Saturday, January 28, 2006

Technical Challenges

Discovered at last why I was having problems posting to Blogger. No, their servers were not down. No, it wasn't anything to do with some censorship on certain sites. It was a firewall in a new Speedtouch Modem which I installed to -in theory - switch to ADSL 2. It is a bit faster than before it is true. But I had to delve into the instruction book to try and switch off a firewall inside the modem - which was competing with the other firewall on my desktop. I am having second thoughts about subscribing to Norton Firewalls this year. I find these guys have come up with one of the most confusing websites on the planet - especially if you are trying to solve simple problems (like e-mail being blocked by Norton Personal Security). I found the solution eventually (a setting in Outlook), but they don't make the quest any easier. And when it came to downloading updates, Norton didn't even recognise its own authors as being a trustworthy site. Anyway, back now.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Disappointing Turnout for Amsterdam Congress 2006

Oh dear... on Thursday I went to an opening congress to celebrate Amsterdam as a congress destination for 2006. I see the Dutch version of the website is already proclaiming the event to be a resounding success. I beg to differ. There were around 70 exhibitors - accounting for around 150 people in the Expo centre. They said that 500 people had signed up to attend the event as participants. I was there for most of the afternoon and I counted less than 200 visitors. The racks of unclaimed badges outside was a bad sign. Boom Chicago opened the event with a song about Amsterdam being tolerant.

The good news is that there are some new locations for congresses that look exciting - Artis, Lloyd hotel, and locations along the Amstel river. They combine design with some spectacular scenery which can inspire. But many of the other locations seem to the stuck in a time warp - too expensive and no clue that facilities like Wi-Fi are not a luxury but an essential.

Perhaps my biggest problem with the whole event is demonstrated by the English language website itself.... today the website greets me with press releases from May 2005!. There was also a strange list of Amsterdam's USPs on the website, although today it has been taken down....

Meanwhile, Rotterdam gets it.....

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Telegrams are no more

Today is an end of an era as Western Union quietly stops its telegram service. Faxes were a major threat, but e-mail was the final nail. It reminds me of the closedown of Scheveningen Radio on shortwave a few years back. I think some other analogue technologies are also entering a new era - history. More on that later.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Media Network Podcast?

This year it will be 25 years since Radio Netherlands launched the name "Media Network" , a tech-media show to replace "DX Juke Box". The audio version ran on the radio for nearly 20 years, ending in October 2000. The web version started around 10 years ago and still exists as an important broadcasting news source.

I am no longer with Radio Netherlands. But I have been talking to the current editor Andy Sennitt whether this some way we should celebrate the 25th. We've been following the success of This Week in Tech, which rose from the ashes of Tech TV. Perhaps there is an interest in starting a "Media Network" style podcast, with more of a European perspective on things. It could either be a one-off (connected with the 25th) or a series.

Interested either in taking part or listening in? You can help us by leaving comments or dropping me an e-mail. See the company switchboard for details

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Clock Radio: - Program Guide - Radio Guide

Someone is making a fortune on Google ads by making a whole series of spoof blogs with content from my blog (and others) compiling it into nonsense listings like the link above. When is Blogger going to comb out this rubbish???

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

KPN - ISDN - It still does nothing

In Sweden it appears that ISDN lines will be discontinued from next year. In Holland, it often stands for "It Still Does Nothing" or the older joke - Integration Subscribers Don't Need. Two weeks ago, my ISDN line was downgraded from ISDN2 to ISDN1. With Voice over IP, no need for all that expensive bandwidth. The fax hardly ever goes these days.

Imagine my surprise when the analogue infrastructure connected to the ISDN box stopped working as a result. I make a call to the 24 hr technical helpline. "Its the ISDN-analogue box. Take it to a KPN Primafoon shop in the next town where they can test it and repair it".

Nope. In Bussum, these two sales assistants looked at me as though I was bringing an alien from another planet. They started to make jokes that this was junk from the last century. They didn't know what the box was, nor did they seem in the slightest bit interested in the problem or its solution. I pointed out that this "junk" was KPN infrastructure which I had bought and paid for. Truely, they were the most unhelpful idiots I've come across in a long time. Talk about customer service - they were simply a disgrace.

Later - 30 km away in a KPN Business Center, they also looked puzzled. I could phone the KPN service line again - the solution, "we will send a monteur to look at it - for 70 Euro, plus the costs of any apparatus that needs replacing. The guesstimate - 250 Euro". I pointed out that there were other options - like using the web for phone calls instead of their overpriced infrastructure.

It is no wonder the KPN fixed line services are hemorrhaging customers, escaping this outdated and overpriced monopoly and switching ASAP to VOIP solutions via cable or ADSL providers. I can dial emergency services on the mobile if needed. Time to chuck out the fixed line and all this outdated junk.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Future of Radio - DRM path looks rocky

I wasn't trying to buy a radio at all. I was attempting to buy a multi-region DVD in Media Markt, a giant electronics warehouse near Amsterdam. It took me an hour. I needed the salesman to disappear behind a screen, fiddle with the technical menu, and get rid of the stupid Region protection, allowing me to play Region 1 DVDs I have legally bought in the US. The salesman was serving another customer, who was spending forever trying to decide. At Media Markt, inventory comes before service.

In the meantime, I watched with some amusement, the total clouds of confusion enveloping members of the public who were simply trying to understand the different types of DVD hard disk recorders.

I laughed when overhearing the total bollocks being shared with customers as to what really defines a High-Definition TV screen. HD-Ready means you are buying a TV with a special connector on it. When (finally) we see either HD-DVD or Blu-Ray DVD players capable of delivering a decent HD picture, those with the current plasma/LCD screens will realise they have been sold something which is clearly NOT a true HD picture. But, by that time it may be a good point to upgrade the TV again.

At the same time, it becomes crystal clear that the DRM digital radio standard hasn't got a hope in hell of being successful in the short term. It has nothing to do with the delay to the chip-set, meaning that the promised DRM radios won't be on the market until the first half of this year. It has everything to do with the fact that there is no clear programming message that salesman in places like Media Markt can repeat to potential customers. It has been the programmes that have convinced several million people in the US (and now Canada) to subscribe to a satellite radio system -either XM or Sirius. Even then, I think it is just a matter of time before the two platforms merge. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we can see evidence that major manufacturers like Pioneer understand how to integrate a portable satellite radio with an MP3 player (of course they couldn't demonstrate it working INSIDE the exhibition hall, but still). A similar case for the DRM camp is still a long way off.

DRM's biggest problem is the total lack of recognisable "stars" and "unmissable" content on the HF part of the spectrum. Scan the 49 metre shortwave band at any time of day and ask yourself if this is content is a serious proposition for any customer in an electronics store. If it is, I really want to hear the pitch. Then add the extra challenge. Please give me an example where a broadcast technology in Country X has been introduced only because of activities by broadcasters in Country Y. Throughout the Cold War, countries shouting at each other over the radio were using technology that was already in place in the target area. I am listening to the current output on shortwave in several different languages and comparing the quality to satellite TV and what's on the web. My conclusion is simple - I'm afraid if it doesn't improve, DRM as a stand-alone technology is a total non-starter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Youngest Dutch Broadcaster pulling itself apart

Having visited the studios/offices of the youngest public broadcaster in the Netherlands a few months ago, it has been painful to watch a very public dispute between the Board of Governors and Director Anna Visser. This culminated Monday morning with Visser being fired - and a protest action by the broadcasters working at the production house. This will lead to a confrontation on Wednesday between Governors and staff. The problem is that the audience is absolutely not interested in the internal politics.

Blu-Ray & HD-DVD impass

Talking to the people behind both incompatible systems for future HD players, it becomes clear they plan to launch side by side, repeating history with VHS and Beta all over again. The screens are ready. In Europe, there is going to be HD transmissions this year (I expect mainly seen in pubs and clubs in Germany and the UK). The HD trailers on the Apple site are spectacular. But the dual standard for recording is just completely stupid. The consumers should vote with their wallets.

CES - Give it a miss in 2007

I am afraid it has become easier to cover CES by not going there (there are 6500 colleagues competing to cover 2500 booths). This switchboard gives you a useful overview of what's cooking.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Fessenden Festival in Scotland - Finally!

This lump of concrete stands near Machrihanish (The Pans), a small village situated on the Kintyre Peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Its all that remains of a 450 foot radio mast used to receive the world’s first voice transmissions across the Atlantic. Whilst Marconi had succeeded with Morse Code transmissions via wireless, the Canadian scientist Reginald Fessenden is credited with being the first to broadcast the human voice. In fact, the first transmission across the Atlantic consisted of a reading from the Bible and Fessenden playing Holy Night on his violin. I suppose the wireless telegraphy operators in Scotland had been expecting something a bit different. Fessenden was the son of a protestant preacher, so his choice of programming is perhaps not quite so surprising.

Local radio operators in this beautiful part of Argyllshire have decided that this important milestone in broadcasting needs to be commemorated. They have plans to reactivate the original site with a special amateur radio station in the next few days. On the broadcast side, a link is being planned between Argyll FM and local commercial radio station WATD near Brant Rock Massachussetts, USA, the site of the original broadcast. The local authority plans to put a permanent memorial up at the site. In the meantime, some commemorative buttons and notepads have been created on the CafePress service. It is great that Fessenden is finally getting the credit he deserves.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year


Happy New Year to everyone. Let us make this a really sixcessful time - making the projects we've been planning turn into reality. Peace and good health along the way. Posted by Picasa