Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Ally Pally

Ally Pally from the air on a day when it wasn't raining
Great news that Alexandra Palace near London may be re-developed as a campus for the UK broadcast industry. I wonder if BBC has plans to sell off Wood Norton where it currently does most of its training? Perhaps that has something to do with the sell of BBC Technology to Siemens. The proposal - bringing the industry and the public together on one site - is the result of a feasibility study commissioned by the Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust and the BBC's Heritage Department.

What happens to Wood Norton now - a BBC property with 45 hotel rooms?

At the moment it still seems to be an idea - a consultation period will now begin to identify potential investors and third parties interested in working in partnership to realize the proposal.

The BBC's connection with Alexandra Palace dates back to 1935 when Corporation engineers first leased part of the site to trial the EMI-Marconi and Logie Baird television systems. And wasn't there a fire there at the launch of BBC 2 in the 60's?

You can get a hell of a lot of students in here. Good for rallies, I guess!

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Photo Experiment

Say Goodbye to Analogue Posted by Jonathan

Just been playing around with Blogger's companion program to upload photos to the weblog. Seems to work. You don't have to play around with compression programs...neat.

Loesje Heads for Berlin

Loesje Leaves Arnhem

Loesje, the Arnhem-based political organisation that has hundreds of poster texts to its credit, is leaving Holland and moving to Berlin by 2005. The website says they need a world city base to expand their international activities.

In the Netherlands, Loesje is well known for making books and calenders with witty remarks on current (political) affairs. In my opinion, the slogans work best in Dutch - the English versions are someone strained, being translated instead of adapted to an English speaking market. They would have a hard time selling the slogans in the UK, for instance. Loesje was founded in 1983 by a group of teachers and students from the Arnhem art academy. They wanted to inject some new life into a rather sleepy political climate at the time and expressed this by creating controversial witty remarks/slogans on posters.

Loesje is a Dutch girls name, chosen from hundreds of suggestions. In fact it has no meaning, so open for suggestions from others. Today Loesje is actually a foundation with around 1000 members in the Netherlands and a growing fanclub abroad. Around 10% of the members are really active - putting up posters in various parts of the country, plus another 11 people who work part-time at the current HQ in Arnhem. But not for much longer.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Curated Consumption

Interesting item in the latest Trendwatching.COM Newsletter

So make way for the emerging trend of CURATED CONSUMPTION: millions of consumers following and obeying the new curators of style, of taste, of eruditeness, in an ever growing number of B2C industries (Martha and home decorating was really just the beginning ;-). And it's not just one way: in this uber-connected world, the new curators enjoy unprecedented access to broadcasting and publishing channels to reach their audience, from their own blogs to niche TV channels.

CURATED CONSUMPTION is behind magazines morphing into catalogues, which then morph into eclectic stores, it's behind DJs, restaurant critics, opinionated bloggers, and rap stars giving consumers access to their playlists, their cribs, their top 10 lists. And let's not forget celeb designers cooperating with retail chains, hand-picking NO FRILLS CHIC collections; Amazon reviewers; gay lifestyle gurus; and self-help TV personalities. The new Gods of CURATED CONSUMPTION are amongst us! ;-)


Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Great Firewalls of China

It surprises me that, with the next Olympics in Beijing starting to get publicity, that the Great Firewall of China is not being investigated. China still jams foreign broadcasts in Mandarin, especially those from BBC and Radio Free Asia. Likewise, the news on the Internet is never rosy.

As Internet content filtering practices proliferate around the world, the companies that manufacture the technologies employed or implicated in such practices have been subject to increasing criticism. No where is this tension more evident than in the case of foreign direct investment in China, where western corporations have come under fire from human rights activists for their compliance with China's internet censorship and surveillance policies.

A recent Reporters Without Borders bulletin draws attention to the practice of search engine filtering in China, with a focus on Baidu.com and Yisou.com, two popular Chinese search engines. Although initially home-grown, the two search engines have attracted interest from American companies anxious to penetrate China's massive IT market. Google has recently invested in Baidu while Yisou is owned by Google's main search engine rival, Yahoo!. The RSF bulletin admonishes both companies for complying with China's policies regarding self-censorship and, in doing so, acting contrary to the spirit of both US legislation -- in particular the Global Internet Freedom Act -- and to broader principles of human rights.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Excuse me sir, can I see your phone?

Phones like 910 have a great camera, which may compromise security

Now there is a phrase you don't hear from any Dutch security guard. Yet, the threat that mobile devices pose to enterprises is significant, especially as the resolution on the cameras is now approaching 3 megapixels and UMTS roll-out is becoming a reality. Yet a significant majority of organizations haven't deployed systems to manage those devices, at least if a study released this week by Forrester Research is to be believed.

"Unmanaged mobile devices represent one of the most serious and often overlooked security threats to the enterprise," the Forrester report says. "The risk of information loss or theft from laptops, PDAs, phones, converged devices, and tablets is increasing rapidly."

However, a survey of enterprises included in the report found only nine percent had deployed mobile client management tools and only 20 percent either were planning to do so or were piloting such a deployment. While the most-discussed security threat is unsecured communications, another serious threat is loss or theft of devices and the information they carry, the report noted. In fact, many companies budget for a 20 percent or higher loss or failure rate for handheld devices, according to the report. Another potential threat comes from viruses and Trojans.

That won't necessarily be easy. For one thing, the devices are often beyond an enterprise's firewall, making them hard to manage. The report also noted that many mobile operating systems aren't designed to be managed centrally. Plus, a long-standing problem is that users sometimes buy their own devices and store confidential information on them...Sony's Memory Stick now boasts 512 MB in the format that fits their 800/900 series of phones.

In the US, while Silicon Valley I was frequently asked to leave the phone at the front desk because of the camera. I also wonder how many companies pay millions for their firewall, only to have employees access from home using an unsecure Wireless LAN.

Monday, August 23, 2004

HD- Highly Disappointing from NBC

This year’s summer Olympics are generating a mixed bag of opinion among US industry analysts and U.S. viewers.

As the first true HDTV Olympics, critics have not been kind. NBC’s HDTV feed is actually a day behind. And, in some cases, it’s two years behind, as the network broadcasts HD footage from the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games to fill time while the NTSC channel began showing this year’s opening ceremony at 8 p.m.

The HD feed started with an approximate 30-minute delay from NBC’s network NTSC telecast and then slowly lagged to a 24-hour delay. The coverage, running in eight-hour loops, was taped delayed, but HD viewers weren’t told in advance it would be a day behind.

The Seattle Times said that even Comcast, the only cable outlet carrying HDTV in Seattle, was surprised, thinking the delays were to be an hour.

Even with the delays, NBC Universal has limited HD coverage to swimming, diving, gymnastics, track and field, and the medal rounds of soccer and basketball.

Although the network is promoting a 24-hour channel with 399 hours of HD programming, it’s actually about 135 hours of original programming from six venues shown most days on an eight-hour loop.

The Olympic Games are being used to stimulate viewers to buy HDTV sets.

"The problem is, the sets are selling but (buyers aren’t) necessarily getting HD," said video industry analyst Bruce Leichtman. "Service providers have to swoop in and use this as a precipitous moment to get HD in the home."

John Mancini told Wired that he expected the Olympics HD channel to spark high-definition sales at his Mid-America Satellite DIRECTV dealership in St. Louis. But as the Olympics were starting, he hadn’t even seen a blip, despite constant promotion by the local NBC affiliate and late advertising from DIRECTV.

Mancini said after reviewing the sales for HD sets two days ago — they sell about 15 to 20 new subscriptions a day — his business is averaging one out of every 100 taking an HD feed.

No one, including NBC, is satisfied with the amount of programming or the way it’s being produced, Wired reported. NBC spokeswoman Cameron Blanchard said the host committee’s last-minute decision to provide high definition was the main factor.

“We would like to do much more but can’t this time around,” she explained, adding that NBC plans to provide the main feed without delay in high definition for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

National Archives re-investigates Kennedy assassination

Scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have begun work using a digital scanning apparatus that they hope will be able to reproduce sound from the only known audio recording of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

Accordinng to Audio Technology Update, the recording was made through an open microphone on a police motorcycle during Kennedy's motorcade into Dealey Plaza, where the president was shot. The sounds were captured onto a Dictaphone belt at police headquarters, but scientific analyses of them over decades proved inconclusive, leaving unresolved whether three of four shots were fired that day.

Repeated analysis using mechanical means is wearing out the Dictaphone belt to the point of unusability. Leslie C. Waffen, an archivist with the National Archives, suggested that digital analysis could both map the sounds and remove extraneous noise like static and distant voices to reveal gun shots. After a June meeting of the National Archives Advisory Committee on Preservation, the job was left to Carl Haber and Vitaliy Fadeyev of the Berkeley laboratory, who have used a digital optical camera to replicate sounds on fragile Edison cylinders and long-play records. The process involves scanning the grooves of the Dictaphone belt electronically to create a digital image of the sound patterns.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

There Yesterday, Gone Today

If you have broadband, you may want to try downloading this Windows Media File (7 MB) which is a video impression of today's Lopik demolition job. As you'll see, it is part of a bigger TV documentary I am working on.

I'm interested in feedback. For those who just want the HTML story...here it is.

Walking Over the Debris

There are not many Saturday's when you can watch an explosion. Not many when the explosion involves the symbolic demolition of a mediumwave transmitter tower. I got up at 6 am to make the short trip down the road to Lopik, on the South side of Utrecht. By the time I arrived at the NOZEMA transmitter centre, there was a huddle of journalists waiting outside - and the rain changed from drizzle to a real down-power. I had to share the umbrella with the camera, trying to keep water off the lens as much as possible.

Rain or shine, the northerly most MW tower at Lopik was coming down. Explosive experts had put charges at the bottom of two of the three guywires, with the plan that the third guywire would pull the tower into the empty polder land behind the transmission tower. No-one knew if the tower would land in one piece, or buckle as it went down (the last tower to be demolished at Lopik buckled in 1957).

Infact the tower's demolition was more symbolic than technical. Back in April, NOZEMA came to an agreement with the local authority about the level of electromagnetic radiation coming from this site. Lopik has always been a transmission centre, but housing projects have crept closer and closer - and residents have started to complain that their electronic equipment wouldn't work properly. Not much consumer equipment works well with 220 kWs of MW energy literally in the backyard.

Now, the remaining South mast (192 metres) is being used for Arrow Classic Rock, but at a power of 100 kWs. Today's demolition was physical proof to the local population that they had abided by their agreement, reducing the power and removing the mast nearest the town of Lopik. A second, smaller antenna (80 metres) also still stands - that's been used as a 40 kW standby. The Lopik transmitter centre has an emergency transmitter in a bunker, dating from the Cold War when they thought the place might have to survive a nearby nuclear blast.

Thirty minutes before the explosions, an area 360 metres around the mast was sealed off by police, with a helicopter circling round the area to check. Then came the warning sirens, the last one exactly 1 minute before the charge was let off.

In Mid Air: 0650 UTC

In fact the tower did not buckle, tipping gracefully against the grey sky, and rain bucketing out of the heavens. It was a four second fall of fame. Five minutes later, a group of about 75 people (press, local officials and Nozema employees) clambered over the remains.

TV crews did their interviews with officials. As is common in the Netherlands, there was the inevitable question : how much did all this cost? No-one knew. If they did, they were not saying. Some kids I spoke to were disappointed. They thought the massive 300 metre TV tower behind us was going to come down instead. Now that will be the day!

Friday, August 20, 2004

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Here today, Gone tomorrow

Around 0520 UTC tomorrow morning, Saturday 21st August, one of the three AM transmission masts at Lopik will be blown-up and the 165 meter mast will topple onto the polder. It is a controlled explosion as part of a plan to reduce the interference problems in the neighbourhood of the transmitter site. The northerly mast is coming down, the southerly one will remain, but only radiate at a power of 100 kW instead of 240 kW which it did until recently. The third mast is used as a standby only.

I plan to join the press corp filming the explosion since it marks the end of a piece of Dutch broadcast history. During the war years the mast put out the Reichsender Bremen, i.e. it was part of the Nazi propaganda network for Europe, in this case serving occupied Holland. After the war, it was used for transmissions of Hilversum 1 & 2, networks of the public broadcasting system in the Netherlands.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

New Sirius Satellite Radio from Tivoli

Sirius taken seriously

Tivoli Audio says it is planning to introduce the world’s first satellite Table Radio designed exclusively for home use with SIRIUS Satellite Radio. It will come out in Autumn 2004 in the US only. The new satellite radio is designed by Tivoli Audio CEO Tom DeVesto, and are based on the popular tuner used in the Tivoli Model One, Two and Three radios and engineered by Audio Hall of Fame member Henry Kloss.

The new Tivoli SIRIUS radio delivers digital quality sound in 61 commercial-free music streams, and over 40 news, sports and entertainment streams. The large LCD provides multiple display options. The radio has 15 pre-sets for favourite Sirius streams and searches by artist, song, and stream, and the digital clock sets and updates automatically.

The radio is housed in a furniture grade cherry wood cabinet with beige metallic faceplate and champagne-toned knobs. It comes with a remote control device and a compact indoor/outdoor SIRIUS antenna.

Radio with Replay in the UK

The Bug Radio

Pure Digital has come out with a DAB radio called "The Bug". I picked one up at the Birmingham radio show and have been playing with it in the Netherlands. Turns out the DAB ensemble in the Netherlands is really disappointing - just the public networks 1-5, plus the Concertchannel. The data stream is simply the same RDS data being sent out on FM. No-one is spending any money on this roll-out.

But the Bug has some internal memory which allows you to store and rewind content. Miss an item on the news, just rewind the buffer to hear it again. A station broadcasting at 128kbps will give you about 5 minutes of pause/rewind time before the buffer is full.

The radios are made in China at the same factory that produces the legendary Tivoli radios. Radio is good - speakers could be a tad better for the price.

Tivoli Audio Model One

Satellite Radio with Pause & Replay

Delphi Corp., a manufacturer of in-vehicle entertainment and electronics, and XM Satellite Radio, America's leading satellite radio service, are introducing another product, the new Delphi XM "SKYFi2". The set takes the original SKYFi, their existing satellite radio receiver, and adds several new features, including the first-ever "pause" and "replay" functions for satellite radio. Utilizing flash technology, the "30 Minute Replay" function continuously and automatically saves the last 30 minutes of programming -- including programming from multiple XM channels. In addition, listeners can pause the program they are listening to with the option to play back that programming within 30 minutes. The unit also has a built-in wireless FM modulator, personalized stock ticker, personalized sports scores, a clock, TuneSelect(TM) by song and artist and much more.

The new vehicle kit is upgraded for wireless FM modulation through the antenna allowing users to self-install SKYFi2 in their vehicle. The Delphi XM SKYFi2 will be available at most major consumer electronics retailers this fall for US $129.99 MSRP. It is already rolling out in some areas of the US in limited quantities.

US Networks seem to have a few men back

Last week in The New York Times, a spate of network TV executives decried Nielsen over the missing young men crisis of last fall, saying that improved ratings for that demographic over the past few quarters actually proved to be incriminating for the measurement monopoly, which they believe had been making adjustments to its flawed methodology all the way.

A new report from media consultancy Magna Global USA, "Primetime Viewing Among Young Men Revisited," points the finger elsewhere--namely at the US networks' programming and the young men themselves, which it refers to as "flukey."

In last week's Times article, executives took Nielsen to task for last autumn's major ratings drop-offs among men ages 18-34 (which were at one point down roughly 14 percent), saying that such sizable drops were unprecedented, and that Nielsen ratings tend to move glacially.

"This is not unprecedented, and these numbers don't move glacially," said Magna Global's research chief Steve Sternberg in a rebuttal. "Young men's TV usage is flukey. As we've seen a number of times, it is always driven by what is on the air."
Sternberg's report points out that since the beginning of the season, when the networks aired a host of programmes aimed primarily at women, men--particularly the younger 18-24 segment--have gradually returned to the networks as shows like "The Apprentice, "Simple Life 2," and the "Last Comic Standing 2" took off in the second half of the season.

The report also digs into the heart of the ratings declines, which Sternberg says appear worse than they really are. While ratings are down 9 percent for men ages 18-24 versus last season, total usage numbers for that demographic have dipped from 25 percent to 23 percent, or just two percentage points. "In other words, men 18-24 television usage was extremely low to begin with," says the report.

In total, US men ages 18-24 are watching a half-hour less TV than last season and only 19 fewer minutes of network TV, says Sternberg--not entirely unusual for a demographic that has demonstrated similar volatility in recent years. While the networks scramble to bring back some of these migrated males, cable--which
more often specifically caters to their interest--is gaining. Ratings for men ages 18-34 are up 14 percent in the third quarter on ad-supported cable, according to the report.

Cable shows like "Rescue Me" and "Stargate: SG-1" seem to prove that if you programme, men will watch. "People don't watch network television simply because it is there," said Sternberg. "It's got to have programming they want to watch."

Buggering Around with Toogle

May be the Google IPO will crash in flames (or just lop off a few more billion), but meanwhile check out Toogle, which messes with 880 million images on the web in the nicest possible way...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Finding Blogs at Random

You can use the following URL (taken from the new Blogger Navbar) to be taken to a random, recently updated Blogspot blog:


Using this random redirect, it should be possible to write a script storing all URLs in a database. One way of making the big list of who is out there. This Google search helps to get you an idea of how many Blogspot blogs are out there (around 710,000, it seems):

site:blogspot.com -inurl:html

(Using this search you cannot grab all the data, as Google limits results to the first 1,000 pages.)

from http://blog.outer-court.com/

Painting & Thinking

I've spent the last three days up ladders painting the outside of the house. It would take a morning - if only you didn't have to sand and clean the surfaces...and because I am changing the colour scheme I have to get the old stuff off first. The Black and Decker sander turned out to be a bad buy - worked fine until this morning when the sandpaper holder decided to split in two. Our local DIY store didn't have this most obvious of spare parts - will take 2 weeks to order. So you have an entire wall of different grades of sandpaper, but not the tool spares. Logical thinking guys...

Most of its done now - and the rain is pouring down again, so couldn't be out there if I wanted to. Don't mind painting with the radio on, listening to comedy or news shows. You are constant reminded that this is August and there isn't a lot of news to report. Amazing that they all the news of the day fits into exactly 5 minutes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

More on the Real-Apple Battle

NY Times is reporting that RealNetworks has put its digital music offerings on sale at half price as part of an aggressive strategy to force its way onto Apple Computer's popular iPod digital music player.

At the same time, the company acknowledged that the sale - which lowers the price of songs on the online RealPlayer Music Store to 49 US cents and the cost of most albums to $4.99, tentatively through until the US Labor Day holiday - will have an impact on the company's finances.

Rob Glaser, RealNetworks' founder and chief executive, admitted that the promotion was a bit like that old joke "about losing money on each sale and making it up on volume." The company planned to report that it expected the marketing campaign, called Freedom of Choice, which will be advertised extensively, to increase its projected loss by one US cent during the current quarter.

In July, RealNetworks said it was adding its Harmony software to the Windows version of its RealPlayer audio-video software, making it possible for iPod users to buy music from the RealPlayer Music Store and play it back on the iPod.

This move is interesting bearing in mind Real's battle with Window's Media. Frankly, I think they have lost and I "really" get annoyed with the advertising and the player's habit of kidnapping other files to play as default Real. Yes, I know you can disable it. It is just the practice. No, I am not a Real worshiper.

Induce Act Impact?

A forthcoming bill in the U.S. Senate would, if passed, dramatically
reshape copyright law in the USA by prohibiting file-trading networks and some
consumer electronics devices on the grounds that they could be used for unlawful purposes.

So what is new?

A bill called the Induce Act is scheduled to come before the Senate
sometime next week. If passed, it would make whoever "aids, abets,
induces(or) counsels" copyright violations liable for those violations.

Weekly Averages

Tim McNiff in Washington tipped me off to this page. Look at the weekly averages for Punta Gorda, Florida. Max Gust wind 175 kph. Glad I was out of the path of that one.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Apple's Arrogance Will Fail

I agree with writier Sonia Arrison that Apple's insistance that the i-pod can only play back i-tunes and its negative reaction to the Real Network's "hack" is a really stupid move.

The world is too small for one company to push one standard, non-compatible with anything. I would also think twice about encoding all my CDs in a standard only supported by one company and then dumping the originals to save space. Looks neat on the surface, but I've been let down too many times by Apple Europe's lousy support. There is a book to be written there about how Apple failed to capture hearts and minds in Europe.

Grateful Rain

Back in Holland, it is raining. And it is a welcome relief to the heat of the Mediterrean. Everything is so green. And humid. The weather here is often criticized but it is never the same. And the clouds are something else, especially out on the polders where there is what seems like an unlimited horizon.

Time to sort of suitcases - do the washing - and prepare for IBC.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Beach musings in Cyprus

I can recommend Cyprus as a great holiday destination. Last year, I stayed in Paphos and explored the western part of the island, including Troodos mountains and Limassol. Further up the road towards Larnaca is a place called Zygi, famous for its giant cement works, and some transmitter towers next door which form the main part of the BBC's Cyprus relay station. On the door of the transmitter building was an (im)famous logo, that of the British government's clandestine radio station of the 1950's called Sharq al-Adna. Originally set up as a propaganda station in Palestine, it retreated to a site near Limassol, Cyprus when the British withdrew. After the end of the first Middle East conflict it even became a quasi-commercial station - run by the British government but independent of the BBC Empire Service.

In July 1956, President Nassar of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal. In October 30th of that year, the station suddenly became the "Voice of Britain" calling for the overthrow of Nassar. The transmissions were backed up with a leaflet campaign dropped by British aircraft over Egypt. Not only did the project fail to impress the Egyptian public, the entire programme staff of the Voice of Britain resigned, many of whom had family across the water in Egypt. Only later did the British government hand over the facilities to the BBC. The site moved to a better location in Zygi, and more recently two sets of giant mediumwave masts at Ladies Mile for 24 hr coverage of BBC's Arabic Service.

So why all this history?

Because Cyprus has become a hotbed of other international broadcast activity. This year, I stayed in Larnaca, and took a trip out to the eastern part of the island, past the tourist resort of Ayia Napa.

This is sign to the real Eastern Tip of European Union. You can't get any further east that Cape Gkreko. It is the Eastern-most tip of the Republic of Cyprus, famous for its caves - famous to radio specialists as the home of Radio Monte Carlo Middle East. Formerly a separate commercial radio station, operated by the French government, since 1996 it has been under the wing of the Arabic service of Radio France Internationale. RMC-ME has always been an important outlet for the French government, since it has daytime coverage of Beirut, literally across the water.

They still hire airtime out to TransWorld Radio in the evenings, so from 2130 in the evening the mix of French and Arabic music stops and its becomes wall-wall evangelical. I haven't heard gospel music in Arabic until now. This continues until 0015 when Radio Canada International appears out of nowhere with an Arabic language programme - presumably for nightwatchmen!

But RMC-ME has a new neighbour. The US Board of International Broadcasting has persuaded the Cyprus government (and presumably also the French) that this spot is a great place for another mast on 990 kHz. It's a 500 kW transmitter carrying Radio Sawa.

No Comparison

In the battle for hearts and minds, the French have beaten the US hands down. Here are two stations, both with Arabic programming, both with a "commercial" music format and both part their government's strategy to influence Arab speakers in that part of the Middle East. But the French station is full of lively announcers, who show themselves on the station website - you can see them, e-mail them, send SMS. The Radio Sawa station is an emotionless jukebox, carrying a format of Arabic-US-Arabic pop which alternate. I note regular ads for the US government's Freedom TV (Al Hurrah) and drop-in IDs. There is a short news bulletin on the hour and a few times a day a 15 minute block (!) of correspondents reports, during which Sawa must frighten most of its audience away. The website is not the one you would expect from a music station, and the announcers/DJ's certainly do not profile themselves like RMC does. There are several versions of the same station - at night I can hear 4 different versions of the same thing, regionalised newswise. America is back in the business of shouting at its targets, and we know that no-one trusts anyone who shouts. So the French are playing is soft and subtle, the US brash and ever so cold, despite the 35 degrees here on the beach.

If you're on your vacation, enjoy.