27/02/2007

30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 70 MILLION KIWI

Over the next few weeks I'll post some stories I've written over the last few months for S&M magazine. No, it's not some kinky sex mag where amateur bondage enthusiasts send in their pictures and stories! S&M stands for Smoke and Mirrors - it's an Australian film magazine that's devoted to covering the visual effects industry in Australasia and is edited by Rodney Appleyard. It's a great mag and read widely.

But it doesn't get much news stand coverage here, hence the republishing here on the web. THis first story is based on a fascinating visit to the set of the horror movie 30 Days of Night in December and an interview with horror movie producer Robert Tapert, who is married to Lucy Lawless...

WHEN NIGHT SETS IN

Sunny Auckland stands in for snowbound Alaska when Peter Griffin visits the set of the latest epic horror film to be shot down under – 30 Days of Night.

The residents of West Auckland’s Henderson Valley got used to seeing a strange glow in the night sky towards the end of last year.

As they retired to bed, a film crew working on the sprawling site of the Henderson Valley Film Studios would get to work recreating the Alaskan town of Barrow. Bathed in the light of great floodlights and with brilliant white fake snow under foot, they captured the oppressive atmosphere that is central to 30 Days of Night, a film adaptation based on the horror comics of Steven Niles and Australian artist Ben Templesmith.

The premise of the film is simple – the sun sets on Barrow one winter’s night and doesn’t rise again for 30 days. The disorientated townspeople also have to deal with a horde of murderous vampire visitors.

The four slaughtered huskies that greet you when you enter the main soundstage are the creations of Weta Workshop’s creatures department and hint at what’s in store for moviegoers. The prosthetics department seems to specialise in nasty head wounds and bulging eye balls.

30 Days of Night is a bloody vampire movie that takes place in the dark away from the bright lights of civilisation.

It’s familiar territory for seasoned horror film maker Robert Tapert, who has produced Sam Raimi classics such as The Evil Dead and Darkman as well as The Grudge and last year’s surprise hit Boogeyman.

But likely to attract an R rating, 30 Days of Night is darker and more violent than the recent releases of Tapert and Raimi’s production company Ghost House Pictures.

“We’ve done more spooky PG13 stuff,” Tapert admits.

“This has been more affected by the changes in horror.”

The key change has been a swerve towards realism, epitomised by the likes of Wolf Creek and Hostel. That means less in the way of fantastic effects, more gore and the dropping of those tried and tested horror clich├ęs.

Tapert said he was impressed by the graphic novel the film is based on when he came across it a few years ago. But it took extensive development to flesh out a decent script.

“There wasn’t enough material. It was a very stylised graphic novel. We weren’t interested in telling a vampire story,” he said.

30 Days of Night became a love story populated by vampires. The script was in good shape when Tapert went out to casting and found his lead, 28 year old Josh Hartnett (Black Hawk Down, Sin City, The Black Dahlia).

“Josh has had the benefit of working many years of his short life as an actor,” says Tapert, who along with director David Slade (Hard Candy) had to work hard to woo Hartnett.

“Josh is basically in every frame of the movie.”

As a $70 million production, 30 Days of Night goes down as the most expensive horror made in New Zealand and far outstrips the budget of gory blockbusters such as Saw III (US$136 million and counting), which Tapert describes as “popcorn horror”.

“I understand why it works. I respect that the guys who made it know how to make it work,” he says.

Tapert believes the renaissance that was sparked off with successful Japanese horror remakes such as The Ring and The Grudge has come to an end.

“If there’s any lesson, it’s that creepy horror is dead,” he says.

“I think the heyday of the horror film, of over 40 a year is over.”

He says horror films now have to stand alone as more than genre pieces.

“I see myself as a baker. You always need the core ingredients. You’ve still got to come back to story telling that moves the audience.”

Drama and characterisation are the ingredients, he adds, though he’s a fan of the “rollercoaster ride” Dawn of the Dead remake.

Tapert says he never seriously considered shooting the film in Alaska.

“I’ve shot in the cold. There’s nothing more debilitating than when you’re freezing.”

A good deal of external scenes were filmed outside of Queenstown in the South Island where the weather was almost too good – plenty of snow on the ground but little snowfall.

Creating an idealised version of Alaska in the studio also had its challenges. The fake snow managed to get caught behind the contact lenses that give the actors their crazed vampire look, leaving people with sore eyes.

“Every day is an absolute fight to get the material we want,” says Tapert, who spoke to S&M on set as the key cast of 30 Days of Night completed another long day of filming in a cramped attic – the last bastion of Barrow’s residents.

Tapert said there would be a good deal of compositing done for the film, but relatively little use of the blue screen,

“There’ll be a tremendous amount of visual effects, but you won’t see any of it,” he said.

The bulk of effects, which are being handled by Film Effects and Weta Digital, were for more subtle things such as adding breath, falling snow and reshading scenes, says Tapert.

New Zealand actor Manu Bennett (Lantana, The Condemned) plays the key role of Billy Kitka in 30 Days of Night and says the film focuses on how the characters’ reconcile their desire to save their own lives with the need to help others.

“All the characters in the film have to go to this dark place. We totally drift apart,” he says. He was instantly drawn to the material when offered to read for the part.

“I read the script then went down to the comic store and bought the graphic novel. I thought it would be an amazing film if we didn’t destroy it.”

26/02/2007

THE CASE FOR TELECOM KEEPING CDMA

Last week I suggested in my Herald column that Telecom would have to bite the bullet and change its network to the GSM/HSDPA flavour to cope with Telstra's decision to shut down CDMA and the continuing lack of a decent range of handsets for the CDMA operators.

I had a lot of feedback from people who agreed, but also a few arguing the case for CDMA. None argued as convincingly as Maurice Winn. I've posted the email he sent me in response to the column and have added some follow up thoughts of my own...

FEEDBACK:

Peter, thanks for your articles which I usually enjoy reading. This one looked to me like a hook, line and sinker swallowing of the GSM Guild's line that the world is abandoning CDMA2000 in favour of the W-CDMA realm.

I have been a follower of things CDMA since 1991, and a shareholder in QUALCOMM since 1994.

In February 1996 I arranged a meeting with QUALCOMM, in Wellington, with a view to getting Telecom to adopt CDMA. Telecom listened for a day, but continued with their TDMA plans. In about 1998/99 I spoke to Theresa Gattung [phone call] when I saw that they were about to spend $700 million on a TDMA expansion, which seemed to me crazy. She didn't seem to be fully aware of CDMA developments and we had a

conversation for about half an hour on the merits of CDMA vs other options.

Telecom changed their minds on TDMA and introduced CDMA2000 a couple of years later.

At that time, W-CDMA was not available and Telecom did not have a GSM infrastructure foundation. It would have been a big shift to GSM and a subsequent wait for 4 or 5 years for W-CDMA to develop. Vodafone was already well-established, so Telecom would have been coming from behind in a big way, with no advantages, and not part of the huge Vodafone group with huge purchasing power.

With CDMA2000, Telecom had an upgrade path to 1xEV-DO and subsequent

improvements ahead of Vodafone. They didn't use their advantage due to duopoly pricing and typical telecom company ideas on charging a few people a lot of money for little usage, rather than charging a lot of people a little money for a lot of usage.

As you know, Telecom is a dyed in the wool high price merchant, so they let their advantage slip. They still have advantage in that Vodafone's cost of coverage for 2GHz W-CDMA is huge compared with Telecom's 800MHz CDMA2000 coverage. Vodafone could be ruined by Telecom if Telecom would slash and burn prices and put the network technologies to the test.

Vodafone is the one that needs to change their network plans from 2GHz to 900MHz. Telecom bought 2GHz spectrum for 3G, but they won't be using it. It's redundant. 800MHz is just fine and Telecom has capacity in 800MHz. Radio propagation at 800MHz is much greater for a given signal than at 2GHz, so far fewer base stations are needed to provide the same coverage.

Vodafone's 3G coverage is pathetic. Telecom can roll out in 800MHz far cheaper than can Vodafone at 2GHz.

You focused mainly on handset technology. You are quite right that economies of scale are vital in handset production and costs. But once up to a large enough number of devices, higher volume doesn't make much difference. CDMA2000 is now at huge volumes too. And what matters is not total worldwide sales of CDMA2000 vs W-CDMA but individual market share for phone makers. A company could specialize in CDMA2000 and have excellent economies of scale compared with Nokia, which has little market share in CDMA2000 and is one of many in W-CDMA.

Royalties are often mentioned as being a major problem in CDMA [of either variety]. But CDMA2000 royalties are 4% [overall though some are 7% such as Huawei export, and some are lower], and W-CDMA royalties are about 12% because many contributors squabble over them and want a piece of the action.

So, CDMA2000 inherently has lower costs for handsets. Many commentators claim [wrongly in my opinion] that QUALCOMM's royalty is a hindrance to adoption of CDMA in either version. Over a 2 year total ownership cost, $8 [4% on a US$200 wholesale price] is trivial for a subscriber who will spend something like $1500 including minutes and data. Even 12% = $24 isn't a big deal compared with $1500.

CDMA2000 technology is ahead of W-CDMA too, so speeds are much better and getting faster, faster. W-CDMA/HSDPA is catching up, slowly.

If you have a look at CDMA2000 devices which are now available, there are swarms of them. The CDMA Development Group shows a lot of them. Here's just one:

http://www.cdg.org/technology/product_pavilion/subscriber_device_dtl.asp?deviceid=1487

Economies of scale are now applicable to EV-DO devices as much as W-CDMA devices and GPRS devices.

Roaming overseas with W-CDMA is more problematic than with GSM. For a start, coverage is poor. And it isn't simply a matter as popping in a SIM and connecting to another network. W-CDMA is a can of worms. Handsets and networks have to match in greater detail than with GSM, in which getting the frequency right was all that mattered and multi-band handsets resolved that.

Telstra had a bunch of technologies and has decided to ditch them and go with W-CDMA, which might or might not be a good strategy. It is not a slam dunk. Nor a no brainer. It would not be a good idea for Telecom to copy Telstra and Vodafone.

I am not a Telecom fan and have ditched them in frustration for all but twisted pair over which we have a home phone and over which Slingshot provides us ADSL. I do have a Telecom cellphone. Our daughter was in tears of frustration on the phone telling Telecom to cancel their phone line and internet service, being passed from person

to person [5 on the last call]. Telecom annoys me a LOT and has been remarkably hopeless in competing with Vodafone/Bellsouth. But at least they have got a good system and technological trajectory to the future with their CDMA2000 network in 800MHz.

It would be a big blunder for Telecom to switch to W-CDMA. Selling multimode, multiband handsets enabling customers to do what they like on any network would be a better strategy. The best strategy for Telecom would be to conduct a price war against Vodafone while Vodafone is limited on coverage in 3G, and lacking speed. I don't

mean tinkering with a cent or two a minute, I mean so cheap that the network is fully loaded.

There are other issues, such as the case against Nokia by QUALCOMM for illegally using QUALCOMM technology in upgrading GSM to GPRS and EDGE. If Nokia is stopped from doing that, you might find that a lot of the GSM advantage is based on theft rather than good technology. QUALCOMM did NOT license their technology for GSM/GPRS/EDGE technology when the device doesn't included CDMA/W-CDMA.

For over a decade, the GSM Guild has lied about W-CDMA development. They continue to do so. They used to claim that QUALCOMM had no techology in W-CDMA, but L M Ericsson caved in 1999 and the GSM Guild accepted that, after all, maybe QUALCOMM does have some rights in W-CDMA.

Now they are whining about royalties although QUALCOMM charges only 5% [approximately] for a supersonic amazing magical technology which was alleged by a Stanford physics professor to breach the laws of physics and therefore wouldn't work, but which not only works, but delivers 20 times as many bits per second per bandwidth as GSM at a fraction of the price, bundled with BREW, gpsOne and other software which also does amazing things. GSM charges 16% for an obsolete voice-only technology [without QUALCOMM's technology enabling upgrade to GPRS/EDGE]. W-CDMA charges 12%.

Previous mistakes are history. What matters is where to from here. I think Telecom would make a much bigger blunder than their AAPT purchase by ditching CDMA2000 in favour of W-CDMA. It's no skin off my nose either way [other than more economic destruction in NZ which is not a good thing]. Telecom was hopeless to let Vodafone turn

Bellsouth's failed GSM into a huge success.

I'd like to see a mobile cyberphone data and minutes price war. Telecom would win it. A move to W-CDMA by Telecom would cost them a fortune to no good effect.

Some operators are moving from CDMA2000 to W-CDMA [such as Telstra], but others are moving from the GSM realm to CDMA2000 EV-DO.

KDDI's CDMA2000 in Japan, aka "Au", is defeating DoCoMo's FOMA service easily despite DoCoMo's huge advantage in the 1990s. Vodafone's W-CDMA in Japan was a total failure. W-CDMA and GSM completely beat CDMA2000 in Europe because CDMA2000 was politically excluded.

I have been trying for years to offer some competition to Telecom/Vodafone and offered to buy some 890MHz spectrum in Y2K from the government to start a city-only low-priced CDMA2000 service [the government sold it cheaply to Vodafone - by the time the auction was conducted, I wasn't in a position to bid as much as I had previously offered]. I'm still working on various ideas. I had tried to get Globalstar here too, but Globalstar wouldn't agree to my plans [in 1999]. I was a director of Globalstar Australia for 4 years until last December and Telecom now has the the service available through the Dubbo gateway. I have also invested in http://www.RoamAD.com for wi-fi which has got several networks operating and hopefully 2007 will be a big year.

There is a LOT of fun to be had in the cyberphone world. There are some thoughts for you.

Thanks again for your efforts, keep up the good work.

MY RESPONSE:
Thanks to Maurice for his well thought-out case for CDMA. I would add...

- While it could be argued that Telecom staying with CDMA gives it a point of difference from its arch rival Vodafone, we need only look across the Tasman to see that this point of difference was not enough to keep Telstra in the CDMA camp. It is faced with three major GSM/3G network operators - Optus, Vodafone and Hutchison 3G. Telstra itself has GSM and CDMA networks. It has decided to shut down its CDMA network and follow the same technology path as its rivals. The business case is more daunting for Telecom as it has no GSM network, but it has sites reserved for a switch in technology, which wouldn't be as expensive as you'd expect.

- The roaming issue is going to get worse not better with Telstra's CDMA closure. Going to Australia will be a frustrating experience for Telecom customers and Vodafone will be pushing hard to exploit Telecom's weakness by offering competitive trans-Tasman roaming deals. Anyone who travels, even infrequently, is better off signing up with Vodafone. Also, despite the CDMA operators being less numerous than their GSM rivals, they haven't been able to band together to ensure good data roaming in all CDMA countries. Telecom data roaming in Australia is very good, but outside of Australia it's virtually non-existant.

- Handsets shouldn't be underestimated as a major selling point, particularly in the consumer market. What 3GSM showed was that, more than ever, handset design is leading the developments in the mobile market. The iPhone has generated a new wave of interest in this area and the iPod is an example of hardware that has driven the growth of an industry - in its case, digital music downloads. The CDMA world misses out on the best handsets made in the world because the manufacturers can't make them economically to a subset of customers. I don't see most CDMA phones becoming worldmode phones, so those who need to roam will be forced to buy an ever smaller subset of handsets. It just doesn't make sense for the consumer.

Telecom is in an even worse bind. It's CDMA handset orders are so puny relative to other operators, that it can't afford to buy the handsets that Vodafone offer - ie: Motorola RAZR line, the Blackberry, the high-end LG models. The situation is not going to improve markedly.

- Most of the most progressive content deals are being struck by GSM operators who have the leverage to negotiate better deals because of their size. Better handsets and better services equal a better choice for the consumers. CDMA operators have to compete on price and the quality of the EV-DO mobile data technology. However, advances in HSPA technology and th emigration to LTE will reduce the CDMA carriers' advantage in mobile data.

- Qualcomm has a major stake in 3G technologies and the evolution of HSPA so is more than hedging its bets. It believes the GSM migration will be integral to its business in the longterm.

25/02/2007

TV TO GET JOOST UP

Over the past few years it has become clear that the best way to shift digital content around the internet is to use peer-to-peer networking.

Some of the most disruptive services to have appeared – from Napster and Kazaa to Skype and Bittorrent, employ this system of delivery, which isn’t reliant on the traditional server-client model, where a computer connects directly to a server to receive data.

Instead, “peers” in P2P networks take on the role of both client and server, sending and receiving information in small chunks among a community of users. The genius of the system is that it gets more efficient as more people join the network.

The theory underpinning P2P networking has been around for decades and doesn’t just apply to the sharing of information. Internet bandwidth and computing power can also be distributed through P2P networks.

Web entrepreneurs Niklas Zennstroem and Janus Friis, know the power of P2P better than anyone else. They founded both Kazaa, the file sharing network and internet telephony service Skype, which they sold to internet auction giant eBay in 2005 for US$2.6 billion.

Now they want to apply the same formula to internet TV, using P2P to spread popular programmes among internet users.

Their new service Joost, which is due for public release midyear, will distribute digitised versions of popular TV shows via P2P. Joost will send the content out from its servers initially and let it profligate through the network. The pair claim anti-piracy provisions built into Joost mean the programmes can’t be copied. That’s an important point. Both Kazaa and Napster, the file sharing system that brought P2P networking mainstream in 1999, were the target of devastating legal action by the entertainment industry, because of the illicit trading of music and videos that took place over their networks.

Skype avoided the copyright issue with its P2P telephony and Joost will develop with the cooperation of content providers who agree to send their programmes out to the network.

Those programmes will feature about two or three minutes of advertising per hour, according to Joost. The software used to access the service has been built using open-source code, so developers can easily add plug-ins to Joost.

The genius of the system is that it gets more efficient as more people join the network.

P2P turns the supply and demand model on its head. The more popular the content is in a P2P network, the faster it is disseminated and the more likely you are to get hold if it yourself. Only the complicated nature of international TV broadcast rights deals can get in Joost’s way, should the audio and video quality of the digitised programmes prove to acceptable to the masses.

What I like about Joost is that it’s unlikely to become the next Youtube.com, laden with user-generated video of dubious quality. In a recent Wired magazine article, the creators said more conventional TV programming will be the focus of Joost, which will still have the community aspect inherent in P2P networking.

Of all the new web services to have emerged in the past few years, Joost has the potential to be among the most useful and exciting of them and give those of us disillusioned with broadcast TV something to go online for.

23/02/2007

GOING WORLDMODE, YAHOO!XTRA AND TELSTRACLEAR

Here's a link to a column of mine in yesterday's Herald outlining my experiences with Telecom's new Samsung Worldmode phone which has both CDMA and GSM chips, enabling Telecom users to roam to Europe using one 027 phone. Before, they had to borrow a GSM phone from Telecom. The Samsung w531 ($299) does away with the need to do that.

One point I forgot to mention is that the Worldmode phone won't accept Vodafone SIM cards in New Zealand, so you can't have one phone with accounts for both Vodafone and Telecom, taking advantage of the best deals from the operators. What a great situation that would be. The Chinese have recently shipped a phone that allows two SIM cards to be installed in one GSM phone so you can effectively use two different acocunts on one phone - maybe one operator for voice (which ever one gives the most bundled minutes) and another for mobile data.

My colleague Simon Hendery has written about the woeful state of play at TelstraClear. Have you read that Allan Freeth memo yet? If not, I've published it here on the blog, look under the December postings.

Also, a piece about the impending arrival of Yahoo!Xtra. If Yahoo!7 plan to do as much in New Zealand as they do in Australia, Telecom's new portal may prove to be the entertainment portal XtraMSN never became. XtraMSN's problem is that it's always been too much of a product pitch for Telecom - most of the eye-catching links are to Telecom's broadband packages rather than decent entertainment features. Let's hope Telecom and Seven pull finger and deliver something that will stand up well against the plethora of web 2.0 services available for free.

Finally, Mauricio over at Geekzone reports that Telecom's CDMA Rev-A datacard now works with Windows Vista. I wasn't able to use a test card loaned to be over the Christmas period because no driver had been made available for Vista. Good to see they finally got with the program on that!

20/02/2007

IT'S CHEAPER TO TELL THE TRUTH

Some more interesting developments in the CA fraud scandal I've been following, particularly in respect to kiwi Stephen Richards' involvement.

As I've written in previous posts on CA below, Richards is due to start his seven year jail term for securities fraud, perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, on February 27. Richards, formerly of Wellington, was worldwide head of sales at Computer Associates. His boss, Sanjay Kumar (pictured left in happier times with his former mentor turned enemy, CA founder, Charles Wang), received a 12 year sentence and was also scheduled to start it on February 27. It now turns out that his start date has been delayed two months until April as lawyers argue over the amount of restitutions he will have to pay. Reports out of the US suggest the figure could reach US$50 million.

I asked Richards in December how much the legal bills he'd racked up in defending himself in the SEC and Department of Justice case against him had come to. He told me that CA had paid US$8 million towards his legal bills. It now appears that CA will seek to recoup the combined legal bills of Kumar and Richards to the tune of US$14.9 million. That's only the portion CA contributed, up until the time the company cut them loose and they were indicted. Surely the total amount in legal bills would be much higher, thought I'm sure the richly rewarded lawyers in the case would have been happy to offer some free credit after taking all those millions off CA.

The other development in the case, is that Richards' former colleagues, the ones who turned state's evidence against him and Kumar, have finally been sentenced. Boy, were they smart in agreeing to play ball with the DOJ. Ira Zar, the former CA chief financial officer, received seven months jail and seven months home detention for his securities fraud, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges.

Zar was the man who allegedly met with Richards and Kumar each quarter to engineer the 35 day month and decide how much revenue had to be stolen from the next quarter to prop up the current quarter's revenue. As such, he was just as complicit as Richards, if not Kumar. While Zar faced the serious charge of obstruction of justice, he was obviously very well advised by his lawyers, unlike Richards who was slapped with a sentence, many-times longer than Zar's.

That's not the worst of it. Another indicted executive, former CA senior vice president, Lloyd Silverstein, got a mere six months home detention for his part in the fraud. He was convicted on the obstruction of justice charges as well but won leniency as he was the first of the executives to cooperate with investigators. He's already reached a civil settlement with the SEC.

Steven Woghin, the former in-house legal counsel for CA, got two years for his part in covering up the fraud.

Compared to Richards and Kumar, these other executives received slaps with damp bus tickets and will be out and working their old contacts in the mainframe market before next Christmas. It goes to show you that you can't work against the statistics - most people who face federal indictment plead gulity and of those who go to trial, a small minority get off. Richards knew that, but decided to go ahead with his not guilty plea, then at the last minute, changed his mind and pled guilty. The short sentences of his former colleagues will only serve to ram home just how bad his judgement really was.

19/02/2007

3GSM WRAP UP: 4G, MOBILE TV AND THE NEXT BILLION

Just back from 3GSM in Barcelona...well I was back for a day then off to the Gold Coast, where I am now. It's great here. I'm sitting on the 10th floor balcony with the warm breeze blowing in off the ocean. Some kind soul in this building or a neighbouring one going under the SSID Netgear has also decided to share their wireless internet access, which is great, bcause the fibre connection in the apartment I've rented isn't working.

The jetlag is wearing off (going to Europe for four days was a bad idea). But I've good memories of 3GSM - it wasn't as well put together as the show I went to a couple of years ago in Cannes, but the advances in handset design and mobile services made this one more interesting.

I didn't manage to get to the Sagrada Familia (see picture), the half-finished Gaudi cathedral, such was the hectic schedule of the conference. I'll certainly be heading back to Barcelona for more Tapas and a more leisurely look around that gorgeous city...

10 impressions from 3GSM 2007:

1. The new imate HSDPA smartphones look great - this company is going to play a bigger part in the mobile industry going forward. I've used their i-mate smartphones in the past and they've been okay. But they've cranked things up a notch in terms of design - things are loonig good for them.

2. Telecom is going to have to move to the GSM/HSDPA/LTE path in the next couple of years and leave cdma behind. With Telstra turning off its cdma network in January, Telecom customers are going to be in an awkward roaming position when going to Australia and the economics of being in the cdma camp aren't going to get any better as the GSM mobile base grows. It's not looking good for cdma and frankly, from a consumer perspecctive, having one technology underpinning all the networks is better.

3. The LG Prada is a smart move by LG, as is the Shine, which is far better than the clunky Chocolate.

4. Mobile TV looks lke a fizzer already. Except for big one-off sports events, I just can't see people subscribing to it. Still, there's a big commuter culture in Europe, the US and Asia, so maybe there's hope for it taking off the way it has in Korea.

5. Everyone in the mobile world is afraid of the iPhone. Noone seems to know exactly how seriously to take the threat of Apple, but due to the exclusive nature of the operator deals Apple is seeing, there's a fair amount of cynicism from Cingular's competitors in the US who have remarke that the deal with Apple is less that visionary. As a T-Mobile executive pointed out - exclusivity limits your product's growth potential and breaks from the typical Apple formula for success.

6. 3GSM needs sort out ts shit wen it comes to wireless internet access. For one, they were CHARGING for it! Second, the wi-fi in the press room was hopelessly slow, as was the Vodafone 3G data access they laid on.

7. Nokia seems to be falling further anf further behind in terms of handset design. The Asians, in particular, LG and Samsung are producing better phones these days

8. The Chinese want a piece of the mobile action - Huawei and ZTE were at 3GSM and while they get faint praise from the likes of Ericsson chief Carl-Henric Svanberg, they're generally disliked by the traditional players. That's because they've quickly learnt to do what the Europeamns can but cheaper. They'll be a big force in mobile in the next few years.

9. India is the next big moble market and more people will be accessing the internet from mobles than regular computers by 2010.

10. The Blackberry still deserves its "Crackberry" nickname. Just about every suit at 3GSM had one and was reaching for it constantly

Here are links to my Herald stories on mobile TV and the mobilisation of Web 2.0, the two hot topics at 3GSM.

Here's a story about moves underway by mobile equipment makers to power mobile networks in the developing world with biodiesel...

TOMORROW’S WORLD

Between technical talks on the future of the mobile industry and glitzy launches of new mobile phones at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona last week, was the odd session on mobile’s prospects in the developing world.


Telecoms operators talk with eagerness about the “next billion subscribers” that are expected to join the mobile world by 2010. The mobile industry needs these new entrants to keep up the high pace of growth the industry has experienced in recent years.

In developed nations, where mobile phone penetration is often approaching 100 per cent, the mobile players are looking to fancy new services like mobile TV and internet to boost revenue.
But much of the overall growth will come from the developing nations in Africa and Asia and in India.

Vodafone boss Arun Sarin expects India’s mobile subscriber base to grow from 180 million today to 500 million by 2011. He has just spent US$11 billion buying a stake in fourth-ranked telco Hutichison Essar to try and secure a piece of that burgeoning market.
But in tapping Indian mobile subscribers he and other mobile operators face one major obstacle. Three-quarters of India’s population lives in rural areas, off the power grid and definitely off the mobile network.

The big challenge is getting power to the mobile base stations that will push wireless voice and data services out into remote areas.

One possible answer is the use of biodiesel to power mobile base stations. At 3GSM, Swedish mobile equipment maker showed off a biodiesel manufacturing plant that’s small enough to fit on the back of a truck.

The plant is designed to extract oil from a wide variety of crops – from sunflowers, hemp and soybeans to coconuts, peanuts and even cotton plants.

The idea is that a developing country can use its abundant cash crops to power their mobile networks. Some crop extracts, such as palm oil aren’t being pushed as suitable biodiesel fuels, in case doing so would encourage deforestation.

While many rural mobile networks in the developing world are currently powered by conventional diesel powered generators, biodiesel has the important advantage of being biodegradable so is less polluting that petroleum-based diesel. Using those plentiful crops as the base ingredient also makes it much cheaper to produce.

The conversion process is fairly simple and takes up to eight hours. The plant and nut oil is combined in a vat with alcohol, usually methanol, and a catalyst, typically sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, which is dissolved in the methanol. The “reaction mix” is heated to just above the boiling point of the alcohol for several hours. After the glycerol, a type of sugar alcohol which has its own industrial uses, has been separated from the biodiesel, excess alcohol is tapped off. The biodiesel can then be diluted with petroleum diesel or run in its purest form,

Ericsson says a thousand litres of pure biodiesel can power up to 40 mobile base stations for a day. It has a pilot scheme running with Indian mobile operator Ideal Cellular using seeds of the Jatropha tree as a base ingredient and is also running trials in Nigeria. The irony is that farmers in developing nations could soon be growing a sizeable portion of their crops not to feed their communities but power the mobile networks that bring them into the communications loop.


Also below is a story I wrote up for the Telecommunications Review that wasn't publshed as it was done to death in the magazine's online publication The Line, which is a subscriber publication so would only have been read by the industry anyway...






TELSTRA CELL RANGE REACHES 200KM
by Peter Griffin
Telstra has deployed new long range cell network technology to extend broadband further into the outback as it beds in its high-speed NextG data network and prepares to pull the plug on CDMA.



The Australian operator has completed successful trials of long distance, high speed data transfer, upgrading the software in mountain-top base stations to extend site coverage from 50km to 200km.



The Extended Range software provided by Swedish equipment maker Ericsson, allowed Telstra to achieve data download speeds of 2.3Mbps (megabits per second) at a range of 200km during the trials.



“It’s a major leap from the normal 50km cell range. It’s particularly important for bringing high-speed networks to remote locations,” said Ericsson chief executive Carl-Henric Svanberg who revealed the results of the trials at the 3GSM World Congress last month in Barcelona.



Ericsson is effectively shut out of the New Zealand mobile market with the decommissioning of Telecom’s aging 025 network. After months of furious tendering in 2004, Nokia won the contract to upgrade Vodafone’s GSM network to wideband CDMA and its mobile broadband successor HSDPA and Lucent has completed a similar evolution for Telecom.



But Ericsson’s technology and mobile-based range extender services offered by other vendors, could become a viable access technology for areas of rural New Zealand, which are currently served by fixed wireless and satellite broadband.



Ericsson had upgraded 5000 of Telstra’s base stations to support high-speed HSDPA services in just 10 months, covering 98 per cent of the population using 850MHz spectrum.
“Every skilled electrician you can find in Australia was working for Ericsson at some time last year,” said Svanberg.



Even as Telstra starts testing 7.2Mbps data cards on its network, which now supports maximum download speeds of 14.4Mbps, Ericsson has developed an early version of the next evolution of mobile technology, so-called Long-Term Evolution.



Ericsson’s live LTE demonstration at 3GSM tested applications at peak transfer rates of between 100 and 144Mbps using 20Mhz of channel bandwith in the 2.6GHz frequency.
Ericsson’s vice president of systems architecture, Hakan Djuphammar, said MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) technology had allowed Ericsson to achieve similar transfer speeds using existing HSPA technology, but that was confined to carriers using 5MHz blocks of channel bandwidth.



“If you want to get to peak rates of 100 – 200Mbps, you have to increase the bandwidth of the system,” he said.



“HSPA can’t do that. LTE is more geared towards cases where you can access large chunks of bandwidth.”



LTE was drawing attention from carriers seeking to “re-farm” existing radio bandwidth and CDMA carriers looking to switch to migrate to GSM but reuse as many of their radio assets as possible.



“The CDMA industry peaked at 30 per cent of market share. It’s declining. That comes back to economies of scale,” said Djuphammar.
Ericsson had switched Brazilian operator Vivo from CDMA to GSM changing out 2300 base stations in 103 days.



Telstra will switch off its CDMA network in January after migrating customers to its GSM voice and HSDPA data networks. As a result, Telecom customers will need to take GSM phone when roaming to Australia or invest in the $299 Samsung WorldMode phone on offer that contains both CDMA and GSM chipsets.




LTE is likely to become commercially available towards the end of 2009 following further testing.

9/02/2007

CA'S "SCREW YOU" ATTITUDE: AN INSIDER'S VIEW

Messages have been coming in sporadically since my Herald piece about New Zealander Stephen Richards and his part in the US$2.2 billion accounting fraud at Computer Associates. Richards goes to jail in California on February 27 and despite what he has done I really feel for him - I met his wife and youngest son and could tell he has a wonderful, supportive family. He has to get used to the fact he'll now spend six years away from his kids who live in Australia.

Some of the emails are scathing of Richards management style and personality. I knew some of this already, through postings on the Yahoo Finance message boards that accuse him of racing his sports car around the CA carpark, showing contempt for customers and generally being arrogant in his dealings with staff. I kept those things out of the article because the bigger facts of the case speak for themselves and it would be hard to verify them anyway.

Other emails, such as the one below from a former CA employee I'll refer to as "Tom" paint an interesting picture of just how corrupt the culture of CA had become by 2000 - 2001. I've run the email in full and its worth reading if you're at all interested in what underpinned the downfall of CA

Peter,

I enjoyed your piece on Steven Richards and the downfall of CA. I wish you had been able to ask Richards about the other scheme that CA was running - booking mainframe software maintenance contracts as server software sales. CA has software that most large organization use to run their mainframe computers. It's vital to the continued success of those organizations, so the CA clients could not (or with extreme difficulty) get rid of the CA software.
When the contracts came up for renewal, they might have been backdate to get the sales into the past quarter. That was a widespread practice and everybody was aware of it, even down to my low level in sales.

More important, when these multi-million dollar contracts were renewed (for mainframe maintence of existing software), CA would throw in some FREE software for the clients server systems. The most common free software was Unicenter TNG. It was good software but didn't sell well and had competition from IBM.

When the multi-million dollar sales were reported to the Wall Street analysts, they were represented as SERVER software and CA was touting themselves as the company that kept the internet running, etc... It's not too sexy to be a mainframe software company and CA wanted to be connected with the growing internet business.

You said:
"In July 2000, CA advised that it would miss the earnings forecasts, because "several large contracts that were expected to close in the final days of the quarter have been delayed".

The next day, CA's share price opened 43 per cent down, at US$29."

This actually was a critical point in CAs downfall.

On the last working day in June 2000, CA met with the analysts and reported that earnings were on track, etc, etc, etc. This was a Friday and the begining of the July 4th Holiday in the US. Because of the calendar, it would be a 4 day weekend, and CA expected the analysts to go to the beach and relax over the holiday weekend. The price of the stock at the end of June was also the price paid by all employees who had been with-holding pay for six months to buy company stock.

The next day CA, thinking the analysts were all drunk at the beach, made a small announcement that they would not hit their quarterly earnings predictions.

The analysts, misled by CA for the last time, reacted swiftly by dumping CA stock the following Wednesday
and the price was cut in half.

All employees who were in the stock purchase plan saw their six month savings cut in half in 4 days. Those who had only administrative incompetence to complain about in the past now had actual malfeasance, and became enemies of the management and began talking freely to the press.

The rest is history.

I believe that the DOJ and the SEC would never have gotten involved if CA had not had such a "screw you" attitude toward their customers and their employees, with Steven Richards leading the charge in this attitude. It's possible to be successful without being arrogant, but Richards - in your interview - seems to have lost none of that. Maybe 7 years in jail will bring some humility, but I doubt it.

Richards was correct in one respect - Charles Wang was right in the middle and dodged every bullet.

8/02/2007

Skype skips NZ in plans for new local calling deals

New Zealand has been left out of plans by internet call provider Skype to offer local calling packages in 24 countries using its free software-based service.

Australia, which is a key market for Skype, will get the new domestic service, which will charge subscribers a flat monthly fee and a one-off "flag-fall" charge when calls to landlines and mobile phones are connected.

Skype Pro subscribers will still be able to make free calls to other Skype users and will not need to install any more equipment - an internet connection and computer, the Skype software and a microphone or Skype-compatible phone are all that is required.

The timing of Skype Pro's launch and its pricing has yet to be confirmed, but Skype executives have confirmed that the company will seek to charge less than ?5 ($9.50) a month for the service and around (?0.039) per call.

That would allow heavy callers to save on calls to landlines and mobiles by avoiding per-minute charges.

The Skype Pro service is mainly being extended to European nations, however Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia have been thrown into the mix.

One possible reason for New Zealand's exclusion is the presence here of free local calling. Telephone users in many other countries pay a per-minute rate for making local calls.
With no staff on the ground to ensure quality of service in many of the countries in which it operates, it is unclear what customer service or quality levels Skype Pro subscribers can expect.
Skype's spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

While New Zealand Skype users can currently buy SkypeOut dollars to make calls to landlines and mobiles, the service faces stiff competition from VoIP services offered by local internet providers.

Slingshot's iTalk service offers internet telephony that allows free calling between broadband subscribers and calls to landlines nationally and in many other countries at 5c per minute. A monthly subscription of $10 is also charged.

Xnet's pricing for its VFX internet telephony service is similar. However, Skype's popularity as a free calling service and the one-off call charges may make it popular in the countries it is offered in.

Skype Pro subscribers will also get a free voicemail service and a discount on buying a SkypeIn number, which allows users to receive calls from regular phones wherever they have access to an internet connection.

Skype last month launched a calling service in the US and Canada that allows unlimited calls within North America for a flat fee of US$30 a year. Skype options

For Kiwis: Free calling from computer to computer using a broadband connection, Skype software and a microphone or headset.

Free calling using a wireless Skype phone from the likes of Philips, Vtech or Linksys, which connects to your computer and can receive regular phone calls as well as Skype calls.
Toll calls to fixed line and mobile numbers locally and internationally using SkypeOut dollars purchased with a credit card. Call forwarding and voicemail are possible with SkypeIn numbers, but these are not currently offered in New Zealand.

FEEDBACK:

From Frank
You can't realy blame Skype for by passing NZ.They are in for the money. In NZ you can't make money out of local calls! It's free. That is a big hunk out of the income. I have been using Skype for calls to Holland and Greece it save many dollars over the Xmas.I tried it to Nelson and I find a lot more Echothen in overseas calls.
From Hans
A fierce competitor of Skype is VoipBuster which offers a much better and cheaper service then Skype . In addition it has a Direct Calling facility by which the normal landline phone set is used . It offers free call to 40 different countries which includes New Zealand .There is a charge of 5 Eurocents per call , unlimited talking time . The other party does not need a computer to be connected to the caller. In addition if the call is placed from your computer there is neither a connection nor time charge . check it out at www.voipbuster.com

7/02/2007

MERLIN'S MAGIC, JOBS WANTS TO SHED DRM

Here's a link to an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago, but only ran in the Herald today. It's about the formation of Merlin, a worldwide organise that bands together independent music trade groups to give them better bargaining power when it comes to negotiating online music and mobile phone download deals with media and technology companies. It's a great development for independent labels and their musicians.

From a New Zealand point of view, it should mean that our many independent artists have an easier route to the world market. But in researching the story, I learnt a lot more about the great work Wellington-based Loop Recordings have done on their own, in developing a direct relationship with the iTunes.com music store. This is a great model all local artists can take advantage off directly through Loop - they can pass on any artist's music to iTunes. Once you have your music on iTunes, Myspace's MyStore online music service, are promoting your band through your own website and MySpace listings and backing it up with solid gigging and media work, the need for a band to have a label at all does indeed start to look marginal.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs has written a very interesting letter on the Apple website, outlining his views on the future of DRM.

He outlines three ways forward: maintain the status quo with each major music player maker (Apple, Microsoft and Sony) all selling music that only plays on their own devices and is encoded with their own flavour of DRM. Secondly, create a universal DRM system that everyone applies to their software adn devices. Sounds like a great idea as it would mean music bought through the Zune Marketplace could play on my iPod. But Jobs thinks the DRM would be cracked quickly once everyone subscribes to it. Thirdly, scrap DRM entirely. An even better idea.

Jobs writes:

"The third alternative is to abolish DRMs entirely. Imagine a world where every online store sells DRM-free music encoded in open licensable formats. In such a world, any player can play music purchased from any store, and any store can sell music which is playable on all players. This is clearly the best alternative for consumers, and Apple would embrace it in a heartbeat.
"If the big four music companies would license Apple their music without the requirement that it be protected with a DRM, we would switch to selling only DRM-free music on our iTunes store. Every iPod ever made will play this DRM-free music."

Wow, what a great scenario. As Jobs points out, while Apple sold 2 billion DRM-protected tracks in 2006, the music industry sold around 20 billion tracks completely DRM-free on CD. So the online music market is unfairly penalised where CDs are sold, ripped and the contents can be placed on the internet for millions of others to download. This shows the inherent flaws in DRM and why it needs to be scrapped entirely. I'm glad Jobs wrote this letter. It's come after Apple has received a lot of flack, especially in Europe, over its closed iTunes-iPod model.

That's something that still annoys me. As an interim measure, Jobs could at least seek to go with a limited version of scenario 2 where he licences Apple's DRM so iTunes music will work on, say, the Creative Zen, the iRiver and the SanDisk Sansa. Screw the Zune, they can learn the hard way that when you're last to the party you can't create yet another closed system.

Ultimately however, DRM has to go, and Jobs has pointed the way forward. I hope other tech luminaries back his stance and enough pressure is able to be applied to the music industry to make it come to pass.

6/02/2007

WHEN THE WIKI WARDENS BUTT HEADS

By now, you've probably come across Wikipedia.org, the online encyclopedia that anyone can contribute to and a group of Wikipedia editors maintain. It's a fantastic resource with millions of entries on a huge range of subjects. Search in Google about a well-known event or person and you're likely to find a Wikipedia entry at the top of the search results returned.

But what makes a wiki article worthy of a Wikipedia entry? Who is to say whether an event put on here in New Zealand shouldn't be recorded for posterity amid the entries of Wikipedia? Well, it would seem the editors of Wikipedia are able to make that call as Juha Saarinen and Russell Brown have been discovering.

The pair put together a posting about the Kiwi Foo Camp that took place last weekend in Warkworth and by all accounts I've read, was a worthy and somewhat historic event. I'd have thought it was a sitter for a Wiki entry but it seems some Wikipedia readers took exception to the article, which they considered spam and blatant advertising. They requested that the article be deleted. This has led to an involved discussion about the formal process at Wikipedia when there's disagreement over what should be included.

In this case it looks like the opposition is on the basis that Kiwi Foo Camp is an off-shoot of the American Foo Camp which was founded by publisher and businessman Tim O'Reilly, hence could be seen as advertising a commercial enterprise. However, if that methodology is applied to Wikipedia, thousands of other listings would immediately be deemed worthy of deletion.

Brands, companies and commercial events are everywhere and form an important part of the world we live in and Wikipedia reflects this. Obviously, with Wikipedia's exposure to the world audience so extensive, individuals, organisations and companies are eager to appear in it. Obviously, the line has to be drawn somewhere. It seems reasonable to have an entry about Coca Cola or Intel, well-known companies with histories well worth being recorded. But there doesn't appear to be any good reason why there should be an entry about my own company Time Safari Ltd, and I'd expect any submitted entry to be flagged for deletion.

But what when the line is finer, when Wikipedia is dealing with very recent events or unknown companies that nevertheless, have contributed to history in some small way? This is where the debate over the Kiwi Foo Camp entry comes in and it is good that the disputes process around entries has been clarified through the discussion.

I'm in agreement with the poster who added this to the discussion:

"I am interested at what happened at Kiwi Foo Camp. There was a body of knowledge created there and this is an appropriate place to record it. I want to read about it, and I wasn't invited :-) I'm amazed at the cut-throat action against new pages, I've never seen this before. Bwooce 01:40, 6 February 2007 (UTC)"

The entry will probably get to stay, once the silliness recedes, but this is a problem we're going to come across more often as new entries are added to Wikipedia and there is debate about what exactly is worthy of being recorded. There will always be a level of subjectivity involved - we all have different ideas of what should be "on the record". The Wikipedia listing and disputes process has to be watertight to ensure the integrity of the entire venture is maintained.

MOORE'S LAW ROLLS ON

Seeing as the Herald on Sunday don't seem to have got its act together to put my Tomorrow's World Sci/tech columns online, I thought I'd post the last two including graphic editor Phil Welch's table showing the evolution of Moore's Law.


TOMORROW’S WORLD - CHIPPING AWAY AT MOORE'S LAW
Remember those chunky beige computers and brick-like mobile phones that pop up in re-runs of old movies from the eighties?
They’re a world away from the wafer-thin mobile phones and lightweight laptops we carry around these days. Much of the improvement has been down to evolution of computer chips, which have got smaller and more powerful every year for the past 40 years.
And speculation that scientists are coming up against hard limits in how much smaller and faster they can go was blown out of the water last week with Intel and IBM both unveiling new methods of shrinking chip technology even further using more sophisticated nanotechnology methods.

The new chips will not only have faster clock speeds and be smaller, but consume less power, so your laptop or mobile phone battery will last longer.

For the scientists at Intel and IBM, the companies responsible for most of the innovation in the world of computer chips, the successful trials of 45nm (nanometer) chips come as a great relief.
That’s because the new chip technology helps preserve Moore’s Law, a principal that has driven computer chip development since the 1960s.

Named after Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, Moore’s Law dictates that the number of transistors on a computer chip, will roughly double every two years, and get cheaper to make. Since Intel began producing its silicon chips, the law has held true, leading to the current generation of dual-core and quad-core processors and the high-performance IBM chips built into the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.

The current generation of chips hold around 280 million transistors. But that will increase to 410 million transistors when Intel moves to its Penryn family of chips, which are based on 45-nanometer technology.

Those chips will be in the market early next year even as Intel seeks to build chips using a 30nm process. IBM will follow later with its own chip family it’s developing with Intel rival AMD and partners such as Toshiba.

Shrinking the size of computer chips and squeezing more transistors onto a sliver of silicon has this time required a new method. IBM and Intel are using metal and insulating material dubbed “high-k” to make the gates that surround the tiny transistors and determine whether they are switched on or off. Until now they have been using silicon, which is less able to hold an electrical charge.

So expect electronics to continue to get smaller, faster and more power-efficient in the next few years and take a digital photo of your slimline computer and svelte mobile phone. In a decade’s time you’ll no doubt chuckle at how chunky they seem.

On the web:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law
TOMORROW’S WORLD - COMETS AND STAR WARS
They say comets bring plague and pestilence, but there’s been only wonder and excitement since Comet McNaught began appearing in the night sky to the South West.
I first saw him at dusk one evening as I headed south for Wellington on the Desert Road. He started out as a shimmering star, but developed a long, glowing tail as the sky darkened.
For a couple of hundred kilometres I followed McNaught, a guiding light through the windscreen, before he disappeared behind the hills.
With that orange tail, the “Great Comet” is one of the most impressive things I ever seen in the night sky. But there’s something equally thrilling in spending a night out under the stars spotting man-made satellites, as I did on holiday away from the light pollution of Wellington at Riversdale last week.
It is amazing the frequency with which satellites pass over. They come from all directions and move at varying speeds depending on their size. One of the biggest is the International Space Station, but there are dozens of smaller satellites appearing. The excellent website Heavens Above tells you where and when to look for comets and gives their magnitude rating which indicates how bright they appear in the sky. In satellite spotting, a negative mag rating is a good thing.
To give an indication – the sun is -26.7 mag. The International Space Station is -2.
You don’t have to lie on your back watching the sky for long to realise there are a lot of satellites circling the earth. There are set to be even more. The great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, once predicted a time when every village has its own satellite in space. The way things are going, he could well be right. Nations are scrambling to get into space with their own satellites to reduce their dependence on foreign satellites for crucial things like national security, weather monitoring and communications.
The US owns or operates around half the satellites 845 satellites orbiting the earth.
Those late to the space race have something else in mind too – joining the elite club of nations that have put astronauts in space and employed re-usable spacecraft to do so.
Last week a capsule launched by India’s space agency splashed down in the Bay of Bengal boosting the Indians’ plans to send an unmanned capsule to the moon in 2008. They hope to put an astronaut into space by 2014 but will be doing it on a shoestring compared to the space programmes of the Americans, Russians and even the Chinese.
As the Indians celebrated their successful mission, China blasted one of its own aging weather satellites to pieces using a new anti-satellite missile it developed. It has the ring of Reagan’s Star Wars programme and shows just how crucial having your own satellites and the ability to take out your potential enemy’s one really is.
Meanwhile, the aims of New Zealand’s fledgling satellite programme Kiwisat are much less ambitious but far more innocuous. It involves putting a tiny satellite into low earth orbit for use by amateur radio enthusiasts.
On the web:
http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~jpsl/KiwiSAT_index.htm

5/02/2007

FOO, XERO AND SERATO

Reports are filtering out about the directions discussion took over the weekend at Kiwi Foo Camp, the gathering of geeks, creative types, entrepreneurs and politicians in Warkworth. It sounds like it was a really good event. Russell Brown, who helped organise it has a decent write-up. Juha at Geekzone also chips in as does Mauricio.

The most positive things to come out of Foo seem to have been communications minister David Cunliffe deciding to make internet peering a priority this year, something which could aid New Zealand web companies. It's also been interesting to hear of some of the developments planned for Firefox 3.0, courtesy of Kiwi Firefox and Google developer Ben Goodger. Rod Drury demonstrated his new web-based accounting service Xero and I notice the Xero website has now gone live.

In a maiden blog posting, Drury writes:

"As small business owners ourselves, we know what it's like. We know that cashflow is king. We understand the pressure of trying to spend quality time with your kids when your tax return is due tomorrow."

In other words, Xero is designed to make life easier for small business owners who want to spend the minimum of time dealing with accounting issues. Sounds good, can't wait to see it in action.

Also, a story of mine in the Herald today about an innovative Auckland company called Serato, which is doing great things on the world stage on the live deejay and music recording scene.