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?

Web Used for Lust rather than Man’s Betterment Shocker

From the useless research department. A US Today story came to the shocking conclusion that web porn attracts far more surfers than search. The research was conducted by Californian company Hitwise (or more likely their uncreative PR minions).

Trouble comes in 3s

After the hastily denied speculation in the city that Hutchison was going to pull out of the UK mobile market by closing down 3 Totaltelecom magazine has published research figures from Capgemini in its leader article this month that indicate almost three quarters of 3 customers will leave when their contract is up. The full article can be read here (subscription is required).

I am not surprised. While 3 has addressed the issue of appalling handsets with new models from Nokia and LG, it still lacks:

– a killer application, a reason to chose 3 over its competitors

– an open IP gateway to allow people to pick up email and surf the web

– a WAP gateway to allow people to get information on the go

– decent network performance (though this is improving)

– the ability to transfer calls from cell to cell (the calls often cut out when you are speeding along in a car or train)

– compelling content, using a free trial I found no decent ringtones and a poor selection of wallpapers for the phone

– Decent customer service. When I emailed 3 to highlight my concerns abou the service I received a reply to say that I could not compare the service to 2G rivals as this was new technology. Bottom line is I want a mobile phone that works, how they do it is their problem

I have posted on AlwaysOn about this subject (registration required to view)

European Elections: Party Political Broadcasts Just Got Interesting

Ex porn-star and Czech MEP candiate Dolly Buster posted this campaign video on her site. It will be interesting to know if she is successful.

Clash Lyrics Unmask Big Brother State Apparatus

Interesting article on The Register. Apparently some Clash lyrics sent to a tribute band singer who had forgot his lines triggered the state security apparatus into action. Experts claim that it is proof that GCHQ monitor all SMS and voice traffic in the UK (and perhaps further afield as well).

A case of “I fought the law and the law won”?

I haven’t got a clue (and neither has Sony)

Sony announced yesterday that it was pulling out of the PDA marketplace by stopping making the Clie range. There has been much analysis already of this on all the usual suspect sites online.

The good news is that they are managing the process in such a way that existing customers won’t get shafted. They deserve a HUGE amount of kudos for this, I wouldn’t expect that kind of attitude from Palm, Dell or Apple.

Most of the Sony gear that I do like now like their MDR 7506 and 7509 headphones are professional gear that is hard to get hold of, I am saddened that the business isn’t everything that it could be.

Having in the past been involved with Palm and Sony as consultant and a customer I just wanted to share some observations and unanswered questions that had been brewing about their portable devices for a while:

– Why did the Clie range never support the Mac community? Their overly designed devices were ideally targeted at these non conformist computer users. Palm and Handspring supported them, whereas Sony made their product as Mac unfriendly as an iPaq

– Why has Sony bought into to PalmSource and Symbian?

– Why has it taken them so long to get their act together on iPod type devices and services when they were the first people to have a Palm PDA that could play MP3s

– Why is the new Vaio iPod wannabe so ugly and complicated looking?

– Why is there no joined up thinking going on using content to leverage platforms? Do you think that Microsoft would have sat on their hands for this long with the kind of diversity of resources that Sony Corp could knit together?

– Why did they expect people to buy a 600USD device? This is a known dead price point in tech marketing circles, almost the price of a no make laptop and well over double the price of many competitor devices

– Why were Clies so slow to adopt wireless?

– How long are they going to allow Playstation to carry the rest of the business?

– Will SonyEricsson phones benefit from the Clie product design team?

Redneck comfort food and the letter i is for?

It has been a trialling week so far. I spent much of the bank holiday entertaining my parents, packing my stuff little by little, disassembling flat pack furniture and completing yet more paperwork for my lawyers to progress my move into London.

I called my friend Julez who was having a ‘terrible Tuesday’ after a large weekend. One of our friends had starred in an amateur dramatic production of Stags & Hens and the post-concert revelry was starting to take its toll. In case you’re interested the only thing amateur about the performance was the money that actors and set designers made. West end eat your heart out.

Anyway both of us decided to decamp to Bodeans on the corner of D’Arblay Street and Poland Street (opposite the Phonica record shop). Bodeans is a weird place, a kind of anti foodie ethic. The cooking is pure American redneck – lurid red hot dogs, hickory sauce covered ribs, fries with a pepperika, sugar and salt coating and coca-cola in a proper soda fountain glass.

It is unashamedly a meat eaters paradise artwork around the walls remind you of the animals that go into your hot dog or where your succulent ribs came from.

American collegiate sports play on big screens and people leave you alone to eat this redneck comfort food. Over a hot cup of coffee and jumbo hot dogs we set the world to rights.

On the wider world front, things are pretty weird:

Saudi Arabia seems to have reached a pre-revolutionary phase (if you don’t get what I mean grab a DVD copy of The Battle of Algiers) driving oil prices ever higher. The papers claim that oil has never been that high but they are not making any allowances that inflation would have had on the 1973 oil prices would be in 2004 US dollars…

– On the other hand, the San Jose Mercury News reports that micro-chip sales are up to the highest point since 1990. The more chips sold, the more stuff made, the more trade that is happening, the more life in the economy. Allegedly its all good

– The European elections are upon us and xenophobic isolationists have been given credence by Michael Howard acknowledging the UK Independence Party as a competitive threat to the Conservative Party in the UK

– Top UK festival Glastonbury is headlined by acts designed to appeal to the over 40’s including Paul McCartney and Morrisey. What the hell will happen to youthful rebellion when its the crumblies who are kicking up a storm? Whose on next year the Rolling Stones, Status Quo and Aerosmith?

– Apple has embraced another Microsoft industry standard – crap security updates and computer crashing code changes

On a final note I wanted to point you to this great article in the Village Voice that talks about the way Apple’s iPod poster campaign has become a lightning rod for the zeitgest of New Yorkers with a marker pen. Here at Carroll Towers our best contributions were – i stands for:

– ‘Intellectual property (not mine)’

– inner ear infection (from sharing headphones)

– inconsolable (after being mugged for the tell-tale white ear phones)

– ‘I think, therefore I am’ (just not when I am listening to music)

Before you all write in, I am the proud owner of a mark one iPod and the 700 or so tracks on it is more than enough to allow me to ignore your protestations.

Big Brother Live on Mobiles


The UK version of the ‘reality’ TV show Big Brother is being streamed live on to mobile phones. The video is played using a downloadable Java application. The video is available for Symbian mobile phones with a GPRS connection. You can get hold of the service here.

Microserfs: revolt or just revolting?


Last week Microsoft Corp. announced that it was cutting medical benefits, stock discounts and parent leave for employees. The medical benefits cut amounted to a measure to encourage them to use generic drugs rather than prescription drugs in order to the help the company conserve its 50 billion USD cash pile.

The chosen few, are not happy according to results of an internal poll obtained by Reuters.

This follows on from changing the stock options structure, allegedly to improve corporate governance and had the effect of making it less likely that their hard work would be converted into the status of a burnt out millionaire. In addition, Bill Gates has become one of the largest investors in the pharmaceutical sector.

I must admit I don’t feel that sorry for them:

– In the case of the prescription drugs cut, why pay more for a brand that only does the same or is worse than a non-label product? Agreed, oh but wait a moment, that disrespects investments made by companies in intellectual property and building a brand, rather like the arguments that Microsoft employs against the open source LAMP cabal? (LAMP is geek marketer speak for Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)

– It shows that Microsoft is becoming a middle aged and mature business. Therefore there is less likely to be a Windows 95 type cancer spreading through technology. The new new thing is likely to happen elsewhere

– Microserfs are likely to be less committed and work less hours, they will no longer feel that they have everything to play for. That means less products launched, products taking a longer time to get to market and less commitment in marketing the products. This provides other companies and start-ups with a better chance of bringing truly innovative products to market, with less chance of suffering a Netscape-like death

– Nothing loosens tongues like dissatisfaction. It is noticeable that that benefits cuts have been brought in after the company made its peace with the US government, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and AOL. However there is still some outstanding court cases like Microsoft v Burst.com, the EU and South Korea that could benefit from some prime time whistle blowing a la Deep Throat’s role in the Watergate Scandal

– It is a bit of a leveller in the Microsoft class structure. Vested staff (full-time employees) were known to lord it over contract employees wearing pin badges with the message “Fuc* You – I’m Vested”. This message kind of rings hollow now. In addition, it lows the still huge challenge facing those workers who would like union recognition. (Microsoft historically has been an anti-union shop, but treated its serfs well)

– Anybody who has seen the blue screen of death, been stymied by a wizard, irritated by a paper clip, or had a corrupt file with two weeks of work in it would be sitting there wondering why the hell Microserfs deserve more than a McDonalds Happy Meal(TM) and sharp kick in the backside. Guys many of your products lack quality, when they’re good they’re cool (Microsoft Word and Excel on the Mac) but the vast majority of time they are like a sprinkling of hundreds and thousands (marketing and candy coloured graphics) used to hide a manure heap. To paraphase Martin Luther – it doesn’t matter what you cover it with a manure heap is still a manure heap

OK before I get pro-Microsoft hate mail, I have enough respect for some of the decent products they’ve made to give the disgruntled Microserfs some words of wisdom:

– Don’t complete another survey on an internal web site, they can trace you from your IP address or other internal network identifiers. They know who you ‘troublemakers’ are. In fact wait until a colleague leaves their PC and do it on theirs instead, now your job is likely to be more secure because guess whose job is more likely to be offshored now? BOGU (a quaint Microsoft phrase that means ‘bend over and grease up’)

– Read Dilbert and Machiavelli’s The Prince diligently to learn how to survive in the Microserf culture

– Get a life, you aren’t going to make dent in the universe, get out meet people, make someone happy and through that hopefully find your own happiness, volunteer at The Samaritans and try to make more of a difference than just screwing over the same poor saps with a new winkle in the licensing agreement