Thursday, July 31, 2008

Samara - The Great Houdini

Allow me a little space to comment here.

Worldspace is an amazing company. Every 6 months there seems to be a different business plan. Now, of course, Worldspace isn't Worldspace any longer, it has been rebranded in the middle of July as Please explain. Why on earth was that necessary?

In the meantime, listeners in Europe are being told that Southern Europe is, in fact, the future target area for this system (rather than Africa or South Asia) and that by the end of the year the current Afrispace satellite will really be targeting Italy.

Just to confuse us, Worldspace satellite receiver owners in Northern Europe and Africa, there is a list of stations that we can receive (temporarily) free of charge while they re-position the old Afrispace satellite and re-vamp the software.

We're offered just one receiver in Europe to pick up 16 radio stations- nearly all of which can be listened to on the Internet ( and their rivals have at least 10,000 stations each). That's an expensive radio (one-year subscription + radio for US$249.88) for the number of possible channels you can receive - all in English.

Ah, but wait, I hear you cry, Internet wifi radio isn't portable outside the house. But neither is any Worldspace receiver despite the claims in the early days. My Worldspace receiver has a small satellite dish which has to be pointed accurately at a 7 degree angle towards the geostationary satellite. Does my obsolete-but-functioning Worldspace radio (or the ONLY one we see on the newly designed website or perhaps the one in India) work in the car? Er, no. There are two Worldspace compatible radios left on the market. Can you use them indoors? Yes, providing you can put a small satellite dish on the window and see the Worldspace satellite directly. No buildings or trees in the way.

Noah A. Samara has been the head of Worldspace since it started - and it has always amazed me how he can bring financing out of the hat to keep the system limping along. He knows more tricks than the great Houdini. But how long can the fantasy remain in orbit? There are few new programmes, no metadata or EPG (sorry - an evergreen listing doesn't count any longer as an electronic programme guide) as we're seeing elsewhere in the world. It is all like an early 1990's time-warp.

To cap it all, Worldspace is recruiting. As the website says - "Good Luck".

Olympic Fun and Games

The International Federation of Journalists has denounced the "extravagant requirements" imposed by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) on the EBU and its members for use of their radio broadcasts of the Olympics on the internet.

In an arrangement with the EBU, the IOC asks for the Internet use of radio broadcasts to be limited under certain conditions, notably with the application of geo-block denying access from outside the EBU territory, thus impeding certain users from accessing the sites. Moreover, the arrangement prohibits the use of moving pictures and restricts advertisement on web without prior authorisation from the IOC.

This is really great news for the international broadcasters or anyone on holiday outside their own country. You can't do any Olympics coverage of any significance without breaking this "agreement".

This situation isn't new. These nonsensical rules have been made (and broken) in the past. Perhaps it needs a test case to put these idiots back into their reality corner.

The IFJ makes a link between these latest requirements and recent Internet restrictions imposed on journalists covering the Olympic Games by the Chinese authorities. The news out of China in the last few weeks is all over the place.

Reporters Without Borders condemns the sentence of one year of re-education through work which, according to Human Rights in China, was imposed on 23 July on Liu Shaokun, a teacher at Guanghan school in Deyang, in Sichuan province, for posting photos of earthquake-damaged schools on the internet.

Liu was charged with "disrupting the social order" on 25 June after visiting areas in Sichuan that were badly hit by the 12 May earthquake and taking photos of collapsed schools in order to expose "tofu" (poor quality) construction methods. Under Chinese law, officials can impose sentences of re-education through work without holding a trial.

"Coming after the arrests of retired teacher Zheng Hongling and human rights activist Huang Qi for providing information about the Sichuan earthquake, Liu Shaokun's sentence is the latest example of post-quake repression," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call for the release of all three, as they are being detained solely because of what they reported."

Meanwhile, Radio Australia reported earlier today while relaying the Radio National "PM" programme]

The Olympic movement is starting to question China's right to host the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee has been closed-mouthed today about the breaking of a promise of a free and open Beijing games. But privately, IOC members are enraged by the blocking of sensitive websites and the use of spyware in media hotels to monitor the use of the Internet.

An IOC member who has spoken to "PM" says if the committee knew now what was known during the bidding process [as heard, i.e. the other way round], China would never have got the games. Olympic reporter Karen Barlow is in Beijing:

[Barlow] It's been another day at the Olympics where sport and athletes are barely getting a mention. Scheduled press conferences about medical services and water sanitation have been hijacked by journalists still trying to find out how their work is being hampered by the local authorities.

Senior International Olympic Committee officials have been in meetings all day and have been unavailable to comment on their deal with China to allow the censorship regime to continue during the Olympics period. The Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games is standing by its view that the blocked websites are not games-related and therefore not needed by the media. BOCOG spokesman Sun Weide:

[Sun, voiceover translation] The reason why you cannot go to some of these websites, the reason is they are disclosing or they are doing something illegal or transmit information that [is] illegal, based on the Chinese laws. For instance, they are propagating this evil cult of Falun Gong. They are doing something that is detrimental to the national interest of China. So I hope the press will respect the Chinese laws' regulations.

[Barlow] There is no explanation for the use of spyware in hotels were journalists are staying. Hotel management have been asked to install the programmes to find out what websites are being looked at.

The president of the Australian Olympic Committee: John Coates, has not been involved in IOC discussions with China over the media, but he is personally disappointed by the deal.

[Coates] I was upset when I heard about it yesterday. I think it's a great pity. But if that's how it's going to be, so be it. It might change, it might not. But it's not going to have any impact on my primary responsibility for the team.

[Barlow] The deal has also disappointed the Australian government. But the foreign minister, Stephen Smith, is pleased that the head of the IOC's press commission, Kevan Gosper, has apologized for misleading the media.

[Smith] On the basis of what I've read, that apology seemed like it was well worth giving and required to be given.

[Barlow] Privately, IOC members on the ground in Beijing are enraged the IOC Executive has cut any deal to allow censorship at the Olympic Games. An IOC member has told "PM" that the Internet clampdown is hideous and it is apparent that there are too many restrictions on broadcasters. The member says Beijing has broken its promises by muzzling the media, but he admits the Olympic movement was naive to believe Chinese authorities in the first place.

It appears now that China never had any intention of removing its Internet censorship, and the member says if that had been known seven years ago during the bidding process, it never would have got to hold the Olympic Games.

BBC World Service Chinese section is facing good and bad news. Their website in Mandarin is suddenly accessible from within China, but the head of the department
Lorna Ball has had her invitation to the games withdrawn without explanation. She had expected to be a guest of China Radio International (CRI), the state broadcaster, at the ceremony in Beijing next week. Until this week, it was interpreted in London as a sign that the mood of the authorities towards the World Service's Cantonese- and Mandarin-language arms might be thawing. Ball does not know whether it was CRI, the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) or the government which rescinded her ticket.

As part of the World Service's Free to Speak series, Ball had co-hosted a forum on media freedom at the London School of Economics last November, when the audience was made up entirely of UK-based Chinese students.

BBC Chinese still suffers deliberate "interference" that prevents listeners accessing its content on shortwave in the major cities. The Chinese jammers are effective - and have been for years.

Do the Chinese audiences care about these events being highlighted in the Western press? No they don't - not in the slightest.

Trusting the Machine Translators

The excellent German Google-watch site Blogoscoped has a nice example of what happens when you use automatic translation systems in forward and then use the result in reverse. You often end up being unable to recognise the original. That's certain the case with these Garfield cartoons that used Google translator in one direction and the Babelfish translator in the other. I sometimes use the software to get the gist of something, if its a topic or event I already know about. But never trust machines on the small print. The best quote to play with is from Groucho Marx - "Time Flies Like an Arrow, but fruit flies like a banana". Haven't seen any machine back translate that correctly.

Waterproofing Electrical Devices - Great News

In maritime circles a battle has raged for at least one thousand years; water versus equipment. When electrical components where first brought aboard ship requiring electricity to live in close quarters with its natural enemy, things were even more tense. To date the solution to this problem has been the use of barriers to keep water away from components. From hard cases with synthetic gaskets to plastic amour found in electric cable, protecting a device from the conductive and corrosive properties of water has always been done external to the core components. A waterproof radio for example, combines a protective shell with plastic coating and gaskets to keep water away from sensitive electrical components. This works fairly well provided you maintain the watertight integrity of the unit but it’s expensive to manufacture and maintain not to mention the extra weight and bulk it adds to the device itself. Damage the shell or service the components in harsh conditions and that protection is useless.

Sid Martin, Director of Technology at Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, MA, North-Eastern USA, has approached the problem from a different perspective. Martin knew that protecting devices from marine environments needed to be done without adding size or complexity to the device. With knowledge gained in the semi-conductor, aerospace and maritime industries Martin set out to protect every surface of a device; at the molecular level.

The results are impressive. During the testing process Northeast Maritime Institute has submerged an IPOD Touch, a Macintosh MacBook, Blackberry Pearl, numerous VHF radios and other equipment without noticeable damage. One such device operated continuously while immersed in water for over 450 hours prior to failure.

The so'called "Golden Shellback" coating protects electronics exposed to water and resists both rain and humidity allowing them to continue working during and after direct exposure. The coating also has the ability to repel oil, synthetic fluid, hazardous material, sand, dust, and water-based substances.

The demo is exciting for anyone working in remote areas of Africa, Asia or Latin America. The challenge will be to get it applied to existing apparatus. (They reckon waterproofing a laptop would be about 70 US dollars, plus shipping). But if you have ever seen the dirt and dust that gets into equipment at radio stations in Africa, this kind of coating applied to any equipment operating in the tropics will probably double the life of the device.

Below are a couple of videos that have covered the demo.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Windows Not-Authentic Vista

I use both Windows and Mac platforms. I have a lot of useful applications running on Windows XP that will not come out for the Mac. I see no reason to abandon them. I used to be a Mac fan in the 90's, but Apple Netherlands left me high and dry with a couple of important multi-lingual projects back then. The Apple business centres in the Netherlands were full of sales people who has never used the applications I was interested in - and were simply copying the US advertising copy that Mac was so easy even a managing director could use it. When one dealer turned up with an Apple Newsroom system I personally threw the salespeople out of the building for time-wasting, saying I had never seen such an arrogant method of promising nothing. If they didn't leave within 15 minutes, I was going to call security.

I switched to the Windows 95/98 line, along with the rest of the company. Regrets? No.

Fast forward to 2008 and I face an upgrade dilemma. Too many apps in Windows XP have no drivers for Windows Vista. I have a Mac for one thing only - video - both editing and video integration into Keynote is brilliant.

Now Microsoft is trying to persuade me to upgrade to Vista using one of the least authentic campaigns I have ever seen. It reminds me of the defunct TelSel TV commercials with those interviews with people praising car polish or fitness equipment to the skies. They don't work because they are not believable. It might work for soap. It doesn't work for technology. The minor differences that Vista offers to XP users are not even going to be noticed by the group of people in the "interviews".

Why not spend the US$300 million dollars ad-money on making it easier to upgrade - one time crazy offers to take the plunge? This is what Apple should have done when they switched from Apple IIe to the Mac line.

But this way is simply not authentic. So it won't work. Apple needs a competitor. But not like this.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Marriage of GSM and Broadcast Media

I am impressed by these guys - an Indian-Swedish start-up. Definite links here for community media in Africa.

Telecom equipment vendor VNL announced the launch of its solar-powered GSM system, which the company stated will change the telecoms market in rural areas. VNL has re-engineered GSM technology to reduce its power requirement and make it suitable for a rural environment where electricity is
scarce or unavailable. VNL stated that its WorldGSM system includes base stations that only need between 50W and 120W of power to operate (compared to 3000 W for a typical GSM base station). A WorldGSM base station is entirely powered by solar energy with a 72 hour battery back-up in place (also charged by solar power). The system also includes a rural-optimised MSC (Mobile Switching Centre), and a compact BSC (Base Station Controller), making WorldGSM a complete, end-to-end GSM network. VNL said that, with solar power, WorldGSM both reduces the operating expenses for mobile operators and contributes to a much lower environmental impact.

Philips and Sub Saharan Lighting

I am currently looking into the news that the Netherlands Ministry of Overseas Development, selected African partners, and the Dutch firm of Philips have signed a joint venture to produce solar lighting kits for Sub-Saharan Africa. The aim of the agreement called 'Sustainable Energy Solutions Africa', is quite simply to create ten million LED lights, giving people in the rural areas of 14 countries access to sustainable light before the year 2015.

Sustainable light is badly needed. The fact is that one in every three people in the world still relies on traditional energy sources such as firewood, crop residues and dung. Collecting it takes a lot of time and is bad for the environment. Kerosene lamps provide light but they are unhealthy fire hazards and the light is of very poor quality. What's more, the sharp rise in oil prices in recent years has made them relatively expensive.

Lack of light means millions of people in rural Africa cannot work in the evening and children cannot do their homework. Hospitals, businesses and factories can barely operate properly. Development opportunities are frustrated and the quality of life is limited. Access to modern energy is a precondition for development. By providing a high quality product, designed to meet the needs of the local market, the rechargeable solar lamp will finally give the poor access to reliable electric light, even in places where there is no electricity grid.

The deal is as follows: the Netherlands' foreign ministry and Philips will each invest 3 million euros. Philips will put the money into product development, research, training and distribution. The Ministry will pick the areas that will benefit in Africa and ensure awareness, training and delivery via embassies and community-based organisations in Africa. The solar lamps won't be free though - people will pay for them in instalments with the aid of micro-credit schemes. After one or two years, people will have paid for their sustainable lamps and the only costs they incur – minor ones – will then be for maintenance.

Philips has recently been testing their new solar "UDAY" lantern, a compact lighting system that provides bright white light and is charged by the power of the sun. Each day's charge will provide 250 lumens (the equivalent light of 250 candles) for 4-5 hours. They are also working on a hand-cranked LED torch called KIRAN. Benefits of new solar lighting solutions include significant cost savings, less fire risk compared with kerosene-type lanterns, no direct carbon footprint and the use of a sustainable natural commodity (sunlight or manpower) to generate electricity. In addition there are economic and social benefits from being able to undertake activities in the evening hours. Protypes are being tested in Ghana at the moment, together with the Kumasi Institute of Technology and Environment. The results will then be expanded to 10 other African countries.

Philips is also involved in Lighting Africa, the World Bank Group initiative to provide modern lighting to the 250 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa who have no access to electricity. Jointly managed by the IFC and the World Bank, Lighting Africa aims to develop market conditions for the supply and distribution of new, non fossil fuel lighting products, such as fluorescent light bulbs and LEDs, in rural and urban areas of the region that are not connected to the electricity grid.

At the Lighting Africa 2008 event held back in May in Ghana, 16 companies and organizations were awarded up to $200,000 to implement projects that offer affordable, clean, safe, off-grid lighting and that improve access to lighting for people living without electricity across the region.

Today an estimated 500 million Africans live without electricity. For these people, nighttime means either darkness, the flickering light of a candle, or kerosene lamp. Part of the solution can come from a new generation of solar-powered lighting systems. Global spending on fuel-based lighting is estimated to be worth US$ 38 Billion per year. While, in theory, this could offer a large incentive for private companies to get involved, in practice the off-grid lighting market has so-far remained largely untapped.

From this to this

Just powering down as a huge thunderstorm passes through, turning this to this in less than 15 minutes.

Go Collapse the Purple Cow please!

Remember Seth Godin's book about what you would do if you were driving along and suddenly saw a purple cow? Stop right? It's ten to five on a hot, humid Saturday. Looks like thunder and lightning is going to break out any minute. So, I guess these supermarket employees at the C-1000 around the corner were told to go and bring in the cow. They just switched off the air pump and the whole thing collapsed in 10 seconds. Not entirely sure why it is there in the first place.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Open Web opens

Just what we needed! - no, seriously. This is a great development - may be we can get control back of our own data. Have you ever tried to close an account on Facebook?

Despair's Vision

The team never ceases to impress me. Just the right amount of doom and gloom to keep me laughing out loud :-) Give them all your money.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Doc Searls on the future of free-to-air radio

Don't quite agree with Doc that over-the-air FM is finished quite as quickly in Europe as it appears in the US. I'd give it another 20 years. But AM is going to disappear a lot quicker than that - simply due to spiralling energy costs. One religious station is paying around 100,000 dollars a month to keep a 200kW AM transmitter running. Their future is just a series of rescue attempts.

But I do call my iPod Touch a radio. Great listening to the streams of audio over the wifi network. works perfectly. I'll wait for them to iron out the bugs in the iPhone 2.0 before I fork out. The Nokia N95 has a much better camera - and the audio is brilliant too. More from Doc here.

The photo, by the way, is local. There is an antenna street, and a transmitter lane, in my town. That's because between 1937 and 1957 the old wooden rotatable masts of PHOHI/PCJJ, (later Radio Netherlands) were located here. You may remember they built a 1/5th scale model of the towers on a roundabout on the outskirts of the town. Still there.

2008 - The Birth of Online TV

Colin Donald and Özlem Tunçil, co-founders, of Futurescape have come out with a new 30,000 word publication covering Online TV production in UK and USA. At last something written by people who have passion for this emerging industry - and who clearly want to cut through the hype.

The face of television is being transformed by Internet programming with radically
different formats and interactive features. In America and Britain, hundreds of comedies and dramas are currently in production, inspired by the massive and controversial success of Lonelygirl15. New business and production models are emerging, particularly for advertiser involvement in product integration and branded entertainment. This report provides a comprehensive, in-depth analysis of all aspects of the market to bring readers up to speed as rapidly as possible. It includes interviews with:

Marc Campbell: Founder and CEO of the Independent Comedy Network, a new studio that is aiming to launch 40 shows by the end of 2008.

Brad Curtis: SVP Business Development, Science + Fiction, an agency that produces branded online television shows, such as In the Motherhood.

Geoff Goodwin: Head of the BBC Switch teen multi-platform division, commissioning online shows with innovative interactivity.

Kathleen Grace: Co-founder of independent production company Dinosaur Diorama Productions, which made hipster satire The Burg, and are now producing The All-For-Nots, a comedy about an indie band on tour, with Michael Eisner’s Vuguru studio.

Garrett Law: Co-founder of new production company Attention Span Media, whose first show is the college mockumentary Dorm Life.

My verdict - one of the better ways to spend US$500 if you want a company briefing about emerging on-line TV production. If I compare these reports with what the mainstream consultancies are doing for 10 times the price, then I know immediately who I support - these guys. At last something that takes a few steps back from the hype - but also shows there's some really creative stuff going on. Compare this to the kind of nonsense we have seen published by banks on the creative media market recently. (no connection with these guys by the way - just a fan of what they do).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

South Africa 2010

I am getting increasingly concerned that the infrastructure in South Africa will mean the World Cup will be very different to all the promises we heard a year ago.

SABC is in court over its decision to buy cameras from a Japanese firm. The South African Broadcasting Corporation has apparently given 2010 Fifa World Cup digital broadcasting rights to Sony, to the detriment of a locally based company which won the initial bid. According to papers before the Johannesburg High Court, SABC board chairperson Kanyi Mkonza and her two directors, Gloria Serobe and Andile Mbeki, unilaterally decided to snub Digital Horizons, owned by Joe Mjwara, in favour of Sony. A committee appointed by the SABC board to look for a company which could partner the public broadcaster had earlier recommended that the tender should be awarded to Digital Horizons.

The tender stipulated that the successful bidding company was supposed to provide the SABC with four cameras (trailers) which would be deployed at various Air Time depots around South Africa, including Air Time headquarters in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, and would be used to televise major and prestigious TV productions primarily in the areas of sport, entertainment and events of national interest.

However, according to the Johannesburg Star, the court heard on Tuesday that the board chose to ignore the negotiating team's recommendation and appointed Mkonza and her team, who overturned the committee's decision. Advocates Richard Solomon and Kennedy Tsatsawane, counsels for Digital Horizons, argued before Judge Moroa Tsoka that the SABC board had failed to provide them with qualified reasons for their decision. "The decision to award the tender to Sony was not taken by the full SABC board," Digital Horizons argues in its papers.

The SABC board, through its counsel, advocate Peter van Blerk, argued that Sony "was a well-known and reputable company with Japanese connections". Van Blerk also said Sony's bid was R66-million less than Digital Horizons'.

Yes, Sony is a company with Japanese connections! Meantime there is a piece in the South African Times saying that the new fibre optic cable between SA and the UK, aiming to link other African countries around the coast on the way, is seriously behind schedule due to a lack of skilled people to work on the was supposed to be ready for 2010 and the world cup, part of the FIFA deal for giving the cup to south africa..but apparently now it will not be finished in time.

You also need to add all this to the power problems in the country during last summer (and more to come. This is because of poor management at the top of the Eskom power company - generating stations were mothballed rather than expanded over the last 15 years. All-in-all it looks like, for the moment at least, the FIFA will be nothing like what has been promised.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Popcorn Myth Buster

Seen this viral video about kids popping popcorn with their phones?

Of course this only happens in movies. The trick is done by having a modified (read dismantled) microwave oven under the table beaming upwards. You need about 600 watts of microwave energy to popcorn that fast, and a couple of watts from the phones could never do that. Seems this viral campaign comes from a bluetooth headset manufacturer Cardo, in order to scare people into thinking that mobile phones have that much radiation and they really need a headset.

That might backfire in the longrun. Seriously, a group of 20 cancer and public health specialists has launched an appeal in France to promote preacautionary measures in the use of cell phones. Elisabeth Cardis, the head of the Interphone project, has endorsed this move.

Read the whole story, with coverage from last week's Bioelectromagnetics
Society meeting in San Diego. Go to:

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wimax for Pakistan

I have been interested in this excellent article by Basharat H. Ashai. I am currently looking for examples where WiMax has been used to link broadcasting stations. Make sense in many countries, instead of satellite.

The telecommunication industry in Pakistan has witnessed some major shifts over the last couple of years with WiMAX network deployments dominating the scene. Broadband growth (through DSL, cable and FTTH) in the country has been dismal despite the fact that the services have been available for more than five years. The cost of the service is the main reason for this slow growth. For example in India, broadband service (1Mbps and 2.5GB download/upload) is available for just under US$12 per month. In Pakistan, the same package costs twice as much -- US$24 per month --making the service out-of-reach for the majority of residents. More..

International Coverage in US Print Media declines

Volatile India-Pakistan Standoff Enters 11,680th Day

This ONION parody may be closer to the truth than you think, especially if you read the report published by journalist Tyler Marshall and the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Amongst the findings into several hundred US newspapers.

Papers both large and small have reduced the space, resources and commitment devoted to a range of topics. At the top of that list, nearly two thirds of papers surveyed have cut back on foreign news, over half have trimmed national news and more than a third have reduced business coverage. In effect, America’s newspapers are narrowing their reach and their ambitions and becoming niche reads. Since many leading newspapers also own TV properties, I expect a knock on-effect.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

AIB Awards - Bumped Crop of Entries

Seems the AIB awards netted over 200 entries this year...more diverse group of entries...which was the idea. Competition has now closed. I am one of the judges.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Greg and Steve on the BBC

I see that Greg Dyke has called for an end to the UK television licence fee. If it means getting rid of those stupid "its all in the database" commercials, then I am all for it. Do you need a licence to watch catch-up TV on a computer monitor with iPlayer? Or is it just when you have access to live-TV? Do you know or care? How will be enforced? And why does it cost the UK 123 million quid just to collect this fee?

In the Netherlands they have made public broadcasting part of general taxation for years now. The Dutch government actually does better out of it because they often tax more than one person in the household and no-one knows how much is actually being deducted for broadcasting. Greg suggested that the BBC should be funded by an exchequer grant and the money currently spent on collecting licence fees could be used for a public service fund, some of which could be used to fund local television.

The standard argument against funding the BBC through general taxation is that it would potentially compromise the political independence of the BBC. However, the BBC World Service radio is funded by a government grant and is generally recognised for its editorial impartiality.

Meanwhile, listen to Steven Fry's latest podcast on broadcasting which is a great personal story arguing for a well funded BBC. In fact, it is a short history of UK broadcasting in Fry's usual engaging style. There is a transcript of the podcast in the forum, but you should listen to this story. Theatre of the mind and all that.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pirate Radio in Northern UK

Not sure whether this upload is sanctioned to Google Video, but it is the only way people outside the UK can easily access a documentary broadcast Thursday 10th July by ITV 1 Yorkshire from 10:40pm to 11:10pm. Entitled "Is It Worth It?" is looks at the activities of non-licenced radio stations presently broadcasting throughout West Yorkshire, following Leeds station Radio Frequency. These latter-day pirates have fallen foul of media regulator Ofcom for their refusal to end their transmissions. Tony Blackburn, himself a radio pirate in the 1960s, offers an insight into this type of lawbreaking, with comment from a Scarborough MP who set up his own station 40 years ago. If, and when, municipal wifi gets going, I expect these guys to eventually switch technology. Thanks to Mike Barraclough for the spot.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lets Learn Chinese

I can imagine this system of individual tuition probably works better that "Chinese by radio" lessons over shortwave from China Radio International. You can learn all kinds of languages on line. It reminds me of the old days when international broadcasting was full of stations trying to teach you their respective languages. The largest by far was the BBC. I see that a lot of the English By Radio material that used to be broadcast by the BBC World Service and its language departments has all be consolidated into a special BBC website these days.

Final note: I think the choice of music on the advert above was random. I recognise it as a variation on "The Holly and the Ivy" performed by George Winston on his December album. That goes way back to 1982 - one of the first CD's I bought. Does it fit? No.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Controversial Insight into Al Hurra

I don't care for the style of this CBS piece done together with a new organisation called Propublica. The anchor is so obviously going for the jugular you begin to pity the people being interviewed. Which they probably don't deserve. Even if only a small part is true, Al Hurra has truly slipped below the line of credibility. The problem is not so much the programming, but America's actions in the region they are trying to influences. Actions speak a lot louder than these pictures. So, from this side of the Atlantic, it seems very expensive at US$100 million a year! Of course the Broadcasting Board of Governors doesn't agree and Joaquin Blaya has responded in an equally firm tone. Propublica is pleased the BBG is now responding and has more questions. I am sure that Al Hurra's competitors are enjoying this one.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

iPod Touch Remote

Looks like Apple has finally come up with a (free) wireless remote for the iPhone as well as the iPod Touch. But they are apparently not the first. Back in February we had examples in Amsterdam of people being able to switch off the lights in entire buildings with the iPhone. You don't need to speak Dutch to understand what's happening.

But is it real? No, it's not. Part of an advertising campaign to get students into IT. Nicely done though.

UK - Community Media White Paper

The UK's Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has just published the White Paper 'Communities in control: real people, real power', which contains a section on community media on pages 59-62, including a case study from Bradford Community Broadcasting (BCB) on page 62. Among other things, it announces also an 'Empowerment Fund of at least £7.5 million to support national third sector organisations turn key empowerment proposals into practical action.'

The report can be downloaded from

The government paper describes what they're trying to do and is inviting feedback.

Communities in control: real people, real power was launched on 9 July 2008. This White Paper is about passing power to communities and giving real control and influence to more people. Our key themes are power, influence and control: who has power, on whose behalf is it exercised, how is it held to account, and how can it be diffused throughout the communities we live in. It is about democracy, and how democratic practices and ideals can be applied to our complex, modern society.

The White Paper does not signify the end of work in this area. It is intended as a catalyst for change and its success will be measured over the medium term. Communities in Control contains an annex which gives an indication of plans for implementation. Some elements of the White Paper will be subject to formal consultation during the summer months. We will publish a full Implementation Plan shortly. Some of the policies within the White Paper will require legislation.
These will feature in the UK Community Empowerment, Housing and Economic Regeneration Bill, which forms part of the draft 2008/2009 legislative programme.

We welcome your thoughts on our White Paper, your feedback will shape future policy. To comment:

* send an email to
* make a posting on our Communities in Control discussion forum
* respond to Hazel Blears' seven day empowerment blog

It looks like UK government is making extensive use of, sometimes for shortperiods (reminds me of the short period radio station licences (RSL's). They say you can also keep up-to-date with empowerment news by following Communities and Local Government's 7 day twitter channel which will run from 9 to 18 July 2008 (excluding the weekends).

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Broadcast Press Lunch

There's a broadcast press lunch in London tomorrow. Sounds like its going to be interesting, judging by the coverage its been getting. ;-) Now this is the way to report what the rich and famous are interested in.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"We vont to be alone"

If you're looking for an example of a company that does NOT believe in any form of collaboration, partnerships etc - and just wants to be alone in the world...look at this link. I find the text on that page incredible.

It is the policy of MAGNA Global and MAGNA Global Entertainment not to consider or accept unsolicited ideas, concepts, materials, information, proposals and the like. Any such unsolicited materials will be returned and/or deleted or destroyed, at our option. Our own people are constantly at work developing ideas, and as a result, we have found that ideas and other materials submitted by others have generally been used before or are otherwise familiar to our employees.

I guess they never want to be accused of stealing a good idea. Apparently they own them already. Reminds me of the great Greta Garbo's wish " I vont to be alone". Update in July 2009. The links have gone away and the original URL shows a rather smaller organisation than in 2008.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Scam Inflation

I have to laugh at the texts of the so-called advance-fee or 419 scams, many of which originate from West Africa. I note that the money being offered seems to be going up to completely daft proportions. This afternoon, someone offered to credit my SWIFT credit card, which doesn't exist, with the sum of 87 million pounds sterling. I must be going up in the world. Of course, sadly, I won't be sending the required bank account details and photo of my passport to the hotmail address residing somewhere on the planet. Actually, it is really a shame that these scams are still going - I am just amazed that anyone falls for them. The wikipedia page is full of people who thought their luck had changed. Never, Never, Never.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

DRM Mystery - Bit quiet in Plymouth

In April of last year, BBC Devon started a 12 month trial of DRM, the digital system developed in the mid-1990's and designed to replace long, medium and shortwave. To date, it has been the only UK trial of the system for a domestic service - VT Communications have used Orfordness to beam into the rest of Europe on 1296 and RTL Luxembourg has been fiddling with a UK service (without much success). 100 volunteers were given DRM radios in Devon and both the BBC and National Grid Wireless intended to publish the results after the end of the trial. Well it's now July 2008 so we have to assume that most of the trials have been concluded.

UPDATE July 6th. Mike Barraclough reports below: The tests are still continuing it seems, at the end of April they told participants: "We will be keeping the test transmission on-air for a little while longer as there are some demonstrations we need to do and some final technical results we need to collect. From the 30th April, however, we will not be able to guarantee that the transmission will be on-air or stable on a permanent basis, although it is likely to be present most of the time until at least the early summer. There was a report of the 855 transmissions being received in Tavistock on the drmrx forum June 24.

However, may be conclusions have already been drawn, judging from the passage in the Digital Radio Working Group interim report.

Under these proposals all (radio) services will be migrated from the MW
platform onto either DAB or FM. Therefore the mediumwave frequencies could be allocated for other uses. We recognise that further consideration will need to be made of the usage of LW for radio services.

So DRM, "Doesn't Really Matter"? If it had been a resounding success we would have surely heard all about it by now.

Traffic in Iran

Never mind about Press TV, the English language TV network from Iran. Just watching the traffic in the Iranian capital city is entertainment in itself.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Telecoms for Disaster Response

The first item of this TV Telecom item this week highlights the work of Telecom without frontiers.

Longdistance Links - the WILD project

I am very interested in the work being done by the University of California at Berkeley and their WILD project. They have been experimenting in several countries, including Ghana in the deployment of modified wifi technology to build very long distance Internet links out into remote areas of the country. 20-80 kms seems feasible now. It is exactly what community radio stations need, and the advantage is that in most cases they already have the tower in the place!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sprint Product Placement

Let's be frank. Most of the product placements in Hollywood are so obvious the sponsor should be paying us to watch the film. I see that Sprint in the US is paying 1000 people 20 bucks to put the new Samsung Instinct phone in a home video. Blatant product placement? You betcha. Make sure you show the phone to be working and having coverage....currently a problem for many rural Sprint customers I understand.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Navteq is Nokia's

From Engadget

In the brave new world of GPS, Nokia and NAVTEQ are one as are TomTom and Tele Atlas. At least that will be the picture within 5 business days. With the European Commission's "unconditional approval" granted, Nokia can now close the deal on its planned, $8.1 billion acquisition of NAVTEQ.

What makes the whole thing a bit more interesting is that Google signed a long term agreement with Tele Atlas on Monday which gives it access to Tele Atlas maps for use in any of Google's mobile, desktop, and on-line offerings. A move likely to put Android in even greater competition with Nokia which opted out of the Open Handset Alliance. Good times

I'd put Navteq in the same boat as Norton (see below). They are still dealing with navigation products not a navigation service. Remember, if you shell out 300 Euros for their maps of Europe, don't dream that if you change your car you can swap out the discs for one that will work in the new motor. Even if the maps come from the same source. Stuff the updates, especially with the economy biting into road building.

Guardian Future of Journalism Series

Have been comparing some of the talks given recently on the future of journalism. With paper circulation figures dropping in many countries (though there are exceptions like the Telegraaf in the Netherlands), having a strategy has never been more important than now. I like the way Jeff Javis talks through the options to members of the Guardian teams. So many talks recently have been the rather tired "User Generated Content is going to finish the Biz" line. UGC is one form of collecting contributions, but the future of many organisations is more linked to their wider role in society/community than just raw input from a tiny group of active contributors. Most people tell boring stories. Watching and listening to them is like watching paint dry. Jarvis is a cut above the rest (see video).

Pouzilhac new boss at RFI

From the outside, it looks like France 24 has, in effect, taken over Radio France Internationale, the international broadcasting radio service. France 24 is barely 18 months old and is a combined TV and Internet operation running in 3 languages. RFI has been around a lot longer, but is definitely more of a traditional radio network.

The chairman of France 24, Alain de Pouzilhac, has now been appointed the President of RFI. There has been talk of combining several of France's external broadcasters - looks like it has become a reality. Unlike his predecessors, Alain comes from the commercial world, so it will be fascinating to see what changes he makes at RFI, which is a classic state-financed broadcaster. Just compare the website of RFI with that of the commercial mobile/broadband operator Orange. I have been installing software for use on a French laptop that is off to Benin next month. The feeds from Orange are easy to use and configure, sitting on the Vista desktop. Good luck with the puzzle surrounding RFI audio.

He was born in Sète in the South of France on the Mediterranean coast in 1945. A self-made man, his entire career has been pursued in communications.
He has been in the advertising business since the age of 23 when he joined Publicis as an assistant account executive in 1968. A year later, he joined the newly established Paris DDB office and remained there until 1975 as an Account Supervisor. In 1976, he joined the Havas Group and was appointed Chief Operating Officer of the sixth French agency, Havas Conseil. In 1982, he became Chief Executive Officer of the company and developed Havas Conseil in Europe, which became one of the top five leading European networks and the advertising agency leader in France.
HCM became the first advertising network in Europe and featured among the leading ten in the world. In 1989, Alain de Pouzilhac was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Eurocom.

By the beginning of the 1990s the celebrated merger initiated by Alain de Pouzilhac between Eurocom and RSCG paved the way for a truly global network, Euro RSCG Worldwide of which he was nominated Chairman and CEO.

In December 2005, he was appointed CEO of the Chaîne Française d'Information Internationale ("CFII"), which later became France 24. In his spare time, Alain de Pouzilhac is very keen on sport, particularly football (soccer), tennis, rugby and yachting. He is married to Carole and has three children.

BMW Scam - Interesting 419 variation

We all get spammed with "news" of how we have won a lottery. The amount is usually obscene and is CAPITALISED IN CASE YOU CANNOT BELIEVE IT. It is often the story of someone who has died and left a bank account unclaimed. But lately, the scams are changing the story. I got this one from "BMW", which claims it has something to do with BMW and clean energy. I didn't know that Stamford, Lincolnshire was so close to London as the letterhead claims. So yes, of course, I will share my bank account details immediately. What a nice surprise!

Russian Office Sync Swimming

Looks like this Russian office has a lot of time on its legs and is practising for next month. From the Russian RUtube, but you don't need subtitles and it is safe for work! Tip of the hat to Gabe at Mobuzztv for the discovery.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Dance Power

The UK branch of the French mobile phone company Orange has announced the launch of a mobile phone charger prototype that is powered by dance energy! Working with renewable energy specialists, GotWind, who were also responsible for last year’s Orange Wind Charge and this year’s Orange ReCharge Pod, Orange also commissioned research into a kinetic energy portable phone charger that would harness the energy created by festival revellers dancing to their favourite bands to ensure a clean and renewable energy source.

Whilst the research of the Orange and GotWind team is still in its infancy and continues to be developed, Orange has already built fully functioning prototype models of the Dance Charge that were tested at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, taking place at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset last week.

The Dance Charge prototype weighs in at only 180 grams. It is approximately the same size as a pack of cards and the same weight as a mobile phone. The Dance Charge unit comes encased in an elasticated, black, neoprene strap with Velcro attachments which is attached over the wearer’s bicep in a similar fashion to a runner’s arm-mounted mp3 player.

As the user moves their arms along to the music – a specially designed system of weights and magnets, similar to that found in kinetic energy watches, creates an electrical current which provides a top-up of charge to a storage battery. So whilst festival goers are out dancing to their favourite bands, the charger stores dance generated power in the reservoir battery, ready for when they return to their tent each night to recharge their phone.

Ben Jandrell from Shropshire, UK founded Gotwind in 2006 with the purpose of sharing his 25 years experience in the design and making of small scale renewable energy projects, focusing in particularly on wind and solar power.

Ben launched his website initially as a hobby to share his passion with the world, as renewable energy has become more and more prevalent, Gotwind and its unique DIY approach has received a lot of interest worldwide.

Personally I see an application in Africa, not only for dancers but simply for people who walk a lot as part of their trade and have a need to be connected - either through a mobile phone or the FM radio inside around 25% of all mobile phones sold in that region of the world. No word on the cost.

All this reminds me that in 2001 the inventor of the wind-up radio, Trevor Baylis completed a 100 mile walk across the Namibian Desert demonstrating some electric Shoes and raising money for the Mines Advisory Group. The "electric shoes" used piezoelectric contacts in the heels to charge a small battery that can be used to operate a radio transceiver or cellular telephone. The shoes were invented by Dr Jim Gilbert, a lecturer in engineering at Hull University, who was asked to develop an idea by Trevor Baylis, But I don't think the Electric Shoe Company managed to make the idea into a commercial product.

Norton Symantec Reality Gap

Had to laugh about a promotional offer in my intray today. Even if my PC not only slowed down but went into reverse, I would never dream of calling Symantec's customer service. When I had Norton software, the only advice I ever from from their "experts" was to deinstall-reinstall their software or someone reading from the FAQ's I later discovered on-line. These guys need a serious reality check. Based on past experience, I would never let any of these guys near my PC.

The early days of Norton were great - utilities that defragged the hard disk before they became standard bits of any operating system. But since the take-over by Symantec, Norton AntiVirus & Firewall products have grown like a cancer, more clumsy every year. I had situations were I had subscriptions to virus-prevention updates, but the basic program was no longer compatible. And I couldn't get the on-line forms to recognise a Dutch VAT number. In frustration, I paid the VAT. Pleased I went to Kaspersky instead.