Tuesday, December 30, 2008

800 Phones in the Google Sky-Lab

A sort of behind the scenes look at how Google is experimenting with the mobile world. Seems they prefer phones with good browsers and flat-rate data plans. Me too.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Eartha Kitt Wiki

I never cease to be amazed at how quickly wikipedia updates articles...within minutes of Eartha's passing being announced. I know some people laugh at its accuracy - but on subjects that I am researching I find it an excellent source (along with others). Gave up on EBrit years ago.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Northern Lights Documentary

Blast! Just seen the documentary I have wanted to make myself. Every since I went to northern Finland in 1995, I have wanted to go back to see the Northern Lights, and find out more about the scientific research going on in northern Norway. Playing around with the HD tuner the other night, I bumped into a truly super HD production which starred British actress Joanna Lumley. I see the photographer and Aurora Chaser Kjetil Skogli has been doing well every since. He makes a small business in Tromso taking people out to see the lights in small groups. The lights have always fascinated me, although if you are long distance radio listening, their appearance is actually a bad thing, causing tremendous amounts of noise on mediumwave. I have seen them in the US and Canada, but the show in Norway is truly special. I think the documentary with Joanna is just superb. I hope they issue it on Blu-Ray.

On board Norway's real-life version of the Polar Express heading north out of Trondheim towards the Arctic Circle, Joanna Lumley takes out a favourite childhood book. Turning the pages of Ponny The Penguin, she points to the simple black and white illustration that inspired in her a lifelong ambition to see the Northern Lights, writes Tony Matthews.

Born in India and raised in the steamy heat of Malaysia, Joanna's childhood experience of snow was limited to fairy stories and pictures such as that of the little penguin gazing into the night sky. "We never even needed to wear cardigans, so the idea of cold, snow and ice was alien," she says. "I couldn't think what it would be like. I suppose you always want what you've never had and the Northern Lights hung in my mind as something I thought I would never see and yet, as I got older, longed to see with all my heart."

In a new film for BBC One, Joanna Lumley In The Land Of The Northern Lights, the actress at last realises her ambition, having been approached by film-makers Takeaway Media who'd heard her mention it during her appearance on Desert Island Discs. The result is an Arctic odyssey by train, light aircraft, ferry, dog sled and snowmobile across Norway's spectacularly rugged winter landscape. As the film's director Archie Baron says: "It's hard to find a more enjoyable travelling companion than the clever, charming, indefatigable Ms Lumley."

Joanna in turn is charmed by the Norwegian people and their tales of life in the far north, its myths and legends, and their experiences of the Aurora Borealis. She visits the remote fishing town of Å, spends a night inside an igloo hotel and meets the reindeer herdsmen of the Sami, Europe's last indigenous people, where she receives a snowmobile riding lesson from a four-year-old boy.

"I loved meeting the Norwegian people," says Joanna. "They were so courteous, such good fun and so kind, and they had a Viking way of staring right into your eyes. There was a wonderful artist who darned his clothes in bright colours so he looked like a little raggedy patchwork pixie and I found the Sami people very gracious. To be treated to a yoik, a traditional Sami song, by one of the community's elders was extraordinary. I think there's a real pioneer spirit running through the country – they have to be able to ski and skate from a very early age just to get about; they're tough little children. From the age of six they start learning English and by the time they're 11 they speak three languages."

Although Norway is a country well equipped for Arctic conditions, Joanna says parts of the journey proved tough going. "There were only five of us – camera, sound, director, producer and me – in masses of clothing, lumping 35 pieces of equipment everywhere, which was very good for your waistline. When we were outside, filming in minus-26 degrees, the cold was so intense it took your breath away."

Joanna describes the majestic snowfields, mountains and fjords as a "fairytale vision, savage, sublime and quite overpowering", but its greatest glory comes not from Earth but from space where particles, carried on solar winds, are attracted by the magnetic poles. As these particles hit the top of the atmosphere, their energy is converted into the most astonishing light show – the Aurora Borealis.

"We saw a bit of a showing on another night, but not enough to film and, because we were on a tight schedule and all had other jobs lined up, we were stuck. It was almost our last night and we were getting a little bit tense when this extraordinary man, Kjetil Skogli – an Aurora expert – came to assist us. He told us that conditions where we were would be bad again, but he had a feeling that if we went to a particular fjord we might have a good chance. So we drove like mad to set up the equipment and get into our survival kit.

"We stood on the foreshore shivering, it was so cold. The moon was bright, the wind was quite hard and the stars were very bright, the water was glittering. We stood there thinking what are we looking for, what is it? Then just above one of the hills was this extraordinary bloom, like a kind of algae, just growing, like a weird fence or curtains or snakes. It began to throb and pulsate into a very vivid green and then it began to split up and change. For about the next hour and a half it was just mind-blowing, we were all shouting to each other, sometimes lying on our backs like babies, it was like nothing I'd ever seen.

"It's not earthly light, these are solar atoms hurtling past and getting sucked in by the magnetic force of the world, you have to slow the camera apertures right down to get enough of this extraordinary light in. I had to stand as still as a rock, with the wind blowing and buffeting, so that they could film and then later show it in real time; it's a weird way of filming, but there's no other way of doing it. I think it may well be the best film the world has ever got of the Lights, they are phenomenally hard to capture."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

N97-and N95


I am always amazed by Nokia sales people in that they can show you products (like the new N97) but can never say when its going to be on the market. Late 2009 "based on previous experience". The N97 is same size and weight as my N95 but fold-out keypad which is way better than the N95. Bigger screen too. Still think Nokia is behind in navigation.
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Monday, December 08, 2008

Le Web - last few hours

Getting ready for tomorrow. It's really looking good!

Le Web Stream Start-Up Hall

This is the parallel session room in Paris where start-ups can pitch..and get feedback from peers. I'm curious to see how this works. I saw some great pitches in Palo Alto and Geneva earlier in the year...and some awful ones in Amsterdam. The ones in Holland are not prepared or produced, and as a start-up you gain nothing from the advice of the panel-members. If you see the amount of prep work that goes on behind the scenes to make this into something interesting, then you see why it doesn't work (yet) in the Netherlands.

Le Web Stream - Main Hall

Looking good. I'm in here somewhere

Looking forward to Leweb08

I'm looking forward to Le Web in Paris tomorrow. It's courageous of the organizers (Loic le Meur) to attempt something of this scale (1500 people), especially at the moment. But it is exactly at the moment of a major slump that some of the best ideas are born. Leweb looks like its attracted many of the best ones from Europe, Middle East and North America. This has more chance of coming up with great ideas (and deals) than some of the traditional broadcast/new media conferences and festivals. Can't fault the LeWeb program this year...everything's set for this to be the best yet. I'm impressed by the way LeWeb learns from its participants. If they don't take up an idea, there's usually a good reason. Compare that with some other conferences (like Broadcast Asia in Singapore) who are deaf to any form of critique, having developed a format in 2001 and just repeating the same old thing, year after year. Let's hope the slump clears out the rubbish and stupid business models in the conference business too.

I've started a service for clients reviewing conferences rather like the Consumer Association. How do they rate in terms of networking value, content, exhibition, etc? When some of the conferences still demand 1500 Euro and more for what is a series of panels, my advice is to be very, very choosy about what's worth attending in 2009.

Thalys Satellite wifi, fast train, slow web

In the train to Paris and experimenting with the wifi on board. Its painfully slow for most of the journey....some sort of satellite system. Getting around 33k throughput, which is bad dial-up speed. Thalys used to be top, but in the last few years the budget cutbacks are noticeable with rolling stock that is in need of refurbishing. Catering has also been reduced to cold snacks. What I still find strange is that they work with paper tickets (which means you can book on the Internet, but they send you paper tickets through the post within 3 days). If you buy a ticket online and then want to pick it up at the station they charge you a fee. The other challenge is that you have no idea where you're sitting (I want a window seat to be near a power socket for the laptop) and so if a colleague has made a separate booking there's no way to sit next to them. Thalys needs to move into the 21st century.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Underwater Music

I am working on a robust solutions for a reporter working in Africa and having to record audio on the road under difficult conditions, i.e. lack of mains power. These guys in the US are developing waterproofing films to make it possible to keep damp (and dust) out of the equipment. Wonder if they can do it for mini PC's?

Pure Evoke Wifi Publicity

Yes, the Pure Evoke seems to be a nicest new wifi capable set on the UK market and I'm curious to see whether it has a better selection of stations than their competitors at Reciva, who seem to be plodding along in the same market with much less exposure these days. This Evoke set is indeed brilliant for diaspora listening. So how come the male journalist at the Telegraph/ITN in the UK in the video above seems to take rather stupid examples to demonstrate the radio's capabilities. Who will pay 150 quid to listen to Iranian folk music in the bathroom? But it is brilliant to be able to follow Radio Australia or Radio 702, South Africa when there's a breaking story in that part of the world. Of course, the same streams are available on any laptop, but the trick is that the radio fits in the kitchen and its amazing what you hear by accident.

The written article in the Daily Telegraph goes on to state

"According to industry figures, compiled by market research firm Gfk, sales in the UK have doubled in recent months, with the number of radios sold increasing by 105 per cent between June and October.

Compared with 17,000 sets sold last year, the industry expects about 110,000 to be sold this year. This will still make them a relatively niche product compared to Digital Audio Broadcasting Radios, but experts believe they will ultimately overtake DAB radios."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Underwater Music

I am working on a robust solutions for a reporter working in Africa and having to record audio on the road under difficult conditions, i.e. lack of mains power. These guys in the US are developing waterproofing films to make it possible to keep damp (and dust) out of the equipment. Wonder if they can do it for mini PC's?

Progress - Iphone Clock Radio

The Mobilaria guys in Hilversum have come up with a very useful simple app for the iPhone and iPod Touch which wakes you up in the morning to your favorite Internet radio station. Costs a massive 0.75 cents in the Apple Store, although when I tried a few minutes ago I could get the Store to work. More details later. But the interface is clearly a useful step in the right direction. Radio's current interface is rubbish!

Impressed at VRT

Very impressed with the new newsroom at VRT in Brussels. Boy, have they thought about how to make cross-media news.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

VRT Today

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Giving a couple of presentations today as part of the VRT's Technology day for programme makers. I'm curious to see how they will interest the creative staff in relevant technology.