Sunday, October 31, 2004

Never Again, United

Welcome to the "great" experience that is United. I just flew with them on a very quick business trip to Washington and was amazed how their inflight catering and service have plummetted since I flew with them 3 years ago.

If ever you time on your hands, you might want to read through some of these stories before you fly the friendly skies again. There's also an industry joke about United's new low-cost airline division, named Ted. You know what TED stands for? Ted is what's left of United after U n I are gone...

Saturday, October 30, 2004

TV B Gone

TV Be Gone Key Remote

For 15 US Dollars a website in the US is offering a key-ring size remote that claims it can switch off any television at the push of a button. I note that especially in airports, bars and restaurants in the US, there are TVs playing with the sound turned down. What a waste? The device runs through some 209 infrared codes which control more than 1,000 models of TV, and ought to disable most sets within 60 seconds. There seems to be a special version for Europe (I guess PAL countries). I confess to have ordered one.

It does nothing more than try all the infra-red codes it knows - so no permanent damage.

I wonder what happens if you take it to an exhibition? I remember taking an IR remote control to the Berlin Audio and Video exhibition in 1981 - the first time the vidi-walls appears. I discovered one push of the "off-switch" was enough to turn the entire stand off. Four hours later there were bits of masking tape on the TV's...someone twigged about "Infra-Red terrorism".

The site was sold out in 48 hours, but they are now back in stock as of today. Click the headline above for the website.

New TV Channel for Arab World

Zen TV Logo

An interesting new TV channel for the Arab world was launched on Friday night, October 29th. It is aimed at viewers between 13 and 35, and is a US$ 20 million joint venture between Lebanon's richest TV network (Future TV) and the region's fastest growing media metropolis - Dubai Media City.

Since more than 65% of the Arab region is under 25, and the competition is mainly music-only channels, this network marks an interesting move. In fact, its mix of news, discussion, travel, games, fashion, music and Hollywood films/series - a mix that you might have expected from the US rather than the Middle East.

Zen, which is pronounced “zein” and means good or beautiful in Arabic, has started broadcasts from Future Television’s studios in Lebanon until its own facilities are completed in Dubai. “This isn’t a Lebanese channel,” insisted Future TV’s general director, Ali Jaber at the opening. “It’s an Arabic channel done the Lebanese way.”

Until the civil war, Lebanon was the home to very western-style film and music production. Now that the war is over, and satellite TV has become a dominant medium, Beirut based networks are competing for audiences abroad. Because many of the media students in Lebanon were trained in the US and Canada, rather than France like their parents, the style of TV production is heavily influenced by UK & US networks. Jaber admitted that the station “adapts from but doesn’t imitate” existing stations like MTV and City TV in Toronto. “The West invented television, not us,” he said.

Future Television commissioned the UAE-based Pan Arab Research Center and Merlin, a London-based research company, to conduct an in-depth study of the likes, dislikes and attitudes of young people in the region. The studies revealed that Arabs, under 25, have a very different political outlook from their parents.

The station’s in-house productions make up 60 percent of their programs, with 30 percent each recorded in Dubai and Lebanon. Hollywood productions, including sitcoms like Friends and LA Doctors, make up the remaining 40 percent of Zen’s shows.

Thus far Jaber’s favorite is Dardashat (which means “chit-chat” in Arabic), a two-hour show featuring hip and attractive presenters chatting casually about all manner of subjects from cars to premarital sex. This daily show, like all the shows shot in Beirut, is broadcast from Future TV’s 800-square-meter premises in Kantari, where programme sets are open, allowing noise and activity from different shows to interfere with each other.

Zen TV may have started on air, but the website is still a single page on Future TV's website.

It will be interesting to see how this channel competes with other networks aimed at the youth - like MTV and even the US government's Radio Sawa, especially since all use US sourced material.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Tell Me When I can Afford it...

I notice that on some shop sites you can now set a price you want to pay for an item and they will send you an e-mail when the price has dropped to fit your budget. Clever. Click the title above to see what I mean.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

John Peel - RIP at 65

John Peel

One of the great legends of British broadcasting, John Peel, has passed away while on the holiday of a lifetime in Peru. He was just 65 and suffered a heart attack.

I think he made a great contribution to British broadcasting, by adding a personal touch - not only to his DJ work but also to factual programmes he presented on the Beeb, like Home Truths. He did a lot to push new talent on the airwaves, freshening up the sounds both at home and on BBC World Service. He will no doubt be missed in Holland too - people remember his offshore days at Radio London and at one time he even presented a programme slot for VPRO. A great -human - guy...the ordinary bloke who connected - where others just presented.

SonyEricsson 403 Disaster

SonyEricsson have some serious problems with their website - must be one of the worst in the world. Arrogance is creeping in all over the place. And when you want to compare their new K500i with, say, the P900 you're told you cannot! This is a company with serious problems in the way it communicates with the general public! Wake up guys! Posted by Hello

Travel Blog

Travels Posted by Hello

Critical Distance is one year old and I took a couple of hours off to examine where I have actually been in the last year. Turns out to be 28 countries. Whew! Must say, I like travelling and meeting people. The red bits are countries visited, not the source of some virus or something - still a lot to do.

Wired on WiMax

Brace yourself: WiMax is coming. A wireless standard that makes Wi-Fi look mini, WiMax is designed to replace your Internet connection with one up to 25 times faster than today's broadband. The technology - officially known as 802.16 - not only transfers data as fast as 75 Mbps, but also goes through walls and has a maximum range of 30 miles. Hardware makers, led by Intel, are banking on a WiMax boom like the one set off by Wi-Fi. The first products are expected to roll out early next year and rack up some $1 billion in sales by 2008. Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions.

Why does the world need WiMax?

Think of it as a wireless alternative to DSL or cable. It has obvious advantages for any place that's not wired already - small African nations, remote Indian villages, vast swaths of China. In countries like the US, it's another way to get broadband.


Sunday, October 24, 2004

Post PC Mumbo Jumbo

Electric Pants - Just Want I really needed Posted by Hello

In South Korea at the moment, there is exhibition of wearable computers/technology. The photos look peculiar - may be cool (in fact cold) but not all that practical. What was the problem they were trying to solve? Well, the IT-SoC Conference Chairman Seok Yeul Kang tried to explain on their website what they are doing. Not sure he really succeeds!
System on Chip technology is selected government's dynamic industrial field of new development in next generation technology and is stood in the spotlight of digital revolution to have users enjoy their inquired information whenever and wherever by combining the internet and next generation wireless multimedia communication and digital broadcasting. Also, it is the core technology of digital convergence that merged and cooperated with digital technology and products.

IT-SoC 2004 Show which SoC related academic and exhibiting event. is held to meet the needs of the times. Also, the conferences will be held those are related with SoC which distinguished monographs' release, guest speeches from domestic and foreign specialist and round table panel discussions.

We would like to welcome industrial, academic and research institutes peoples' positive concern over the various SoC related technology and information exchange to discuss not only the future development but also the strengthen over competitive power of SoC.

Translation anyone?

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Sony Vaio X - With One Terabyte

Predictions about the continual downward spiral in the cost of storage are on track. On October 5th 2004, Sony launched a VAIO for the home, equipped with a huge 1-terabyte hard disk. The Sony VAIO Type X performs as an "audiovisual recording server." The device can record six channels of terrestrial analogue broadcasts simultaneously, and the dedicated recording disk has enough space for one week of continuous viewing....why don't they just say 5184 hours? It also has a "television time-shift" viewing function, allowing users to watch programs that have been recorded. You can also use the remote control to go back in time and re-arrange programmes by genre, as well as enter key words to find desired programmes. Sony says the VAIO X will be launched on November 15th 2004.

No doubt it will have its own unique power supply - Sony products have that habit. Did you know Sony lanches, on average, 2 new products a hour?
 Posted by Hello

Radio colleagues at the CBC in Ottawa tell me they are saying a fond farewell to their "castle" studios, located for the past 80 years in the Chateau Laurier building and within a stones throw of the Canadian Parliament buildings. CBC Radio is now in a new broadcast centre with TV & Web colleagues in Queen Street, but without that nostalgia and grandeur that lurks in the corridors of famous buildings. The Chateau is also a hotel, and it has a Dutch connection. During the Second World War, one of the rooms in the hotel was briefly declared Dutch territory. That was because the late Dutch Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard took refuge in Ottawa during the war, and on 19th of January 1943, Juliana gave birth to Princess Margriet.

There's also a great English-style pub across the road from the hotel! Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

WGN Radio - 80 year anniversary CD

WGN have just released a CD celebrating 80 years on the air. I got it for US$10 by walking into reception - they seemed a little taken back that someone from Amsterdam wanted a copy and was brandishing a US$20 bill ("we'll have to search for change"). It's a great montage of past and present - linked of course to baseball commentaries and the Tribune newspaper WGN = World's Greatest Newspaper. Infact if you go to the WGN website you can order your own copy - proceeds go to charity. Posted by Hello

..and dangle from the studio window is a "just outside" microphone to capture crowd noise or comments. I bet that Canon plug is sealed to keep out the snow and ice that whistles round this corner for many months of the year.  Posted by Hello

...Are the radio studios of WGN, a great talk station on 720 kHz AM. They have studios right on the street about getting close to the public and having a visible presence - great idea.... Posted by Hello

Tucked in the corner of the magnificient Chicago Tribune Building.... Posted by Hello

Chicago was great! I went to a conference in Oakbrook (co-incidently the home of McDonald's Hamburger University) last week, but I am glad I took one day to visit downtown Chicago and have a wander...The 5 Dollar ride on the Ferris Wheel out at Navy Pier yields some spectacular shots, just as the "Indian Summer" faded to make way for a cold spell down from Canada. Posted by Hello

Networked High Definition DVD player - US$250

The US company of I-O DATA has just announced the release of a new LinkPlayer in the USA and Canada, with the catchy easy-to-remember type number AVLP2/DVDLA. The first shipment of LinkPlayer will be in the middle of November in the US and the Manufacturer's Suggested Retatil Price SRP will be US$249.00.

 Posted by Hello

Why is this device interesting? It isn't the Blu-Ray HD DVD player just yet, but this LinkPlayer allows you to link your PC to the TV through a wireless LAN and playback various formatted files connect from any PCs on the home network to a Big screen TV with a remote control. It will playback the new High Definition format starting to appear on some DVDs in the US that employ a new codec from Windows Media.

In additional, your digital camera and USB memory can be connected directly through a USB 2.0/1.1 port to display files on a large screen TV. This device is only for the North American market for the moment - but I can see some interesting experiments on the horizon in Europe.

You can watch a normal DVD movie playback on TV, but also view the same digital content inside a PC via LAN. Also this is a newer 2nd model, which supports not only DivX/MPEG but also Microsoft Windows Media® Video (WMV9.

This new player supports HDTV, meaning a picture of 1280 by 720. However, note that you need a 3 GHz computer to get the top-quality HD versions running properly with 5:1 surround sound. My "old" 2.8 GHz machine struggles.

Some of around 20 titles out in HD
 Posted by Hello

What Really Happens in Those Voting Booths

Bush Already Wins in Florida?

There's an American comedy team in the heart of Amsterdam called Boom Chicago, famous for their improv work and biting social commentary. Oh, and it is really funny too. Same sort of humour as Jon Stewart on the Daily Show at Comedy Central.

Now, Boom Chicago is getting into the video business, and this clip shows what really happens in the voting booth. If you're in Amsterdam check out the Mr. America Contest: A Comedy Show about the U.S. Presidential Election. The show plays in Amsterdam at their Leidseplein Theater until November 2.

 Posted by Hello

Monday, October 18, 2004

Interesting. This Kraft product (gelatin sweets) is called Squiggles in Europe, Road Kill in the USA. Amazing how different we approach branding to kids!  Posted by Hello

LG & Samsung Battle for DMB

Digital Audio Broadcasting has an multi-media cousin, i.e. people who want to use the great mobile transport system within DAB Eureka 147 to broadcast more than just audio.

The Korean company of LG Electronics announced today that it has developed a terrestrial mobile multimedia broadcasting (DMB) chip that integrates receiver and AV into one chip. LG is pushing the fact that the new chip is economic is power consumption when compared with the existing power hungry and expensive terrestrial DMB chips.

In order to integrate receiver and AV into one chip, LG has invested US $5 million and recruited 50 researchers who have been working on the project for the past two years. The chip is designed to be used for the reception of terrestrial DMB services in Korea which Korean Broadcasting System, KBS, will launch later this year. The chip can be used for in-car automobile terminals, laptops and PDAs.

It looks like we are one step further having DMB services incorporated into the phone. Samsung saus their project for the development of a terrestrial DMB tuner for mobile phones is to be completed in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the same technology is being used from space.

 Posted by Hello

In Korea, the domestic digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) industry witnessed the successful launch a while ago of the Hanbyol DMB satellite by SK Telecom. Major domestic tuner developers including Samsung Electro-Mechanics and LG Innotek are now struggling for leadership to build tuners for this DMB SATELLITE (L-Band) service.

Samsung Electro-Mechanics has increased its digital tuner business by 47% this year, up from 30% last year, and says it aims to achieve 34% of the world market share by 2007. With a sales goal of approximately US$9 million within one year, it anticipates that the demand for the satellite DMB tuner will be explosive once the DMB services are commercialized.

Pocket TV

With satellite DMB tuner embedded in mobile phones, users can enjoy high-quality TV, movie trailers and CD-quality music without worrying about heavy download fees. "Multimedia in the pocket" or "wearable TV and audio" are likely to become realities soon. The satellite DMB tuner from Samsung Electro-Mechanics is only 8.0 x 7.2 x 1.4mm, and combines the company's proprietary tuner technology with LTCC, today's most advanced ceramic material technology.

Applying the LTCC technology to tuners allows free implementation of internal micro circuitry and the insertion of chip resistors between the ceramic layers, thus minimizing the tuner's size. The new tuner also features superior noise reduction of 2.0dB or less compared to 2.5dB of typical tuners, providing cleaner images even from weak signals.

"The world's smallest tuner meets the customers' requirements for next-generation broadcasting services," said Young-won Park, managing direct of DMB business of Samsung Electro-Mechanics. "Taking this great opportunity, we will accelerate next-generation product development by using the most advanced technologies such as LTCC."

The company scheduled to provide samples of the new DMB tuner to domestic major mobile handset manufacturers in April, and start full-scale mass production in the third quarter of 2004 when the satellite DMB service is expected to become commercialized.  Posted by Hello

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Cloudy weather in Holland - but beautiful autumn colours in the garden Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Home Sweet Home

I wonder how many people forget to "log-out" when leaving the US, having been finger printed and photographed on their way in? In Chicago they had certaonly streamlined the border controls - 5 minutes instead of the usual 50 at O'Hare. But no-one reminded you to sign out of the system on departure, i.e. they did not ask you to show the receipt at the gate. Bet their system will quickly get polluted with people who appear to be in the US without a VISA, yet have in fact left ages ago. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mobile Phones Again Linked to Cancer

Mobile phones may present a cancer risk after all.

Epidemiologists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have found that the phones can increase the incidence of acoustic neuromas, benign tumors of the auditory nerve. The nerve is exposed to radiation during the normal use of a cell phone. Those who used mobile phones for at least ten years, had close to twice the risk of developing acoustic neuromas, according to a team led by Prof. Anders Ahlbom, the deputy director of the Karolinska’s Institute of Environmental Medicine.

For those acoustic neuromas that were on the same side of the head as the phone was used, the risk was even higher —approximately a fourfold increase compared to controls, a statistically significant finding.

“These are strong data,” Ahlbom told Microwave News in a telephone interview. “Just how strong will be determined in the upcoming post-publication assessment,” he added. The new study, which appears in the November issue of Epidemiology, is part of the 13-nation Interphone study coordinated by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France.

These findings will be formally announced at a press conference in Stockholm today, Wednesday, October 13.

Acoustic neuromas account for less than 10% of all brain tumors. Approximately 1 in 100,000 people develop this type of cancer. All the Interphone study teams, including Ahlbom’s, will also report on the risk of the most common types of brain tumors —for instance, astrocytomas and meningiomas. Ahlbom declined to reveal his results for the other types of brain cancer, but he did say that, “If acoustic neuromas are possible, then the argument that effects are biologically implausible does not apply, and we don’t know what is possible.”

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Sam Milham, an epidemiologist who has worked on electromagnetic radiation effects for over 20 years. “If cell phones can cause acoustic neuromas, they can also cause all the other types of brain tumors,” he told Microwave News.

The new Swedish findings support earlier work by Prof. Lennart Hardell and Kjell Hansson Mild of Sweden’s Öreboro University. In a paper published two years in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, Hardell and Mild reported a close to doubling of all types of brain tumors among those who had used a mobile phone for more than ten years, a statistically significant result. The highest risk was for acoustic neuromas, which was three and a half times the rate among controls, very similar to the 3.9-fold increased risk reported by Ahlbom.

“This is a replication of our finding” Hardell told Microwave News. “We regard acoustic neuroma to be a signal tumor for the increased cancer risk from mobile phones. The results may predict an increased risk for other types of brain tumors,” he added. (See also MWN, M/A02).

When Hardell’s results appeared in 2002, they were sharply criticized by many others, including Prof. Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, the vice-chair of the Karolinska’s Institute of Environmental Medicine, where Ahlbom leads the department of epidemiology. Ingelman-Sundberg called Hardell’s paper “alarmist” and “irresponsible”.

Ahlbom’s is the second report on acoustic neuromas to appear from the Interphone study. In February, a Danish group led by Christoffer Johansen of the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen found no increased risk, but this study only had two cases of acoustic neuroma who had used a mobile phone for more than ten years. Ahlbom’s has 12 such cases.

In an editorial accompanying the Ahlbom paper, Dr. David Savitz of the University of Carolina, Chapel Hill, tries to put a positive spin on the new results. Calling the neuroma risk “still highly unlikely,” Savitz writes: “This uncertainty regarding long-term use should not distract from the growing evidence, enhanced by this study, that neither acoustic neuroma nor brain tumors is associated with cell phone use of less than ten years.”

But, in his paper, Ahlbom notes that there may in fact still be a risk from the short-term use of cell phones. “We cannot exclude the possibility that short-term exposure has an effect that can be detected only after a long latency period,” he writes. And others, like Milham never thought that an increased tumor risk would become apparent so soon. “From what we know about the latency of solid tumors, you would not expect to see an increase for at least 10 years and it would more likely be 20 years,” he said.
Hardell predicts that the new findings will “have an impact on how cell phones are used, especially by young people.”
In the U.S., the American Cancer Society (ACS) has dismissed the possibility of a brain tumor risk from cell phones. In the last couple of years, the mobile phone companies have argued that enough research has been carried out to be confident that there are no health effects from the use of cell phones. Dr. Mays Swicord of Motorola, speaking on behalf of the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (MMF) made this case, most recently, at a seminar held in Brussels last month.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Windy City


In Chicago for a couple of days at a News production conference. Autumn further here that in the Netherlands. TV is wall to wall Bush/Kerry. Nothing else covered. It is almost like a Civil War between North & South..people are very divided.

O'Hare had an excellent system for processing visitors. I was through in a couple of minutes, rather than a couple of hours. Broadband in the hotel for 7 Euros a day - now why can't Amsterdam figure that out?

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Complaints About French Jamming Deal in China

Combined rotatable antenna/transmitter system from Thales

On Friday, Reporters Without Borders signalled to Jacques Chirac that a French firm has sold China equipment to jam foreign broadcasts, as the French president headed to Beijing with a large business delegation for a visit this weekend. The international press freedom organization said it had information that French company Thales (formerly Thomson) had provided such equipment to the Chinese government.

"It is regrettable that a French company is involved in setting up a "great wall of sound" that violates the right of free access to information for hundreds of millions of people," it said. Alliss antennae, known for their efficiency and sturdiness, set up by Thales particularly in the city of Kashi, in the extreme northwest of the country, are used to jam programmes from Norway-based Voice of Tibet, BBC World Service, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

This installation in an isolated border zone allows the government to block short- wave radio broadcasts by international radio stations in Europe and Central Asia very effectively indeed, it said. There are understood to be around a dozen further sites of the same type, including on Hainan Island in the south, north of Nanjing in the east, at Urumqi, in the northwest, and in Kunming in the south.

A Thales representative in China told Reporters Without Borders that there was nothing in the contracts signed with the Chinese that specified the use of the equipment. Thales sold equipment to the Chinese authorities in 2001 and 2002.

Executives at the affected radio stations confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that, during the last three years, Beijing has boosted its capacity to jam broadcasts. Radio Free Asia for example has to broadcast on some dozen different frequencies.

They are nevertheless jammed by a double effect: the broadcast of a mix of noises and music emanating from short-wave transmitters, with a range of around 2,000 km and from local jamming transmitters, sited around five km outside major city centres. The French government should draw the attention of national companies to the dangers of selling certain equipment to the Chinese authorities, the organization said.

It would be a shame if French firms became auxiliaries of the Chinese Communist Party, as in the case of Italian Iveco vehicles, converted in China into mobile execution chambers. The same applies to routers sold to Beijing by Cisco to block thousands of web sites and e-mails.

Although a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), China systematically refuses to respond to complaints from the governments involved, as was the case when British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell visited China in December 2003. Before him, the US public body the International Broadcasting Bureau, responsible for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, laid a complaint with the ITU, that was rejected outright by Beijing.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

What is happening here? In South Korea there is a growing fad for phone sterilization....Heaven forbid that you might pick up some nasty bug from a unsanitized phone.

Today, Tuesday, 05 October 2004 SK Teletech became the first handset maker in the world to launch silver-nano coated mobile phones with a sterilizing function. The company's new model IM-7400 is a 1.1-megapixel CCD camera phone coated with nanometer (1 billionth of a metre) thick silver particles that are effective, they claim, at attacking pathogens and deodorizing. The anti-germ and anti-odor silver-coating has been applied to home appliances such as TV's, washing machines and vacuum cleaners but, until now, not to handsets - until IM-7400, the company added. In addition, the semi-automatic slide phone is equipped with 180-degree swiveling camera and a huge 100 MB memory. According to "a recent study", a handset is inhabited on average by 25,000 bacteria! Yes, but look at the filth around the average workstation. Believe me, you don't want to know what is lurking there.
 Posted by Hello

Monday, October 04, 2004

Sony Connected?

Sony Corporation will launch a marketing blitz in Europe this week for its new Connect music download store, the latest effort to derail the runaway momentum of Apple Computer's iTunes service. The Japanese consumer electronics giant said last Thursday it would heavily promote the Connect service in new advertisements for four Walkman products, including the recently launched NW-HD1 hard disc player. Also, Sony said its second wave of European expansion is still on track for later this year as the battle for Europe's Web-savvy music fans intensifies.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday, Apple said it would announce a series of new European markets in October 2004 that would enable music fans in most of Western Europe to buy song downloads from iTunes.

Sony and Apple currently operate music download services in Britain, Germany and France. While Sony has not released any updates, most people think it is trailing Apple's iTunes in Europe. It may have something to do with the confusing look and feel of many Sony websites.

Sony and Apple are keeping details of their launch plans a closely guarded secret. However, Sony said in July the Nordic and Benelux regions, plus Austria and Switzerland, were regions it expected to enter in the future.

Analysts say it will take a few years before download services will provide a significant sales boost for music companies. One major problem is the bewildering array of competing technologies that limit where fans can buy downloads and then transport them onto their devices.

Alternatives to Mini Disc

I'm going to take the gadget related entries in this blog and move them over to a new "What Caught My Eye" Blog. Several people seem to be interested in new stuff to interest the audio journalist, I-podder or radio reporter. A separate blog seems to be the right place to collect all this stuff. Comments and suggestions welcome.