Monday, June 30, 2008

BBC World News - yanked from Amsterdam cable

The city of Amsterdam is trying for another first. It seems that from tomorrow, Amsterdam will be the first European capital city to not have BBC World TV News on the cable network. UPC, which runs the cable system, is going to replace BBC World News with Animal Planet, banning the Beeb to a channel behind its (expensive) digital decoder. Whilst it makes a lot of sense to migrate these kinds of channels behind a set-top box at some point in the future - the penetration of set-top boxes in the Netherlands is way too low at the moment. It is clearly much too early to be messing with the diversity of programmes on offer. As things stand now, most of the hotels in Amsterdam as well as 80% of the population will lose BBC News from cable as from July 1st.

I spoke with the BBC's representative in the Netherlands to find out why we all didn't get any warning of this in advance. But it seems this decision by the cable company UPC has only been taken in the last couple of weeks, as Animal Planet has negotiated national analogue coverage for itself. So we have another global first - an analogue switch off plan that lasts less than a fortnight!

I do hope that protests from the public will be heard once they realise the channel has gone, just like the time 10 years ago when the same cable system tried to take CNN off the cable. How can Amsterdam claim to be a (new) media centre in Europe if it messes around with the media is such a haphazard way? Bonkers!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Reboot Videos

Looking forward to Reboot10 in Copenhagen on Thursday and Friday. This is one of my favourite talks from last year. Its a grass-roots meeting of minds, experimenting with new media and social software.

Monday, June 23, 2008

And so North to Bletchley

Another type of coding went on here. 9000 people helped to crack the German Enigma fact Enigma was a family of machines. Some very interesting books in the bookshop...

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Loney Planet Goes Mobile

Lonely Planet (the Melbourne based travel guides) launched some very interesting new services at the BBC's Mashed event. If your mobile has a web browser, start playing with the fantastic content sitting at

BBC BackStage Mash-up 08

I just got in after a rather choppy flight back from London Gatwick. I was very impressed by the way BBC's Backstage group has organised a free mashup (bootcamp) for young computer coders at Alexandra Palace in North London. This is EXACTLY the roll that other public service broadcasters should be taking - getting conversations going with the public and encouraging people to hack into their content. There were around 400 that took up the challenge on a blustery Saturday morning - and I think many of the partners in the event (Google, Lonely Planet, Microsoft, NASA) got a lot out of it too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Separate(s) Future for Radio

Curious design from the BBC on the future for radio. Perhaps we'll add functionality (like a radio EPG) by clipping on a bit of functionality like LEGO. More to follow. Just absorbing as much as I can at the moment.

Media Futures Conference Alexandra Palace

Nipped over to London today bright and early (0430 am start) to take part in the MediaFutures Conference in Alexandra Palace. Around 250 academics, broadcasters and companies hotly debating the future of the media in a large tent tacked on to the "Palace" - birthplace of TV broadcasting. Amazing place - like a Hollywood set. More when I have a chance to digest my notes. The radio people within the BBC's Future Media Technology unit are definitely thinking out of the box.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sanyo Xacti HD1000

Jancam in action with Sanyo Xacti HD1000 from Jan van der Meer on Vimeo.

There is an even better handheld HD Camera coming out next month, the HD1010. But these guys on the Dutch North Sea coast are doing great work for videographers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Chinese Bloggers

A lot of people in the West underestimate the "power of the crowds" in China. Sam Flemming is an American living in China who has a very clear picture of what's going on. Saw him talk in Utrecht on Monday and managed to chat with him afterwords. There is not much the Chinese can learn from Western Europe any more.

Plan B - Jamming GPS

Interesting to see the analogue transmission systems attempting to bounce back using the threat of security as a main argument. The following is adapted from BBC News

Satellite navigation is used by millions of drivers as well as emergency services
The UK government is being urged to invest in a longwave radio system developed during the Second World War, as a back-up to GPS satellite navigation. Loran is less vulnerable to jamming than GPS and could protect vital infrastructure after a terror attack, a committee of MPs was told.

Doug Umbers, whose firm, VT Communications an updated version of Loran for UK coastguards said it was far more robust than GPS. Asked about keeping communications going in the event of a terrorist incident or other emergency, Mr Umbers said: "The last man standing, typically, will be the high frequency radio communications that we run, on behalf of the military."

But he said the low frequency Loran, which stands for Long Range Navigation, could be used as a back-up to GPS. "GPS is very easily jammable," he told the MPs, adding that a "biro" sized device could "stop ships in a port being able to receive GPS". But, he added, "you need a huge field of transmitters" to jam Loran. It was "highly resilient and mission critical clearly, for the maritime market, and could also have uses elsewhere".

Loran was originally developed during the Second World War as a maritime navigation aid and is based on the principle of the time difference between signals from a pair of radio transmitters. It can penetrate under water, so subs don't have to resurface to hear the message. But the rate of data transfer is slow.

Critics, who have called it for it to be switched off, say it is not cost-effective as a navigation tool and has too few users. But after nearly dying out a few years ago it is enjoying renewed interest as a possible back-up system to GPS and Galileo, the proposed European satellite guidance system.

VT Communications, last year landed a 15 year contract to develop enhanced Loran, known as e-Loran, for the General Lighthouse Authorities (GLA) in the UK, at its station in Cumbria. Hand-held GPS jamming devices, aimed at drivers worried their cars have been fitted with tracking devices, are available to buy over the internet. But security experts are also concerned about the possibility of more large scale jamming of GPS.

The US Department of Homeland Security in February this year announced it was developing a version of e-Loran to protect critical infrastructure that depends on GPS for position, navigation and timing. The UK Ministry of Defence last year carried out a series of GPS jamming trials to find out how interference could affect military personnel.

In one test it jammed GPS over a 50 square mile area of Cornwall over two days, warning emergency services and coastguards in advance. In a statement issued at the time, it said: "Although GPS provides highly accurate information, the radio signals from the satellite are extremely weak and are susceptible to both jamming and unintentional radio interference. "The trials are taking place to better understand these effects on military equipment and therefore will help to protect our forces."

Office War

I am for the IT guys anyday. Great music - obviously they had fun making it. All the stereotypes in one movie.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Insight to MySpace

Slide 18 - if you have 15 minutes what do you do, is interesting. Reflects my findings when interviewing kids 10-18.

Monday, June 16, 2008

exploding E61

exploding E61
Originally uploaded by fatcontroller
John Ousby of the BBC reports that his Nokia E61 exploded in his bag and took a picture to prove it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Time on Their Hands

In Holland, there's an annual domino day, where millions of dominos are knocked over as part of a challenge to beat the previous year's record.

But now others are trying it with computer technology, either old PC's

or internal hard-drives, first 90

then 1500.

Tip of the hat to Gerd Leonard for sending me off at this tangent. Have a nice weekend.

Streaming on the (new) iPhone

It appears its already possible to stream video using an add-on on the iPhone, even before the 3G version is out on July 11. Steve Garfield made the video above and shows you how. It confirms my conclusion that it is a little early to be throwing out the Nokia N95. Enjoy.

Friday, June 13, 2008

BBC Rethinks Director Profile

Interesting story in today's Guardian Newspaper.

The BBC is understood to be reviewing its list of candidates to replace Ashley Highfield as director of future media and technology after the BBC Trust instructed the corporation's management to prioritise its editorial strategy for

Erik Huggers, the BBC controller of future media and technology, was widely expected to replace Highfield.

But following the BBC Trust's intervention it is thought other candidates with more editorial experience may be in the running. Huggers' core experience is in technology and not editorial.

Following last month's review of, the BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, is understood to have written to the corporation's director general Mark Thompson listing concerns raised by the report about a lack of editorial and strategic focus for the, which is part of the future media and technology division.

The letter is understood to have concentrated on the perceived shortfalls of and, in the words of one source, requested that the corporation "get its act together".

"The trust wants a new structure to deal with those issues and wants a senior editorial person to run it," said the source.

Another source said Highfield's replacement would need to have "serious editorial heft" to represent the interests of the future media and technology division against the interests of TV and news, which are seen as more powerful.

This source said the trust wants to ensure there is "not another debacle" like the £36m misallocation of budgets and overspend for in the BBC's last financial year, to the end of March.

Huggers is still regarded as a strong candidate who, since his recruitment from Microsoft a year ago, has been groomed to take over Highfield's role running FMT, which has a £400m annual budget.

But the renewed focus on editorial strategy could be good news for Simon Nelson, currently controller of multiplatform and portfolio for BBC Vision.

A BBC spokeswoman declined to comment. But she said the corporation had hoped to announce Highfield's replacement by the time he leaves at the end of June for his new role at Kangaroo, the joint web TV venture being launched by BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4.

They need someone who understands digital storytelling, with editorial experience and a feel for technology. Someone who just has a deep knowledge of what is possible technically cannot explain to creatives HOW they will be creative to a deadline, the context of what they are doing and its possible impact on the public.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mobuzz or Mobust?

Mobuzz TV and their presenter Olivia Waters appear to have parted company. That's according to Twitter - and later in the day both the comments section of Mobuzz as well as on Olivia's blog. But since the show she hosted was so geared around her, Mobuzz is kinda Mobust at the moment. Perhaps the biggest problem though is that they have not communicated the problem with their audience. That's left a lot of fans of this start-up in the dark - bruised, angry and disappointed- and not for the first time.

Mobuzz itself clearly need a crash course in reputation management. For a start-up like this, they can easily kill off the whole company by using a business model that's so dependent on one person. Can you imagine if one of the traditional news networks worked like this? It's a shame. For a while it all looked so promising.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BBC World Service Dot What?

I've blogged before that there seems to be an uneasy relationship between BBC sites that are publicly funded like and international facing operations like BBC America or BBC World News. The latter site, and the TV channel it refers to has recently been rebranded from the old BBC World to the new BBC World News, although I see that the website simply points to the old domain for the time being.

This morning came news that for the second year in succession, the BBC’s combined international news services attracted a global weekly audience of over 233 million during 2007/8.

The global audience figure for the combined services of BBC World Service radio, BBC World News television and the BBC’s international online news service is up 23 million from 211 million two years ago. BBC World Service’s weekly radio audience estimate is 182 million listeners a week across its 33 language services - down a million on last year’s record 183 million total. However its English language service attracted 40 million weekly listeners – up two million on last year.

The BBC’s international facing online news sites – which include and the Webby Award winning - attracted 13 million weekly unique users.

Hang on. Even the BBC World Service seems confused. It hasn't won any awards for because that site no longer exists. It is as we are reminded on air at least twice an hour. Since this site is not commercial, I wonder how many people type in and are surprised to get nothing. I am sure that the promo dept doesn't want to shout "" but I do think they should at least link it through. Update: It is registered and now linked (see comments).

Twice as Fast, Half the Price, Poor Video, No Radio

OK, I was wrong. I was expecting Apple to come out with a 3G phone that made more use of the camera and video features (so we could edit short movies in Final Cut Pro or post them live to Qik. But 2 Megapixel camera is nothing to boast about, so I won't be ditching the Nokia N95 just yet, even if it is a little slower as per the Job's demo on Monday. I am experimenting with 3G phones for reporting from the field...don't see a voice-recording function either in the specs which I had been hoping for. The old iPod had a great device called iTalk from Griffin which worked perfectly, albeit a little clumsy. Now there is no reason it could not be built-in.

If there is a roll-out in Africa ( mainly Francophone by the look of the map) its a shame there is no built-in FM radio. That would have cost pennies.

I suppose, in order to meet the "10 million phones sold by the end of the year" promise, Steve halved the price rather than trying to build features of interest to a vocal but select few. But those missing elements are the clincher for me. The phone has no flash, or video recording. Still no MMS? Mobile operators out there must be in tears.

This phone probably is the kiss of death for Motorola though. They have nothing remotely like this in the same price category.

Monday, June 09, 2008

WiMax for rural radio in Africa

So why hasn't Wimax rolled out as the way to bring broadband speeds to remote areas in Africa? It looks like the ideal technology to build links between community stations. This promo video from Intel is 5 years old!

Owwww to the Touch

I get the impression Steve Jobs doesn't like us iTouch owners. We were foolhardy enough to believe it might turn into a gadget like an iPhone but without the phone bit (but skype via wifi would have been nice). No such luck. Now iPhone 2.0 software is free from iPhone users, but Steve wants another 10 bucks from the iTouch crowd. Wham! Another case of Apple punishing early adopters. Still don't need an iPhone.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Loud Whisper of US Public Broadcasting

Legendary journalist Bill Moyers addresses the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, USA this past weekend June 7, 2008. It gets going a few minutes in, with a fiery but reasoned attack on major US corporate media networks and a warning to be vigilant against those who don't want a digital democracy. Public broadcasting in the US is seriously marginlized partly due to constant struggling for reasonable funding levels. But there may be hope.

1.4 Billion dollar crash

I see that the US government has released video from a security camera showing the crash of a B2 stealth bomber on take-off from its home at Andersen AFB, Guam in the Pacific. The incident happened back on February 23rd 2008. This represents one of the most expensive crashes in history since these planes come at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars a piece.

The crash of the Spirit of Kansas, which had 5,100 flight hours, was the first ever for the B-2. Both pilots ejected before the crash and survived, but the aircraft was completely destroyed, at an estimated loss of US $1.4B. No munitions were on board because it and three other B-2s were returning to Whiteman Air Force Base from a temporary deployment to Guam. Chief of Air Combat Command General John Corley stated that the B-2 "rotated early, rotated excessively, stalled, and then dragged the left wingtip". The pilots then ejected and the aircraft ran off the side of the runway and burned.

The commander of the 509th Bomb Wing, Brig. Gen. Garrett Harencak, followed up on the incident by temporarily suspending flying operations for all 20 remaining B-2s to review procedures. Harencak termed the suspension a "safety pause" and stated that the B-2s would resume flying if called upon for immediate operations. The B-2 returned to flight on 15 April 2008.

The findings of the subsequent investigation stated that the B-2 crashed after water distorted preflight readings in three of the plane's 24 sensors, making the aircraft's control computer force the B-2 to pitch up on takeoff, causing the aircraft to stall and subsequently crash. The sensors in question measure numerous environmentals, such as air pressure, and help calculate everything from airspeed to altitude. Because of the bad data resulting from the distortions, the flight computers had inaccurate airspeed readings, and incorrectly indicated a downward angle for the aircraft, which contributed to an early rotation and an uncontrolled 30-degree pitch up, resulting in the stall.

The malfunction happened so slowly that both pilots were able to eject - and survive the crash. They might want to review how the security camera tracks these take-offs. My Logitech webcam does a better job of face tracking a moving object that this one does. Obviously going to be a Youtube hit.

Sunny Side of Greenland

Originally uploaded by dsearls
Met Doc Searls last week again at Mobile Monday. He is always thought proving. Seems he took some great shots of Greenland out of the plane on his way home and blogged about the website

That turns out to be truly fascinating, something I would never have found without help.

From their "about us".

Not so green is the web site for everyone who has ever looked out an airplane window and wondered what they were looking at. We sort through the thousands of aerial photographs posted on photo-sharing sites like Flickr, and create a global map showing the locations of images from around the world. We present this information using tools like Google Maps, which allows you to see photo locations in your browser, and Google Earth, a standalone application that you install and run on your computer. Using Google Earth, we can show you the exact location and perspective of each image in our system.

We bring you images from around the world, but we have a particular focus on Greenland, whose clear air, stark landscapes, and location along many international air routes between North America and Europe make it a popular target for many aerial photographers. We present images from all around this vast arctic island, allowing you to see its beauty through the eyes of hundreds of people who have passed overhead.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Street Food Series

I have been watching a new series of programmes on Al Jazeera English with interest. The first one, produced by Veronica Pedrosa, portrayed the vendors in Penang, Malaysia. I expected a travel programme. What I got a fascinating documentary on how people can not only live together, but celebrate their heritage day after day. It was a great piece of passionate journalism with some truly stunning photography.

One word surprised me. One of the interviewees said that in Malaysia "we talk about "tolerance"". Yet tolerance sounds so negative, and implies there is some point at which I won't tolerate someone else any more. I think the programme showed it to be something else. The people of Penang are learning to co-operate with each other, celebrating their widely differing heritage, but also realising that in order to trade and prosper, they have to share finite resources - including space. Many of the street vendors may work long hours. But they appear to be getting more out of life than many people in an office. Looking forward to the other programmes.

I was a rather amused by the thank you message that AJE sends you when you write on their bulletin board. It sounds like something a civil servant would say.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Onion Breaking News in Helicopter

Just brilliant stuff

Droitwich BBC Longwave Broadcasting 1934

As someone documenting the change from analogue to digital broadcasting, this 10 minute film from 1934 posted by the BBC Engineering Dept on YouTube is fascinating. I love the fact that the first announcers were engineers with local accents. I wonder what other gems are in the vaults. Mike Barraclough in the UK tipped me off to it and adds

The film was contributed to BBCeng as a result of help from Neil
Wilson of the Washford Radio Museum, John Phillips, Jeff Cant and Dave
Porter. The original film was 14 minutes long but it has been edited down to
just under 10 minutes by Martin Ellen in order to avoid having to split it before uploading to YouTube. The commentary has not been cut, but some relatively unimportant scenes have been shortened (such as a bucket being hauled up the side of the building). [A new version will be uploaded in due course as a few short gaps in the sound appeared after rendering!] The commentary is by E.A. Pawley, who later became editor of the book BBC Engineering 1922-1972.

An excellent article on Droitwich can be found here, for the site is still home to BBC Radio 4's main longwave transmitter site, now on 198 kHz rather than 200 kHz when it started out way back then.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Wifi Name & Shame in Amsterdam

It seems I am not the only one to find Amsterdam a complete paradox when it comes to wifi in hotels. The city is trying to promote itself as a creative and connected capital. But it refuses to compare itself to other European countries when it comes to providing Internet service in the capital's hotels. They have always been a rip-off, but now its getting worse. Doc Searls, of Cluetrain Manifesto fame is in town and blogs about his troubles.

In the long run paying for wi-fi in your hotel will be like paying to use the toilet or the heater. You won’t. Meanwhile, it would be nice if it were easy, cheap, good, or at least two out of those three.

Right now I’m 0-for-3 at my hotel in Amsterdam. I just had to call for tech support. The front desk is no help. They punt it to Swisscom, the provider, to which I paid ¤22 ($34.23) for 24 hours, starting this afternoon. When I came back from a sojourn away from the hotel, Swisscom wanted a login and password, and told me the front desk would have it. The desk didn’t, so they got me Swisscom, which looked up my credit card payment and got me a login/pw that the service supposedly gave me on the website the first time around, but I missed it.

Anyway, we’re back up. With a download speed of 384Kbps and an upload speed is 179kbps, I haven’t paid more for less since the worst days of dial-up.

Doc is busy with a great project called Vendor Relationship Management. The public, in effect, need to manage their profiles with vendors, not the other way round as with CRM. More explanations here

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Back to the Future Set History

Oh dear, a fire at Universal Studios has destroyed one of the iconic sets from the film Back to the Future. The famous clock-tower set which set Michael J Fox back into the future has been badly damaged.