, I'm impressed.

Also, I just did a speedtest from Seattle to Auckland for Juha at Geekzone and the results were reasonable. As Juha points out, downloading from Auckland to Seattle is slower than uploading from Seattle to Auckland due to the asynchronous nature of the internet connections between the US and our part of the world. We're at a disadvantage when it comes to getting content out quickly which means we will likely never host a Youtube.com type service. We can host our services in the US with relative ease and at low cost, but we are in less control of it, which is a concern.

Seattle is blanketed in snow and as I sit here I'm able to reflect on what a fantastic show CES was - the best tech showcase I've ever experienced. All that we've been promised for years is finally coming together in terms of the interconnected digital experience.

Here's my Herald story outlining some, but only some of the highlights...

Size Matters in Flat-screen World

By Peter Griffin

LAS VEGAS - Amid the chaos of the world’s biggest electronics show they displayed images of utter calm – stunning shots of the earth taken from space and luxurious aerial footage of New Zealand’s Southern alps. What better way to sell the latest in high definition, flat-screen TVs to the world?

The big picture

Those flat-screen TVs increasingly sit at the centre of the high-definition world all of the vendors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas were touting this week.

High definition games, movies and TV shows are no use unless you have a high-definition screen to display them.

But the screens have remained at price points, that even with the steep discounting of the last two years, have remained out of reach of most consumers.

Global demand for plasma and LCD screens is estimated to grow by 52 per cent this year with prices falling further. CES saw the likes of Panasonic, Sony and LG tout wider ranges of LCD and plasma screens at full high definition (1080p) and with new technologies built into them to make the images more life-like.

The TV makers tried to outdo each other by showing off the largest flat-screen TVs available. Sharp won out with its 108 inch LCD screen.

At the same time new screen technologies threaten to displace the current ones. Sony showed off an OLED (organ light emitting diode) TV, which boasts a better picture than many of its LCD counterparts.

Windows of opportunity

The unveiling of the Apple iPhone at Apple’s own MacWorld show in San Francisco arguably stole CES’s thunder, but Microsoft made a big impact touting the features of its new operating system Vista, which was voted best new product by the influential tech new website CNet.

Vista goes on sale here at the end of the month, starting at $259 for an upgrade from Windows XP to Vista Home Basic, through to $979 for a new version of Vista Ultimate. Microsoft was at pains to point out the value in Vista for everyone from casual consumers to demanding business users. Vista’s new user interface and improved security are its biggest improvements over Windows XP, but new additions such as Windows Home Server, which allows consumers to store all their digital content on a media hub they can access from anywhere via the internet, is designed to make a shift to Vista more attractive.

Elsewhere, Microsoft sought to make its Xbox 360 gaming console the focus in the living room, with an internet TV service that allows users to stream pay TV stations to their Xbox 360s, instead of using a set-top box from a pay TV operator.

IPTV requires a high-speed internet connection to operate. With an abundance of cable and fibre connections to homes in the US, speed isn’t an issue. But with most New Zealanders connecting at slower speeds over copper lines, IPTV is also likely to get off to a slower start here until broadband services improve.

A high-definition truce

The voice of reason cut through the crowded halls of CES on Monday when Korean electronics maker LG introduced a new disc player that supports the two main rival standards for high-definition content – Blu-ray and HD-DVD.

While the dual-format player carries a hefty price premium at US$1200 and has a number of technical limitations, it’s seen as a progressive move for consumers who are holding off buying high-definition players and discs until a winner emerges in the latest format war. If LG gets its way, that battle for supremacy among consumer electronics brands such as Sony and Toshiba, will be made irrelevant.

There’s even mounting support for the idea from the usually reticent entertainment industry. Warner Bros proposed a new disc format called Total HD, incorporating both high definition formats, which allow several times the capacity of a DVD to be held on one disc and movies to be displayed with better picture quality.

Locked in

Hollywood’s growing presence at CES – producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney president Robert Iger were among this year’s presenters – indicates the importance the entertainment industry is placing on the technology used to distribute its content, but digital rights management (DRM) issues could serve to derail the seamless digital integration the tech sector is striving for.

Apple with its hugely popular iPod and iTunes software, uses a proprietary copyright protection system to prevent music downloaded from the iTunes.com music store being shifted onto non-Apple devices. With the launch of Apple TV, a digital hub for media content in the lounge and the iPhone, critics suggest Apple’s adherence to a closed DRM system will hinder consumers not happy to exist solely in the Apple world. Microsoft, the other main user of DRM technology is following the same route as Apple with its Zune music player, which will carry your music collection, but won’t play music bought from Apple and only connects to Microsoft’s own Zune Marketplace music store.

With content now well and truly king, consumers are in danger of having the promise of the digital living room spoiled by incompatible DRM formats that prevent them from freely moving their content between devices.

Peter Griffin attended CES as a guest of Microsoft

My Herald on Sunday column on Windows Home Server...

HOT TECHNOLOGY: A DIGITAL HUB FOR THE HOME

by Peter Griffin

Not many things have changed in Las Vegas since my last visit a couple of years ago. The San Remo Hotel has renamed itself Hooters and hired bustier waitresses and Steve Wynn’s golf course is finally finished. But as the Las Vegas-resident illusionist Jillette Pen (of Penn &Teller) points out every night during his show - the city’s greatest asset is still the bad mathematics skills of its millions of visitors. They keep on coming. So do the tech heads and computer companies, drawn each year to the Consumer Electronics Show, which is now in its 30th year. To celebrate the milestone, the CES organisers dug out some photos from the first CES show held in 1967 in New York. They show a group of middle-aged suited men standing around a Hitachi computer the size of an ATM. How things have changed. The gadgets are smaller and smarter than ever, if not cheaper.

If there was any theme at CES this year, it was that the convergence of digital devices that’s been promised for so long, is finally happening at a level that consumers can relate to. Everywhere I looked at CES, companies were showing off new devices that gather together all of your digital content in the home then serve it up to your mobile devices or to other locations via the internet.

A good example is the debut of Microsoft’s Windows Home Server, new software that lets you back-up and store all of your digital media in one place and access it via a web browser when you’re away from home.

I’ve been doing this for years in a rudimentary sense using an FTP (file transfer protocol) server to store all my valuable files online. All I need to access them is an internet connection and a web brower.

Windows Home Server extends this concept to home computer users and importantly, makes it easy to us.

It’s designed for houses with multiple PCs, Xbox 360 consoles and digital cameras who want to share the documents photos, music and video on those computers and avoid losing any of it if one of the machines fails.

Rather than replicating the features of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Vista, Home Server is based on the Windows Server 2003 platform, which is generally used by businesses to share files across their networks.

Home Server sets up separate accounts for everyone in the family and organises folders of their files on an external storage device, separate to your computer. Several manufacturers are climbing onboard as hardware providers. The most prominent one at CES was Hewlett Packard with its MediaSmart Server, which has bays for including the hard drives to hold your digital content and software tools to help you organize and access it.

The idea with this HP box is that you hide it out of sight in a closet. It’s a computer, but there’s no screen, no keyboard. It sits there, connected to your network router via an Ethernet cable and on a daily basis backs up the entire contents of your computers.

Using an interface called Windows Home Server Console, you can log onto the server to view the files and control access to them. If you have files on your Xbox 360 console, on a new Vista machine or any device that supports the Windows Media Connect standard, you can access the content on those devices. It means you could play video on your computer in the bedroom that’s stored on the Xbox 360 in the lounge.

That’s all great for the home, but one of the most useful features of Home Server will be used away from the house. Remote Connect lets you log into the server remotely, via a secure web browser connection. It’s a bit like logging into your web mail account where you may already store files.

Microsoft says it will offer on Windows Live, free web domains for Home Server users so, they have an address on the web they can surf to and log into their home network. With all this digital content now at our fingertips, security and access restrictions will be crucial but the benefits are potentially great for those families with big digital content collections.

COOL NEW STUFF – THE BEST OF CES

SHARP 108 INCH LCD

The biggest spectacle at CES, literally, was Sharp’s new 108 inch LCD TV set. The thing is massive, as big as a queen-sized bed, and delivers a pretty good quality picture too. It’s debut came as two other TV makers – Panasonic and LG, debuted large plasma screen TVs. Panasonic’s 103 inch plasma sells for US$70,000, while LG’s 71-inch plasma will sell for around US$15,000. Sharp’s LCD monster hasn’t yet had a price tag put on it, but the screen can display full high-definition video (1080p) so will be able to feature all those new HD movies in all their pixel-perfect glory.

www.sharp.com

SANDISK SANSA CONNECT

It doesn’t quite have the sex appeal of Apple’s new iPhone, but SanDisk’s new wireless music player threatens to take a bite out of its other major rival – Microsoft’s Zune. The Sansa Connect follows the Zune in providing built-in Wi-Fi networking which allows users to connect to online music stores to download music and to listen to internet radio stations. Sansa Connect will be internet-ready wherever there’s Wi-Fi coverage. There’s also a strong community aspect to the device, with an online marketplace allowing users to trade music recommendations. The Sansa View is a new media player with a four inch colour screen and eight gigabytes of built-in storage. It signal’s SanDisk’s debut in the portable video player market.

Price: US$250 (4GB version)

www.sandisk.com

NOKIA N800

Nokia’s new internet tablet device would look pretty unremarkable where it not for the fact that the Finnish mobile phone maker has joined forces with Skype – the leading free internet calling provider. This is a serious move for Nokia, which makes its bread and butter selling phones to mobile network operators who view Skype as the arch enemy. The Nokia N800 is a compact, wide-screen device with a high-resolution colour screen that allows you to access the internet, use instant messaging and make internet phone calls – all at the same time if you wish. There’s Wi-Fi for connecting to wireless networks and Bluetooth to link with other devices. 128MB of onboard memory can be supplemented by SD memory cards. The N800 runs on the Linux operating system and the Skype client which will be used to make make free internet calls will debut early this year.

Price: 399 (euros)

www.nokia.com

HP TOUCHSMART

A good number of computers debuted at CES, but the most impressive in my opinion was the HP TouchSmart IQ770, which features a touch screen that lets you navigate your media collection by tapping on the screen rather than a keyboard. The TouchSmart runs on the new Windows Vista operating system and has a 19 inch screen which can display an electronic notepad and calendar for the family to keep track of each other. There’s a wireless keyboard and a compartment at the rear to slot in a compact HP PhotoSmart photo printer, with the photos shooting out the front of the computer. With two dual-core AMD Turion 64 processors and 2GB of memory, the TouchSmart is also incredibly powerful. There’s also a 320GB hard drive for media storage, multi-format DVD burner and a TV tuner for recording live TV.

Price:US$1799

www.hp.com

LG BLU-RAY & HD-DVD DRIVE

Korea electronics maker LG stole the early part of the CES show with the BH100, a disc player that will play both Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs. In doing so, it effectively makes the high-definition media format war irrelevant before it even begins. But it’s not that simple. For one thing, the BH100 is incredibly expensive and has to make compromises to accommodate both formats. The biggest sacrifice is regular CD playback. It also won’t support the interactive functions of HD-DVD discs, but adds interactive functions for Blu-ray discs. So the BH-100 is a mixed bag, but all credit to LG for making the bold move of delivering a combo drive, the type of which will save consumers major headaches when it has been somewhat refined.

Price: US$1200

www.lg.com

11/01/2007

STEVE JOBS: BOLD OR RECKLESS?

This release just arrived in my Inbox from Cisco. It was clear that Apple hadn't nailed down a deal with Cisco when Steve Jobs walked onto the stage at Mac World in San Francisco yesterday. But most people expected that he must have made some informal agreement with John Chambers that would be followed up with a formal contract. It seems not, and the name of the coolest new gadget of 2007 looks set to be decided by lawyers...

Cisco Sues Apple for Trademark Infringement
Suit Filed to Protect Cisco’s iPhone® Trademark
SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Cisco® (NASDAQ:CSCO) today announced that it has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California against Apple, Inc., seeking to prevent Apple from infringing upon and deliberately copying and using Cisco’s registered iPhone trademark.

Cisco obtained the iPhone trademark in 2000 after completing the acquisition of Infogear, which previously owned the mark and sold iPhone products for several years. Infogear’s original filing for the trademark dates to March 20, 1996. Linksys, a division of Cisco, has been shipping a new family of iPhone products since early last year. On Dec. 18, Linksys expanded the iPhone® family with additional products.

“Cisco entered into negotiations with Apple in good faith after Apple repeatedly asked permission to use Cisco’s iPhone name,” said Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel, Cisco. “There is no doubt that Apple’s new phone is very exciting, but they should not be using our trademark without our permission.

“Today’s iPhone is not tomorrow’s iPhone. The potential for convergence of the home phone, cell phone, work phone and PC is limitless, which is why it is so important for us to protect our brand,” Chandler concluded.

With its lawsuit, Cisco is seeking injunctive relief to prevent Apple from copying Cisco’s iPhone trademark. For more information on the Cisco iPhone product line, please visit
www.linksys.com/iphone
.

FULL WINDOWS VISTA PRICING

Microsoft's New Zealand pricing for Vista has been released and is outlined below. It's pretty much what was widely expected. Windows won't be cheap but here's th ething - how many people will actually be buying a new copy off the shelf?

Most people will be either upgrading, buying discounted copies, getting it bundled with a new machine or taking advantage of various discounts that are available to students and the like. Anyway, an upgrade to Home Premium seems to be about the best value ($349). Vista Home Basic doesn't have Media Center bundled into it, so if you're planning on using your computer to run media through your TV, you'll probably want to stump up for the Premium version.


All prices are Recommended Retail Prices including GST. It is possible that retailers may offer discounts or special prices.

VISTA version RRP incl gst
Home Basic Full $499
Home Basic Upgrade $259
Home Prem Full $589
Home Prem Upgrade $349
Home Prem Academic Upgrade $199
Business Full $729
Business Upgrade $499
Ultimate Full $979
Ultimate Upgrade $649


Microsoft says:
By way of comparison, here are the historical prices for similar Windows XP packages. Vista Home Basic ($499) compares with XP Home (formerly $539). Vista Business ($729) lines up with XP Pro (formerly $799). When Vista and 2007 Office system are launched on 30 January, the prices of these XP packages will drop to match the comparable Windows Vista packages. So: Vista is actually slightly cheaper than XP was retailing for.

Windows XP SP2 Home Full $539
Windows XP SP2 Home Upgrade $279
Windows XP SP2 Pro Full $799
Windows XP SP2 Pro Upgrade $539
Windows XP SP2 Pro Upgrade Academic $219

BEST OF CES SO FAR


L've covered probably 60 per cent of the stands at CES and highlights include:

LG's stand - its large LCDs are amazing and the LG Shine is a great evolution on the Chocolate. The Blu-ray, HD-DVD combo drive is great.
Microsoft - they've gone all out to impress and several things do - Home Server, bringing Xbox Live to Vista PC gamers, IPTV over Xbox Live (the demo wa simpressive, but our broadband speeds won't support it for a few years). The Zune integration into the Ford cars also looks good.
HP - Their new media centre PC with touch screen is a beautiful device and perfect for (upperclass) lounges. Don't know the price but it can't be cheap.
HD-DVD stand - A great place to kick back and watch King Kong in hi-def.
Nokia - the N800 internet tablet is pretty nice, especially with Skype functionality. Still, I'd rather see a built-in hard drive than 128MB of onboard memory and two SD card slots.

An alternate version to the story on the Herald website at the moment.

TECHNOLOGY

By Peter Griffin

LAS VEGAS – It was a competition to see who could talk louder on the phone yesterday as the US technology industry reluctantly made way for their new rival in the mobile phone business, iPod maker Apple.
Confirming widespread speculation that it was developing a music player and phone in one device, Apple used its MacWorld conference in San Francisco to unveil the iPhone, a slim, black mobile that Apple boss Steve Jobs hopes will “make history”.
Jobs aims to sell 10 million iPhones to claim one per cent of the mobile phone market by 2008 and will use the popularity of its iTunes music service to try and do so.
Apple has sold 67 million iPods since 2001 and 1.5 billion iTunes.com songs.
The iPhone will come with either four or eight gigabytes of memory, enough to store thousands of songs – as much as Apple’s existing iPod Nano music players. The iPhone will sell for US$500 – US$600, though the phone will not go on sale here until next year.
Apple is working exclusively with mobile operator Cingular to launch the iPhone in the US. It’s unclear yet whether the iPhone would be made available to both Vodafone and Telecom on its debut here.
Among the many details of the phone up in the air until yesterday was its name. Networking equipment maker Cisco owns the ‘iPhone’ trademark and has been negotiating to licence use of it to Apple.
But those discussions were reportedly unfinished when Jobs demonstrated the functions of the new phone in front of an audience of thousands.
Music on the phone has also been a strong theme at the other big technology show under way this week, the CES electronics expo being held in Las Vegas.
News of the iPhone’s arrival stole the thunder of computer industry veteran Michael Dell, who urged the computer makers to adopt recycling programmes and kicked off a scheme at Dell to plant a tree for every computer it sells.
Elsewhere at CES, show visitors watched Jobs deliver his speech as several of Apple’s rivals Nokia, LG and Motorola among them, launched their own new phones. The debut of the iPhone effectively kills the Motorola Rokr, a phone Apple developed with the mobile handset maker that has not been eclipsed by the iPhone which Apple has developed itself.
The arrival of Apple TV continues another theme of CES – the move towards a digital hub for the lounge where users can store music, videos and photos and stream content wirelessly from their computers to their TVs. Apple TV, which will sell from next month for $498, tackles the market Microsoft has so far held with its Windows Media Center software, which has been built into several versions of Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Vista, which goes on sale later this month. Apple with Apple TV will join Microsoft with its Xbox 360, Sony with the Playstation 3 and a large number of other companies in the battle to become the device of choice for the digital living room.
Peter Griffin attended CES as a guest of Microsoft

8/01/2007

PEGASUS DOWN BUT NOT OUT

I was sad to hear Dunedin-based software developer David Harris has called time on his formerly popular email program Pegasus Mail, which he has stopped development of and now plans to give away for free, hoping a network of volunteer developers will continue supporting and developing it.

Financial support for Pegasus has dwindled and David, who describes himself as a "creature of the old internet" has seen his business model undermined by the Freemium model I discussed below in last week's Herald on Sunday column. People don't want to stump up for internet and software services when there are so many good ones being provided free of cost.

As David says here:

"The Internet has gone from Community to Commodity, and the majority of people no longer feel any moral obligation to support free software (this sounds like a complaint, but really it's just the grudging acceptance of an inevitable fact)."

I hope Pegasus lives on - it would be a great project for some keen, young developers to take over and possibly resurrect in the same way as Firefox and Thunderbird sprung from the wreckage of Netscape. If Pegasus could also become the open-source email platform of choice for Linux users the service could enjoy a fruitful existence. Here's hoping David finds a way forward that keeps him and Pegasus in the market.

7/01/2007

TRADEME BANS EARLY PS3 SALES

My Herald on Sunday column looks at Trademe's ban of PS3 sales ahed of the official launch date of the machines...

One of the great things about globalisation is that when it comes to buying gadgets, we’re not at the mercy of retailers to the extent that we used to be.

That means you can often buy a gadget online through an overseas merchant before it’s even released in stores here. In many cases, you’ll pay less for it even when shipping and tax is taken into account, such is the mark-up our retailers have traditionally put on electronics.

Buying from overseas vendors is always something you should approach with caution, as the product may not work here as it does in the country it was originally sold in. But that same force of globalisation is driving electronics makers to standardise their products across the world to lower production and sales and marketing costs. The result is that most major new products work the same way worldwide.

The iPod is a good example – it’s the same everywhere you go – only the plug adapter and the language the manual is written in change between territories.

Similar can be said for the video gaming industry’s new big ticket item, the Sony Playstation 3, which goes on sale here in March for $1299. New games for the console are not zoned, a policy Sony kicked off with its PSP handheld device. You can play new games on the PS3 no matter where they were bought, though you may need a TV that’s PAL and NTSC compatible to play titles bought in the US and old PS1 and PS2 games won’t work on PS3 machines bought overseas. Zoning for new high definition Blu-ray discs which the PS3 play is simpler than for DVDs. Instead of sharing region 4 with Australia, we are now in region B with Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. A universal power adapter also allows your PS3 to be plugged into the mains anywhere you are.

With this type of standardisation, it’s no wonder people are more comfortable buying overseas before local launch date. But don’t plan on bringing in a bunch of PS3 consoles to on-sell on Trademe – the country’s largest auction website has banned sales of PS3 before the March launch date.

“Previous experience with release of similar items has resulted in increased fraudulent auctions for them,” Dean Winter, Trademe’s trust and safety manager told me.

“The fraudsters tend to use them because they are both desirable and unavailable meaning less cautious buyers and a quicker alleged sale.”

Trademe prohibits what’s called “drop-shipping” – auctioning a product before you’ve received it or even paid for it.

With the PS3 such a highly anticipated item, there’s a good chance some opportunists might order PS3s from merchants in Asia, then advertise and sell the machines on Trademe at inflated prices before the shipment has even arrived here. That’s pretty dodgy and Trademe is right to protect its customers.

But there’s another group of Trademe users who may have already imported the PS3, can prove they have it in their possession and want to make a profit selling it on to someone who wants it more than them. I see no problem with that. If Trademe is happy to let people sell concert tickets at inflated prices, I can’t see why electronics should be any different. It’s the free market in action.

As Herald reader Mark Rowley asked: “Surely if a person legally purchases a PS3 while overseas and then decides to sell it on return to NZ, how can any person or company, legally prevent them from doing so? There is no illegality or breach of intellectual property right, or copyright involved.”

There are brand new PS3 consoles, which the owners say they will ship worldwide, available on eBay’s US website for US$800 - $US900 plus freight so PS3 fans can still pick up a machine early from eBay and other sources. Auckland Retailer Parallel Imported has also been bringing PS3s in, though when I enquired last week they only had one left – at an obscene $2300.

Winter points out that eBay Europe is also banning PS3 sales before the official launch there, also scheduled for March and says there’s been no pressure exerted by Sony to restrict Trademe PS3 sales.

But with auction sites listing more new goods than ever, a thorny policy issue is likely to emerge here, as more people buy products overseas with the aim of selling the products back home before the official release date. Will the Trademe ban extend to other yet to be released goods? I hope not. If you bought it fair and square and have it in your possession you should be able to auction it. But can you live with yourself extracting huge profits in the process? That’s another question entirely…

6/01/2007

STEPHEN RICHARDS AND THE CA FRAUD

My Weekend Herald exclusive on Stephen Richards, the New Zealander caught up in the Computer Associates securities fraud scandal is out now. You can read it here.

The overall feeling I'm left with after meeting Stephen again and researching the story is that a huge amount of good talent was frittered away in his whole debacle.

Kumar was already a wealthy man before the period covered by the indictment. Stephen was making serious money himself. I just can't explain what possessed these men to
let this go on and to be complicit in it. It's do to with the lust for power, wealth and prestige within the industry and is something only men as ambitious and confident as these would understand.

As a companion piece to the article, here is an abridged excerpt from the 12,000 word transcript of my San Francisco interview with Stephen Richards...

STEPHEN RICHARDS INTERVIEW – MONDAY DECEMBER 4, 2006


PG: Through the 90s at CA, how sales driven were they? Was there a huge amount of pressure to get sales in with pretty aggressive sales targets?


SR: Yeah, always aggressive sales targets and the culture was always very sales focused. Everybody was focused on doing that. Remember that in the early to mid nineties, access to internet was not as strong as it is today. So the whole concept of the stock price and how the company was performing, you were kind of a little distant from that. There was an element of knowing that you were only a small fish in a big sea and that beating your number by 20 per cent was going to make a difference but not a great deal of difference. I think Australia was doing a hundred million in revenue a year and when you think the company was doing four or five billion in revenue, it’s a pretty small percentage.

PG: So it wasn’t until you came to the US that those types of things really started to become more apparent to you, stock price movements and things like that?


SR: Yeah, and one of the things that I tried to do as far as my reports around the world were concerned, was give them a level of visibility as to why this was important. What a difference Italy or Hong Kong or China could make to the overall performance of the business. You’d let them know that their contribution was important versus irrelevant to the overall business.

PG: Being in the states in 1998, we’re coming into dotcom boom era, people more focused on stock price movements, could you see that people were hanging more on these quarterly earnings, hanging more on the stock price? Was it something the company became increasingly sensitive about?

SR: In the industry that’s very true. CA was never considered to be part of the dotcom boom. They were a legacy provider in legacy markets so they didn’t see the explosive growth in their stock price that a Sun Microsystems or Oracle or Microsoft saw during that timeframe. Growth was good but much more stable as far as revenue growth was concerned and certainly stock price growth. I don’t think we saw a change in the organisation based on those markets. Unicenter was just coming to be a real force in that area. That was probably the main product we had to approach those sorts of technology companies with.

PG: As far as analysts were concerned, were you seeing more of an obsession with the share performance of the company?

SR: I didn’t have exposure to the analysts until around the North American business. But they were very interested in customer satisfaction because that had been a challenge for the business historically. Because we were considered a legacy player, they had a number of other legacy players they followed as well, BMC, Compuware, to a lesser extent IBM. Their focus was very much on the acquisition of competitive replacements versus not necessarily the revenue growth you were seeing, but they were worried about the sustainability and growth of those markets. There’s no doubt those markets are big markets but there’s also, when you look at the mainframe base as an example, only so many mainframes in North America, only so many worldwide, if you’re going to continue increasing your revenue, you’ve got to be taking business from other companies in order to continue to grow your business. They were focused on which deals did you replace BMC on, or IBM or Compuware. That was their predominant focus as we moved forward.

PG: So leading up to the millennium, the perception was that it was a legacy company trying to change and there was a little conservatism on the street about the prospects of the company. But there were other things going on in the company, Wang made that huge pay out to himself and a couple of others. What did you think when you saw that happening?

SR: I had a different level of knowledge about it than most people did. In hindsight, I think everybody would agree it was about the dumbest thing the company ever did. Not the least of which was a level of anger that the market and the customers expressed over that size of a transaction. But you know, I knew for the previous three years, those three guys had not received any options at all. The reality is if they’d received consistent grants in line with what they’d received previously, the numbers would have been much the same based on the growth of the business and the growth of the stock price. It was a dumb thing for the compensation committee to do, it was a dumb thing for those three leaders to accept that it was the way they were going to have it done. They’d have been much better just taking options like everyone else in the industry does. Nobody bats an eye at the size of the option payments the CEO of eBay or Yahoo gets because they’ve been earned over a period of time. It’s not just one big number put out there as a chunk of money and I think there was a very negative reaction to that in the marketplace.

PG: That reflected badly on the company, but did you feel, that if you played your cards right, you could expect a similar sort of remuneration yourself?

SR: No. I thought it was a one-off. Frankly, I thought it was irresponsible. And the company learnt some lessons through that process. I didn’t have an expectation that one day I could take in something like that. I was happy earning the money, the option allocations I was getting. I was focused on growing the profitability and stock price of the company and being able to benefit that way.

PG: It was your ambition to lead CA?

SR: Yes.

PG: Sanjay was grooming you as his right hand man?


SR: I believe so, yes.

PG: This brings us up to the time covered by the indictment. If this was going on so long, why did they only focus on those quarters in 1999 and 2000? Why did they hone in on that timeframe?


SR: I really don’t know. I think it was the last two years of the old business model. The Government has neve expressed any concern over the new business model and the way those transactions worked. Those were probably the last two fiscal years they could look at and say “this is the behaviour that existed in the company for a long time, these were the last two years that it existed.”

PG: If they’d looked back earlier, the policy would have been the same in the 1990s?


SR: Yep. Absolutely, even back into the ‘80s.

PG: Do you think from your interaction with other software companies that the sales guys in those organisations were doing exactly the same type of thing?

SR: Absolutely. It was an industry-wide practice. I think it’s important that people understand the difference between some of these types of transactions and the way that business was conducted and the way some of the other bigger names that had significant problems. CA is still a viable and thriving business today. The transactions were not made up, they were not fraudulent. They were legitimate transactions, customers paid for the software, they had valid licence agreements. It wasn’t a case of dreaming up something out of nothing then sticking it in the books or pulling it out of the following quarter. These were legitimate transactions that carried cash with them. The cashflow of the company was never affected by any of the processes.

PG: Even in the restating it was only a couple of million dollars –

SR: A couple of million dollars on the earnings, but from a cashflow perspective no change. We’ve argued that the valuation of the company is obviously tied to cashflow as opposed to the earnings aspect of the business. Fundamentally, I’m not sure that there was a tremendous amount of impact on CA’s ongoing viability associated with this.

PG: So you think it’s unfair to tar CA with the same brush as Enron, WorldCom, Adelphia and all those others?


SR: Yeah. They’re radically different. WorldCom bankrupt, Enron bankrupt, Adelphia bankrupt, it’s a radically different environment to those. There were no shell companies where liabilities were hidden or liabilities converted into assets or any of that kind of stuff. This was simply a timing issue of a deal coming in and being recognised two or three days earlier as opposed to two or three days later. You talked about the restatement. When you go back and restate, it nets out to zero, because it a quarter starts on the fourth and finishes on the fourth, you’ve still got 90 days. It’s the fact that at some point in time someone had started that process of cutting it off on the fourth as opposed to the 30th or the 31st. The quarters didn’t get any longer, you still had that 90 day period, you’re just lagging by those three or four days. If the company decided, say, it was going to do a quarter or year-end close on the 4th of April and not on the 31st of March, none of this would be a problem. The company would report it in the normal course of business.

PG: Mark Schonfield from the SEC summed up CA’s actions when he released he released the indictment as: “like a team that plays on after the final whistle has blown, Computer Associates kept scoring until it had enough points to make every quarter look like a win.” Some of the percentages of revenue taken from the next quarter were significant percentages, 20 or 30 per cent. It’s implied in the indictment that towards the end of each quarter, you and Sanjay met with Ira to discuss how you were looking for the end of the quarter. What were those meetings like?

SR: I always viewed those meetings as something of a game. I was never sure if I was being motivated to go out and close more business, get stuff in that had slipped so it could be counted in the following quarter. Ira was always very tight-lipped about the overall performance of the business. Anytime he would talk about ‘this is how much we need’ or ‘here’s how much we’ve got’, there would be rounding involved. ‘How much is maintenance for the quarter Ira?’ ‘Well, let’s say it’s $300 million for the quarter.’ ‘Well, it’a either $300 or it’s $290 or it’s $310. It’s not $300.’ There was always a lot of flex in the positions that he would report. Because of that, I felt it was almost a tool to keep the motivation of the sales organisation as high as possible and drive them to close as many transactions as they could. When you look at any software company and the revenue that they generate, you get towards the end of the final month of the quarter, it’s not unusual to see 70 per cent of revenue delivered in the final month of the quarter and of that 70, 70 or 80 percent delivered in the final few days of the quarter. From a business process perspective, we used to focus very hard on making sure once a quarter had ended there were deals that were just about closed but hadn’t been closed, and the danger was always that if you let those transactions slip, and consistently slip, you didn’t see them again until the last ten days of the following quarter. The purchasing offices of the buying company weren’t motivated to get a transaction done. They thought they’d have more leverage towards the end of the quarter. They’ve all been trained in the way of US software companies which means you negotiate at the last minute to get the best price. So we worked very hard on the concept of ensuring that once a quarter had closed, that any deals that had slipped, or that we had missed in that particular timeframe, were things that we’d go after aggressively in the first 14 days of the following quarter so you weren’t chasing the same deals quarter after quarter in the last ten days of the quarter.

PG: What role did you play in setting the sales targets for the company, the targets on which those analyst made forecasts for the company’s performance for the quarter?

SR: The process of analysts setting a forecast for the company is actually very unscientific. A whole bunch of them go out and identify what they think is going to be a reasonable number for the company to earn. In many respects they lead you to the number rather than you leading them to the number. We’d sit down at the start of each fiscal year and look at what the consensus estimate was for the next 12 months from a revenue perspective and set the internal quotas based on those numbers. You have a little bit of flexibility in terms of being able to talk down the top guy or talk up the bottom guy to get him more in line, but invariably, if you want the company to perform to the expectations of Wall Street, then you really need to end up taking their numbers rather than using yours.

PG: During those quarters, CA either hit the analyst forecasts or exceeded them by a cent or two, so it was very much driven by analyst expectations.

SR: Yeah and that’s a reflection of any sales-driven culture. But when you get to the number, even if it’s a psychological thing, there’s a drop off in intensity, deep-breathe, I made it, now I can focus on the next quarter. Whether you beat it by a penny or two pennies, the business itself had so many components of revenue, whether it’s channel revenue or maintenance revenue, the way that they were recognising revenue back in those days had interest income, had revenue from older contracts that came in over time. So the actual new component of revenue, as in new deals that you were doing, was probably only 40 per cent of the overall revenue for the business for the quarter. So to be able to beat the street by a penny or two pennies, you’d need to be $20 - $30 million over the revenue number. That’s still a pretty big number and miss by a penny or two pennies and you’re $30 - $40 million short of that number. There’s been a lot made of hitting the number exactly or one or two pennies over. What people need to understand is that there’s a lot of money that goes into one or two pennies. Just because of the culture of the organisation being so sales-focused, we’d give a number at the start of every quarter to people and they would be aggressively pushed to deliver on that number. That’s the way the business had always performed.

PG: What was the atmosphere like in those meetings you had with Sanjay and Ira towards the end of the quarters? Were they incredibly stressed if they could see there was going to be a shortfall that meant they’d miss that earnings expectation from the analysts? Was there an atmosphere in the company that you had to get there no matter what?


SR: No, I don’t think so. There were a number of occasions where we pre-announced having missed results and that’s a stressful situation to go through. But every quarter would be reasonably controlled and well managed. One of the things I was always frustrated with was the financial organisation and looking at the projection of the sales numbers and saying ‘that’s never going to happen, we’ll take half of that or we’ll take a quarter of this,’ and over time we built up a better level of credibility with the finance organisation, so that when we said we were going to deliver another $200 million before the end of the quarter, we could be counted on to deliver that. Those meetings in many respects, were a tool to motivate me and motivate the sales organisation than anything else.

PG: This whole thing about the 35 day month, was that a generally accepted thing at CA that was widely known about?

SR: From a sales perspective, the concept of having some time to close out the transaction and make sure you closed out your slipped deals was something that was very common in the company, but also very common in the industry. It’s just good practice. It’s just the mentality of both the sales organisations and the procurement offices.

PG: So you didn’t see anything wrong with this, it was a practice before you became VP or worldwide sales, it was something you thought was happening widely across the industry, so saw no problem in going to your sales people in the first few days of the following quarter and saying ‘hurry up guys, we need to get this accounted for because we’ve got to make our figures for the quarter.

SR: No, I don’t think I ever reflected it as that, more, that we needed to continue to push the transactions, because if we don’t close that transaction we’ll be looking at it in 90 days time. That level of intensity was more about making sure that any deal that had slipped was a deal we’d continue to focus on and try to close in a reasonable timeframe. Was there a knowledge of it within the organisation? Probably, but certainly not one that I fostered.

PG: The indictment implied that there was a distinct move by the senior executives to make the paperwork look like it was signed on the last day of the quarter as opposed to the first few days of the next one. The indictment talks about changing time stamps on faxes. We’re you involved in that?

SR: No, no. Not at all. One of the things you learn is that there are things going on in a business you just have no knowledge of whatsoever and that was one of those things. I fired teams of salespeople for participating in programmes like that, where they had either forged a signature of a customer or had changed the date on a contract. It was a dismissible offence and I dismissed people for doing that. At the same time, I had no idea the finance organisation was running around doing similar things.

PG: As to the serious allegations about booking revenue on the last day of the month as opposed to the following quarter, you were the head of sales at the time, but you weren’t aware that practice was going on?


SR: [A long pause]. That’s a hard question to answer. Everybody has feelings ‘maybe this is happening, maybe that’s not happening’. I guess I’d always had confidence in the internal systems and controls, that there were things in place that would be able to differentiate between a deal on the 30th versus a deal on the 1st. I’ve been proven wrong on that. Ultimately, it’s my responsibility, the sales organisation reported to me, the processes and practices, either I put in place or I supported the implementation of and ultimately we came to find out that those things were part of the problem rather than part of the solution. For that I’ve got to take responsibility and I said to the judge and other interested parties, I accept that this is my responsibility, I accept there’s going to be a punishment associated with it. I’m not trying to walk away from it in any way, shape or form. It was my job and I should have done it better and I understand that there’s a price to pay for that.

PG: What you’re effectively saying is that you pled guilty to being negligent rather than conspiring with those people to do things like alter dates. You’re guilt is that you let those things go on, rather than participating in them yourself?

SR: In that specific instance, yes, that’s my guilt. There were things that we did in the sales organisation that allowed that process to occur more easily. The fact that we chased deals and closed them, the fact that if we had a contract out in a customer that had a month’s-end date on the contract and we didn’t return it until the 3rd of the month, we didn’t send it back and tell them to re-sign it. There were things that we did from a sales perspective, because you don’t want to pull a contract and take it back to the customer again, if they sign it, they sign it. There were things we did in sales that in hindsight that facilitated an initiative inside of finance.

4/01/2007

THE PASSENGERS: A SUMMER STORY


BY PETER GRIFFIN

I was tired and numb and in that state long road trips tend to leave you. Still she insisted I take the car to Washworld and clean it thoroughly.

“Vacuum the hell out of it,” she commanded as I stood on the drive way looking at our bags spread out on the tar seal, as though ready for a customs inspection.

I was tired with the early swell of a headache. But for now the overwhelming sensation was that of numbness. Numb from the dead silence that had rolled like a fog over most of the East Cape, accompanying us all the way up Highway 2 and the length of Highway 1.

Numb too from thinking about the passengers and trying to imagine what she was thinking about the passengers. Did we really leave them behind on the side of that pot-holed road at Otamaroa Bay or had they hung on, like Max Caddy clinging bloody knuckled to the bottom of the Buick in Cape Fear? The question surely was in both of our minds.

The front door clicked shut as her tanned back disappeared behind frosted glass. There was nothing else to do. I’d take her precious car to Washworld, empty the glove box of gold coins, rent high-pressure hoses, steam and wax at a dollar a minute and purge the awful memory of the passengers. As I slid into the driver’s seat, a needle of pain shot from temple to temple, punishment for such deluded thinking.

The forecourt at Washworld was nearly empty, but the wet concrete shone purple and green with the oily detergent left by motorists recently departed. I picked up the spray gun by its slimy handle and fed some change into the wash ‘n wax. In the bay next door an athletic mother stretched over the bonnet of a dusty Pajero, lathering soap over the windscreen. I could tell she was a mother by her awkward, hurried washing technique and by the “baby on board” sign suctioned to the Pajero’s back window.

From behind the four-wheel-drive emerged a blonde-haired girl, her head level with the vehicle’s bumper. She wore a pink t-shirt that stretched to her knees and her bump of a nose was mildly sun-burnt.

Spray from the high-pressure gun drummed the roof of the Audi as I looked through the rivulets running down the window at the map book left open on the passenger seat, open on the page for Gisborne – the place where we picked up the passengers. Yellow and red lines to signify streets, pale green topography meeting a gentle curve of blue.

It all looked so innocuous on paper, so straightforward and logical. Our plan had been to spend the lazy days between Christmas and the New Year at her family’s bach with Kate and Graham, her sister and brother-in-law. As the bach was accommodating other visitors, we rented a cottage a short distance inland. The steep-roofed house was set on a quiet block of land dominated by big, old pine trees that sighed in the breeze.

It was a charming little place, full of mismatched furniture, the woodwork of a proud handyman and a coating of dust suggesting it hadn’t been occupied in some time. We
unpacked and headed down the road to the bach.

The waves rolled up Wainui beach in uneven sets the local surfers nevertheless seemed to read with great accuracy. The roar of the ocean was loud in the bach, a dilapidated three room structure. We walked along the water line, looked at the large pit of a sperm whale’s grave, played cricket with the locals. Teenage life guards zigzagged across the damp sand on quad bikes.

The bach received a stream of visitors, locals coming to talk about fish-smoking techniques or the problems caused by coastal erosion. There were sun-bleached paperbacks strewn about the place, flippers and masks and surf boards all over the lawn and in the bathroom, a faded map of the world that had the U.S.S.R. dominating its middle.

As the sun was setting I went out on the inflatable boat with Graham. We skipped over the gently rolling sea to a white buoy where he asked me to haul up the crayfish pot. I could barely lift the thing it was so heavy. Six crayfish flapped around inside the cage amid the debris of a partially eaten mullet.

We returned to the cottage and though I felt like sitting up and chatting, the way we used to, sharing a bottle of wine, her legs propped up across mine, she wasn’t in the mood. She was too tired to make love, though the setting was certainly romantic enough. We slept on the mezzanine, the house ticking around us as it cooled down.

The next morning we were up early. Graham’s catch of the previous day was being served early at the bach so we loaded the car and headed once again down the gravel road.

We were unloading the car at the beach when she let out a scream and jumped back from the open boot. I looked up surprised and went around to the back of the car where she was standing, with a look of horror on her face. In the boot were dozens of tiny brown creatures, shooting in every direction, bumping into each other, running over each other. They disappeared down the sides of the boot carpet, wriggled behind plastic trim, squeezed their sleek bodies into the slit between the back seats. Cockroaches. Dozens of them had been there. Now, with a few exceptions they were all gone, hidden. She was suddenly beside me, her sandal in her hand hammering at the few laggards that remained. She swore as she stamped at them.

“How the hell did they get in there!”

She brought the sandal down, pulverising one of them. A pulp of creamy green guts smeared across the carpet. She screamed, furious and threw the sandal down the driveway. She stamped away from the car, wiping her hands against her shorts. I looked into the boot silently, replaying in my head that bizarre sight – all those bodies shooting around like kids in a playground. It was bizarre.

How the hell did they get in there?


“Oh Jesus,” she said from behind me. She was standing there holding the body board bag by her fingertips.

“The thing’s full of cockroaches!”

She dropped it. Brown bodies burrowed into the grass all around.

The body board bag. A slideshow of images rolled past in my mind – unloading the car last night, draping towels over the washing line, leaning the body board bag against the big pine tree by the house. The expression on her face told me she’d seen the same show. She looked at me, indignant, her eyebrows scrunched together, her small lips curled back from her teeth.

“I didn’t…know.” I said.
“How much effort would it have taken to put the thing inside!”
“I’ll take care of it.”
She stamped off around the house.

I spent a couple of hours hunting for cockroaches, but they had the upper hand in this murderous game of hide and seek. I looked up to see her leaning against the bonnet, arms folded, looking at me.
“Kate found a cockroach on the kitchen bench. They’ve never had cockroaches here. Not in 25 years,” she said.

The elderly man met me at the front door of the shop.
“Mahogany birds,” he said casting his eyes over the Audi.
I gave a hollow laugh, trying to hide my confusion, then simply, pathetically said, “pardon?”
“Kate rang ahead, told me about your wee problem with the roaches.”
He held an orange can in is hand, weighing it up as though it were a hand grenade. I soon realised it was exactly that.
“They’re Gisborne roaches. Our own variety, smaller than the German and American kinds. They thrive in this climate.”
He held up the can.

Kevin was his name and he sold all sorts of things in his immaculate hardware store. He pulled the pin on his grenade and threw it into the foot well of the car, slamming the door shut. Then he proceeded to tell me everything he knew about cockroaches – how they were nine times as resistant to radiation as humans, could live for weeks after being decapitated and contrary to popular belief, were quite clean creatures.

Across the road from the hardware store, beyond sticky tar seal, lush vines stretched in perfect rows into the distance. As the toxic gas spread through the car, I wandered among the vines, checking my Blackberry occasionally because the reception was good.

Back at the car, there wasn’t a cockroach in sight. Kevin had hung a coconut-scented air freshener from the rear view mirror to try and disguise the rubbery smell of the insect bomb.

Before the board bag incident we hadn’t seen a single cockroach. Now they were everywhere at the cottage, peeking out from under the stove, hiding behind the toilet bowl in the outhouse, walking across the walls with a sluggish patter that suggested they’d grown complacent in their kingdom, seldom visited by humans.

That night I lay awake in the dark. She lay beside me, her breathing muffled by the duvet she’d pulled protectively around her neck. She’d turned away from me the moment I’d gotten into bed.

A thousand tiny hearts beat away silently behind the particle board centimeters from our heads. It was my fault. I’d left the bag carrying our boards leaning against the tall pine tree.

So why couldn’t I just say sorry?

We set off the next day, a day earlier than planned. The bomb seemed to have done its job. We left the rent money in the cottage’s electricity box along with a note informing the owners of the infestation. We pulled onto Highway 35 and headed north.

In our haste to beat the southern motorway crawl out of Auckland I’d forgotten to pick up my bulging wallet of CDs. The only soundtrack to this holiday was the disk already in the car, a solo effort by the guy from Pink Floyd – “miserable crap,” she called it.

“I awoke in a fever. The bedclothes were all soaked in sweat. She said, ‘you've been having a nightmare and it's not over yet.’”

For some reason the music calmed me.

A brief detour to Whangara. No sign of Paikea there. The marae was empty, the whole place felt desolate. On to Tolaga Bay, a silent stroll down a very long concrete wharf. The road swung inland through rolling green fields that hid the ocean.

We were approaching Te Puia Springs when she yelped and took her hands off the steering wheel. A wriggling body slid down the wheel into her lap. I lunged for the wheel as she slammed on the brake. A skipping, rasping sound as the anti-skid braking system kicked in and we veered to the left. The rear left wheel hit the gravel and the Audi pulled sideways, spinning the rear of the car around. It stopped with a wobble.

We looked at each other, both in shock. Silently, we got out of the car. No damage done. No one else on the road. The acrobatic cockroach was gone. I sat down in the driver’s seat and we carried on. Not a word was spoken.

Moving east now, the land rolled up to meet Mount Hikurangi. The landscape began to change, the lush bush gave way to dry scrub. There were boarded up shops, blockhouse pubs emblazoned with Lion Red livery and run-down weatherboard houses, satellite dishes perched atop them all.

On the Blaupunkt Floyd summed it up, in his out-of-tune croak.
“Dunroamin, duncarin, dunlivin…”

At Te Araroa, we very nearly didn’t make our planned visit to the cape lighthouse. She was slumped in the passenger seat, dozing, glancing down warily at her feet every few minutes. I’d come a long way to see this lighthouse, so I swung the car right at the beach and followed the gravel road.

Stones clattered in the wheel arches. In my rear view mirror, a big Holden raced up and to my amazement swung sideways on the narrow road and proceeded to overtake us. I looked across as the white Kingswood sailed past, a teenage Maori girl behind the wheel, her skinny arms positioned at ten to two. She looked at me with that defiance, Paikea herself. The car motored on pulling in front of us and kicking up dust, heading on determinedly towards the cape.

By the time we got there ourselves it was too late in the day to climb the 700 steps to the lighthouse. Instead I persuaded her to pose for a photo with it in the background. She didn’t stand still long enough. On the camera’s screen she was a blur of hair and skin. The lighthouse was in perfect focus.

We checked into the motel at Hick’s Bay. Bruce, the owner, had hats from all around the world pinned to the walls. We sat in silence looking out at the darkening bay, while locals leaned on the bar, laughed too loud and received regular top-ups from Bruce, who re-filled his own half-pint glass each time a patron ordered a round. She decided to go back to the room even though her meal hadn’t been served up yet. I sat there on my own listening to Bruce and his mates laughing and drinking.

The night was light, as though the Southern Aurora was visiting, though I knew well it wasn’t visible from this latitude. I walked across the property, in no hurry to return to the room. Some Japanese tourists were having a late meal on their verandah, foregoing Bruce’s well-done steaks for noodles eaten with chopsticks.

When I got to the door of our room, I saw my bag was sitting out on the doorstep. Surely she wasn’t kicking me out in the middle of the East Cape, with no means of getting home and no Blackberry coverage. I tried the door. It was open.

Thank God.

I’d barely crossed the threshold when her voice cut across the darkened room.
“Leave your bag outside. I found two in it, there may be more.”

I left the bag on the doorstep.

We were on the road early the next day, me driving again. The road was bad and required all of my concentration. But glancing down I noticed a brown body crawling around the foot well. I braked slowly, indicated and pulled over just before Otamaroa Bay. I scooped up the creature with the floor matt and shook it onto the road. The roach struggled to find purchase on the gravel then scrambled down into the ditch.

No more visits from the passengers, if indeed any remained. Te Kaha, then Opotiki, Ohope. A short stop for gas and a search for brown bodies. Whakatane, Te Puke, Highway 2, a crawl past a three car pile up, Highway 1, home.

The memory of the trip was dominated by the appearance of the passengers. But standing there at Washworld, I didn’t think of anything – cockroaches, Hick’s Bay, the gentle Wainui beach I’d probably never return to. I was mindlessly feeding two dollar coins into the wash ‘n wax machine when I realized the kid was watching me, standing there in her pink t-shirt, dirty water running between her feet and through a metal grid into the ground.

I drove the car forward to where a vacuum hose sat coiled like a sleeping snake. I pulled the dusty mats out of the car, expecting to see sleek bodies scuttling away. There wasn’t a passenger in sight. I opened the plastic foot well vents and peered in at the dark recesses. Brown bodies nestled there. I froze, my heart fluttering. Thankfully, they remained motionless. On closer inspection I could see that they were hollow, empty husks, surrounded by the debris of shattered body armour.

I reached in and took a roach between my thumb and fore finger. The shiny brown shell was intact, the wings clinging to its back, antennae erect, brittle legs extended. It had been eaten from the inside out. The passengers had turned on one another. A war had raged deep within the air vents of the Audi, a war as silent as the one fought on the outside. I held the vacuum cleaner up to the vent and the shells disappeared up the hose with a clatter. Still, I held the sole remaining roach up to the light and looked at it again.

Despite everything, I thought, there was a strange inevitability in its demise. It had survived the toxic bomb, our attempts to stamp it to death and all the same, ended up a meal for a hungry relative. It was designed to survive anything, even the loss of its own head. But it had died. Sometimes, that’s just how it is. Natural selection.

I realised I was a passenger too. I’d never been anything more. Something else had died on that long trip around the eastern seaboard and I grieved for it as inevitable as its passing was.

Just then the timer on the vacuum ran out and the suction died with a gasp. The four wheel drive rolled across the forecourt, the blonde-haired girl buckled safely in the back seat. She looked down at me through waxy beads of water and smiled. The diesel engine roared as the vehicle found a hole in the traffic and lurched forward over a speed hump.

I was left alone, crouched in the carpeted foot well of the Audi, the distant sounds of passing cars keeping to the speed limit and the stereo playing low, playing a familiar song.

That guy Pink was muttering again, some miserable crap about hitch hiking.

“And I have to admit, I don't like it a bit, being left here beside this lonesome road.”