Chambara Towers gets good company


The local pub about 200 yards from our base camp in Bow has just won The Evening Standard’s pub of the year. Just two years ago it was a Rovers Return-style working man’s pub. Some top quality posh grub, leather sofas, green paint and obscure beers pushed it into the premier league. The Morgan has beaten thousands of pubs from all over London to win this prestigous award.

Around the web

The PSP has fired the imagination of grass roots developers already, which bodes well for its competition from Gizmondo – the Tiger and Microsoft-backed alternative. Nintendo’s DS doesn’t make claims to be any form of ‘convergence device’, but an honest mobile games console which focuses on playability rather than speeds and feeds. iPSP allows you to synch music with iTunes, carry your iPhoto library around with you and back up game data on to your Macintosh. Whilst Sony would probably not approve of this close linkage between the PSP and Apple’s iLife suite, it will not harm sales of the device amongst generation iPod.

Expect sales of PSP movies and Sony Connect sales to be on the low side as PSP early adopters rip from their DVD and MP3 collections instead. Sony’s best option as with games is to go for exclusive movie and music content for the PSP.

Folksonomy seems to have caught the imagination of both News.com and Charles Arthur’s contribution of netimperative. Yahoo’s purchase of Flickr is seen not only as a way of getting hold of a great info-imaging service, but also of harnessing a grassroots approach to creating true contextual searching.

Who stole the ‘new’ in news?


People are alleged to be increasingly turning away from print media to receive their news, relying on the internet. However, despite the facility for instant publication, the news is not as fresh as the medium promises even when you look at news wire websites. This is because the news wire businesses have primary customers who pay to receive the news first like your 40,000 USD Bloomberg terminal that sits on a traders desk. Timeliness of information is directly related to money for these people, its one of the levers that keeps the vast majority of day traders at an unfair disadvantage to the professionals.

In addtion, the way web users are going online to look for news is ensuring that the news they get is stale. The principle behind Google News is that Google takes an ‘average’ of the reported news; so it has a bias towards news that has already broken and widely distributed, over fast breaking stories. On the other hand traditional web portals have an advantage. I still have profiles and pages on Excite.com and Yahoo.com that have been set up since 1997/8 to give me the latest news based on my preferences.

There is no averaging effects, as soon as Reuters, AP or Bloomberg give the portal the relevant news it appears on My Yahoo! or My Excite page. The moral of this story is that not all progress is automatically better, Google News is a valuable tool so long as you are aware of its strengths and limitations. It is great for PR people to set up alerts when their clients have been covered, as a backup to their reading agency. For a news junkie, a well configured portal page offers a better barometer on the world.

Off the ledge


I remember one time hearing a joke about a man who jumped off a skyscraper, as he fell down people in the floors he zoomed by could here him say “Fine so far…. fine so far…. fine so far…. fine so far…. fine.”

I was reminded of this joke by an article in the New York Times this morning about the value of the dollar. American institutional investors are making very big noises about the direction that the dollar is due to take and Asian central banks that prop up the value of the dollar are looking to diversify into other currencies like the euro. The response of the author seems to be that the drop hasn’t hit yet. Read more here. In addition, this posting from last November has some useful supporting numbers and links to research and analysis by Stephen Roach, chief economist at Morgan Stanley.

Crystal Ball Gazing


“The man who predicts the future, even when he is right is a liar” The Koran

Business 2.0 has an interesting article about ‘What’s Next For Apple?‘. The article in its weak efforts to delve into the future has collated some useful insights from respected industry experts about current issues and trends in the technology, media and consumer electronics sectors. In addition, it is interesting that a mainstream publication like Business 2.0 has joined the dozens of fan sites, blogs and underground web publishing industry that feeds on the rumour mill of what Apple will or won’t do next.

It is a recognition that the company dismissed by many as irrelevant is now at the heart of the technology industry. Its about time that IT directors followed the lead of technology vendors, market analysts and the media in following Apple more closely and getting acquainted with its technology.

The next big thing will not come about by being taught on an MCSE syllabus.

BTW: have you remembered to put your clock forward one hour?

Info Imaging Explosion


Analyst house Current Analysis placed a really good by-lined article in Wireless Week as part of the show daily of the recent CTIA event in the US. The article is very US focused but provides a great overall picture of the current coming and goings in the info-imaging space.

Say “Cheese” (Just Don’t Say, “Print”)

By: Brad Akyuz and Avi Greengart Analyst, Mobile Devices; Principal Analyst, Mobile Devices
March 16, 2005

The world’s first mobile phone integrating a digital camera module was commercially introduced less than five years ago. Today, built-in cameras are standard features for all handset segments other than cost-sensitive entry level phones and security-conscious enterprise devices. Once captured, users can share and/or print the photos, opening up a whole new revenue stream for wireless device and service vendors, as well as cross-category players in the printing and imaging arena. Currently, the cameraphone printing business is extremely small, so vendors are trying various strategies to simplify or enhance the user experience: image transfer/print via proprietary Web services, Bluetooth, moblogging tools, IrDA, MMS, PictBridge, and more. Which approaches make the most sense?

Carriers, of course, would prefer that the images move around their networks – generating revenue. Globally, multimedia messaging service (MMS) is the most popular method of transferring photos where users can send a captured photo to another MMS-capable phone or a designated e-mail address. In the U.S., proprietary services have been more popular, particularly as Sprint bundled Web services with its flat-rate multimedia messaging service, PCS Vision. MMS can also be used to transfer captured images to online photo albums (sometimes called moblogs, or “mobile blogs”), giving users the opportunity to share special moments with friends and family (or the whole world). Every major U.S. wireless carrier provides users with a personal moblog to store, share, and print pictures, and in almost every case, these Weblogs are powered by an imaging vendor with printing capabilities.

There are also methods of image transfer that bypass the carrier (and carrier charges) altogether, such as Bluetooth, IrDA, and memory cards. With Bluetooth now found on notebook PCs, HP and Epson offer Bluetooth-enabled printers or add-on kits for select models. Handset and printer vendors are forming alliances such as the Mobile Phone Imaging and Printing consortium, and HP and Epson have developed Bluetooth photo printing applications that allow users of select Symbian-based smart cameraphones to wirelessly print photos from their Bluetooth-enabled printers.

Another transfer option is infrared wireless technology (IrDA). Fuji just recently introduced a new portable photo printer (MF-70) that creates a credit card sized photo from an IrDA-enabled cameraphone in about 20 seconds. Finally, a number of high-end phones feature an external memory slot enabling users to transfer or print images stored on them by removing the card and inserting it into a compatible printer or photo printing kiosk.

There are two major barriers that prevent these methods from serving the majority of cameraphone users —compatibility and carrier restrictions. Of the 73 cameraphones available in the U.S., only 25 have removable memory or support Bluetooth. Worse, only a handful of these Bluetooth-enabled cameraphones are actually capable of directly printing captured photos from a Bluetooth printer. It’s not enough to have Bluetooth, the phone must also have rich Bluetooth profile support. In the case of IrDA, Fuji’s new printer is compatible with only select Nokia, Siemens, and Sony Ericsson phones, and because CDMA phones typically do not have built-in IrDA, the technology is unavailable to half of the U.S. market. The other roadblock is the wireless carrier’s unwillingness to support any method of image transfer that would cut into their data revenues. Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS both block Bluetooth on their devices from doing much more than enable wireless headsets.

But the poor quality of the images captured by today’s cameraphones neatly solves any argument over the best way to ease image transfer and prin ting: it doesn’t matter. Even if the process is painless and transparent, consumers will avoid printing fuzzy, off-color pictures. Even at 1.3 megapixels, none of the cameraphones on the market are on par with a low-end digital camera when it comes to image quality.

Cost is one factor – vendors are pressured to keep prices down despite adding features, and quality suffers with cheap CMOS sensors. Consumer reliability expectations are a larger element: to ensure the phone still works after being dropped, cameraphone lenses are plastic, and auto focus and optical zoom are omitted. Strobe flashes are left out due to battery concerns, making indoor images dark and murky. Finally, the images are highly compressed to conserve storage and network bandwidth. As such, most cameraphone images look terrible, and they stay right where they originated – on the phone.

However, this is poised to change over the next 12 – 18 months. Device manufacturers have alread y begun to improve the optics embedded in their mobile phones. Sony Ericsson recently launched its first megapixel cameraphone, the S710a, boasting good optics, a CCD sensor, and a camera-first design forcing users to use both hands while capturing photos (partly eliminating user-induced shakiness). Samsung and LG have 3 and 5 MP cameraphones available in Korea, and have announced their intention to bring them to the U.S. market in 2005.

Over the next 12 months we see the market splitting between carrier-centric and device-centric approaches. Moblogs printing services supported by carriers will be the mainstream method given the carrier-centric nature of the U.S. market. These carriers – likely Verizon and Sprint – will use the ease of use offered by proprietary approaches as a way to generate consumer revenue from 3G networks. Branded service providers such as Kodak can profit by enabling the carriers’ back end. However, this will be balanced by device-cen tric alternatives (such as removable memory, Bluetooth, and, increasingly, PictBridge) which will appeal directly to early adopters. These carriers – likely Cingular and T-Mobile – will still insist on handset-resident software that steers consumers to carrier-branded services, but the focus will be on attracting high value subscribers with the more flexible, differentiated devices.

Stratfor and the real war on terror

I recently finished reading America’s Secret War: inside the hidden worldwide struggle between the United States and its enemies, George Friedman’s book on the war on terror as George Bush calls the fight against Al Queda. The book is interesting for a number of reasons. It discusses the war in a dispassionate manner, it slices rather more neatly than the media has ever been able to splitting the facts and propaganda from each other. Most importantly, in my mind it highlights a war that was not about oil or weapons of mass destruction, but a very expensive ‘Kirby Cleaner’ pitch. Years ago in an effort to make money, I kinda thought about selling these overpriced vacuum cleaners (even more overpriced than a Dyson). Anyway a key part of the sales person from Kirby is when they do a demonstration with a machine and show you what it is capable of (think HSN or QVC-type demos in your own living room).

According to Friedman, the invasion of Iraq was part of an effort by the Americans to persuade the Saudi’s to get serious on terrorism. A demonstration of regime change through ‘shock and awe’ to show what happens to rogue regimes.

George Friedman is a respected and very credible geopolitical pundit and heads up Stratfor.

Who is Stratfor?

Stratfor is an organisation which provides analysis of global and regional political and socio-economic issues to companies, organisations and government agencies. It has a client base made up of a wide range of blue-chip companies including the usual suspects in the energy sector, defence contractors, management consultancies and the media.

Why did the chicken cross the road?


Another joke from Lawrence at GLC:

Question: Why did the chicken cross the road?
KINDERGARTEN TEACHER: To get to the other side.
PLATO: For the greater good.
ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross roads.
KARL MARX: It was a historical inevitability.
TIMOTHY LEARY: Because that’s the only trip the establishment would let it take.
SADDAM HUSSEIN: This was an unprovoked act of rebellion and we were quite justified in dropping 50 tons of nerve gas on it.
SLOBODAN MILOSIVEK. I told it to go as it was of different ethnicity to Serbian chickens
RONALD REAGAN: I forget.
CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK: To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.
HIPPOCRATES: Because of an excess of phlegm in its pancreas.
ANDERSEN CONSULTING: Deregulation of the chicken’s side of the road was threatening its dominant market position. The chicken was faced with significant challenges to create and develop the competencies required for the newly competitive market. Andersen Consulting, in a partnering relationship with the client, helped the chicken by rethinking its physical distribution strategy and implementation processes. Using the Poultry Integration Model (PIM), Andersen helped the chicken use its skills, methodologies, knowledge, capital and experiences to align the chicken’s people, processes and technology in support of its overall strategy within a Program Management framework. Andersen Consulting convened a diverse cross-spectrum of road analysts and best chickens along with Anderson consultants with deep skills in the transportation industry to engage in a two-day itinerary of meetings in order to leverage their personal knowledge capital, both tacit and explicit, and to enable them to synergize with each other in order to achieve the implicit goals of delivering and successfully architecting and implementing an enterprise-wide value framework across the continuum of poultry cross-median processes. The meeting was held in a park-like setting, enabling and creating an impactful environment which was strategically based, industry-focused, and built upon a consistent, clear, and unified market message and aligned with the chicken’s mission, vision, and core values. This was conducive towards the creation of a total business integration solution. Andersen Consulting helped the chicken change to become more successful.
LOUIS FARRAKHAN: The road, you see, represents the black man. The chicken ‘crossed’ the black man in order to trample him and keep him down.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: I envision a world where all chickens will be free to cross roads without having their motives called into question.
MOSES: And God came down from the Heavens, and He said unto the chicken,”Thou shalt cross the road.” And the chicken crossed the road, and there was much rejoicing.
FOX MULDER: You saw it cross the road with your own eyes. How many more chickens have to cross the road before you believe it?
GEORGE BUSH: There will be NO NEW chickens crossing roads. Read my lips NO NEW chickens.
MACHIAVELLI: The point is that the chicken crossed the road. Who cares why? The end of crossing the road justifies whatever motive there was.
JERRY SEINFELD: Why does anyone cross a road? I mean, why doesn’t anyone ever think to ask, What the heck was this chicken doing walking around all over the place, anyway?”
FREUD: The fact that you are at all concerned that the chicken crossed the road reveals your underlying sexual insecurity.
BILL GATES: I have just released the new Chicken Office 2000, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your cheque book.
OLIVER STONE: The question is not, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” Rather, it is, “Who was crossing the road at the same time, whom we overlooked in our haste to observe the chicken crossing?”
DARWIN: Chickens, over great periods of time, have been naturally selected in such a way that they are now genetically disposed to cross roads.
EINSTEIN: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road moved beneath the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.
BUDDHA: Asking this question denies your own chicken nature.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON: The chicken did not cross the road .. it transcended it.
ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die. In the rain.
COLONEL SANDERS: I missed one?

82 per cent of statistics are made up by journalists or PR people


ITfacts.biz is one of them invaluable sites that make you seem brainy in front of clients or pad out content in an article. Looking through it reminded me of the time I had a chat with a journalist who broke the Claire Swire story. It was late in the afternoon and he needed to file copy for his news site so he took a wild-ass guess about how many people could have seen the email which was then quoted and added to by more mainstream medium titles. ITfacts is great when you are not feeling creative enough with numbers. Before you ask I made up the title on this posting.

Tagging for Community Sense


A big shout to my friend Uri for flagging up the ‘For Immediate Release‘ blog. The blog and podcasts focus on both PR and new communications technologies like podcasting and blogging. One thing of interest that came up was the concept of folksonomy, particularly with regards to web content. Folksonomy as a word is derived from taxonomy – where an item is strictly categorised into one area, think of a real book library where books are sorted by subject area and then sub-categories.

Intranet designers are keen to sort items into clearly defined areas and this is often forced on e-tailers who purchase an off-the-peg online shop – I remember hearing stories of a famous UK online retailer where customers could not find how to buy their mobile phones online, the reason being is that the company had set up its online venture in a rush not to lose ground to the pure play dot.coms and went with an off-the-shelf US e-tail solution that categorised the product only as wireless phones.

Folksonomy is about community-based classification, relying on the similar kind of goodwill that has made Wikipedia such a force.

A key example that Hobson & Holtz discussed in their For Immediate Release podcast and blog on March 17, was photo repository Flickr and community bookmark site De.licio.us, both of which use their communities to classify content. This cluster of classifications resembles the lexemes that linguists talk about that associate words with meanings. This attachment of meaning from a user point of view could be the key to true contextual searching. At the end of the day Google is more like a savant, trying to use blind mathematics and processing power to compensate for its inability to establish meaning.

Imagine going to the supermarket and asking the assistant for an item, they run down the corridor and run back with their arms full of different stuff. They empty the stuff into your trolley and say to you ‘Your item is in there’. If you are lucky, the item is at the top of the pile, it you aren’t you may sort through it all and find you don’t have it anyway. You complain to the manager and he dismisses you with ‘Its your own fault, you asked in the wrong way’. The analogy is actually what web search engines are like today, Google is just a fool shop assistant that can hold a lot more stuff.

Disc vs Disc


Every since CES earlier this year the debate in consumer electronics companies and technology companies has raged around which next-generation video disc to support. Apple recently jumped on the Blu-Ray side of the line along with most of the other hardware manufacturers. You can read a bit more about it at MacCentral here.

What the article doesn’t tell you?

Media companies are soon going to be in a bit of a quandry, they will have a lot less options to go and get discs duplicated. The duplication houses that make legitimate DVDs pay a fixed-fee per disk to the people who own the intellectual property rights to the technology. This does not look like a healthy business however when you think that the volume duplication requires expensive equipment costs to offset against profits and continually declining earnings. With a popular DVD now, the booklet that accompanies it may cost the film company more than the disc. So as a percentage of costs in DVD duplication, the intellectual property fees became more expensive as the standard matured.

The duplication companies have been trying to get out of the business, most notably Rank recently managed to offload its Deluxe duplication business after many years of trying. With a business that is so unattractive that players are looking to sell out, there will inevitably be a decline in market competition as consolidatioon takes hold. It would be an act of commerical sucicide for the management team of one of the duplicating companies to suggest a huge capital investment in Blu-Ray for such small returns. In addition, payments to intellectual property owners per disc is likely to be higher with Blu-Ray due to the increased amount of companies involved in developing the standard that have to get a slice of the cake.

However Sony’s duplication business has an advantage, since it is part of the DVD patent pool it does not have to pay the intellectual property tax like other duplicators and this is likely to be the case with Blu-Ray as well. This is the reason that iODRA, the duplicators industry body is so unhappy.

With Sony being the only duplicator with a financial incentive to invest in Blu Ray it puts media companies in an awkward position. The Japanese conglomerate could use the knowledge gained from its relationship as a supplier to like Paramount (things like launch schedules) to the advantage of the various competitive media businesses that are also part of the Sony behemoth. Knowing that I know about Sony that would require far more organisational cohesion and organisational smarts than they have. But there is still the doubt….

In addition, Sony could dictate the cost of disc supply providing Sony media businesses with a price advantage or still benefit the group through ‘transfer pricing’ (deliberately charging to much to internal customers, so the ‘profit’ on a sale is booked in another part of the business).

A third, more fiendish ploy is to encourage piracy by making legitimate media more expensive, some of the first Blu-Ray disc factories will be in hock to the global piracy rings. Sony would stilll be booking a profit in other parts of its group if it plays its hand right from increased hardware and blank disc media sales, and got out of the media business while the going is good if the rumours about a company split are true.

The birth of modern Ireland



I have spent the past couple of months working through Michael Collins: a biography by Tim Pat Coogan. Coogan was the editor of the Irish Press, which was the broadsheet newspaper of Irish political party Fianna Fail and was right at the heart of the power hierarchy in Ireland. That gave Coogan the credibility and access to the kind of people who could shed light on the complex characters, arrangements, accommodations and tragedy that surrounded the Irish struggle for independence that Collins was instrumental in fighting for

Collins is portrayed as a tough, pragmatic, clever man in a ruthless and treacherous world. I found the story interesting because it provided me with a more rounded understanding of a key time in my country’s history. Neil Jordan’s film version of Michael Collins‘ life borrowed heavily from this book, however a feature film could not fully capture the complex twists and turns that lead to the founding of the Free State.

I would recommend Tim Pat Coogan’s book as a diligent and honest work, but if you are looking for something that is accessible stick to Tom Clancy.

Constantine

Constantine

Constantine was a film that I so wanted to do well. Hollywood has had a patchy history in converting graphic novels to the screen like the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and both attempts to bring The Punisher to the silver screen. In the Hellblazer book John Constantine
is a blonde scouser. The film treatment took the story to Los Angeles, John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) is a cynical paranormal exorcist / detective who knows that there is a special place for him in hell because of a suicide attempt he made when he was younger. The film is
visually rich, has some class moments and great character actor performances. Classically trained actor Peter Stormare played the devil as a carny, Bush frontman Gavin Rossdale plays a demon as a slick sophisticate. I really liked Tilda Swinton as Gabriel, she looked exceptionally good in a double-breasted chalk strip suit and tie; you just can’t buy that kind of class.

Critics may call this film a cinematic mash-up of The Matrix versus The Exorcist, I however enjoyed it.

Skills deathmatch: Arithmetic versus The Vision Thing


Slate has a great piece that compares divergent opinions between CEOs and CFOs on a range of subjects including the economic effect of the low dollar, the economic outlook over the next year and factors of inflation. Worth a read here.