Friday, September 30, 2005

After the Next Disaster?

There is going to be another natural disaster. Someday, Some place. It may be the result of a tidal wave, or a medical crew trying to deal with an outbreak of human-bird flu viruses).

New Orleans, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh.... the list goes on about how people need radio to recover from natural disasters. It is the lifeline when the phones go off as well as the power. After the tsuanami (remember that?) , local radio in places like Banda Aceh has been of great assistance in helping people to restore their faith in humanity and rebuild their lives. I am currently gathering information of "lessons learned", following up on several projects that started immediately following the Dec 26th Tsunami. Radio stations (and receivers) were donated by several organisations around the world, but what lessons have been learned now that some of these stations have been on the air for around 3-6 months. It is clear that from the people I have spoken to so far that stations need to be purely digital on the production side (i.e. computers instead of Mini-Disc), but good old-fashioned analogue on the distribution side (FM transmitters and simple FM wind-up radios).

The Red Cross and other disaster relief agencies have food-parcels stored in strategic locations around the world, ready to respond when the disaster strikes. But I have not seen "FM Radio Station" kits on stand-by, i.e. a complete FM station and, say, 5000 wind-up FM radios ready to go into an area to keep people informed as to what is happening and who is looking for who.

I am working on several "kits" that would be used to set up emergency FM stations after a natural disaster. It needs to be robust - but also cheap and no frills. After some experimentation, I am convinced that the simple analogue mixing desk from Mackie ( their 1220) is one of the best solutions - a mixing console for 738 Euros including local taxes in the Netherlands. It plugs straight into the wall (no transformer bricks) and works on anything between 100-240 volts, ideal if it has to work from a generator.

On the transmitter front, I have been impressed with Veronica transmitters in the UK (for really local work) and the BW Broadcast range of transmitters. The transmitters need to rugged but simple to maintain. I like the fact that if the power transistor in the BW range of FM transmitters should fail, it can simply be unscrewed by anyone and soldering needed. It's more like replacing a fuse.

If you built these units into some strong flight cases , you should still be able to build an FM station to go for under Euros 9000. I am interested in other peoples' experiences too. Please add a comment below or drop me a line Posted by Picasa

Love the English on this carton..for mo' betta, rather than "for improved".  Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

BBC - Norfolk News Stuck....

I know the regaining of the ashes has been a high point in British history, but it is does not justify Radio Norfolk putting this as the latest news for WEEKS. Just shows me that no-one is using the on-line news service of this BBC local radio station. In case you asked, I did e-mail them with the news of this software glitch....but I bet it has been ignored.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Much amusement in the podcast community here in that the Minister for Justice, Donner, has posted his first podcast. Sounds like more of a speech to the Dutch nation than the one-to-one style that we're used to in podcasts. The first one is 4'17 seconds long which is mercifully short. If they continue this, they will definitely need a podcast producer for him. I bet he used the same dictaphone he uses for his secretary.  Posted by Picasa

Sony scraps 7% workforce

I've said it before in other public forums, Panasonic - but especially Sony - are becoming dinosaurs in many sectors of the consumer electronics and broadcast industry. It is the smaller companies that are perceived as innovative.

Sony showed in IFA Berlin that it has seriously lost its way. Like the buttons on some of the PSP controllers, they are stuck. In Berlin, Sony chucked some technology into a darkened room and hoped that the public would find a context for it. They sure don't understand it. Sony has persisted with its own in-house standards like ATRAC audio compression, when the outside world was screaming MP3. I'm keeping their fall 2005 catalogue as an example of how NOT to get concepts over to the public....every "new" technology feature is given its own brand name. People do not write this down and then go to the store with a list of techno brand names.

In the broadcast world, Sony has been a very traditional production company concentrating on television. They are very poor at integrating their solutions with other platforms - like new media and radio. They are much too expensive for what they deliver. Their only contribution to radio was the Sony Pro cassette recorder and a great pair of closed headphones. Sony Minidisc has been a great example of a fragile consumer technology misused by freelancers to try and work to professional standards. If you have Minidiscs, make sure you copy off the contents to another media (e.g. hard-disk) as soon as possible. Ten years from now you are not going to find a minidisc player to play this stuff back. Remember 5 1/4 inch floppy discs? By stating that the new Walkman Phones will not support ATRAC music formats, Sony effectively killed the Minidisc in March of this year.

BBC reports that Sony shares have lost two thirds of their value. In Thursday's trading, its share price fell 2.2%. I am curious to see what Sir Howard Stringer will do to put them back on the map - like no other.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Despair 2006

This company makes the funniest corporate parody calendars. These are not "motivators" but beautifully designed "demotivators". Last year their calendar was disappointing because they just recycled old jokes. 2006 looks a lot more promising.

Porsche design meets shortwave radio, for a second time. A new line of Eton radios are basically a radio built into a subwoofer with tweeters hidden in the tuning & volume controls. Sounded good at IFA Berlin. US versions have XMradio built in, in Europe it is DAB. Eton says they may make DRM radios one day - but they will let others lead with this technology.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Kai Ludwig made a remark in the comments section that the Berlin Messe was actually paying students 18 Euro each to attend presentations at the recent IFA Audio and Video Fair. They had to turn up in a business suit. Since many of the keynotes were televised on channels like NTV, it was important to the organisers that there were few empty seats. If that's the case, then the turnout at IBC was good, since no-one paid anyone anything to turn up to the What Caught My Eye sessions and we managed to get 106 people into Room L at 10 am on a Monday morning. Posted by Picasa

Broadcasting Legacy, yesterday, today and tomorrow

Wolf Harranth, former media editor at the Austrian Radio's external service, has been very busy since the show left the airwaves. In a room within the Austrian Radio's centre in Vienna he's established the "Research and Documentation Center for the History of Radio Communication". It is a volunteer effort dedicated to preserving the history of radio communication -through paper and audio archives. They have four million items filed so far, including very rare QSL cards from broadcasters and amateur radio expeditions. It must be the largest collection in the world. It is great that the Austrians have taken this initiative. You would be surprised what history is being thrown away every day! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Great 208 - station of the Stars

Radio Luxembourg (remember the great 208) has relaunched rather quietly on shortwave (7145 kHz) beamed to the UK using the DRM digital standard - as well as streaming on the web. Benny Brown is one of the familiar voices back on the wireless - and broadband. Classic Rock format. I wonder whether that will sell in such a crowded UK market? But at the moment, the commercial free station sounds kinda cool. Posted by Picasa

Philips Blu-ray Disc - Royal Philips Electronics

Spent a wet Saturday sorting four boxes of brochures and material collected at recent conferences like IBC and IFA Berlin. This site on Blu-Ray recording is evidently so new that the navigation bar on the left isn't working yet. But the info from Philips Optical storage is - and the 50 GB per disc is going to mark a new step in storage. It seems the BD discs will cost around 6 euros each when launched in March next year. Personally, I think the BluRay guys have enough supporters on board to make the new standard fly. There is, of course, a non-compatible rival...but I think the BluRay is the camp to bet on.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The EBAY story to investors

Interesting to see what investors were told about the EBAY acquistion of Skype. Two transport companies in moving stuff between people and the other is moving atoms between them. I am glad a telco didn't get them.

Simon Guettier, with BFBS radio in the UK, also has a great podcast dedicated to British expats. Posted by Picasa

It would seem that the BFBS crew in the UK are coming out with all kinds of podcasts, many of them technology related. This is a great one from Dave Raven & Mark Phillips
 Posted by Picasa

Curious HiFi Doorbell

This is a rather curious device, the W-253. A Hifi doorbell, with 15 pre-recorded sounds onto the chime and 3 more can be downloaded from your PC (Wav file format). You need 45 quid if you fancy one.

Psy-Ops Story on CIA site

Not often you find the CIA talking about psycological warfare, especially the events involving warfare. But on this page is the CIA's version of the surrender of Japan in 1945, due in part it seems to Psy-ops.

On 26 July 1945, the heads of state of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, meeting in Potsdam, Germany, agreed to give Japan an opportunity to end the war. The CIA has put up a page looking at the important of Psy-ops radio in getting that message across to Japan.

By 7:00 p.m. on the same day of the Potsdam Proclamation, US Office of War Information station KSAI on Saipan began broadcasting the surrender terms to the Japanese nation at regular intervals. US Office of War Information personnel adjusted the KSAI radio transmitter to new frequencies to avoid jamming by Japan.

OWI also printed the full text of the offer in the Japanese language and dropped over 3 million leaflets by B-29 aircraft. Thus Japanese officials learned of the Potsdam conditions a day ahead of the official communication sent through diplomatic channels

Not sure this works

Not sure the hyphenation works in this ad from Grundig.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Busy at IBC

Been busy at the IBC this year - even made Page 3 of the IBC Daily News.

The results of my gadget safari are over on the Podcast & Gadget blog I run.

LLink on the top floor

Holland has a new public broadcaster, that is deliberately keeping away from the political infighting happening in Hilversum at the moment. The new broadcasting company has recently changed its name to LLink and operates from one of the top floors of a former electricity generating station in Rotterdam. It describes itself as the smallest station with the largest ideals.

The venture on Lloydstraat is impressive. Great team spirit too...although somewhat nervous as sites are launched and their programmes start to get on the air. (2 hour a week on TV, 9 hours a week on the radio). 60,000 people have so far signed up as a member.

Bush Needs the Bathroom Photo

This Reuters photographer captured a very interesting note from Bush to Condoleeza during the UN Summitt. It isn't "photoshopped". The note says.

I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?

She obviously decided not to argue. President Bush created a bit of a stir he walked out in the middle of an important U.N. Security Council meeting on terrorism, right in the middle of a speech by the leader of Benin.

Delegates thought it was another example of American arrogance -- US officials are notorious for leaving meetings in mid-session, especially at the General Assembly. Nope. He was on his bathroom break.

WSIS - It is going to be a disaster

Mark my will hear little or nothing about the discussions coming up in Tunis on the World Summitt on the Information Society. Because there will be little discussion. This is a case of bureaucrats out of control.

Friday, September 09, 2005

IBC Stays In Amsterdam

After 13 years in Amsterdam, the organisation behind the IBC put the annual broadcast conference out to tender. It seems Munich and Barcelona submitted pitches, alongside Amsterdam. On Tuesday IBC announced it was staying in Amsterdam, much to the relief of the RAI exhibition centre. The International radio and TV exhibition draws 40,000 plus visitors (60,000 according to some press releases, but that is inflated I think) and earns the city some 50 million Euro. There had been calls for the conference to move, mainly because of rising hotel prices and the cities chaotic traffic situation during the building of a north-south metro line.

Personally, I am glad IBC remains on the doorstep, but I hope it will not mean the city will now relax and slip back into its old habits. No-one should ignore the efforts by other cities to grab the creative capital away from this part of the world. There are still too many who cannot see the wood for the trees, especially in Amsterdam.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Plenty of DAB radios in Berlin at IFA. Special promotional stand in the same hall as Blaupunkt. Posted by Picasa

Teac under lock and key

There are a lot of copies of the Tivoli style radios at IFA - including one at the Teac stand. This one was locked up and you had three minutes to guess the combination. Good idea...though the odds were against you.

Philips Blooper

Ok...into hall 22. Its those simplicity people at Philips.

A couple of hours later I went back through the stand and noticed that one of the main LCD displays had failed. Whoops...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Samsung - most promising

Contrast the truly terrible Sony stand with the enlightened approach of Samsung - certainly the most impressive stand at the show, both on the display front (they had the largest plasma display in the world 102 inch) and great wireless speaker systems for home-cinema. Less impressed by their ipod equivalent, but it is clear the Koreans have overtaken the Japanese in terms of innovation and execution of the technologies, especially in displays and phones.

Sony - Worst Stand Award

Sony Deutschland gets my award for the worst stand at IFA 2005. The entire hall is surrounded in black and white drapes through which you have to fight your way. Inside are comfortable (and not so comfortable) lounge chairs and various bits of SONY gear strapped to table to make sure you do not try to pinch it. There is NO information. There are SONY people in there but they know nothing and, even then, are reluctant to share even that.

SONY has tried to think of sub-brands for almost each piece of its technology if punters walk into stores with a list of techno features they are looking for. In short, Sony has truly lost its way, leaving the consumer to figure out what they are trying to do. Sony - like no other. Thank goodness!

LCD displays

Sharp and Samsung have the best LCD technology at this show, with LG-Philips coming a close second. I was rather concerned to see a dud LCD display right in the centre of the Philips stand, rendering the whole message of reliability as rather nonsensical. It took them a couple of hours to change it. Overall, the IFA feels as though it has less numbers this year, partly because new display technology is not enough to bring the younger audience (In the longer-term, I would expect IFA to become a mobile-services-games show, with hi-fi and home entertainment moving into the background.) Also visited a home-of-tomorrow being put together by T-Systems (the old German Telecom) although many of the applications were clearly in beta (i.e. were imposible to demonstrate without a blue screen) and were surprisingly poorly integrated. I am still concerned about putting a Windows based system in the car......that blue screen is guaranteed to come at the worst possible moment.

Old friends, new businesses

Just met Dr Esmail Hozour again after many years. He used to run Grundig North America. He is now CEO of Eton Corporation (Eton is Greek for solid) and bringing out a whole series of new radios, many made in Bangalore, India. It is the first time I have seen this type of quality out of India. Eton believe in DAB as well as XM and Sirius, but are taking a wait and see approach to DRM technology. Blaupunkt was also showing a DRM car radio in the Physics-Research section of IFA, but says it has no plans to make a model next year.

Also, great to see Wolf Harranth, who has been working hard to set up a proper radio and TV archive in Vienna - and now has catalogued 4 million items of broadcasting history, probably the most comprehensive of its kind in the world. Wolf and I used to work together in the media business, he for ORF Auslandsdienst in German, whereas my show was Media Network on Radio Netherlands.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

IFA attendance better today

Saturday had better attendance figures from the public, although the areas with the international dealers from China and the halls showing scientific developments are very quiet still. HD television is the most important message here for most companies. The busiest stands have a gimmick - T-mobile with its kites or this stand (left) with a fountain of which they were dipping banana bits.

I am concerned that some of the messages for traditional radio users are confusing ...we have DVB-t, DVB-s, DAB, Wireless LAN, DRM - all ways to get audio into the home. I have done quite a lot of research here to see what is happening to the European media industry and what chance it has of catching up with North America and Asia.

In France and Geramany, I see signs that there is more HD production starting up - although still well behind UK. In the Netherlands, though, it is a novelty if you shoot material in 16 by 9, let alone HD. That means a lot of archive material in the Netherlands is going to look pretty awful when the new LCD screens come onto the market later this year.

Friday, September 02, 2005

IFA Berlin - Virtually Empty on Day 1

Amazed to wander around an almost deserted Radio and TV exhibition here in Berlin....HDTV is the main theme and people like Mitsubishi and Samsung have some really amazing displays that push the screen technology to new standards... But the halls are NOT busy at all and the Summergarten has only a few stragglers at 2.30 in the afternoon. Never has been as quiet as this!