Do Japanese Dream of Electronic Sheep

In a society famous for its neon cities, long office hours, horrendous commutes, indulgence in even more methamphetamine abuse than an Australian roadtrain driver and cramming programmes for infant schoolchildren you may expect sleeping to be a problem.

You’d be right.

Its also big business, Matsushita (the mega-corp behind Panasonic, Technics and JVC) will be launching later this year a ‘sleeping room package that consists of a plasma screen TV, a tricked-out bed and ambient sound recordings. This is expected to sell for about 20,000 GBP.

In the UK we have Big Brother…

Wrote for Luck


“I wrote for luck… they sent me you” or more accurately promoters Get Loaded (named after the seminal baggy anthem Primal Scream track Loaded)sent me an email outlining a day of mayhem and madness for Northern acid house casualties like me on Clapham Common.

The line up includes the usual kind of pretentious guitar bands that appear on Xfm, The Happy Mondays, Domino Bones (Bez’s new band) and Hacienda DJ’s Graeme Park and Mike Pickering (though no Dave Haslam, 808 State or Nipper).

I have heard that the Happy Mondays can now play, which will make a pleasant change from when I saw them at Liverpool Poly student union in 1990. I was there and they were a mess, but fun all the same. The support band Northside were far better, but never got remixed by Paul Oakenfold who was the kingmaker of the music industry at the time.

I’m there for the back to ’89 Hac revelry

Not much details here

Sunday August 22, 2004 12h00 – 22h00.

Gobsmacked by ‘amazing’ feat of spin

I read a classic piece of spin in The Business, Microsoft races to stop bank account hackers by Tony Glover. Tony who has been shortlisted in a category for Business Journalist of the Year wrote “Technicians at the US software giant Microsoft are working flat out to prevent a new security threat that this week could give criminals access to computer systems used worldwide by banks and governments.”

The general threat that Tony outlined called phishing has been covered for quite a while by national newspapers, something that wasn’t made clear in the article. In fact eBay, HBOS and Barclays customers have all been exposed to phishing attacks. The article was an excellent piece of PR work (my hat goes off to the members of the Microsoft press team) that failed to point out:

– Phishing has been going on for quite a while now, though the vulnerability in Microsoft Internet Explorer is new. It is one of many security vulnerabilities in the product and phishing as a security risk is well understood

– Microsoft was trying to plug yet another security gap in their software that facilitates phishing? . Despite repeated promises to get tough security, Microsoft have failed to do so

– Using an alternative browser like Opera can help prevent the risk of phishing (though nothing in IT systems can be labeled foolproof)

– It is yet another good argument against software bundling like Microsoft (and increasingly Apple) have been doing and is an excellent riposte to critics of the EU competition commissions case against Microsoft. Bundling of software restricts the ability of competition to spur innovation and improvements in both quality and service

Free Internet calls move a step closer on page six goes on to talk breathlessly about a new feature in Microsoft Office that provides Internet calls. Its not that big a deal, I know of people who used Skype and before it Net2Phone and other over the net software phones. In fact Stephen Waddington, managing director of geeky PR firm Rainier was quoted in a newspaper case study talking about his firms uses of voice over the ‘net for international conference calls a few years ago.

In addition, many instant messenger programmes such as Yahoo! Instant Messenger, AIM and iChat offer audio and video calls between users. Another fallacy in technology circles is the concept of ‘free’, you’d think that technology marketers would be mature enough to realise that nothing ever comes for free, even ‘free’ pirated MP3s or DiVX movie files via a P2P network is partly financed by banner advertisements, spyware and adware in the P2P software itself. Freeware is often produced for altruistic reasons, even if it is to build a community of users or make ones mark with an elegant solution to a problem. In the case of ‘free internet calls’ it will help increase sales of broadband connections, where calls leave the domain of a connection between IP addresses over PCs some sort of ‘interconnection charge’ will be due. Its not new, its history repeating.

Back to the business


Over the past few years (from about the third quarter of 2000 onwards), I have been going to meetings with cash-strapped start-up companies with me-too products looking for PR to work sales objectives and marketing communications programmes for the price of a McDonalds Happy Meal.

On Thursday evening, I went to a more refreshing meeting for a potential new start-up (any more than that I cannot tell you because I have signed an non-disclosure agreement). The operation was obviously boot-strapped together, however the first added ingredients I noticed was that there was a real sense of enthusiasm and excitement about the project. This is in stark contrast to the meetings that I have with many start-up companies who are desparate to avoid the VC ‘dead zone’ of low growth or even an incurable burn rate.

After I had got over the enthusiasm, I noticed that they had managed to assemble a strong talented team; something sorely missing in many of the other meetings that I had been to as talent seemed to have migrated to safer larger firms or had left the rat race to have a better quality of life.

Finally, I noticed enthusiastic funders, both from financial institutions and private individuals, and no I don’t mean enthusiasm in the rapid dot.com type way; but people buying into a compelling offering. It was obvious from the discussion and questions asked that they had thought a lot about the project. Something that is missing from the UK funding scene at the best of times

I left the meeting thinking thank fc:uk for that!

Needle on the Wax


Over the past few weeks I have ignored shopping for new vinyl as I have managed my house move. To correct this I have a few recommendations available from Flying Records at the moment:

Chez Damier – Spiritual Warefare v.1 Trackmode competent well produced mellow house with mellow R&B lyrics, good but no cigar

Double U – Secret Love Sonar Kollectiv – great deep track with Moni Love type sassy New York vocal samples over a tribal beat that would have felt right at home in the Sound Factory

J Roc & Steinski – Ain’t no thing / Say ho Stones Throw – not a new track but an excellent re-release. Cut-and-paste production pioneer Steinski complemented with old school block party lyrics. No Bentleys, no Lex coupés, no bling, just dope lyrics and amazing production

I slaved away in the listening booth so that you didn’t have to!

A Few Links For You


– A guide for Americans on the ethics of football (soccer) matches. (Number one, the match is not divided into quarters like a pizza but two halves).

– Suck it up and weep geeks, IT is a commodity that doesn’t make that much of a difference, despite Microsoft’s agile business guff

– Financial services industry protects society’s morals and keeps up steady jihad against web-based filth peddlers. Or maybe like the Bank of Ireland CEO Mike Soden, they are reveling in the Victorian value of hypocrisy

Death of the UK Dance Music Industry?


Many record labels have closed down, particularly those owned by the majors like Strictly Rhythm and Credence. Cream runs festivals and restaurants rather than clubs and looks to Latin America and Eastern Europe for growth, Home is looking to be let out as retail space and the giant screen on the side of the building sits there in darkness

– Young people are listening to rock now, yes they are but they also have varied taste – which is why dance music festivals are doing well

– People want live music, the amount of live music venues in the UK dropped way below what it should have done and it is good to see it come back

– People want R&B, R&B has always been popular

– The dance music scene has stagnated, much of it has and UK record labels have been guilty of churning out more rubbish than most. The mash-up is a classic sign of creative bankruptcy in the industry and Hoxton’s tastes do not play well thoughout the rest of the UK. I cannot remember the last record I bought from a UK label, I suspect it was probably this time last year. I have however, kept buying imported records from the US and Europe

– US labels like Nervous, Guidance or even going back to Trax Records and DJ International, survived in a hostile home market by selling abroad, why can’t the UK labels

-US labels on the west coast are surviving an onslaught on to their scene by police using draconian crack house laws to shut the parties down and send organisers to jail for ten years, they are still making good music and selling records worldwide successfully

– Young people are drinking and not doing drugs: that’s why cocaine seizures are up, MDMA is plentiful and cheap

There are labels that are thriving: Defected is licensing American content from the likes of Miguel Migs. While there is much of the input like Junior Jack that is not my cup of tea you have to hand it Simon Dunmore that he is managing to walk the line between quality and commercial success for his label

AATW – all around the world. A label based in Blackburn, Lancs that realised what Pete Waterman discovered twenty years ago. You can run a record label on single sales. Like Pete Waterman the records are well produced tat that know their target market really well. They are down market and the listeners are disparaged as ‘Northern Pill Monkeys‘ by London based record executives, and their acts are criticised as ‘a plumber with a tired lap dancer’ but they are getting out there and buying the singles.

I personally don’t believe that you have to provide customers with a ‘crap’ product, that a well crafted one will sell, but you have to know your marketplace. Many of the tastemakers within the industry have lost sight of that and need to move on.

One person that seems to have it right (all be it on a small scale) is my friend Nick Lawrence’s label Altered Vibes that has gone from strength to strength by not compromising on quality and developing its artists. Something that is hard to do when the majors like EMI are dropping 30 per cent of their rostered artists in one fell swoop and putting less and less each year into development.

Tear it Down and Put it Back Together Again?


Teardown.com is a special kind of business consultancy. They take apart gadgets, work out how they work, a component count, a complete list of materials, cost out how much they cost to make and critique the product design. A sort of cut-price reverse engineering. You can buy their reports singlely or subscribe to their service. A quick warning, its not cheap to buy gadgets take them apart, have the time to research costs and the know-how to understand what you are seeing.

One of the most interesting things they have done is looked at mobile phones from throughout the world. The results have been very interesting.

The latest 3 G phones on sale in Europe are more complex than those sold in Japan. They have double the amount of parts in them, they cost more to make and are still underperforming handsets that work on existing mobile phone networks. Full details of this research can be found here (warning: a cubicle full of techy jargon a-hoy).

NEC, an experienced 3G phone manufacturer came in for particular criticism. Their phone had four times as many components as an equivalent present day phone and twice as many as the equivalent Nokia 3G phone. A case of Japanese not-knowing-how? As a three customer it is not particularly satifying to know that my lemon of an NEC e606 mobile phone is heavier and more sophisticated than it needs to be! Still my contract runs out on August 28 and I already started counting the days.

Johnny Come Lately


Posting at this ungodly hour because I cannot get to sleep, due to stomach trouble which has plagued me two nights on the run. Apple finally gets ready to join an already crowded market in Europe for online music. Napster launched well in advance and the rumours are that the record companies held Apple up to allow the competition to catch up. They know all about monopolies like the RIAA and only want one that works for them. How else can they support a mismanaged and ill-ran business successfully?

The invitation-only launch event for iTunes Music Service in the UK is scheduled to take place at Old Billingsgate Market in London, England on June 15, 2004 at 11:00AM. Offering plenty of material for invited wags to comment on the fishy deals that went on to bring the service to Europe, or that Apple’s launch had all the excitement of a dead fish, the pricing stuck in the throat like bones in a breakfast kipper etc…

Steve has already let the cat out of the bag by admitting that iTMS Europe was going to be launched at D All Things Digitial conference run by Dow Jones Conferences and chaired by Walter Mossberg. He launched the Airport Express product there and said that Apple would be launching an easier way to use your iPod in the car before the end of the year.

He scotched rumors of a PDA, smartphone or communicator device.

Seidenberg’s Folly


What is a folly?

A folly is the ruins of a great accomplishment that never gets finished. The English landscape is dotted with disused and crumbling monuments. Many of the follies were made by industrialists who spent the wealth generated by textiles mills, shipyards and heavy industries. A more modern day version of this would be the expensive shower curtains purchased by L. Dennis Kozlowski during the recent Tyco scandal in the U.S.

Who is Ivan Seidenberg?

Ivan Seidenberg is head of Verizon, a U.S. telecoms company based in New Jersey, they jointly own one of the U.S.’s largest mobile phone operators with Vodafone and are provide landlines to Americans living on the eastern seaboard. They are a direct descendant of the Bell Telephone Co. a former telecoms monopoly rather like BT prior to privatisation. Verizon was one of the baby Bells made by the break-up of the previous company. It was originally called Bell Atlantic but has grown beyond its roots by acquisition and joint venture.

What’s the SP?

In January, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Seidenberg laid out a plan to spend two billion dollars digging up and replacing the copper cables that lie between the customers house and the telephone exchange, replacing it with strands of glass called optical fibre.

This is interesting because:

– Verizon until now has been very focused on creating shareholder value, broadly that means working the business in such a way that they keep paying a dividend and the share price keeps going up. In order to do that you need to avoid ‘bet the farm’ type moves, or anything that may unsettle institutional shareholders. One of my frustrations working as a PR consultant agency-side with Bell Atlantic mobile was trying to get my spokespeople to say anything daring, visionary or forward-thinking. We struggled to send out news,even issuing press releases about mobile phones donated to battered wives shelters in New Jersey

– Verizon, historically has made more of a mess in providing value-added services over broadband and wireless services than other carriers like Deutsche Telekom or BT, there is no indication of how Verizon is likely to be able to make additional value out of the investment. Capgemini did a survey of 100 CEOs in the telecoms, media and technology sectors in 2000, which I helped to promote. One of the summary conclusions that came out of it was that everybody knew they wanted broadband, but they did not know what it would be used for, or how they were going to make money out of value-added services. I still believe that to be the case, I have seen nothing that has convinced me otherwise

– Online and digital entertainment is very much up in the air, no one is sure how the market is going to pan out

– Content providers will rob you blind, Apple recently said all the 99 cents a track from iTunes Music Service went on credit card transaction costs and record company royalty payments, How will there be room for someone like Verizon at the table?

– Selling fibre to consumers would disrupt the market for business data communications, driving prices down and causing a corporate bloodbath unlike anything we have seen in modern times. It could annihilate companies like WorldCom who are in the final stages of bankruptcy protection and Comcast who sell broadband DSL services. This very disruptive process while in theory of some benefit to consumers, could still be loaded with many anti-trust issues

– The economics of putting fibre into the ground are very complex. Putting fibre in the ground is no more difficult than putting in cable. Optical fibre has its own challenges, water must not be allowed anywhere near the fibre, otherwise it will get between its plastic skin and the glass causing a kink that greatly reduces its ability to carry a signal, Despite the best efforts of the likes of Corning this process happens by osmosis, because of this optical fibre is very likely to decay to uselessness in less than ten years; potentially a much shorter lifespan than the copper cable it replaces

– Generally the denser the population the cheaper it is to wire them up, you don’t have to go miles from one house to another. Verizon covers some of the densest population on the planet and the high rise living of Manhattanites presents its own engineering problems with added expense

– The biggest barrier to putting fibre into the home has been the cost of the electronics at either end of the cable, these have come down in cost, but not as fast as the cost of computing power or electronic storage. This would still be substantially dearer than a cable box, broadband satellite receiver or DSL router

– Providing consumers access to huge amounts of bandwidth means that you need to ensure that there are no bottlenecks in the core of the network. Verizon like most carriers are still carrying the billions of dollars already spent in the core of their network as high value assets. Will this have to be scrapped and made over to allow for the new fibre world? How would this affect their balance sheet?

– Verizon like many carriers relies on declining numbers of traditional voice calls to finance new services including this ambitious plan, how would it finance it and how would this affect shareholders?

– In order for Verizon to even make their money back on the fibre installation they need the regulators cut them some slack on forcing them to rent the lines to alternative carriers at cost. A practice currently in place to encourage competition in telephone and broadband services

If Verizon are successful, it may encourage other telcos to do the same thing, they may not be so lucky….

Seidenberg and the False Prophet

Seidenberg’s bet reminds me of George Gilder a strange mix of techno sage and right-wing evangelist that America is good at putting out. He foresaw a golden age for the information economy brought about by photonics and charged many business executives a whole pile of money for a newsletter about companies that he felt was at the vanguard of the revolution.

George’s vision hasn’t come to pass, yet Seidenberg’s plan sounds like something straight from the Gilder playbook including the lack of profit imperative.

Return of my Watch


Its been almost three months but my old Submariner has been serviced by Rolex in London. The watch is immaculate and I see no reason in ever buying a new one.

The service and a new brezel cost almost 200GBP, but the quality of the work done to make it look literally as if it had just come off the factory line is worth it.

I understand now, how they can afford to have offices that would not be out of place in a Bond movie as the arch-villian’s sitting room.

If you are interested in getting a secondhand Rolex, I would recommend the Vintage Watch Company who have rare models including the Turn-o-graph – a forerunner of the Submariner dive watch and the Thunderbird.

Yes, yes, y’all; to the beat y’all

Put on your Adidas First track suit, dust down your pair of Superstars, fix your Kangol and pop some d-cells in that monster Sharp boombox you got in the attic. Have we got an electric bugaloo-tastic posting for you. First off check out this Transformer breakdance Flash animation – the soundtrack is back to the 80’s block rockin’ electro. Thrill at the robots uprock and floor work, gasp as they change into a ghettoblaster (that any Cazal wearing homie would have been proud of) and back again.

Beasties back on another microphone rampage

The Beastie Boys return with their new album To The Five Boroughs and a first single Ch-Check it Out – a wholesome slice of fresh b-boy goodness for y’all. Cold slammin’. Great single – classic material with funk, beats, lyrics and infectious rhymes. Their website has a DiVX encoded video (Mac OS X users need to go to VideoLAN.org to get a suitable freeware player), e-cards to spread the gospel, lyrics to sing along and quarter of an hour interview with all three of them in the studio (Real Player format video)

Definitely one for the birthday list!

Tablet PCs are Crap – its official

From the ‘I told you so’ school of journalism. A while ago on AlwaysOn Network I wrote about the limited appeal of Tablet PCs and many disagreed with me. Now The Register have posted comments from an Acer spokesperson talking about the fact that the concept is years ahead of acceptance in the marketplace (that’s saving face speak for commercial disaster). Acer is trying to bring this to fruition by trying to cull the cost of a TabletPC right down

The business case for the tablet PC will be even harder prove when devices like OQO come out and more of the PDA market moves towards smartphones (something I think is more to do with telecoms operators subsidising handsets rather than the wisdom of an all-in-one device – but thats another discussion all together).

Dating the Hi-Tech Way

The New York Times ran an article in its fashion section about how Wonks (thats people like Rob Lowe and Co. in the West Wing for all our non US readers) meet prospective patners to strategise wtih and admire the diamond patterns on each others Pringle cardigans and aspire to be real Eurotrash. Why these people should be allowed to breed is beyond me, but they are now taking advantage of the ubiquitous nature of RIM Blackberries (email pagers) in Washington to flirt and organise dates. Some funny bits in the article about ill-thought out drunken emails sent via the Blackberry. Makes the sex-starved staffers of Bush’s neo-puritan regime sound more like Jimmy Swaggart than Billy Graham.

Reminds me of when I worked on the Palm PR account, one of the gimmicks we had was a spoof ‘Gaydar’ application for Valentines day.

Why doesn’t invent some useful dating technology instead to get you over when the conversation becomes awkward, stilted or a bigger effort than bench pressing a truck axle?