Saturday, December 31, 2011

Starting the Year in Reykjavik

In previous centuries, I have been known to mess around with the radio on New Years Eve, listening to stations in other countries herald in the New Year. But I note an increasing number of stations have stopped doing this, preferring to let pre-recorded greetings play out from their computer systems while they party themselves (presumably). Time to try something different.

So this year, while digitizing another batch of Media Network shows from the last century (which can be found here), I've been looking at various webcams with live pictures. So far, this is one of my favourite. Live pictures from Iceland, including a feed from the capital city.

Wherever you are, I wish you a Happy New Year for all of 2012. May the great ideas blossom.

Jonathan Marks
Critical Distance BV

Not often Apple is half price

I guess most people who were interested in the bio of Steve Jobs now have their copy. I see that newbie twitterer Rupert Murdoch (for it is he - although no-one is sure if he is tweeting himself) was clearly disappointed  in the biog.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Where in the world?

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Just love the stuff in this shop window in Norwich, Eastern England. Wouldn't find it anywhere else in the world. Especially the spending money sign.....I know what she means!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy New Spelling Checker

Got four Christmas cards through the regular mail this year and hundreds of email greetings. I love the home made ones, even when they didn't make it through the spelling checker. I am convinced that the thoughts were genuine.

If you're celebrating, Season's Greetings. Whatever your belief, I think we can all do with a Happier New Year, especially in Euroland!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Clever way of recreating the magic of the Twin Towers

Great idea and plan for the Twin Towers memorial, from a artist who lives in Middelburg, Zeeland, in the South-Eastern part of the Netherlands.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Tele2: Not sheep at all

Tele-2 promotes itself as being "cheap" or the black "cheap of the family" with its commercials in the Netherlands. Have never had to deal with them until then took over what was the one of the best hosting services in the Netherlands - Vuurwerk (Fireworks). Now, all they have done is send me a bill for an .org domain name for 50 Euro a year.

Having spotted this ridiculous figure when going through some admin, I then discovered that I can't cancel until October 12th next year. As with a modern teleco, you can only cancel in writing by sending a letter in the post or scanning a PDF. It's taken them a month to get back with a straight answer, so my conclusion is these guys are crap not cheap. I'd better not link to them in case others fall into the admin trap. There is some light - I hope that a new Dutch law effective December 1st makes this kind of silent extension of contracts illegal.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

PICNIC 2012 veers off in totally the wrong direction

Picnic used to be this kinda funky emerging-media festival, where geeks, advocacy groups, technology companies and other people from the creative sector got together to discuss the state of the world and what they were going to do to change it. The attraction for me was the variety - the fact that I got to meet people outside my own comfort zone and was stimulated to think differently.

But times changed and the atmosphere of fun and creativity escaped as fast as the government subsidy evaporated. This past year was a very mixed bag. A new, experimental, location in Amsterdam North docklands turned out to be a fresh approach to original location in the converted gasworks. It was about time it moved. But the new concept was extremely vulnerable to the weather. And this year the weather was rubbish for two of the three days. The event seems to favour volunteer bloggers who write about the event not about the issues. Event journalism isn't working, especially if you don't bother to research the topic before the speech. For most people, if you weren't there, you don't care. Compare the Picnic video of BMW talking about the electric car with the way Renault presented the same subject of mobility at LeWeb2011.

No contest.  I lugged a camera around for a while, then gave up when I saw there wasn't a quiet location on site where I could capture anything worthwhile. The wind outside was horrendous.

There were also strange partner events like the Green Challenge (who give away an obscene 500,000 Euro) and the Picnic Transmission Event Number 4 organised by Amsterdam Partners, AIM/Creative Amsterdam, City of Amsterdam, Chamber of Commerce Amsterdam and KennisKring Amsterdam. This bizarre event, which couldn't make up its mind which language to operate in, simply sent the message that if you wanted to be successful, forget Amsterdam, find cheap labour in Eastern Europe and then cuddle up to the US traditional media and techblogs. I was left dumbfounded at the end.

So what's new?

Just got the Picnic newsletter for Christmas and New Year 2012. Seems to me they're now heading off into the completely wrong direction, i.e. organising events for start-ups, an area in which they have absolutely no experience. The majority of the pitches I saw at Picnic 2011 were well below the international average. Those taking part weren't interested in preparing for the event...they had an idea, a Prezzi - Powerpoint, and no clue about how to turn this into a business. Those from the private sector had a point in saying that because of the lack of selection criteria, sections of Picnic have become a waste of public money.

So now there will be a Picnic Marketplace in Amsterdam April 12th and 13th 2012. It will be the place where "promising start ups and SMEs from the Netherlands, Europe and abroad will showcase their products and services and, along with event attendees, participate in matchmaking, business development and co-creation activities. Because it’s PICNIC, expect loads of fun, unexpected twists and surprising contributions from our partners".

Then on 25, 26, 27th April there is the Next Web Conference in Amsterdam which usually attracts around 1800 people to do exactly the same thing. And, if past experience is anything to go by, it will do it much better.

In the meantime we're seeing a mini explosion in organisations that believe they can coach start-ups and match them with investors - a couple are world-class, the majority are rubbish money-making machines. There is no middle ground.

So will the Picnic Marketplace manage to carve its own niche and shout above the masses? My bet is that it won't - in fact it hasn't got a hope in hell. They need to seriously examine the core successes of Picnic in the era around 2006/2007. But it may well be that with the collapse of the European financial markets, a different, smaller and more effective approach is needed. And that needs a content strategy that lasts longer than a couple of days in the spring. Picnic was fun when it had below in 2007.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gaydon resigns, but former PACE CEO leaves a clear vision

It hasn't been an easy year for PACE, the makers of set-top boxes. As Broadband TV News reported on December 14th, Pace has ended a torrid 12 months by replacing CEO Neil Gaydon with Mike Pulli, until now CEO of Pace Americas.

Pace has issued three profit warnings in 2011. In March it emerged that a US provider had delayed an order by 12 months into 2012, effectively skipping a generation of technology. Two months later the Japanese Tsunami led to problems within the supply chain. Most recently, floods at hard drive supplier Western Digital’s Bang Pa-In facility in Bangkok impacted supplies of personal video recorders. Plans were recently announced to merge the Pace Europe and Pace Networks businesses into a single unit.

Gaydon joined Pace in 1995 and established the company’s Americas operations in 1999, which have become an increasing part of the company’s revenues, and now represent US $1.7 billion of annual revenues.

I made an interview with Neil Gaydon at IBC 2011 in September 2011 when he was still Chief Executive Officer. I have no insight into the management style that Gaydon displayed inside the company. But having wandered all over several "consumer electronics" shows recently, I have a lot of respect for the way Gaydon explains the PACE vision for the connected home, what needs to happen next in the media Industry and how Pace plans to be one of the major players. He was also candid about what's the industry has not yet perfected but will need to do so in the coming 12 months. Gaydon may be gone, but the vision still seems to be sound, even if it is going to be a little delayed.

Panasonic AG-HPX250 P2 camcorder joins BBC approved shortlist for HD production | AV Interactive | Pro AV news, analysis and comment from Europe’s leading Audio Visual title | AV Magazine

Anyone with experience using this camera? Looking to ditch HDV, but haven't been happy with the replacements so far. I like the size (makes informal documentary making so much easier). But I am concerned about the longevity of the P2 platform.

Panasonic AG-HPX250 P2 camcorder joins BBC approved shortlist for HD production | AV Interactive | Pro AV news, analysis and comment from Europe’s leading Audio Visual title | AV Magazine:

'via Blog this'

More Questions than Answers after Dutch Freedom for the Internet conference

Governments are truly awful storytellers. And this was brought home to me by watching a conference on "Internet Freedom" pumped into the Interwebs at the command of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If you look at the website now, you'll see a short "event" video which captures what looks like a party atmosphere and the arrival and departure sequences of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. It looks like something you'd see on Egyptian state TV two years ago - you know... "Important people were invited to hear other important people speak at a conference". Here are a few sound-bites they want you to hear. Then they all had drinks and went home." Truly awful event journalism which reveals nothing of what was really said or what the motions were for the "debate".

You're invited to download this earth-shattering story, which according to the metadata was recorded on New Years Day 2009. The Ministry also thought it a good idea to publish a list of attendees. The government website also has a few declarations on it, but doesn't give away the clue that the event was blogged on Facebook where the event has so far scored 812 likes. Looking at the official report, you'd swear that Eric Schmidt of Google must have sent in a video greeting because he doesn't figure at all in the conversation. Except that he WAS there, as evidenced by a video on YouTube which has been watched 13,300 times so far.

If you want to follow what Hillary said, in full, then you need to check the US State Department website because you can't embed that video. I frankly don't understand the second line in her remarks. "I want to thank my colleague and friend, Foreign Minister Rosenthal, a longtime friend, and co-conspirator from time to time, Eric Schmidt." Conspirator? Poor choice of words in such a setting.

You have to search the new Twitter with the hashtag #ifreedom to discover the best write up of the two day event, on the UK demworks blog. The official twitter account claims the conversation will continue until a follow-up conference in Nairobi, Kenya. One week after the conference, it doesn't look like that goal has been achieved as the conversation has stopped. And I note that the Google blog hints that they will be organising the next conference in Africa rather than the Dutch government.

Knowing that many human rights activists use Facebook for publicity and organising purposes, but deliberately keep sensitive conversations well away from this platform, it seems bizarre to be running the conversation thread almost exclusively on Facebook. And bearing in mind Google was helping to sponsor the whole show, why not Google+?

The conference signs off with the triumphant news that the Netherlands Foreign Ministry will spend up to 6 million Euro on supporting Internet Freedom Activities over the next few years. That really means 1 million a year spread over 6 years by the look of it. Compare that with the 25 Million dollars the Pentagon has openly devoted to busting through firewalls, another 10 million given to the Broadcasting Bureau of Governors by the US State Department, a whole bunch of initiatives being financed by other sections of the State Department (e.g. and you can see that the Netherlands effort isn't going to get very far. And all of this pales in comparison to the 125 million Euro set aside for an Internet Freedom Fund by the European Union.

As more and more mobile phones are used as the gateway to social media platforms, we're left with the bizarre situation that many of the interception and firewall filter technology being used by the "axis of evil" countries was developed in the West. It's been that way since the French companies sold high-power broadcast transmitters to Iran, so they could block Western broadcasts. Or the Brits selling satellite blocking technology to Kazakhstan last year.

There are some interesting things going on in this sector. But is it a coherent story? Not at all. Is the money being spent in an effective way? I fear not.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peculiar Radio Websites: Part 57

This website full of old English language radio recordings of Radio Pyongyang taken off shortwave must win the prize for one the most obscure collection of thoughts on the web. It's also ironic that there's advertising under the great leader ( surprised it's not for teeth whitener) and that the owner of the URL has decided to hide his or her identity. Should we be worried it's going to lead to the downfall of the Euro? No, we're doing a great job of doing that ourselves without any help from North Korea. Would love to know the web statistics. 4 a month? Three of those would have been mine checking to see if the site is still there. And the URL. Shouldn't it be a .gov rather than a .com?

Cleese on Creativity

Enjoyed revisiting this presentation about creativity from John Cleese. I seem to recall a similar point about creating creative workspaces, and isolating yourself for a set period of time, was part of the excellent videos the Monty Python team did in the 1980's for management training.

Although I know John Cleese tweets, I bet he doesn't when he's being creative to a deadline. I know it certainly doesn't work for me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Talking with African Start-up Investors

There seem to be an explosion in the number of organisations setting up to kick-start new business ventures or nurture business leadership. Those in London, Berlin and Silicon valley seem to get a lot of press. Having looked at various attempts in Amsterdam like Rockstart, Thnk, Founder Institute, the most interesting to date seems to be the Start-Up Bus. I am curious to see what media strategy they will develop. I see a lot of coverage of events, but most of this is simply logging what happened where and when. The aim seems to be to create a trailer for future events, rather than a report about lessons learned. I think the number of views on Vimeo and YouTube show that most people who didn't attend an event are interested in these "atmosphere" pieces, especially when it's all over.

Which is why I am currently working on a series of briefings for African entrepreneurs based on several workshops held by the VC4Africa organisation. They have been travelling to Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, organising bootcamp workshops but also listening to the needs of locals. We've now started to compile the material into a series of briefings that can be used to trigger discussions in other tech hubs around the continent as well as in business schools.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cracked Nutter iPod

All those old radios with horn speakers on the covers of the Radio Times reminded me that some are trying to revive the old designs for this century. I like the music - It's by Bob Bradley & Noel Dennis and it is called Cracked Nutter

Friday, December 02, 2011

Globalisation in the Loo

My room on the 10th floor of the George Hotel, Langham Place, London certainly reflects the radio heritage of the BBC building next door. There are framed copies of Radio Times covers in the bedroom and the schedule for World Radio 1928 is in the bathroom!.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Blue Hue Around BH

Staying in a hotel across the road from the Langham with a commanding view of the BBC and its spanking brand new extension with the blue hue after dark. You can find out more about the progress of the building from this link.