29/04/2007

PRECOCIOUS TEEN EYES UP EARTH

TOMORROW'S WORLD, HERALD ON SUNDAY
by Peter Griffin

A very precocious and observant teenager celebrated a birthday last Tuesday, a day before my own.

At least I'm lucky enough to have my mine fall on Anzac day, giving me a holiday as a present each year. The 17-year-old Hubble Telescope enjoys no days off, as it floats out in space, a sharp-eyed lookout for humanity.

(graphic: Phil Welch, Herald on Sunday)

Since it was launched in 1990, the Hubble has made 800,000 observations and taken 500,000 photographs of some 25,000 celestial objects.

Its photographic handiwork, especially the epic Pillars of Creation photographs, which show the birth of stars in the Eagle Nebula in the constellation Serpens, has delivered scientists a mother lode of information about space.

In the fantastic sci-fi thriller Sunshine, our own Cliff Curtis stares transfixed at the sun as the spaceship he is on hurtles towards the centre of the universe. You feel the same sense of enchantment when you look at the Hubble's panorama of the Carina Nebula that has been released to celebrate the birthday of the telescope, named after renowned astronomer Edwin P Hubble.

The scale of the mosaic, pieced together from 48 pictures taken by the Hubble's cameras, is mind-boggling. It shows an explosive inferno of burning stars 7500 light years away. The image itself is 50 light years wide. A dozen of the stars are estimated to be 50 to 100 times the mass of our own sun. One of the stars, Eta Carinae is about to die a fiery supernova death, while others are newly born.

You can download the image at http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/html/heic0707a.html

If you have a fast internet connection and a large data download cap, go for the 500 megabyte version which gives amazing detail. You'll easily pass an afternoon zooming around this landscape.

The picture isn't exactly what the Hubble has seen. Colours have been added to the picture to represent the gases present - red for sulphur, green for hydrogen and blue for oxygen.

It isn't just a pretty picture. By studying the nebula, which is effectively a massive cloud of dust, hydrogen and plasma, astronomers can learn how our own solar system was formed around 4.6 billion years ago.

The Hubble is possibly the most productive research tool scientists have ever had at their disposal. Daily it generates 10GB of data, while the Hubble Archives share 66GB of information to scientists who have written 7000 papers based on the data.

That would seem to justify the billions spent on launching and maintaining the Hubble. But what of its future?

The orbiting observatory is due for an upgrade next year that will extend its life to 2013. At that stage, the Hubble will be retired in favour of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is smaller than the Hubble but has a much larger mirror than its predecessor.

That means it can see further into the past, watching the light patterns emitted by interstellar activity long since completed. The Webb will be an expensive beast - US$3.5 billion ($4.7 billion) - and at 1600km from Earth, it won't be serviceable by astronauts. Instead, it will be controlled by remote signals sent from a control centre on the ground. Some of the Webb's cameras will be fine-tuned for infrared wavelengths.

That means it will see much more detail. Thanks to the Hubble and the Webb, we can expect much more impressive celestial photography to come.

28/04/2007

DIAL-UP POLICIES IN A BROADBAND WORLD

Wellington entrepreneur Rod Drury links to some interesting comments by National Party leader Jon Key on the focus he promises to place on the issue of improving the country's telecommunications infrastructure. The complete text of Key's speech, in which he refers to Labour running "dial-up policies in a broadband world" is available on his website here.

National's IT and communications policy has been woefully inadequate to date and the party has failed to seriously engage in the discussion around telecoms regulation and development of the IT industry at a policy level. Hopefully Key's comments will be followed up with some progressive policies. Telecommunications could prove to be an election issue next year, so some strong policy are needed by Key and National.

FREEVIEW: WHAT YOU'LL NEED TO GO DIGITAL

A plethora of stories in the Herald today about Freeview free-to-air digital TV which is launched on Wednesday. John Drinnan does an interesting piece about how Freeview might change the competitive landscape. John's story suggests 30,000 people have already bought the set-top boxes that will allow them to receive satellite digital TV. I think that's probably a large over-statement seeing as none of the retailers have been doing much advertising of the boxes.
My story looks at what the options are for Freeview in terms of hardware. The Coship 160GB digital recorder Satlink is offering for $595 looks like a good option for those wanting to record TV to watch later.
Also, an interesting story about the viewer backlash to Canwest's move to deliver TV3 programmes in widescreen. The problem facing those with widescreen TVs who are receiving a digital TV signal is that not all of the programmes broadcast are in 16:9 format yet. For instance, The Simpsons is still in 4:3 format so black bars are put down the sides of the picture to fill the widescreen TV sets. That looks pretty ugly and the situation is likely to continue to but those with widescreen TVs and digital feeds until all programmes are delivered in 16:9 format.

Feedback from Ray:

The North Shore City Council has a restriction on Sattelite Dishes via a recent District Plan Change. Those people who live in North Shore City MAY have to obtain a Resource Consent and pay a fee to the Council BEFORE installing the Freeview Dish. Why doesnt NZ Herald clarify that with North Shore City Council and advise the public via NZ Herald? They are the only City Council in New Zealand to have gone down this path. Wayne Thompson was there for the hearings last November.

27/04/2007

WHERE'S TELECOM'S BLACKBERRY WORLDPHONE?


Here's the problem for Telecom's high value business customers: because Telecom doesn't support the Blackberry and Symbian-based smartphones like the P900i, they're restricted to using the Treo or Apache when it comes to phone-PDA hybrids.

That's okay when those customers are in New Zealand, but what if they want to travel to countries without CDMA networks, particularly, Australia, which will be CDMA-less from next year? In those situations, businesspeople essentially have to make do without much of the functionality of their personal devices.

When I as at the Kansas headquarters of Sprint in November, a Telecom representative based there said Telecom wasn't interested in offering the Blackberry, despite the Telecom-Sprint relationship meaning it would be able to get its hands on Blackberries in sufficient quantities.

With Sprint and Verion introducing the Blackberry Worldphone, which includes CDMA and GSM chips, executives can literally get push email anywhere in the world.

This article outlines the benefits for Sprint and Verizon customers who can take up the Blackberry 8800 variant Worldphone.

"The BlackBerry is being rolled out by Verizon with an international data plan costing $20 per month for unlimited e-mail access in about 60 countries on top of the regular BlackBerry subscription fee of $45 to $50 a month. Occasional travelers can opt to pay as they go for their data usage. The device also can be used as a phone in more than 150 countries at a cost of $1.29 or $2.49 per minute, depending on the market."

That's not a bad deal for globe-trotting executives. It will be interesting to see it similar Apache or Treo like devices become available to Telecom. If not, the telco may live to regret its decision to shun the Blackberry in favour of Windows Mobile devices, especially if the new chief executive of the company has long-term plans for the CDMA network.

26/04/2007

ALCATEL-LUCENT: IS THE MERGER WORKING?

As Alcatel Lucent's Asia-Pacific Vice President Frederic Rose visits New Zealand, the company signals May's results announcement will disappoint and that further results may also look grim.

Rose has some interesting comments on the local regulatory scene and the future of Telecom in this interview I did with him in the Herald.

The New York Times has an interesting story on the profit warning, suggesting the merger may be in trouble:

"Analysts said the results showed that the combination of Alcatel of Paris and Lucent of Murray Hill, N.J., was being dogged by overlapping product lines and weak demand for wireless telecommunications equipment in a fast-changing market."

Rose, for his part, seemed pretty happy with Asia Pacific's progress when I met with him earlier this week. It will be interesting to see if there's any breakdown of the regions in the results when they are published in May.

SHANGHAI SURPRISES AND SILVER BULLETS

The link below will take you to my column in the current Idealog magazine. It's about movie piracy, an unorthodox view on its remedy and the opportunities that may grow out of piracy for the New Zealand film industry...

Also, courtesy of the Motion Picture Association, some photos taken during their recent Operation Trident raids in Asia.
The launching ceremony of Stop Export Piracy campaign (Dec 14, 2007)

One of the officer checking one of the replicating machine (Jan 16, 2007)

The mould were tampered to produce discs which looks like being produce by licensed factory with erased SID codes (Jan 16, 2007)

PVC pipes which were used as a container to store pirated discs (Jan 27, 2007)

Inside view of the PVC pipes (Jan 27, 2007) Some of the pirated DVDs found in one of the room (Dec 5, 2007)

23/04/2007

ON STAGE... IT WAS GREAT

Wellington playwright Gavin McGibbon's second play, Stand Up Love premieres at Bat's Theatre on Friday the 27th at 6.30pm. It'll be worth a look. His first play, After Service which featured as part of the Fringe festival last year, was a real breath of fresh air for Wellington theatre.

I went to the script workshop session on Stand Up Love and this latest effort continues McGibbon's preoccupation with quirky, complex characters, mordant humour and intense character relationships. This is a two-man play.

As the Bats blurb reads:

"Why would you name your kid Apple? Shouldn’t porn stars promote fitness equipment? And what’s with garden gnomes? You looked at 'em? They're the paedophiles of ceramics.

"All this and more is answered as the relationship between a stand-up comedian and his infomercial loving girlfriend gets put under the spotlight.

"Chapman Tripp winner Erin Banks (I.D., Hamlet) and nominee Robert Lloyd (Fool for Love) are directed by Larry Rew (Kikia te Poa) in a new work from the writer of After Service ("striking" - Capital Times, "must see" - Dominion Post).

When is love just another four-lettered word

THE AMAZING RACE: CAN THE KIWIS MAKE IT?

All eyes are on the stop-start Louis Vuitton sailing action in Valencia at the moment, but the epic Earthrace round the world record attempt may turn out to provide much more excitement, all up.
The Kiwi effort to get around the world in 75 days or less looked shaky as the boat, which is powered by bio-diesel, was caught up in a fatal collision with a fishing boat off Guatemala, then had mechanical problems on the leg out from San Diego. Earthrace, according to its website, is still 2900 miles behind schedule, but has made up over a thousand miles in its race west across the Pacific.

The crew have cut land stops to a minimum, simply picking up fuel and supplies and heading on. They'll only touch land a handful of times between Singapore and the Bahamas in their attempt to beat the record set by the Cable & Wireless boat in 1998.

It would be fantastic for Earthrace to dock in the Bahamas having beaten the record, especially given the problems they've faced. It's probably still a long shot and there's no room for error, but here's hoping...

Check out the blog updates at www.earthrace.net

21/04/2007

WHAT'S HOLDING BACK THE WII?

The figures for US video game market sales for March just came through and show that Nintendo's Wii has outsold the Xbox 360 and Sony PS3 for the third month running. Sales of hardware and software are booming in the US, up 33 per cent as the new consoles on the market and the games that go with them are snapped up.

The Wii has, against the odds, taken on the two heavyweights of the industry and won, when it comes to consoles sold. But it's a very different picture in New Zealand where the pint-sized games console is struggling to gain traction.

This story I wrote for last week's Herald provides some background, but the chart below illustrates the problem clearly. The Wii just isn't competing with its two key rivals. Even the PSP is outselling the Wii.

Nintendo, which doesn't have a local presence, hasn't done much marketing of the Wii, compared to Sony's push with the PS3. There have been some Wii-related TV adverts of late and a bit of newspaper and circular advertising but marketing budget constraints seem to have hamstrung the Wii. If Nintendo is serious about the New Zealand market it needs to set up an office here. Sony and Microsoft both have the benefit of having in house people looking after their gaming interests and external PR companies to push their wares. The Wii just can't compete with that sort of marketing muscle.

The Wii has even even been going gangbusters in Australia, so you can't put its poor performance here down to cultural differences.

As Gfk Australia analyst Daniel Morse told me:

"The greatest disparity between Australia and New Zealand is the performance of the Nintendo formats in NZ. In Australia the Nintendo DS was the best selling console for 2006 with over 287,000 units. In NZ the Nintendo DS has only just sold 12,000 in the same time.

"To put that in perspective the PS2 sold 265,000 in AU for 2006 in NZ it sold 61,000. Similarly the Nintendo Wii has sold over 80,000 in Australia and only 6,000 in NZ. In the near future I believe this will be further highlighted as many international publishers have increased their support for Nintendo's formats, given the popularity of the formats worldwide and as some of the industries biggest franchises move across to Nintendo's formats. I am surprised the NZ consumer is not more embracing of Nintendo's product."

19/04/2007

HP'S VIEW OF TECH FIVE TO TEN YEARS OUT

A story of mine in the Herald about the design concepts coming out of HP Labs for the computers, tablets and personal devices of the future. Minimalism seems to be the design trend of the future for HP. Their mock-ups of future devices seem like scaled down, skimpy gadgets of the Apple variety. Everything is white or brushed metal and the HP-designed coffee table of the future resembles an iPod docking station.
Here are a few photos of concepts HP's band of Ph.Ds are working on:

The HP coffee tablet which has a display built into its surface and an inductive charging bay so you can simply pop your tablet into the tray to recharge it.

It doesn't get more minimalist than this. A light-based keyboard allows you to gently tap on the notebook's surface rather than punch the keys.
The HP media mat, which presumably one day with be flexible and foldable, so you can hold it on your knee like a page from a newspaper. It uses UWB communication to update the displayed information.The Watch that sits are the centre of the future HP digital environment. With UWB built-in, it communicates wirelessly with other devices in the home, acting as a control, communications device and personal media player.

NORTON 360: NOT EVEN HALF BAD

My Herald column about the internet security suite Norton 360, which is actually a fairly decent package. I was getting so frustrated with both McAfee Total Protection and Norton Internet Security 2007 which I run on different systems that I was about to uninstall both of them. I've only been running 360 for six weeks, but it's already proving to be much more efficient and unobtrusive. Shame that it misses a couple of useful things such as the digital vault and wireless networking security management.



The problem with paid-for security suites is that they feel the need to prove their value by constantly popping up in your face. The sharp, metallic alarm sound that McAfee uses to alert you to the fact it needs attention is particularly annoying, especially as it goes off a couple of times a day. What a hideous thing to set as a default on some software.

Norton 360 is a positive step forward, I hope this singles a step up for an industry that perhaps is worried about losing disillusioned customers to Vista users employing the enhanced security of the new operating system and some supplementary stand alone packages to do the job of a McAfee or Symantec.

17/04/2007

FAT BASTARDS AND FAMILY MEN


They arrive with regularity, probably at the rate of one a week, maybe three or four if I've written something that gets picked up by Americans browsing Google News. These emails have come to be a bit of a bore for me, but I know what a laugh Family Guy fans have when they see the byline "Peter Griffin" on top of a "serious" story. They obviously just can't help themselves and it gives me comfort to know they're delighting in their discovery (yeah right). Here's a selection from the past couple of months...


From Mark:

"Hey iv allways loved peter griffin i love your show family guy it's great And i'm pleased that you like the ps3 so much im gonna save up and get one cheers peter"

From Rawkus:

Youre a fat bastard!!! (I'm not 100 per cent sure if this is a Family Guy reference, I think it is...)
From John

Hey Peter,
Did you know that your name is the same as the Dad off the popular "Family Guy"? But im sure you probably already know that.
Must be awesome to be Peter Griffin!

From familyguy

d00d u ttly hve teh same name as teh family guy
i luv teh family guy

From Barnaby

Hi, just thought I'd mail to say I like your articles. Also, I'm sure you've heard this before but awesome name man! I hope you watch Family Guy.

Keep up the good work Peter,
Regards,
Barnaby

From May.N

Dear Peter,
Did you know there's a TV show called The Family Guy and the show's star is called Peter Griffin? Thought it would crack you up to know.



16/04/2007

THE NAVMAN STORY: PETER MAIRE INTERVIEW

My cover story in The Business magazine in The New Zealand Herald out today is based on an in-depth interview with Peter Maire, the founder of satellite navigation company Navman. Maire talks frankly about hid disappointment over where things ended up with Navman, his frustration at the lack of vision when it comes to Government initiatives in the IT sector and his hopes and plans for Cadmus, the Eftpos terminals maker he has become chairman of.

The piece is not yet online, there's usualy a delay in The Business features going up. But I'm posting the guest editorial I wrote for this week's magazine and a sidebar to the story that features an interview with a satellite navigation device expert who gives a critical look at Navman's products.

THE BUSINESS | editorial:

Satellite navigation company Navman was our only truly global consumer electronics brand, one you could see prominently on display in electronics stores in cities throughout the world.

With the vision its founder Peter Maire had for the company, even after he sold it to US conglomerate Brunswick, it seemed a strategy to work with car makers would make Navman even bigger.

But globalization isn’t a one way street. The forces that brought Brunswick to New Zealand also led to it scraping its move into high-tech development and selling Navman in pieces less than three years after in bought it.

When Brunswick boss George Buckley was in New Zealand to ink the Navman deal, he told us that "if the Americans are coming, it's to learn from the New Zealanders," not to take our intellectual property and move on. It didn’t pan out the way Buckley planned and Maire is deeply disappointed at what happened to his company.

But while the remnants of Navman have been sold to Norwegian and Taiwanese companies, there’s much to be salvaged from the whole experience.

As a country we’re building a huge resource in these wealthy entrepreneurs who have sold their businesses offshore and now have a pot of money to invest in new ventures. Very few of them retire to the beach never to be seen in business circles again. Driven by the innate need to succeed and in many cases, a heart-warming desire to give something back to their country, they start over, creating more intellectual property, more jobs, more opportunities for New Zealanders.

That’s why we’re lucky to have people like Peter Maire, Rod Drury, Sam Morgan and Neville Jordan. In the technology sector in particular, we now have a group of individuals who have been to the cut-throat North American market and survived, are respected in the Silicon Valley venture capital clique and have learnt how to take Kiwi companies global – often from their own mistakes.

As a result, our fragile IT industry is finally starting to show signs of solid, coordinated development.

Peter Jackson’s success in the film industry shows what can be achieved when even a small group of individuals and companies in a particular industry make it overseas. There’s a domino effect back home, opportunities open up for everyone, the world comes calling.

And while we invite our successful entrepreneurs to take seats on Government boards and lead well-meaning think tanks, too often their ideas are ignored and, frustrated by bureaucracy, they lose interest.

We need some visionary thinking at a Government policy level to capitalize on the successes our technology sector has made in the last few years. No longer can we afford to tinker and fiddle, as Maire puts it.

Traditionally, we’ve managed to pick up some of the crumbs because we have a skilled, English-speaking labour force. But faced with a crippling shortage of highly skilled and experienced workers, one getting so bad it will probably force more technology development offshore, we can’t afford to be complacent in trying to attract global attention. We need to get more multinationals here, undertake better quality R&D and do more to attract quality VC investment. We need to get the infrastructure in shape so we can take advantage of the revolution in internet services that is underway. Our tech sector luminaries aren’t reticent in spelling this out. The question now is who will take the lead and make some visionary changes?

JUST HOW GOOD WAS NAVMAN?

If Peter Maire’s vision for Navman diverged with those of its American owners, there was consensus when it came to the devices that made up Navman’s most consumer-centric business, that of personal and in-car navigation.

Maire says Navman’s product development didn’t suffer despite the turmoil in Brunswick New Technologies and that the existing line-up is “as good as anything else” on the market.

Yet despite generating in excess of US$300 million in revenue last year, Navman’s personal navigation division was bleeding cash when it was sold to Taiwanese electronics maker Mitac last month.

Satellite navigation expert and editor of the popular website Pocketgpsworld.com, Darren Griffin, says Navman shook up the industry with a product that converted handheld computers into navigation devices.

Ironically, Pocketgpsworld emerged four years ago out of Griffin’s frustration with one of Navman’s GPS attachments, which was designed to fit his Compaq iPaq handheld computer.

“Although revolutionary they were very problematic and a group of us formed a Yahoo group to discuss the product and solutions,” he says.

The website was born and its forums now host hundreds of users who visit to read in-depth reviews of GPS devices and seek advice on navigational issues.

Navman led the industry with its SmartST navigation software, says Griffin and later models of its in-car navigation units benefited from improved design.

But somewhere along the way, Navman “lost the race” for first place in the GPS market.

“They were very well placed at the start, developed the first true consumer mapping solution and should have been the market leaders as a result,” he says.

A key failing, according to Griffin was Navman’s delay in allowing geographical points of interest to be placed on electronic maps, letting users pinpoint notable features.

“Competitors who did have built-in support, particularly for speed cameras, took a huge lead. At that time I thought Navman were very blinkered in the path they were intending to take. They were not open or receptive to advice and even now although they have support for custom points of interest, it is poor,” he says.

Brunswick complained about cut-throat competition in the GPS market leading to lower margins. But Griffin says Navman also failed to stay innovative.

“With the exception of their SmartPix solution, their products lacked any other features which stood out and indeed in some areas such as custom points of interest, they had very poor support.”

There were many things weighing in Navman’s favour - products compared well on price, and the Navman brand was well-liked.

Griffin and his fellow editors have been watching the Mitac buy-out of the Navman personal navigation division with interest.

“I hope that Mitac do retain Navman as a wholly separate brand but I fear they may eventually subsume them and use the Navman name for their own product lines,” he said.

While Mitac had a good existing product line in the Mio, Griffin said the time was ripe for a strong competitor to take on market leader TomTom.

“TomTom have reached something of a plateau this year and we all wish someone would produce a product that could give them a real run for their money.”



15/04/2007

THE BEST AND WORST MOBILE PHONES

My Herald on Sunday story looking at where mobile phone technology is going.

A good indication is the Nokia N95 (pictured left), which goes on the market here next month for $1599.

The paper asked me to make a call on what I though were the best and worst phones on the market here at the moment. It was a hard list to assemble. I only considered handsets I've actually had a decent play with and that are sold through the main chains - not through Parallel Imported, for instance.

I balanced things such as price, features and
design to come up with the list. Hardly scientific, but then look at the ho-hum list the Consumer's Institute comes up with when it gets all technical and ignores aesthetics? You'll need a subscription to browse their best-of list.

My list:

THE BEST

Nokia 6275 (Telecom)

A fairly plain looking Nokia, but about as good as they come for Telecom customers – the Consumers Institute agrees, it’s their top pick in CDMA handsets. The 6275 packs the features in – mp3 player, FM radio, two megapixel camera, which actually takes decent photos, an expansion slot for loading up with music. There’s no mobile broadband and it’s a tad on the expensive side but Nokias are built to last. It’s also got a cool GPS feature that lets you measure your location and find out what direction you are going in.

Price: $699

Motorola RAZR V3 (Vodafone)

An absolute classic. It’s the iPod of the mobile phone world, changed Motorola’s fortunes and launched a line of phones with similarly bizarre names. It’s all in the looks with the RAZR, which is a little anaemic when it comes to features. The camera isn’t up to much, but it handles calling and texting well. A nice metallic keyboard and large, bright screen are revealed when the slim-line clamshell is opened up.

Price: $299

Samsung W531 (Telecom)

Samsung’s dual-mode phone wins instant credit for incorporating at such a reasonable price, chips that allow access to both GSM and CDMA networks. The W531 is the phone Telecom customers who are traveling abroad can use for roaming in countries where there is no CDMA network. The handset is also of compact, lightweight design and has good battery life and calling quality.

Price: $299

Vodafone 1210 (Vodafone)

The cheapest smartphone to support the Windows Mobile platform, the 1210 is ideal for those who want to sync their Outlook address book and view Microsoft Office documents on their phone. A fairly conservative design masks the rich functionality of this candy bar smartphone which is ideal for email and has expandable memory and Windows Media Player built in, so it can be used as a music phone too.

Price: $599

Nokia N73

The N73, as nice as it is, would be far too expensive where it not for the fact that a 1GB miniSD card is currently being bundled with it. Don’t buy a N73 unnless you get the memory card thrown in as well. The addition 1GB card makes the N73 a suitable music phone and gives you enough capacity to make good use of the surprisingly good 3.2 megapixel camera built into it.

Price: $999

THE WORST

Motorola V3XX (Vodafone)

It packs more punch than its predecessor, the V3, but not enough to justify its massive price premium. The V3XX is basically aimed at the same target market – people who want a good-looking phone for calling and texting. In that respect, the high-speed data access is of marginal value.

Price: $799
Sharp GX29 (Vodafone)

Ugly, ugly, ugly. It resembles the first generation of 3G phones we saw two years ago – too big, too chunky and it doesn’t even offer 3G services. The camera isn’t up to much and there’s virtually no onboard memory to store photos anyway. Even at its low-end price there are much better models on the market.

Price: $299

LG KU800 (Vodafone)

A good phone spoiled by its touch-sensitive menu keys which cause no end of frustrated fiddling around. The KU800 is the updated version of the LG Chocolate, which was hugely successful in the US. The sliding action of the phone is nice and there are some good features built in – a two megapixel camera and second camera for video calls, memory expansion slot and high-speed data. Pity about the touchy controls.

Price: $799

SANYO PINKILICIOUS (Telecom)

It may be popular with teenage girls but with the horrible grill on the front and that pink protruding aerial, the Pinkilicous is a design disaster. The external display is monochrome giving it a distinctly retro feel and meaning picture caller ID is out. It’s worth stumping up the extra $100 for the Sanyo Diva clamshell which is better featured and wins points for its styling.

Price: $249


Nokia 6165 (Telecom)

A strange fixture in the Nokia line-up, the 6165 is a mid-range phone that tries to do many things, but does nothing very well. The one megapixel camera is a write-off. There’s Bluetooth and infra-red connectivity but not supporting high-speed data, it’s not ideal for use as an external modem. Its design is symptomatic of the CDMA phones that carry the Nokia brand – uninspired.

Price: $399

FEEDBACK:

From Ross

Hi Peter, I really enjoy reading your stuff, and I also enjoy your blog as well. I just got a new N95 here in Australia (for AU$1200). I have only had it for a couple days, but it that time I have been unable to connect it to any wifi networks, after a long support call with Nokia they blamed my home and work networks for not accepting the device. They are going to get a tech to call me back. But after googling the problem I see many other N-series users have similar problems connecting to wifi networks- one of the best features of the phone.

WHEN THE EARTH HOLDS ITS BREATH

My Herald on Sunday column is about moves afoot to make carbon sequestration a viable method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and therefore reduce the effects of global warming.

The idea is that we inject the carbon coming from polluting energy plants into pockets in the Earth that used to be filled with natural gas and oil.

Phil Welch, the Herald on Sunday's graphics editor has put together a helpful diagram to show how it works:

14/04/2007

KIWI COMPANIES GOING GLOBAL

A couple of stories of mine published in the Herald this week about kiwi companies that are undertaking aggressive global expansion plans.

I visited Andrew Cardno at Compudigm in January when I was on the way to the CES show. His company is really going places after Andrew and his co-founders putting in ten years of solid work. It looks like the toil will soon pay off for them. Compudigm is the darling of the data visualisation industry in the US, when they have all the major casinos as clients. Now Compudigm is pushing into Europe and Asia, when Macau is now as big a gambling destination as Las Vegas. You can read the story on Compudigm here. Nice to see that Andrew is committed to keeping development in Wellington too.

Another company gearing up for global expansion is Healthphone, which has just brought on a senior Microsoft executive to head the company from a new headquarters in Seattle, a stone's throw from Microsoft's campus. Healthphone has completely aligned itself with Microsoft's health software platform and strategy, a move that carries a certain amount of risk. But Microsoft's strength in this space and in the Windows Mobile platform which Healthpohne emplys to get health data out to PDAs and smartphones, means the deal looks like having major advantages for Healthphone. As this interview with new CEO Debbi Gillotti and president Matt Hector-Taylor shows, the company is in a new phase of expansion, opening offices all over the world. Of particular interest are the programmes Healthphone is involved in to get health services out to consumers via text messages and the internet. This is an immature market that has a great deal of potential.

13/04/2007

AND...SO IT GOES

"All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber."

- Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse -Five

Legendary writer Kurt Vonnegut has died at 84 from brain injuries suffering in a fall outside his apartment a few weeks ago. So passes the literary great who brought us Slaughterhouse Five. He'll be having a drink up there with Joseph Heller and George Orwell as we speak.

Slaughterhouse-Five
, along with Orwell's 1984 and Heller's Catch-22 are the Holy Trinity of fiction for me. If you haven't read Slaughterhouse-Five, you must. This interesting Wikipedia article will give you a taste of what it's about.

It's enough to say that Vonnegut's witnessing of the ferocious bombing of Dresden during the WWII affected him profoundly and was the basis of the novel, in the same way that Orwell's fighting in the Spanish civil war influenced most of what he wrote and Heller's wartime experiences inspired Catch-22. Vonnegut's short stories are said to be very good, I'll be searching them out at Arty Bees book store which usually has a good selection of Vonnegut.

8/04/2007

LUST AND DEATH AND CHINA BOUND

If Graham Greene was in his early thirties and living in contemporary Shanghai, he'd write like Chinabounder, the "Western scoundrel" who pens the fantastic blog Sex and Shanghai.

As my Chinese friend points out, Chinabounder, is a complete bastard, but only because China has made him one. His sole ambition in Shanghai seems to be bedding young Chinese women and many of his blog postings have the feel of Penthouse forum letters, only they're better written.

His latest post, "How to get fucked in China", is particularly insightful. Cynical, angry, yes. His observations on China are on the mark. Despite Chinabounders lecherous preoccupations in Shanghai, he's outraged at the injustice and corruption rife in the country, even as he is consumed by it himself. Just a tiny excerpt:

The environment. Ah, now you, dear darling environment, are getting the biggest shafting of all. No wine and roses for you, just straight up against the wall fucked.

Oh, did you think the sweet words from Beijing were true? That whispered seduction of ‘In 2006 we’re going to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP by 4%?’ So na├»ve of you! It’s the oldest line of all – ‘I care’ - and you fell for it!

How did you feel the morning after when you realized consumption increased? How did you feel about those 12 billion tonnes of industrial waste water just in the first half of last year? 70% of your rivers and lakes polluted? But I suppose you must be used to it, ranking 100th out of 118 developing countries in terms of environmental care...

well worth a read, an interesting mix of political and social commentary and amateur erotica.

WHAT'S EATING LANCE?

After further mechanical problems, the Earthrace boat seems to be on its way from San Diego, striking out across the Pacific. The next destination for the bio-diesel powered boat is Hawaii. The skilled camera man, Lance Wordsworth, who is providing land-based photography for a Discovery documentary on the race, tells me the crew have crammed the boat full of barrels of fuel to make sure they've enough diesel to make Hawaii. Lance shot a documentary with me in London last year, which will hopefully see the light of day soon.

It seems he's picked up some sort of parasitic infestation on his trip through Central America. This from the Earthrace captain's blog:


"Hey look what I've caught", says Lance proudly, proffering his upturned hand towards us with a single square of toilet paper on it. We all look in wonder at the tiny centipede like thing crawling around angrily on the paper."

And where exactly did you find this", says GC5 suspiciously?


Lance goes on to explain he's been seeing them in his turds for the last few weeks, and now he's finally captured one of them. He has the look of a fisherman who's finally caught a 20-pound snapper. GC5 gets out his microscope and we photo / film the amazing looking beast.


It's an aggressive little sucker, busy trying to find his way back up Lance's bottom no doubt.


Poor Lance! Now the Earthrace team have posted pictures of the wriggling critter found in Lance's poo in the hope that someone can identify what it is. I know if I found something like that coming out of me, I'd be a little concerned!

Lance's little travel companion... there's plenty more where this one came from...

Look at the head on that thing!!

I hope the trip to Hawaii is uneventful after the series of mishaps Earthrace has already experienced. The team deserve some smooth sailing. The problem is that there's still a fleeting chance of the boat beating the 60 day, round the world speed boat record. So they have to act as though it's still attainable, but push harder than they would have had to if things had gone smoothly. The conditions aren't ideal and they've a lot of ocean yet to cover. You can keep an eye on their progress at the Earthrace website

ON THE PHONE, AT 20,000 FEET?

A link to my Herald on Sunday column about the move by certain airlines and companies like AeroMobile to allow passengers to use their standard GSM phones to make calls in aeroplanes. I can just imagine that when the Airbus A380 finally lumbers down the runways of the world's airfields.

I can just imagine the polyphonic clatter of chiming Nokias as 300 people turn on their phones after reaching cruising altitude over Europe, and start texting away at 50 pence a throw. No doubt people will do it, such is our all-consuming need to keep in touch these days. They're less likely to actually make calls from the air, that will be expensive and more popular with pin-striped executives who don't worry about trivial things like mobile phone bills.

Anyway, the yanks have vetoed such a plan with the FCC keeping its ban on mobile phone use on planes. I saw the pico cell technology at the 3GSM expo in Barcelona and its rather impressive. The mobile companies have made good use of pico cells to fill out coverage in confined areas that have high demand for access. They may for example put a pico cell outside the entrance of an airport terminal so when everyone walks off the plane and turns on their phones, they get their text messages and can make calls instantly - no over-loading of the network.

The mobile companies are also now adept at providing coverage to hard to reach places like under-sea tunnels and London Underground is starting a trial of mobile coverage in the tube tunnels. I recently drove through Hong Kong's cross-harbour tunnel and mobile phone coverage was strong the length of it, thanks to PCCW and others using directional antennae to beam coverage down the length of the tunnel.

Pretty soon there will be few places we'll be without coverage. Those two boys who lost their way on Mt. Peel in south Canterbury will be thankful that Telecom's mobile coverage was reasonable enough to allow them to get some text messages out to let family know where they were. There's something reassuring in the knowledge that you're always a text message away from someone... especially when you're lost and night is setting in.

4/04/2007

SOME MORE PROBING...

A few more questions as a result of the feedback I received today in respond to my story on the poor progress of Kordia's wireless broadband service which has amassed only 2000 customers so far.

Good post by Juha at Geekzone, which reveals the Government's own misgivings on Project Probe, but also outlines some of the porjects successes.

But first, an answer to a question: How much money did Telecom squeeze out of the Government as the winner of 11 of the 14 Probe regions? The answer is $34,376,895. Thanks to National MP, Craig Foss for supplying that figure.

A reasonable amount maybe, when you consider it was used to connect a good number of rural schools. But how much was spent on the unsuccessful Xtra Wireless service, which Telecom pushed in a big way back in 2003 - 2004 and is still subsidising using Probe grants to this day?

- And what was the breakdown of the Probe funding given to Telecom ie: how was it used - Telecom would not tell me?
- Why was no telephony service offered for Xtra Wireless when the technology allowed it? This undermined the economics of Xtra Wireless, because farmers would have had to keep their phone line for voice calls.
- How much did BCL/Kordia spend on getting the Extend service under way and what have been its operating costs to date?
- Why hasn't there been a Government investigation into the dismal progress of Extend?

And some feedback:

Richard writes:

We live in rural Southland. We regularly get "Your call cannot proceed at this time. Please try again later" messages when trying to make toll calls even within 100km, night and day. We've lived extensively overseas and believe me this is third world stuff.Furthermore, as I understand it, DSL on this exchange has at least twice the number of recommended subscribers and the backbone between Otautau and Nightcaps was in the ark. We frequently have problems with our DSL and in the past month many times we have been unable to connect at all or when we are able to connect to the local exchange it's at only 64kbps. We are unable to use dialup because Telecom refuses to talk with farmers about fixing shorting out electric fences, saying that we need to go and find the faults and then go and talk with the farmers about fixing them (yeah right). Wireless is not an option due not only to bad signal but also the useless plans/data caps offered by the so-called players. What a joke. If they made the plans appealing instead of ridiculous then the uptake would be greater.

They have set this up to fail and from your article it would appear that the money has just disappeared into Telecom\'s black hole. It\'s clear that they are nothing but a rapacious multinational corporation (I sound like a raving liberal!) with taxpayer funds merely being transferred to them for profit by their mates in government while the so-called consultants --- who are never held accountable for anything --- continue to belly up to and wallow in the feeding trough.

Surely the time has come to renationalise our telecommunications, which were illegally stolen from us anyway and sold off at firesale prices by a bunch of traitors who should be in prison rather than receiving awards. Of course the entity would need to be managed properly but a system of proper checks and balances (short leash and choker chain) should take care of that.

We have regularly vented our frustration to both corporate and political liars. How about a real in-depth article or series of articles that really dig into this issue and expose what is really going on, because it is scandalous.

Does the Herald have the stomach for it or is real investigative journalism that works for the good of the people of NZ now dead in this country?

From Paul:

Your article on Project Probe is very interesting, but has the government learned from this mistake? I fear the same mistakes are being made now.Lets say Probe connected 2000 people at a cost of $25 million - that's about $12,500 per customer! This was provided as a exclusive subsidy to one provider in each region.My company, NetSmart had to compete without any subsidy over the same period, offering a similar product (fixed wireless).

We connected about 500 people in the Bay of Plenty area alone. We deliver much faster connections at considerable less cost. With the subsidy I estimate we would have connected up to 10 times the number of customers. Even without it, our wireless network is now profitable.From my perspective the government has a straight choice for rural customers - support the big boys (like Telecom and Kordia) and pay dearly or support the smaller niche market companies like ours. I believe the second option will deliver faster and at far less cost. However, government policy on radio spectrum in particular currently supports the first option. With hundreds of thousands of rural customers at $12,5000 per customer, who is ultimately going to pay the billions of dollars this will cost?

From Greg:

This is extraordinary. I live on a lifestyle block where ADSL is marginal, and it was never obvious to me that a service like Extend even existed. Clearly Telecom aren't marketing it.And I'll bet it doesn't suffer from the same overloading problems that the Telecom Unleashed broadband suffers from...

3/04/2007

APPLE SHEDS DRM FOR EM I-TUNES

First came the "I've been thinking..." memo from Steve Jobs which showed his desire to pursue a DRM-free future for iTunes music. Now he's signed a deal with record label EMI to feature music at higher quality (256Kbps compared to 128), for US30c more per track and WITH NO DRM. That means, when it comes to EMI at least, iTunes finally gives those willing to stump up extra, good quality listening and the flexibility for them to shuffle music between devices as they wish.

It's a significant development given the dominance of iTunes. But what's behind it? Like Microsoft which got caught up in seriously expensive legal action in the European Community over its anti-competitive behaviour, Steve Jobs is also attracting the ire of the Europeans over the closed nature of its iTunes-iPod ecosystem. This and the memo preceding it seem to be exercises in appeasement. How significant the shedding of DRM will end up being, will be determined by how many other labels follow the same course as EMI. It could also turn out to be a clever revenue spinning move for Apple. Faced with the choice of buying 128 kilobit music laced with DRM or paying an extra 30c per track for DRM free, better quality songs, I think most people will choose the latter. Apple has also decided to maintain the exisitng price for albums which should act to encourage people to stump up US$10 for an entire album of DRM-free music, rather than individual tracks. The most progressive thing Apple has done since it launched iTunes...

1/04/2007

THE CHANCE OF BEING HIT BY SPACE JUNK...

My Herald on Sunday column... a pile of space junk...


The passengers on the LAN Chile flight from Santiago to Auckland last week should know just how close they came to calamity when a number of mysterious burning objects roared past during their journey over the Pacific last week.

If the burning objects had hit the plane, causing it to crash, they'd have been very unlucky indeed.

Experts are still arguing about whether the objects were pieces of Russian space junk or a meteorite, but the incident has highlighted the often-overlooked fact that we have made a dumping ground of not only our planet, but also of the heavens above.

Scientists estimate the chance of being hit by a piece of space junk that has re-entered the Earth's atmosphere is less than one in a trillion.

Like the Everest climbers who leave their trash, discarded equipment and the bodies of their unfortunate companions on the mountain, the explorers of space have thought little of discarding spent fuel tanks, rocket boosters and nuclear reactor cores and leaving their ageing satellites and space stations to fall apart.

The result is that millions of pieces of debris, some the size of a grain of sand, others the size of a bus, form a cloud around the earth.

Nasa can easily detect the larger pieces of junk, but the smaller fragments of flaking paint or frozen satellite coolant are too numerous to avoid and can be as lethal as a speeding bullet as they hurtle around the earth, posing a risk to the many satellites and space craft that are still functional.

Some 8000 satellites orbit the planet, and with private companies and countries alike seeking to put more satellites into space - in the name of exploration, Star Wars-like defence and to aid satellite communications - the clutter is only going to increase.

The Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies estimates that 5400 tons of equipment has re-entered the earth's atmosphere in the past 40 years, the largest item of which was the Russian Mir space station, which weighed 135 tons and burned up on re-entry over the South Pacific - where most of the space junk is directed when its owners take the proactive step of "de-orbiting" - sending it back to earth.

Most space junk is conveniently vaporised when it is drawn into the earth's atmosphere, but some particularly solid bits, generally stainless steel, titanium and glass, survive burning in the massive heat created by the friction of metal against the atmosphere, and these actually splash down.

Or crash down, as the case may be. Spare a thought for the Ugandan family whose home in the city of Kasambya was hit in March 2002 by a titanium pressure sphere from the re-entering Ariane 3 rocket booster. Luckily, no one was home at the time.

While raining space junk isn't causing too many headaches for Nasa, and while the threat of meteors to humans is much greater than that of space junk, the space organisation does keep a close eye on re-entering debris and tries to pinpoint the time of re-entry and therefore the likely locations at which any surviving debris might land.

Scientists have also being working on ways to clean up space, and the Terminator Tether is one of their more intriguing proposals.

It consists of a 5km electrodynamic tether, a sort of lightweight wire that's wound up tightly and bolted to the side of a satellite.

At the end of the satellite's life, the tether is unwound, and it is charged with a current from the earth's magnetic field that drags the satellite back to earth, where it burns up - or provides a stunning light show for some terrified airline passengers.

Xbox elitism

Microsoft will this month release the Elite version of its Xbox 360 console, which includes a HDMI connector to connect to high definition TV screens. A 120GB hard drive will also be offered as an optional extra for US$180 (NZ$250). The Elite will have a black case, and while the inclusion of HDMI puts it on an even footing with the PS3 in terms of HD connection options, the Elite will not feature a HD-DVD drive for playing high-definition discs. Microsoft has yet to reveal local pricing, saying the Elite will be available this winter in limited supply.

Price: US$480 (NZ$670)