April 30, 2005
The G'day World view
G'day World thinks we've slammed them, not that they're that fussed. [It was, after all, one of those feints with damn praise.)
But commenter Tony Goodson makes a point we'd like to get your views on.
According to Tony, "Blogs are about voice and conversation, usually one at a time and not using "We"! We suspect Tony's a Pom, and he's got a thing about the Royal we. Ours isn't a royal we. It's a device which often reflects joint effort and experience. CW just happens to be the one that writes.
Do we really, absolutely, have to use "I"? In order to have a voice and conversation. Might have to tackle this another time. I'm (definitely first person singular in this case) feeling absolutely exhausted. Getting DPExpert up and running has taken an awful lot of work.
DPExpert: review ... after review ... after review
We have been exceptionally busy on DPExpert today. Admittedly, we're biased, but given it's just 24 hours old, we think we can claim to have built a pretty substantial resource for anyone who wants to buy, use and get the best out of a digital camera.
And the pictures look very pretty.
Earth to space: it's getting warmer down here
There they go again. Those alarmist pseudo scientists that have been irritating our Minister for the Environment/Property Development Consultant Senator Ian Campbell now claim that deep-sea diving robots have found the heat exchange between Earth and space is seriously out of balance - a "smoking gun" discovery that allegedly validates forecasts of global warming.
NASA scientists - more of those global dimwits no doubt - believe the findings, published in the journal Science, confirm that computer models of climate change are on target and global temperatures will rise 0.6C this century, even if greenhouse gases were capped tomorrow.
They say that if carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions continue to grow, as expected, things could spin "out of our control" as ocean levels rise.
We must act quickly. Let's get the world's foremost environment expert, Andrew Bolt, to strap on an aqualung and interrogate those bloody robots.
April 29, 2005
Free MP3s are back
We've been in correspondence with Jesse - more on that later - and we've discovered that he has produced another great Greasemonkey script called BookBurro that allows you to compare prices of books you might be looking at on the most popular US online bookstores. Jesse, it seems, doesn't sleep. Luckily for us.
DPExpert goes live
The infant DPExpert blog has finally been born. It's got a lot of growing to do, and its face will probably take an entirely different shape, but we hope you'll get the general idea. As always, we'd love to get your opinion and advice.
Forget drugs. Now the Godfather steals movies
You'd expect the motion picture industry to be able to come up with a scary plot when they're trying to protect the mother lode, and sure enough, they had a beauty to justify the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which will make people think twice about putting a movie or piece of music online.
According to the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, Dan Glickman: "There is evidence that criminal gangs use this kind of theft to support and expand their criminal enterprises."
In the same breath he confided that 90% of pirated films were "stolen" by people filming the shows in a cinema with a smuggled handycam. Can you imagine a Mafia godfather sneaking into a movie show, then pulling out his home movie camera and turning it into a cheap DVD that would sell for a couple of dollars a pop?
And can someone please explain to us how putting a movie on the Internet would bring in any money at all? It's all free. That's the point of it.
Forget the logic, however. George Dubya has signed it into legislation, meaning anyone who dares to upload a movie or copyrighted song will now face up to three years in jail.
How to choose a great coffee shop
Over at The Coffee Odyssey, they're swooning over Seattle's coffee culture, and expounding on ways to ensure that your taste buds will never be assaulted by burnt, bitter coffee and indifferent crema.
We should state at the outset that outside Rome, Melbourne is possibly the world's coffee capital. But if you stuck to the following routine, you'd possibly never have another latte in your life:
- The barista will pour cold milk [was that whole? 2%?] into a cold, clean, empty pitcher. After purging the sparkling clean steam wand, the barista will heat, texture and stretch the milk, creating a mass of tiny bubbles with a mirror-like sheen on the surface... judging by hand and smell [or thermometer] when the temperature is right. Steaming finished, the barista will clean, and again purge the steam wand.
- The barista will start the grinder, remove the portafilter from the espresso machine's group-head, flush the group and clean and dry the filter basket.
- The barista will dose, level and tamp the coffee into the portafilter basket, brush away any stray coffee, lock the portafilter into the group and immediately pull the shot into a clean, preheated 6- to 7-ounce cup [or shot pitcher].
- The extraction time will be 25 to 30 seconds, and should yield a 1 ounce [single] or 2 ounce [double] shot. [Single or double, the time of the extraction will be the same.] The espresso will pour like honey, and will have a dense layer of reddish-brown crema on the surface.
- The barista will pour the textured milk into the cup with the espresso... and, if you're lucky, treat you to an artfully poured rosette. Lovely!
Building the Bleeding Edge empire
It's a busy day at the Bleeding Edge cave. Having discovered that we can't survive with one blog, possibly because this one isn't terribly focused, we've decided to start a couple more to see whether we can't survive on those either.
The first, DPExpert [NOT ACTIVE YET], will be devoted to digital photography.
It's a joint effort with Terry Lane, our co-writer on The Age's Imaging section. Terry's reviews have quickly become an indispensable navigational aid for anyone trying to penetrate the fog of sales talk and specifications that can make what is, after all, a substantial investment, more than a litle problematic. His tips on using software and services to get the best out of your images are equally prized.
What else will we be doing at dpexpert.com? Well, we'll try to keep you up to date with industry news, link you to other resources, alert you to what's happening in the market, and provide a forum for you to discuss your pictures, your cameras and your problems.
We'll also be offering a pretty cheap hosting service for your picture galleries, so you can share them with friends and family, and fellow DPExpert users.
We probably won't be up until much later today, and it will take us quite a while to post the material that we've already assembled and get the forum and gallery working, but we hope quickly to become a highly valued fixture on your list of Favourites/Bookmarks.
April 28, 2005
Reviving your Inbox
We admit it. The Bleeding Edge Inbox is out of control. At last count we had something like 6000 messages in there, and we honestly don't know when we're going to get the time to prune it back to something more manageable. Like, say, a dozen messages.
This has all come about because we lack a real system. We do things like putting a message aside until we have time to answer it, then getting snowed under and losing track of it. Plus, we've got too many mailboxes, which aren't particularly well targeted.
According to Mac World's Merlin T. Mann (how can you argue with someone called Merlin, particularly when he runs the 43folders site?) we've got to have no more than seven mailboxes, and we've got to learn how to use them properly. Also, we've got to put ourselves on an email diet. We can't treat ourselves to new stuff any more than hourly.
Nokia's iPod killer?
Nokia's just announced a new range of phones that are clearly designed to end what the company hopes will have been a brief love affair with the iPod. For that matter, it might deal a telling blow to the Treo and other Smart Phones.
The threee phones in Nokia's Nseries offer features like 3G capability, Carl Zeiss Optics, megapixel cameras, VHS resolution video and WLAN, and - here's where it gets really interesting - multi-gigabyte memory.
Who needs an iPod when you can store up to 3000 songs on the 4GB hard disk that you'll find on the Nokia N91 [pictured]? It's been optimised for music, and because it comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and USB 2.0, connecting to your music collection and managing everything with PC Suite is going to be very easy.
Or, if you happen to be more interested in digital photography, there's the Nokia N90 - the first camera phone equipped with Carl Zeiss optics. It takes 2 megapixel images, and VHS resolution video.
The Nokia N70, says Nokia. is the world's smallest Series 60 based 3G WCDMA device. It has a 2 Megapixel camera and offers push email, HTML browser, music player and FM radio with stereo audio.
The range offers large color displays, HTML web browser and streaming video, push email with attachments. Because the N series is based on Nokia's popular Symbian-based Series 60, there are thousands of add-on applications.
Nokia's been busy on other fronts. It's also unveiled three new models in the mid-range 60s series - the Nokia 6021, 6030 and 6230i, with the 6230i gaining a a megapixel camera and push to talk functionality. And another thing: the Nokia 5140i camera phoneis aimed at "active-minded consumers", who can't run around the Tan or Central Park without a "dust and spash-resistant" phone.
Your (crappy) iPod radio station
The Podcasting infection rate seems to be far more virulent than we suspected. As the commercial radio world scrabbles to broaden its playlists and cut down on the number of ads to try to convince listeners not to turn off, one San Francisco commercial station intends to move over entirely to Podcasting.
The station will rename itself KYOURRadio, and play digital audio uploaded by its listeners. This is what it has to say for itself:
We envision KYOURADIO as a station for the people. We think you have something to say and we want to hear it. You're out there creating, riffing, ranting and raving and Infinity is going to give voice to your vision. In fact, we want to share it with the world. KYOURADIO will no doubt evolve over time, but our intention is to make the experience as real as possible. Input from the world at large will provide lots of inspiration and plenty of constructive criticism.
And then it asks the following question: "Doesn't everyone have a streak of genius waiting to be heard?"
The answer is a resounding NOOOoooo! Please! NOOOooo!
Most of the Podcasts we've heard are self-indulgent raves that simply aren't worth listening to. No offence to Cameron Reilly and Mick Stanic, whose G'day World podcast aggregator just seems to be totally beloved of various authorities. Honestly. We can't think why. Have they ever listened to one of those sessions?
They're clever chaps, Cameron and Mick. They run good blogs, they're full of great ideas, and we've enjoyed chatting to them from time to time. But somehow, when they get in front of a microphone their tongues just seem to belt along, WAAaay in front of their brains. And nothing it seems, can get them to stop (which is one of the hidden dangers of VOIP, if you ask us.)
The idea of hearing nothing but that sort of stuff is appalling, frankly. If you thought talk-back radio was bad, this stuff will turn you into a totally manic book lover.
The Bleeding Edge early warning service
Our alter ego, Peter Moon, has just mentioned on the Jon Faine Show the debacle a lot of users have been put through with Trend Micro's show-stopping anti-virus update. One caller expects to get his PC back today, after everything went dead.
Never one to miss an opportunity for self-promotion, we must point out that he might have saved a lot of time and money had he followed the instructions we linked to on Monday. And regular readers of the blog would have avoided loading the thing.
If you're seeking compensation for loss associated with this disaster, you can email Trend Micro at email@example.com and discover more here.
Musical chairs with iTunes Australia
The saga continues. The link to itunes.com.au is still dead. The buttons AppleInsider spotted don't seem to appear in iTunes software, and some Australian users have managed to download tracks for $A1.69 apiece. Ho hum.
Journalists vs Bloggers
We've scoured the online version of The Age to find a link to Rob O'Neil's piece in Livewire this morning in which he [or at least the sub-editor who wrote the heading] asks, "Who's winning in the fight to write between bloggers and journalists?"
Unfortunately, the story doesn't answer the question. What it does, essentially, is point out that some bloggers - Kevin Aylward of the conservative Wizbangblog, and ultra-conservative Patrick O'Brien, of Clarity & Resolve, have enormous contempt for journalists working in the media, and blogs like BoingBoing, written by that sort of journalist, while Kurt Anderson, the founder of Inside.com, has said some particularly nasty things about bloggers, specifically that they're remoras [parasitic fish that hang around sharks] and "a second-tier journalistic species". What's more, opines Mr Anderson,
The Times and CNN and CBS News are the whales and sharks to which [bloggers] instapundit, Kausfiles and Kos attach themselves for their free rides.
There are a couple of problems with this story. First, it was run at slightly greater length in the Sydney Morning Herald more than a month ago, which is why we couldn't find it in today's online edition. Given that The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald share the same online material, that means that a lot of people who read The Age will have already read it. No doubt bloggers around the world will have a great chortle over THAT!
The second is that there are many home-grown examples of this sort of antipathy that surely were more pertinent to the local scene. Here and here for instance, where Miranda Devine is taken to task by a blogger for making things up. Some bloggers might suggest that perhaps those examples weren't used, because Miranda writes for the same newspaper as Rob O'Neil. We don't believe that's true, by the way, because Rob's a highly competent, hard-working journalist whose attention was almost certainly focused overseas because of the blogging awards. But again, it's surely not a great showcase for mainstream journalism.
In general, however, we think the story is disappointing, because it scarcely breaks the surface tension on a deep and fascinating issue that's been much more profoundly explored by people like Jay Rosen here, rebutted here, here and certainly here, where Dan Gillmor has switched from mainstream to something he calls citizen's journalism, which seems to be an increasingly powerful phenomenon in the US, and as far as we can tell, non-existent over here. The reasons for that would make a very good story, we're sure, but somehow we doubt that our mass media will be tackling it.
Rob's piece would have been a better story, in our view, if Rob had ventured a comment. Such as, for instance, this one from Betsy Newmark, a history and civics teacher in the Carolinas:
I think it is becoming more and more clear that journalism is not a profession that demands specialized training like being a lawyer or doctor. Mostly, you need to know how to write and write quickly. You need research skills. And you need access to stories. "Amateurs" blogging from home can have the first two skills. And, as Jeff Jarvis said on CNN this weekend, whereever the public can appear at functions, they can blog. The circle of stories that only journalists can report is becoming more limited. I would like to picture the interrelationship between bloggers and journalists as an unspoken partnership. They can go out there and do the reporting where bloggers can't or won't go. Bloggers can add their own bits of research and use their memories to make connections to previous stories such as Captain Ed finding the previous quote that Eason Jordan had made alleging that the military had tortured journalists. And people will benefit from having more information available to them than they had previously.
Bleeding Edge has pretty much the same point of view. The Age is a great newspaper, and the community would be much poorer if it fails to survive in this new and immensely challenging media world. Its chances of doing that would be much better, in our opinion, if it explored topics like this with a great deal more vigour.
And by the way, here's an interesting discussion on the topic from the ABC's Media Report.
The war between you, your PVR, and TV
Ever since the introduction of digital television, Bleeding Edge has been forced to revise our thinking about what exactly constitutes a computer, and for that matter, what defines a television set and a video recorder.
A few months ago, for instance, we wrote about Development One’s Home Media Centre, which is a Linux-based PC. What makes it a good deal more versatile than the average PC is the fact that it runs an open source package called MythTV.
There’s an increasing number of systems like this. They include Microsoft’s Windows Media Centre, a vastly cheaper alternative called ShowShifter, and an open source version of that called Media Portal. You can have the same sort of capabilities with a Mac, using devices like the Elgato EyeTV digital TV recorder.
Typically these computers are equipped with a digital video card, which allow them to receive free to air and pay TV transmissions, and record them to the hard drive. That turns them into a television set and a video recorder.
The Home Media Centre has an additional worthwhile feature. Using its Ethernet card, it can connect to the Internet and download an electronic program guide (EPG) maintained by Development One.
It’s a feature that produces the most accurate, user-friendly video recorder you’ve ever used. You can schedule a recording with a few clicks on its remote control, and it will automatically name the program and save it, so that you can select it from a menu and watch it when you like – a procedure that’s called “time shifting”. Push a button on the remote, and you skip past the ads 30 seconds at a time.
The Home Media Centre looks like a PC – albeit a very small one – and its PC design makes it less than totally desirable as a component of a home entertainment system. It tends to be noisy, it emits a good deal of heat, and it doesn’t have a quick wake-up function that would save power. Intel is working on a new motherboard form factor that will address those issues.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been playing with a product called the Topfield 5000PVRt. It doesn’t look like a computer, and therefore doesn’t suffer from some of those disadvantages of the PC form factor.
Officially, it’s a set-top box (STB) and PVR (Personal Video Recorder). Like other consumer devices – and unlike the current version of the Home Media Centre – you can put it on stand-by, and it will wake itself up when its timer tells it to record a show. That saves a lot of power.
But it does have an operating system, and a hard drive. It also has a USB connection. It is, in fact, a computer, which means it can be programmed. It also has two video cards, which allows you to record two programs at the same time, or watch one while recording another.
Until recently, it didn’t have an EPG, but now you can subscribe to the Iceguide service from IceTV, which we wrote about last year, when it was still being developed by Blue Mountains-based inventor, Peter Vogel. You can buy a subscription for $3 a week.
The Iceguide covers all the free-to-air channels in Sydney and Melbourne (which will shortly extend to other capitals), up to seven days in advance. The software is simple to install on your PC, and it fetches the updates and uploads them to the Topfield without a hitch.
Iceguide also works with systems from MythTV, ShowShifter and Media Portal. It’s not officially supported by Windows Media Centre, but there are third-party applications that will hook it up.
The interesting thing about the Topfield is that it has spawned a user community that not only loves to exchange information on the product, but also likes to tinker with it.
They are able to do that because the Korean manufacturer released the Topfield’s API (Application Programming Interface), and continually improve its features. If you know how to program, you can use the API to produce modifications called TAPs (Topfield Application Programs). You can find a list of them here.
Probably the best we’ve seen is ProgressBarKeys, which was written by a Perth programmer, Andy Cullen. For $20, it adds considerable functionality to the remote control buttons.
If you invest in a PVR of any type, you’ll quickly find that you’ve enlisted in an ongoing war between viewers and the program executives of the various channels.
Your object is to use the PVR to watch programs at your convenience, preferably without ads. The networks want you to stick to their schedules, and to watch every second of the paid commercials. They don’t like PVRs, and they have developed strategies for frustrating them. For instance, they might abruptly change the published schedule, so you end up with a partly-recorded program. And because these systems work on clocks, they run their programs on different clock times.
TAPs allow you to counter those tactics, by automatically padding out the recording times, and quickly jumping over the ads. ProgressBarKeys does many things, but it is particularly useful for that. It programs the red key on the remote to jump three minutes at a time, and – for those inevitable occasions when the jump takes you past the program resumption - to scroll back 10 seconds at a time.
We’re pretty sure this is an activity that thousands of Australians will quickly find themselves mastering, as they begin to use what we’ve come to think of as our second computer.
April 27, 2005
iTunes Australia right on the button
Apple Insider has been doing some further sleuthing on the Australian iTunes story, and has uncovered flags for five new and unannounced stores - Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark on the iTunes music server.
So it looks like it IS set to announce a substantial increase in its online music stores on the second anniversary of the opening of its first store. Which is just a couple of hours away.
And the price of $A1.80 a track seems to be correct also.
We guess Apple will be suing to find out who released THIS trade secret too. That could be bad news for Russell Crowe, who just can't seem to keep his trap shut.
Microsoft getting to go with Smart Phones?
Microsoft hopes to dramatically re-route sales of its competitor, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, with the release of the next generation of its Smart Phone - code-named Magneto - the secret ingredient of which, if we get John Markoff's drift correctly, seems to be some sort of distillation of the philosophy behind the Chinese strategy game, Go.
After losing money for years on its Windows Mobile division - last year it dropped another $US224 million - the Seattle giant tapped one-time maths prodigy Dr Ya-Qin Zhang (pronounced yah-CHEEN jong), 39, who had helped start Microsoft's Beijing research laboratory in 1999 to turn things around. The new product will be the first indication of whether he's likely to succeed.
In what veterans of Windows software engineering will regard as a novel departure from the usual Microsoft style, Dr Zhang has attempted to create a new focus on quality, rather than a grab-bag of new features, most of which are neither understood nor needed.
The old recipe has served Microsoft poorly in the smart phone segment, where competitors like Symbian, owned by a consortium of cellular handset makers, and PalmOne and PalmSource, with its Treo, have been well ahead of the game.
Symbian had 80.7 percent of the smart phone software market in the third quarter of last year, compared with 8.4 percent for PalmSource and 7.3 percent for Microsoft, according to Gartner Dataquest, although most of Symbian's business came from Nokia, ironically largely due to the Nokia Series 60 phone, which is more phone than organiser.
That might be discouraging to Dr Zhang, but what with being a more than useful player of Go, he apparently knows a thing or two about patience.
Frankly we're not completely sure that John Markoff had very much information to work with, beyond the fact that Dr Zhang played Go, and had to be reminded by Microsoft staffers that late-night staff meetings prevented them from eating with their families.
And what are we to make of this inscrutable paragraph?
In his own home, [Zhang] says, phones powered by the new Microsoft software have received favorable reviews from an influential tester: his wife. "When my wife uses the phone, my life is a little better," he said, with his usual penchant for understatement. "I get better meals."
The new phone includes a recipe book?
Word 2003 via your personal trainer
Possibly the best online resource for Word users, the mvps.org site, had a look at an O'Reilly title called Word 2003 Personal Trainer.
According to the O'Reilly press release, the books in the Personal Trainer series (which also include books on Access 2003, Excel 2003, Outlook 2003, PowerPoint 2003 and Windows XP) “offer all the advantages of working out under the guidance of a qualified trainer” because they “provide short, focused lessons on specific tasks that can be read in any order, depending on your objectives and skill level. The task-specific lessons—or ‘workouts’—are laid out in two-page spreads designed to boost individual learning and retention.”
They rated it as an excellent read for novices and even experienced users. Not, however, for experts.
A Firefox extension for control freaks
It's a monster app. Install this, and you can bend every Web page to your will.
You start it up by right-clicking on the page and choosing it from the menu. The extension will run until you leave, refresh, or stop it by pressing “Q” for quit. As you glide the mouse over the page, you will see a red rectangle framing each element under the cursor. You will also see a little yellow caption showing the HTML element type and its class or id if they exist. A selection of keystrokes achieve different things. B, for instance, turns the text to black on a white background. R removes an element. I isolates it from everything else on the page. E erases something - perfect for getting rid of the ads before you print a page.
The developers have more plans for Aardvark. Possibly a keystroke that would eliminate the Bush Government or capture Osama Bin Laden. They're clearly OCD types.
iTunes definitely here tomorrow. Possibly.
Apple Insider has put together all the omens, and it's convinced Apple will open its local iTunes Music Store tomorrow.
The intelligence - hopefully more reliable than that Weapons of Mass Destruction stuff - is this:
- Russell Crowe recently told radio listeners the iTunes music store would be selling his stuff for $A1.80 a track on April 28.
- Local DJ Bexta says conversations with ones and zeroes will be one of the first albums on sale, and music industry sources claim Apple has arranged a massive advertising campaign for tomorrow.
Apple Insider says it has confirmed that Apple Australia now owns the itunes.com.au domain. But today, at least, clicking on it gets you nowhere.
Steve Jobs redesigns free speech
Having already given us the iGag - a beautifully engineered device to force online journalists to rat on their contacts - it seems that Steve Jobs has now come up with the iBookBurner.
Clearly, Jobs wasn't at all impressed with the publication of a book called iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, possibly because it offers "an unflinching account of the rise, fall and rebirth" of Apple's born-again CEO.
Jobs responded by ordering the removal of all offending publisher John Wiley and Son's books from every Apple store. The move is likely to hurt authors of other titles much more than iCon authors, journalist Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon.
The book might have been passed over by readers had it not been drawn to their attention by the ban. We could see it being re-issued with a new title: iCon: The Book Steve Jobs Doesn't Want You To Read.
Hobbit is concerned that readers might miss his comment alerting us to "an incredibly useful Firefox extension", SOoo ...
Chances are no one will read this, but there is an incredibly useful extension called SwiftTabs, that lets you "Move to the next/previous tab" with two buttons (mine are f3 and f2 respectively). It is a chip off the Opera block, which uses the 1 and 2 buttons to achieve the same thing. It's an absolute must if you are a 'tab whore' like me. Makes tab navigation a dream.
April 26, 2005
On getting smarter with TVs
You just can't please some people. Just yesterday we alerted you to the concept of the "sleeper curve", and the New York Times Magazine article which argued that television viewing is good for the brain.
Soaps certainly seem to have stimulated the minds of Sydney Morning Herald readers, who have expended considerable energy on establishing the meaning of various shows.
Over at Slate, however, Dana Stevens claims [possibly because he hasn't been watching enough episodes of Desperate Housewives] that he couldn't understand the NYT article at all. Which doesn't stop him making this observation:
Johnson's claims for television as a tool for brain enhancement seem deeply, hilariously bogus — not unlike the graphically mesmerising plot diagram he provides of "any episode" of Starsky and Hutch as a foil for the far fancier grid representing The Sopranos.
On the other hand, he doesn't have a lot of sympathy for the people behind TV Turnoff Week the principles of which have been greatly aided by a device that can painlessly put to sleep practically any television set in one's immediate locality.
One of the great things about Firefox is its configurability. You can tweak it for better performance, and get it to work precisely the way you want it to. That requires a basic understanding of its preferences, and the use of About:config.
Bleeding Edge subscribes to Brian Livingston's Windows Secrets newsletter, and in a recent edition he included a very good introduction to the topic.
Another online fraud gambit
Here's the latest scam out of Nigeria, Ghana and Eastern Europe. You sell something online, and in return receive a money order, or someone offers you a fee for cashing a money order. The only problem is, the money orders are counterfeit.
In the US, they've discovered fake money orders have replaced dud cheques as the currency of choice for online scammers. According to postal inspectors, more than 3,700 counterfeit postal money orders to the value of millions of dollars were intercepted from October to December last year, exceeding the total for the previous 12 months.
The forgeries were pretty good ones, despite the fact that the postal money order is generally regarded as one of the more difficult financial documents to counterfeit because of its watermarks, security threads and a rainbow of inked patterns and tones.
They have been received by small Internet retailers, classified advertisers or others lured into an Internet confidence scheme, from sellers of Siberian Husky puppies in Iowa to art dealers in Indiana. Some consumers, authorities say, are simply not using common sense.
At least one of the victims, Kevin McCrary, a 56-year-old Manhattan business consultant, agrees. He signed up for an international dating site, and just a week after beginning his correspondence with someone claiming to be a young Nigerian woman, helped her buy a laptop for $1500. As soon as he received two postal notes in payment, he shipped the laptop off to Nigeria. His comment:
"I couldn't reach around far enough to kick myself."
Liberte, egalite etc for French DVD owners
A French court has ruled that DVD copy protection devices are incompatible with private copying rights, after French consumer organisation UFC-Que Choisir took up the case of a consumer who was unable to copy a DVD he'd purchased.
The customer wanted to copy Mulholland Drive, a David Lynch film produced by Alain Sarde and Studio Canal, onto a video cassette to allow him to watch the film at his mother’s, who did not have a DVD player.
The translation at Peer Pressure says the Paris Court of Appeal also faulted the DVD producers for lack of consumer information. The label “CP” for “Copy Protected” was on the jacket, but in “small characters” and not sufficiently explicit.
The decision seems to support the view of opponents of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the US, whose opponents claim that it contradicts its fair use laws.
Unfortunately we imagine it doesn't create a precedent under Australian law, where the Government has been so eager to put the interests of copyright holders ahead of the interests of the people who elect them that we don't have a right to private copying, unlike consumers in say, the US, UK, Canada, etc., etc.
Our elected representives are apparently still considering maybe, possibly, giving us the rights of other developed nations. Perhaps if the studios don't object too strenuously. Don't hold your breath.
April 25, 2005
Vodafone's GPRS problems
While Bleeding Edge has been falling in love with the Treo 650 on the Telstra network, Syd has been having some major problems with his Treo 650 dropping GPRS on the Vodafone network.
He's just been informed by the tech support people that they've had huge GPRS problems on their network. One trucking customer was "losing $$$ ever minute" because their national logistics system relies on Vodafone's GPRS.
Not a great recommendation for Vodafone.
Optus 3G leapfrogs Telstra and Vodafone
We've had some cryptic suggestions that Telstra has bungled its 3G mobile network roll-out [we're snooping around for more details], which might account for the fact that Optus will this week be announcing commencement of services in April in Canberra - why are they wasting it on public servants for God's sake? - while Telstra says we won't be hearing from them until July.
Who says TV rots your brain?
According to the New York Times Magazine, an episode of 24 lasts 44 minutes - a real-time hour, minus 16 minutes for commercials [so maybe it should really be called, let's see, 15 1/2]- connects the lives of 21 distinct characters, each with a clearly defined "story arc", as the Hollywood jargon has it: a defined personality with motivations and obstacles and specific relationships with other characters.
They're woven [and we're pretty sure you can blame Dramatica Pro for this] through nine primary narrative threads, each drawing extensively upon events and information revealed in earlier episodes. The rest of you might be on the couch, but according to Steven Johnson, your brain is undergoing such a workout that it probably needs a couple of chapters of War and Peace just to relax.
For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a path declining steadily toward lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the "masses" want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies try to give the masses what they want. But as that 24 episode suggests, the exact opposite is happening: the culture is getting more cognitively demanding, not less.
Thus we're introduced to the Sleeper Curve, "the single most important new force altering the mental development of young people today". And while the mass media torments itself worrying that television is mindless escapism promoting addiction, violence, and made consumer spending, we might actually be raising a generation of terribly clever people who are completing informal degrees at a sort of prime-time university.
Music industry frustrates online buyers
Online music purchases grew 900 per cent in 2004, but it might drop away substantially given that British customers are increasingly frustrated by restrictions on the use of their purchases.
A survey by UK computer magazine PC Pro revealed many of its readers had paid for music and been unable to play it, or had been forced to pay twice for the same track.
Then there's the price. Despite the fact that there's no physical product to take delivery of, the prices are steep - so steep that a lot of buyers consider digital music poor value. The response of the music industry - why are we not surprised by this? - is to consider upping the prices even more.
Then there's the matter of the Apple Music Store charging its UK customers more than its European customers, which has brought them under investigation by the European Commission.
So while the recording industry is busily suing everyone in sight for illegal downloads, it's doing its best to strangle the legal downloading business in its crib. Brilliant!
Make money on the Web: patronise your readers!
The Wall Street Journal's Technology round-up carries a story [PAY WALL] on a survey by the Nielsen Norman Group that probably makes a lot of adults feel better by suggesting that teenagers aren't the techno-whizzes everyone thinks they are. Among other failings, they can complete "perfectly feasible" tasks on a Web site only 55% of the time.
The rest of the time, like a lot of adults, they give up, says the firm co-founded by Web interface expert Jakob Nielson and Donald Norman, former Apple demi-God, and author of some pretty interesting books on user-interface like Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles, and Things That Make Us Smart.
Other observers [including Bleeding Edge] dispute the findings. Jack Myers, editor and publisher of the Jack Myers Report, a New York-based publication for the media and advertisement industries, suggests that teenagers are pretty damned smart, and have been away ahead of adults in things like Instant Messaging and mobile phones. We're not sure if the Wall St Journal has ever spent any time watching teenagers play computer games, but having done so, Bleeding Edge is inclined to the view that their problem-solving abilities are WAY ahead of the average adult's. Also, they tend not to faint at the idea of trouble-shooting a dead PC.
But having accepted the Nielsen Norman thesis, they have the following advice for retailers hoping to sneak up on these teenagers when they're out on the Web, and sell them things:
Web sites need to consider traits of the average teen - lack of patience, short attention span, image consciousness and a lack of literary sophistication - in designing a site's look and functions.
In a reflection of one of the historic homilies of the newsroom - write for an average age of about 10 - Jakob Nielsen suggests making text "fast and easy".
Ideally, you want a reading level one or two grade levels below the age of your actual target audience so that you accommodate the weaker readers in the group. In general, though, shorter words and sentences are better.
Sounds like the usual formula business types have in mind when they use the term "interactivity" - pop in a Buy button. And who knows, maybe they might be more susceptible to spilling cash than the average user, given that according to Rob Callender, trends director at market research firm Teenage Research Unlimited, 49% of teenage males and 41% of teenage females have shopped online, dropping $82 on the average e-shopping trip last year.
Callender's view is that teenagers like information in "frenetic little bits." We suspect adults might find it a little more difficult to navigate the same sites as teenagers in future if retailers accept his advice: "They don't like you to speak in complete sentences."
Nielsen Norman recommends simplified site navigation and a prominent search box to limit the need for instructions. The study praises Pepsi.com, for example, for its clearly labeled boxes that make it easy for users to understand what clicking each box will do. That might help the adults too.
Slow death by anti-virus update
If you're running Trend Micro PC-cillin anti-virus, and your machine has been acting up, you might check this out.
Rafe Needleman found that after his wife and his mother installed a pattern update for their anti-virus package, CPU usage shot to 100 per cent. He had to boot both PCs in safe mode, delete the bad file, and then reboot. His comment:
I fear this update might be causing very serious problems out there in the real world, where people don't have access to geeks willing to run down bugs like this.
April 24, 2005
Some kudos for Telstra
Telstra's decision to make GPRS Internet access available free for its Pre-Paid Plus customers from April 6 to June 5 is a great way to introduce the service to customers.
We couldn't find any reference on the Telstra Web site, but if you call 125 8889 on your Telstra Pre-Paid Plus mobile, you'll hear all about it.
Syd [thanks for the tip] is trying it out on his Treo 650, and so far he's found it rock solid.
We have tended to be umm, mildly critical of Telstra from time to time, largely because of Big Pond and their lamentably poor service, over-charging and throttling of broadband speeds which are all holding back the Australian community, and in particular the business community.
We're much more positive about Telstra's traditional networking and mobile phone services. You can get cheaper deals, and their response to replacing those RIMs and pair gains systems that make it impossible for a lot of people to get ADSL could be improved, but the networks are generally solid and the coverage outstanding. That's why we still have a Telstra mobile.
We'd like to see them do a few more things like this to give some additional value to their subscribers. This is a good start. We're prepared to give them a koala stamp.
April 23, 2005
Free MP3s from Amazon, via Greasemonkey
Amazon.com doesn't just want to sell you books and CDs etc. They
want wanted to give you free stuff as well, such as DRM-free MP3s - hoping, of course, that you might want to buy the albums. Unfortunately, some time after we downloaded a lot of tracks, they closed the service for international users.
If you're in the US, the current list - updated every six hours - includes [let's see, just at random] Alison Krauss, Martha Wainwright, Aimee Mann, Moby, Beck, Bloc Party, and Ella Fitzgerald. Tom Waites. And, umm Bach's Sanctus. You're bound to find a lot you like among the 200 that are up there.
The downloading process is quite tedious, but it's made beautifully simple via a Greasemonkey script from Jesse Andrews.
Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension, which lets you change the behaviour of any Web page.
For example you could: * Make sure that all URLs displayed in the browser are clickable * Improve the usability of a site you frequent * Route around common and annoying website bugs * Use the Coral content network selectively.
You can learn a lot more about it at the Greasemonkey blog.
And here's some useful Greasemonkey user scripts.
Telstra to end anti-efficiency conspiracy
According to Telstra, the organisation is suffering from too much administration. Somehow, while nobody was watching, it seems to have accumulated "layers of management" that spend their time slowing down the decision-making process, and frustrating front-line staff.
That, at any rate, is the story managing director of corporate affairs Michael Herskope gave as he explained the fact that 4000 senior and middle managers were being assessed in a program of "organisation architecture". You know. The sort of "architecture" that's practised with a wrecking ball. According to Mr Herskope:
The program was introduced primarily to remove layers of management in the company to in turn provide front-line staff with a more efficient environment - remove bureaucracy so they make decisions quicker. It's about improving our service to customers.
Bleeding Edge can't help but admire the way they put these things. Who's going to complain about any organisation "cutting back bureaucracy"? The very idea of taking out a management scythe, sharpening it up, and lopping off lots of bureaucrats at the ankles fills us with a kind of savage joy. It's so much less challenging than, for instance, "floating bodies downstream".
What we'd be fascinated to know, however, is exactly how they propose to identify those bureaucratic types who are excess to requirements. Do they come to work in bowler hats? Or do you nail them in an interview with some clever questioning? "Tell me Brown. Let's be really frank. You've always secretly LIKED Sir Humphrey Appleby. Haven't you? Hmmnn?"
And how did they train them? "Look here, young Smithers. We've got an important job for you. We've discovered that many of our middle and senior managers have been making decisions far too quickly. We want you to go in and slow them down. We don't care how you do it. Write some more memos. Invent new forms to fill in. Whatever it takes, Smithers. This reckless speed must be stopped. It's up to you."
We love the idea that there's been some sort of conspiracy within the ranks of Telstra to appoint front-line staff to provide better service to their customers, and immediately appoint others to stop them doing so.
In fact that seems to be precisely what has happened in Telstra Wholesale, with the report on Whirlpool this week that Telstra is obstructing the migration of customers from Telstra DSLAMs to competing DSLAMs that offer faster speeds and lower prices. There must be lots of those bureaucrats in that department, because they're only agreeing to tackle 100 of them at a time, and they're taking EIGHT WEEKS to do each of them.
Telstra claims the process isn't easy because it involves disconnecting a physical wire from its DSLAM and connecting it to the competitor's DSLAM. "It is a relatively complex exercise requiring close cooperation and deployment of resources as technicians need to physically disconnect and reconnect individual lines", Telstra Wholesale told Whirlpool.
Eight weeks! To disconnect and connect a wire. They're so damned inefficient, Telstra's saving a fortune delaying the exit of frustrated customers. We think we can help Michael Herskope with his job. Start the interviewing process at Telstra Wholesale. You'll get much less bureaucracy if you let the efficiency architects loose on that mob. As long as you're quite sure, of course, that "a more efficient environment" is what you're really after.
April 22, 2005
Nikon - a class act
We have to give Nikon top marks for its decision to upgrade the D70 SLR firmware so that their customers get the functionality of the new D70s. For free!
The upgrade will be available next month.
Business Week gets blogs
Business Week is so excited about the potential of blogs, that it's dedicated a cover to the topic, under the heading Blogs Will Change Your Business. According to the Bible of business:
Go ahead and bellyache about blogs. But you cannot afford to close your eyes to them, because they're simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself. And they're going to shake up just about every business -- including yours. It doesn't matter whether you're shipping paper clips, pork bellies, or videos of Britney in a bikini, blogs are a phenomenon that you cannot ignore, postpone, or delegate. Given the changes barreling down upon us, blogs are not a business elective. They're a prerequisite.
Despite the fact that there's an awful lot of blogs - 9 million at last count and 40,000 new ones popping up every day - they haven't yet caught on with everyone. A Pew Research Centre report says only 27 per cent of Internet users bother to read them.
But Business Week informs readers that "40 new blogs a day could be talking about your business, engaging your employees, or leaking those merger discussions you thought were hush-hush".
The good news, it declares, in its predictable but compelling style:
Potential customers are out there, sniffing around for deals and partners. While you may be putting it off, you can bet that your competitors are exploring ways to harvest new ideas from blogs, sprinkle ads into them, and yes, find out what you and other competitors are up to.
It's a cute story, done in the style of a blog. If you're considering entering the blog business, or just cosying up to a blog in the way Rupert Murdoch suggested his newspapers would do, you should read it.
Bleeding Edge has been re-evaluating Gmail, and we have to say it's pretty impressive. We're thinking of doing a story on it, but the problem is, of course, that it requires an invitation. We wonder if anyone might be able to point us towards any sources of Gmail invites.
The Holy Macintosh Church
If Umberto Eco was right, and the Macintosh is Catholic, while Windows is Protestant, then so far as the world of computers is concerned, the election of Pope Benedict XVI is beside the point, given that any ex cathedra statements are actually being delivered by Steve Jobs.
Apple products, according to the BBC's North America business correspondent, Stephen Evans, are objects of adoration.
To enter the Apple store in Manhattan is to enter a temple. Beneath its high vault, swish thin young men and women dressed from head to foot in black. They hold objects in their hands, strange white and silver objects, objects of devotion which they present to lay visitors, to the uninitiated who wander in from Prince Street seeking retail solace.
At the top of a set of broad stairs in the sun-lit store is an auditorium, a circle of seats much like those in a chapel, where one of the black-clad priests stands and delivers an encomium to the objects. There is reverence and a sense of being part of a movement.
We suspect that Stephen may have got a little over-excited about all this stuff. He probably suffered some sort of epiphany in the Macintosh Cathedral of Manhattan. But Umberto Eco definitely had a good point. Macs, he opined, were "cheerful, friendly, conciliatory," and would "tell the faithful how they must proceed step by step to reach - if not the Kingdom of Heaven - the moment in which their document is printed".
Whereas Windows PCs would "allow free interpretation of scripture, demand difficult personal decisions... And take for granted that not all can reach salvation. To make the system work you need to interpret the program yourself".
The Dell plan for world peace
As long as people go on ordering Dell computers, globalisation will continue to work, and the countries that supply and sell the components will remain at peace.
Friedman has been developing this theory since he observed that no two countries that both had McDonald's hamburger stores had ever fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's, leading to his Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention. He hypothesised that as countries are woven into the fabric of global trade and rising living standards, the cost of war for victor and vanquished became prohibitively high.
The Dell Theory expands on that, stipulating that no two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, such as Dell's, will ever fight a war against each other, because people embedded in major global supply chains don't want to fight old-time wars any more.
Doesn't it make you want to telephone Dell immediately, and order a laptop?
Aside from the bewildering linkages that occur between someone ordering a laptop in New York, and having it arrive in Nashville, via a chartered 747 flight from Penang, Malaysia and Taipei, Friedman has unearthed fascinating stuff like this:
If Wal-Mart was a country, it would now be China's eighth-biggest trading partner, ahead of Russia, Australia and Canada.
UPS ships 13.5 million packages a day - which means that at any given moment, 2% of the world's GDP is in the back of a UPS delivery truck.
When multinationals 'outsource' work to developing countries, they typically not only save 75% on wages, but also gain a 100% increase in productivity.
>Last year, of the 2.8 million science degrees awarded around the world, 1.2 million were gained by Asian students in Asian universities, and in China last year BScs in engineering represented 46% of all university degrees; in America, it was 5 per cent.
Don't ask what percentage of Australian graduates are engineers. The answer is too depressing.
April 21, 2005
Beware of "experts"
He's a nice enough chap, David Pogue, co-creator of the Missing Manual series of books that has since been bought out by O'Reilly, and now Circuits columnist in the New York Times.
But now that he's taken to writing about digital cameras, he's been upsetting our pal, Apal, who frankly thinks that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
In this article, for instance, Pogue reveals that he knows absolutely nothing about the RAW format, which he describes as "a cumbersome kind of picture", and therefore shouldn't be pretending to all those readers of the New York Times that they're getting expert advice. That's the polite version. The frank version from Apal is this: "The man's an idiot."
First, he writes about RAW as though it took him completely by surprise and that he was perplexed and indignant to find that RAW files are camera-specific. Hey, come on! Who doesn't know this?
Second, he is obviously ignorant of the fact that Adobe make available RAW converters for the files he was trying to open. These converters simply add-on to Photoshop and then you can "Browse" RAW images the same as jpegs or tiffs.
How can a person represent himself as an expert on digital photography and not know this? It means that he hasn't tried RAW before, which is disgraceful enough, but it also means that he is not aware of what Adobe offer by way of enhancements to Photoshop and Photoshop Elements 3 -- so he goes looking for some feeble little freeware RAW converter for his laptop.
And there is the dead giveaway -- it's a Mac! We might have guessed. RAW is a man's photo file format and the Mac is a girl's computer. I'm surprised that he even knew which end of the Nikon and Canon SLRs to look through. I bet he has a lilac ixus400 for personal use that plays Lavender Blue when he turns it on.
RAW is not "a cumbersome type of picture" -- it is the raw information from the camera which has not been processed. White balance, exposure, levels, curves, sharpness, contrast, noise reduction and other image parameters can be set in the computer by visual inspection and manual control. Where has this man been since day one of the digital revolution?
We can hardly wait for Apal's reaction to Pogue's review of those two cameras.
Thunderbird email problem
We were stumped this morning when a caller had a problem with an old email message that kept popping up in Thunderbird, even after deleting it several times.
We did quite a bit of searching on the Internet and couldn't find anyone with a similar problem. Finally we tracked down this warning about the necessity of regularly compacting your folders in Thunderbird. If you don't, you might find yourself subject to all sorts of weird behaviour.
You CAN be too thin, after all
It looks like being fashionably thin, can kill you. It's far healthier, it seems, to be a little overweight. In fact, according to a study by statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, printed in the New York Times, even if your weight is normal, you may be at greater risk of death than someone carrying a few extra kilos.
The study, acclaimed as the most rigorous yet on the effects of weight, controlled for factors like smoking, age, race and alcohol consumption, shows that only the very obese - just 8 per cent of the US population - are at greater risk of death from their weight.
We expect the findings will be challenged by the diet industry. And all those women's magazines.
We had a call on the Jon Faine show this morning from a country resident suffering from the same appallingly slow Internet connection speeds that blight rural areas. She's 9.5km from an exchange, and therefore can't get ADSL. The best she can get is something like 4Kbps, in the early morning, and as the day proceeds, it drops depressingly.
Bleeding Edge couldn't offer much encouragement, beyond suggesting that technology would eventually increase the operating distance of ADSL, and it seems Telstra is suggesting technology that could hook up ADSL as far as 20km from an exchange is on the way.
We've had a couple of emails since then suggesting that ISDN could help. This one had some practical experience to offer:
ISDN works down a single pair. 2x64kbps fully digital channels are provided. A second phone number is also provided which uses one of the channels. It is therefore possible to have internet access at approx 6.4 KBytes/sec and still make and receive phone calls via the second channel.
If 128 Kbps internet download speeds are desired, both channels can be used for internet access but with the temporary loss of the second phone line. In practice, I found that it made no difference to the download speeds I was able to achieve via Big Pond if I selected 128 Kbps. I was once able to achieve 100Kbps on a streaming internet TV site.The rest of the time downloads averaged around 6 Kbytes/sec
I say via Big Pond because at the time it was the only platform that supPorted home ISDN. Punitive per-hour data charges were applied if the customer had the temerity to use an ISP other than Big Pond! In practice Big Pond was the only home-based ISDN compatible ISP in town (that I am aware of - believe me I tried to find alternatives to BP without success). I consider the non-BP data charges to be a restrictive trade practice. I was looking forward to taking Telstra on but couldn't find another local-call-access ISP which supports dial-up ISDN.
As it was I should have been charged 30cents/hr/channel data download charges. These charges were never actually applied. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I complained to Telstra Country-Wide about the lack of anything approaching 128Kbps (12.8KBytes/sec) from the BP ISDN server. I also made the point that the only reason I had gone for ISDN was that my local exchange had not been conditioned for ADSL and that, as ADSL users were not charged per-hour data download charges, such charges for Home ISDN customers were discriminatory.
Now for the reason I'm telling you all this: ISDN, being digital, can improve line-speeds in the bush. No, definitely not to broadband speeds, but 6 KB/s is a threefold improvement over the 2 KB/s or lower line speeds ancountered by many country users. Telstra does not publicise the fact that ISDN can be made to work on lines 11+ km from the exchange by the addition of an ISDN specific booster to the line.
For country customers for whom the installation and/or running costs for 2-Way satellite internet access are too high, Home ISDN should at least be considered. Due to the parlous state of some country land-lines even boosted ISDN may not work, but, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
One thing that did impress me when I was an ISDN customer was the much higher level of responsive service I received when I needed it. I think a business-oriented culture within the Telstra ISDN group was responsible for this. Also, Tesltra Country Wide does in fact provide more responsive service than that provided to non-country customers. The Telstra CountryWide access number is 1800-OUR-TCW. Country customers who ring this number are automatically directed to the applicable regional TCW centre. Once they have spoken to a Telstra rep they can continue to access the same rep via the same number. I know this is hard to believe, but I can verify that this is the way it has worked for me.
If sufficient pressure is put on Testra to at least provide boosted ISDN to as many long-suffering country customers as possible, they will receive a tangible benefit. Certainly they should only connect ISDN if no data download charges are attached to their service. Hopefully these charges have by now been waived (I have not had ISDN for two years). If the charges still apply, new customers should individually negotiate with TCW to have them waived. If Telstra doesn't come to the party, they should complain to their local federal member.
Bleeding Edge has done some checking with Telstra on charges. Basically the PSTN connection has to be changed to ISDN. They send out a linesman to do this, and that will cost $190.30. In addition, the monthly line rental fee will increase from $29.95 to $45.50. (normally $29.95). Local calls will then cost 17.5c, and STD charges are capped at $1.50 in the evening. Internet and data calls cost 30c per hour. The Telstra customer support person we spoke to insisted though that the ISDN service could be used to call another ISP's 0198 number for a local call fee, so that the subscriber isn't forced (heaven forbid!) to use Big Pond. The Whirlpool forum might be essential reading on the topic.
We'd be interested in the experience of other ISDN users in the country.
Bleeding Edge also talked to the National Farmers Federation, and they pointed out that country users can take advantage of the Internet Assistance Program, which guarantees a 19.2kbps service.
Even more interesting, in our Forum, there's a post on the possibility of using Wi-Fi. The 9.5km shouldn't be a problem.
Mac Mini revisited
We've had the first post in the Apple section of the forum - that says a lot, doesn't it? - and it's from somebody who's thinking of buying a Mac Mini, and would like to know what the rest of us think.
Bleeding Edge pointed out what we thought back in January, and as we're slowly putting up articles on the site, we might as well revisit the topic.
The announcement of the Mac Mini led us to suggest to our hapless readers that they should all adopt entirely different New Year's resolutions to the ones they'd come up with themselves. The operative word, we suggested, was "Switch" - but not necessarily in the way Apple recommended in its celebrated "Switcher" ad campaign.
A few months later, with Apple reporting a dramatic increase in its sales, it seems that the following might have been precisely the view that a lot of Windows users took:
We're not suggesting that you should stop using your PC and join the Mac fraternity, which, it ought to be said at the outset, constitutes a mere 2 per cent of the personal computing community. From time to time, we've had the impression, from the sheer volume of email whenever we've said anything at all negative about Apple, that they outnumber Windows users by about five to one. We shudder to think what our inbox would be like if Apple's sales increased substantially.
What we're advocating instead is that if you're still using Windows 98, or, God help you, Windows ME or Windows 95, that you upgrade to Windows XP immediately. And if you've already got Windows XP and you are interested in digital music, particularly if you're one of many thousands of people who've bought an iPod or you've got a digital still or movie camera, that you consider switching between a PC and a Mac - whatever the effect that might have on our email.
For that matter, even if you'd just like to escape all those viruses and other security risks of internet browsing and email, think about being kind to yourself in 2005 and use the Mac as your interface to the world.
What we mean by all this is that you should continue to use your Windows computer and all those programs you've invested in over the years for which there's no Macintosh alternative. But give yourself the treat of using a Mac, which is unrivalled for its ease of use, its infinitely better security, and its package of free programs. They include the iLife suite - iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD and iTunes - which makes the creation, management and editing of digital content so much easier than anything we've found for Windows. (Yes, we know you can get a Windows version of iTunes, but the Mac version works much faster with your iPod.)
The Mac also gives you free use of programs such as iCal and iSync, which make it so much easier to create and share calendars and To Do lists with PDAs and laptops. And if you've got a .Mac account, their availability on the web is a breeze.
The announcement of Apple's new "headless" Mac, the Mac Mini, makes it much more affordable to do that, although it's by no means the best solution if you're considering abandoning Windows and embracing the Macintosh. For that, you'd be far better with one of the range of iMacs or G5 Macs.
But we think the price of this new Mac makes it an ideal second PC. A mere $799 gets you the entry-level Mac mini. It's got a 1.25 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and is "headless" and "fingerless", in that it doesn't have either a keyboard or mouse. But with a KVM switch, you can share the PC's screen, keyboard and mouse. In our opinion, that's a reasonable price to pay for the elegance and functionality of OS X, which is essentially a graphical user interface to Unix - albeit a greatly enhanced version of Unix - and for all those applications and the FireWire 400 bus.
You can pay extra for a more powerful version, and for a DVD super drive, but we'd suggest you think twice about doing that. You might find, a few months after you've started using the Mac, that you really would prefer to use it for everything, so the extra expense might be put to better use.
By that time, we will probably have had the release of Tiger, the enhanced version of Mac OS X - already the best PC operating system by far, in our opinion, and soon to be even better.
At the same event where Jobs announced the Mac mini, he gave a preview of some of Tiger's 200 new or enhanced features, including the improved Spotlight search engine technology, "smart" folders and email inboxes that will search for content that belongs in them, and better support for Samba file sharing, which will give you improved access to your Mac home directory from any Windows computer on your network. It's already much easier to bring up a Windows directory on your Mac than vice versa.
Bleeding Edge is quite happy using both Windows and the Mac, although we had to pay several thousand dollars a few years ago for a G4 to do that. At this price, the sheer joy of making your second computer a Mac seems to us irresistible. Even if the next time we say something less than complimentary about a Mac or Apple - which, let's face it, isn't perfect - our inbox completely fills up.
How to buy/build a workhorse PC
Every three months or so, we here at Bleeding Edge expose ourselves to the dangers of eye strain and cerebral overload, as we work our way through specifications and price lists, searching for the components for our workhorse PC.
It’s always a tricky thing, trying to balance hype against practical merit while applying some sort of cost-benefit analysis. We also try to pick up some intelligence on reliability of the various components, and identify price moves that might bring previously higher-end products into the realm of the real world.
It’s been particularly challenging over the past six to nine months, as we’ve been matching Intel CPUs against those of AMD. While AMD has eclipsed Intel in many key performance areas, we’ve been troubled in the past by factors like heat management, which have tipped the scale in favour of Intel. This month, we’ve chosen AMD.
CPU: AMD 64-030 3000+ While Intel is making a good deal of noise about their 64-bit extensions, they are still playing catch-up to AMD’s 64-bit capabilities. We like the sound of Intel’s EIST (Enhanced Intel Speed Technology), which allows the CPU to monitor its activities and reduce power consumption, but again they’re following the lead of AMD’s “Cool’n’Quiet” technology, which is now getting better support from motherboard manufacturers.
The chip we’ve chosen is the Athlon 64-939 3000+, which at $207 represents much better value than Intel’s 3GHz version, at $248.
MOTHERBOARD: Gigabyte GA-K8NF-9 The saving on the CPU allows us to go for a particularly nice motherboard, Gigabyte’s GA-K8NF-9, which is loaded with features. Its Nvidia nForce 4 chipset allows the board to use PCIe video cards, which are gradually replacing AGP video cards (although they still represent something like 70 per cent of the market), and has a hardware-accelerated firewall.
The board also supports faster Firewire 2, gigabit Ethernet, 8-channel sound, serial ATA (SATA) hard disks, and you can use your old PCI cards.
GRAPHICS CARD: 128M Sapphire X300XE Having gone for a PCIe board we have to get a PCIe video card. If you’re just running business apps, the 128M Sapphire X300XE at $91 is perfectly adequate. If you want to play the occasional game, you’ll probably want something more powerful. We think the best value card is Leadtek’s 6600GT, at $285.
The big development in graphics cards is SLI (Scalable Link Interface) technology, which allows two compatible video cards to work together rendering the one image, for roughly an 80% increase in video performance. In our view you should be cautious about SLI, at this early stage. You need to use the same brand of SLI-capable video card (at least $300 or so each), and unless you’re a rabid gamer, our suggestion is that you keep your hands in your pockets for a little while yet.
MONITOR: LG Flatron F700B We’ve been recommending this CRT monitor for a long time now, and we’re sticking with it, but we know some people just aren’t going to be able to resist an LCD screen. If thin is what you’re in to, there’s a couple of possibilities. We like the LG 1750 SQ-SN, with its 8ms response time, and at $345 it’s good value. But LG’s dead-pixel policy doesn’t impress us. They won’t replace a screen unless there are three dead pixels. Since a single dead pixel can drive you crazy, we recommend the little-known, but very good CMV 8ms version. They have a zero-pixel warranty provided you report it within 30 days. The screen also has a DVI socket, and includes a set of speakers.
RAM: 512MB Hyundai A happy development since we last did this exercise has been the substantial slump in the price of RAM. You can now buy 512MB of Hyundai RAM for just $67. Samsung memory is better, but it’s difficult to source.
DVD burner: LG GSA-4163B We’ve switched our recommendation for a dual-layer DVD burner. LG’s GSA-4163B is outstanding value at $79, particularly because, unlike the more expensive Pioneer, it includes Nero software.
HARD DRIVE: 160GB Seagate Barracuda We’ve increased the size of the hard drive to 160GB, on the assumption that you’re probably storing stacks of music and photos, and are probably considering downloading video. It's the 8MB cache model, SATA, and it will set you back $120.
Keyboard/Mouse: Microsoft, floppy drive We picked up the Microsoft keyboard/optical mouse package for $38. And a floppy drive costs $15.
CASE: Coolermaster Again, as the price of the total package has fallen, we’ve gone for a better case. The CoolerMaster case has come down to $115. Even better is the Thermaltek VB1400 Soprano at $145.
The total cost of our workhorse PC, allowing $70 for assembly, is $1126. Three months ago, the exercise would have cost $1243, and you would have had a much less powerful system.
Gmail goes RSS and makes search history
Hardly anyone seems to have noticed it yet, but Google has added an RSS reader called Web Clips to its free Gmail service. It displays headlines above your Inbox or message from feeds you can either add yourself, or choose from a Google selection. Because it alternates between headlines and ads, it's a cute way of getting your attention.
The feature is being added progressively to Gmail accounts - in what order nobody seems to know, although it was first spotted by former employee and Blogger co-founder Evan Williams - so if you can't see it yet, don't feel offended.
Not satisfied with that, Google has also released another exotic creature from its labs - My Search History. Just sign in to your free Google account - if you haven't got one, it might be a good idea to sign up at that link - and you'll be able to choose any day from a calendar.
It caches pages you've clicked on, allowing you to make a full- text search of the contents, which may be slightly different from this explanation.
Google seems to be engaged in a campaign of conquest by utility. Once you've signed up for an account, you can expect they'll be sidling up to you with lots of new features. The tactics are different from those of Microsoft, but the effects are likely to be identical: total world domination. We imagine Bill Gates is not having a good day today.
April 20, 2005
Help find Shrek
Someone's kidnapped Les's dog, and the least we can do is link to the poor dog's blog.
Study those markings carefully, check for the tattoo, and help bring Shrek home!
Remotely controlled flies
The fact that science has produced some genetically-engineered fruit flies that respond to a remote control - they'll jump, beat their wings and fly on command - will no doubt one day save an awful lot of money on fly spray, particularly if we can produce remote-controls for mosquitoes.
It occurred to us, however, that television can do much the same thing with humans. Flash a few commercials at them, and they'll open their wallets.
AMD - second but superior
There was AMD, preparing to launch its new dual core Opteron CPUs later this week, when suddenly Intel announces - surprise, surprise - it's shipping its own dual core product. While it might have been first out the gate, however, AMD has spent much longer developing its dual core chips, and technical analysts suggest their technology is better than Intel's.
They've also aimed their CPUs at the sort of market that can really use the gains in efficiency - which Intel suggests could be as much as 65 per cent. They'll be concentrating on the workstation and server market, while Intel's CPUs will be ear-marked for the insane gaming market. Tom's Hardware, in the meantime, takes a close look at AMD's chip-manufacturing operation.
Much more interesting, however, than all this advanced stuff that the average user would be mad to consider, there's a handy little benchmarking tool that allows you to compare the performance of all the AMD and Intel models.
April 19, 2005
Economic Hit Men down under
Bleeding Edge has just read a book called Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: How the U.S. Uses Globalization to Cheat Poor Countries Out of Trillions by a man called John Perkins, who served one of those American companies in the mould of Halliburton.
It's a shocking story. According to Perkins, the role of these companies is to extend the American empire at the expense of other countries. We therefore felt quite a chill reading this piece by SMH Webdiarist Richard Tonkin.
Perkins book described how, as his company's "chief economist", his job was to fudge the statistics to show that American construction projects would benefit the countries that paid for them, when in fact they were designed to incur debts that would deliver these countriesinto a form of economic slavery to the US.
So Tonkin's link to a paper in which the company once led by Vice-President Cheney sets out the benefits to South Australia from outsourcing to it, control of Adelaide's water supply, gave us an awful sensation of deja vu.
Perkins claims that in pursuit of its economic interests, the US arranged the assassination of two presidents of other countries, and suggests that the invasion of Iraq was arranged only when Saddam Hussein refused to accept a similar deal to one the US worked out with Saudi Arabia, which transferred a major share of its economic wealth to the US, in return for keeping the Saudi royal family in power.
The theory that Tonkin presents, in comments on that post, is essentially that Halliburton is taking over South Australia by stealth.
Why isn't it being reported in the Adelaide News? Well, in another post to the Webdiary, Tonkin expands on the theme with the following information:
At the risk of being called a "one trick pony" I'm still trying to get over the fact that, while he was running Halliburton, Dick Cheney's people [were] setting up printing plants for Rupert [Murdoch's] people in three capital cities. I've left the media release in the comments to my Halliburton piece.
You won't find it on the Halliburton site, you won't find it in a Murdoch publication (actually you'll find very little about Hal in a Murdoch [publication]). The fact that it's never been reported makes you wonder why? If the corporate bodies of the U.S. V.P and an international media baron are helping each other, this would be called "news", wouldn't it?
Maybe the possible ramifications of a concealed corporate symbiosis need to be considered, not to mention how many others may be so simply unrecorded in history.
This could be a much bigger story than Watergate. Why aren't we reading about it in the mainstream press?
We talked a little about this in the video interview with Jason Romney [see below], so it was quite a coincidence to come across this piece on the way PR companies are always there to help journalists do their job ... and get their clients' names into their stories.
Don't just sit there. Start something!
It's come to Microsoft's attention that maybe you've become a little jaded since Windows XP was released in October 2001, and that you've probably forgotten what the instruction of the day was, way back then, courtesy of the Rolling Stones ... yes ... you remember ... "Start me up!"
What with familiarity having set in, you probably now regard Windows XP as just another operating system, rather than a gateway to passion. [We're NOT talking about your pornography collection, Rupert! Don't be so literal!]
Accordingly, Bill's about to spend $200 million on a massive advertising campaign that's going to show you a lot of other people getting terribly excited about the absolutely key role that Windows XP plays in, let's see now ... things like cooking, education, sports, music, travel, theatre, photography, gaming and education. The theme of the campaign is "Start Something" and the idea is that you'll be so infected with these people's passions that you too, will want to umm, Start something for yourselves. There's even a new Web site, www.windows.com, devoted to the idea.
The clever thing about the campaign is that these people are fictional. Not being burdened with the reality of Windows, the ads won't be showing them cursing and banging their head against the wall when Windows won't Start something, or when, having started something, it suddenly Stops. That sort of thing has apparently discouraged a lot of you to the point that you no longer care about Windows.
And what with the next version coming along some time next year, it's absolutely essential that you start caring, or you might not go out and buy it. Like a lot of people who are still using Windows 98 etc, still haven't bought XP.
According to Ted Schadler, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, "The forces of phishing and spam and viruses and spyware and malware and all the rest of it have been nibbling away at Windows' perceived value. In fact, people are pretty negative on the product right now. Microsoft very badly needs consumers to care about Windows ... and to want to continue their relationship with the brand."
Otherwise they might perhaps prefer to Start Something entirely new with Apple, which in about a week or so launches the fourth update to its Mac OS X operating system, codenamed Tiger.
Bleeding Edge the video
In the same way as blogs are threatening the market share of conventional newspapers, and Podcasting is beginning to steal audiences from radio, video blogging is likely to develop as a considerable threat to television. We love the zany irreverence of RocketBoom for instance.
One of our friends, Jason Romney, is attempting to do the same thing in Australia, and he's recently interviewed Bleeding Edge on the topic of blogs, and Rupert Murdoch, and "grassroots journalism".
It was all done on Macs, using iChat and iSight cameras, and it's very experimental at the moment - the next time we do it, we're going to make sure that the lighting on our side of the screen is somewhat warmer, and that we, and the bookshelf, aren't positioned at such an alarming tilt. And possibly that we know first what we're going to be talking about, so that we've got some more intelligent things to say.
If you're using a Mac, click on the QuickTime link. For Windows, Flash is probably the best choice.
How Exxon warms up the environmental debate
Mother Jones reveals, in a special project called As The World Burns that those wonderful folk who gave us the Exxon Valdez - which was, by the way, a mere trickle in the oil spill flow - have also polluted the environment of open debate.
Exxon has poured more than $8 million into "more than 40 think tanks; media outlets; and consumer, religious, and even civil rights groups that preach skepticism about the oncoming climate catastrophe", despite a rare consensus in the scientific community. A FoxNews columnist, Steven Milloy, is on a particularly good earner from Exxon. And to think that Andrew Bolt does it for free!
That $8 million doesn't compare with Exxon's $55 million per year lobbying efforts, which it seems contributes to the fact that US media coverage of the global warming debate is so lame - a third that in the UK. But what with its extraordinary access to the White House, it's a wonder Exxon even bothers.
Oh, and if you ever find yourself talking - God forbid! - to Andrew Bolt, or people who have the same insouciant disregard for the evidence, here's what you can tell them.
April 18, 2005
Let's have an iPodding Pope
The odds of the conclave of cardinals electing a less authoritarian Pope are not looking good, what with Cardinal Ratzinger, a hardline ex Hitler Youth member appearing to have at least 50 of the 77 votes required, but it looks like some of the cardinals aren't going to spend all their time in prayer.
One confessed to taking along some "light reading" - Jane Austen rather than Dan Brown - and some were spotted with CD players. Surely at least one must have an iPod, although those white earphones would tend to be a dead giveaway against all that red. An iPod would be sufficient evidence, in our opinion, of a progressive individual. He'd get our vote.
Your [mildly illegal] Internet jukebox
Looking for that hard to find music track? You might want to check out an MP3 blog. The people who run sites like Flux Blog, Music for Robots and Tofu Hut, and Moistworks just love sharing their enthusiasm for music.
They post tracks - copyrighted tracks - for a week to 10 days, and take them down when companies complain. Little wonder then, that they're attracting thousands of visitors a day.
Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog — which began in 2002, and is acknowledged as a pioneer of MP3 blogging — says a lot of labels are happy to have the exposure. But Coldplay's studio got hot under the collar when an unfinished track found its way online.
The leather PDA
What with our addiction for PDAs and smart phones, the laptop and the GPS etc, you might expect that Bleeding Edge scarcely lifted a pen or pencil in self-defence. The fact is, after pretty much abandoning the Filofax to which we were addicted years ago, we've gradually started using it again.
We don't use it in quite the same way we used to, however. Although we've got a calendar in there, we never use it to make a diary entry. And we don't keep our contact list in it. The Treo 600 is far more efficient for managing appointments, to do's and contact lists.
We can type at 120 words per minute, and therefore tend to use the keyboard for recording telephone interviews in Info Select, which means we have a vast database of information. Out on the road, we use Pitman's shorthand and a reporter's notebook.
When it comes to thinking on paper, and taking personal notes, however we prefer to do it in longhand, on paper.
Not just any paper. A couple of years ago, while we were in France, browsing around stationery stores, we stumbled across a range of index cards made by Fiches Bristol. The particular ones we liked were graph paper, or quadrilles, measuring 100x150 (5"x5"). Somehow graph paper seems to stimulate the flow of ideas, and so does the texture of the paper. [If you're planning a trip to Paris, let us know, because we haven't been able to buy them anywhere but there.]
We've found, however, that carrying them around like that tends to damage the edges. While that's probably OK if you're just jotting notes, if you want to keep a record of your ideas, it makes sense to protect them.
We've got a massive Filofax six-hole punch which we picked up pretty cheap years ago, when the local agents imported from the UK and found that nobody could afford to buy them. We punch holes in the cards, and keep them in the Filofax, with a lot of spares in the pocket. We use yellow, blue and white cards for different topics, and a strip of Post-It flags to navigate.
The other thing we've found useful with the Filofax are the expenses envelopes that we have to import from the UK. Fortunately, the Filofax online store is pretty efficient. Nothing else works quite so well, in our experience, for taking a note of what you've spent money on, and keeping the receipts.
But we don't use that system for journal entries. For that we've got a selection of Moleskines, in both ruled and graph paper. We bought our first Moleskine in Rome about five years ago - a beautiful yellow-bound notebook that sometimes made us far too choosy about what was worthy of recording in it. It's still mostly empty. Since then we've gone for the larger black ones, into which we generally stick a label - we've got one of those great Seiko Smart Label printers - with a piece of advice from one of our favourite contemporary novelists, Joanna Trollope, to encourage us to use it as a writer's notebook:
Train yourself to notice. Keep a journal — not a Dear Diary — of scraps of things you notice/overhear/remember/think of. Stick in photos and postcards. Scribble down descriptions and snatches of dialogue. Watch other people like a hawk.
Radio National looks at podcasting
The ABC wants to know if you'd be interested in downloading MP3 and podcast versions of its programs. We've already completed the survey. You might like to have a look at it.
Cutting your printing costs
Bleeding Edge has been waiting years for the computer to kill off the paper industry. We prepared for the event with considerable enthusiasm. We threw out the fax machine, got e-mail, got on the Web, invested in an e-book reader, a scanner and a CD-R burner [which we've since swapped for a DVD burner], and took out a bank loan to buy a copy of Adobe Acrobat.
We were determined to be prepared for the new millennium. When the last shreds of writing paper were turning yellow in some museum exhibit, and printers were as relevant as pocket watches, we were going to be expertly distributing and storing all those forms and documents electronically.
We were so confident that the paperless office was just around the corner, that we even considered short-selling shares in paper companies. But then we would have had to accept paper scrip. Where would we store the stuff, given that the filing cabinets were on their way to their ultimate destiny, as land fill?
As the years passed, we became increasingly alarmed at the sheer resilience of that apparently flimsy medium. The evidence was right there in the monthly stationery bill. Yes, we had all those high-res screens, all those “bits” of binary code that Nicholas Negroponte at MIT’s Media Lab assured us, way back in 1995, were infinitely superior to “atoms” [you may recall that atoms used to be an elementary component of what we once called “matter”, before everything went virtual]. But we were using just as much paper as we ever had … if not more.
In fact, the more people communicated electronically, the more paper they consumed. They might have been surfing the Web electronically, but they were whipping up waves of paper. And although email did become a killer application, it didn’t assassinate any of the paper companies.
Researchers suggest that email alone increased demand for paper by 40 per cent. And however “hyper” text may have become out there on the Web, when it got on to somebody’s desktop, it was only a matter of time before somebody pushed the print button.
As a matter of fact, we blame the print button for the resurgence of paper. If you want to understand why the paper industry puts growth in paper sales at between 4 and 10 per cent per year, look no farther than that little icon up there on the tool bar, or under the File menu.
The print button exercises a fatal attraction on the psyche of the average computer user. It’s so tempting to just push it, whatever the consequences for the paper tray. Yes, you could choose the Print Preview option. If you did that, you might spot the fact that practically every Web page you want to print out has been ingeniously designed to produce a second page with just a few, useless lines. You could then change the page range to print just one page. You could even alter the margins, or change the header and footer.
You could cut your paper expenses by perhaps a third or more, if you took the time to futz around with Print Preview, but for most of us, it’s all too tedious. It’s easier to push that button, and to hell with the stationery bill.
Enter FinePrint 5.41. Download the software ($US49.95 for a generous single licence that allows you to install it on your laptop and desktop PCs, provided you don’t use them simultaneously), and you will forever be protected from the profligacy of the Print button.
It captures all your print jobs, presenting you with a much more powerful print preview function that you can easily edit to add or delete pages, and print two pages – or even four or eight - on one sheet of paper, or as a duplex job using both sides of paper, even if your printer isn’t a duplex model.
Better still, if you’ve got a lot of pages to print, you can produce them as a booklet. Imagine a sheaf of A4 pages, printed on both sides in landscape. Fold it in the middle, and you’ve got a professional looking publication. If you’re doing some Web research, for instance, you can tell FinePrint to defer printing each job until you’ve collected all the material, then print it all off as a booklet in a single run.
Take, for example, the PDF newsletter that Bleeding Edge receives every month. Until we installed FinePrint, that newsletter chewed up something like 32 sheets of A4 paper, which reduces Bleeding Edge’s pitiful budget by roughly 42c. Now it takes just eight pages, and we have almost 30c in the kitty that we can put towards the cost of a short black, with a dash of cream. Our coffee fund has improved somewhat these days now that we’re using 70gsm draft paper, which is fine for most everyday printing. You can apply some of those savings to the occasional packet of 100gsm white, when you really want to impress somebody.
FinePrint allows you to do things like convert coloured text to black, skip graphics, apply watermarks, create electronic forms and letterheads, shrink larger pages to fit on a smaller sheet, and adjust margins and gutters. By default it automatically saves your last five print jobs, and you can choose to save each one, which could save a lot of time if somebody wants another copy.
FinePrint also includes a paper-saving meter, which indicates the percentage of your paper bill that can now be applied to coffee. Over a few years of use, we’ve cut our paper costs for multi-page documents by 75 per cent. Bleeding Edge has started thinking again about shorting those paper stocks.
Upgrades in the same release number (version 5.3 to 5.4 for instance) are free. It costs $US14.95 to move up from an earlier version number.
April 17, 2005
On Blinking vs Thinking
We think Malcolm Gladwell is a fine journalist, and we've linked to a couple of his stories in the past, but we're not entirely sure about the hypothesis he offers in his latest book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which is basically that it's better to make decisions without too much of that cognitive stuff.
The boy means well, but we're pretty sure that all manner of disasters are likely to be visited on people who take his advice literally. Novelist Sue M. Halpern's review, in the New York Review of Books, makes some interesting points, among them being the fact that the art of quick thinking can take an awfully long time to perfect.
Categories of Windows users
A reader, Glenn, having read our column on installing Windows XP SP2 informs us thus:
The world's Windows users are divided, broadly, into three categories - the first are those people who have purchased the technology, keep up to date with everything related to its development, use their machines wisely and understand, broadly, everything that is involved in using them. I suggest that you belong to this group.
The second group are ordinary people who use the technology in their workplaces and who have dedicated backup I.T. teams working in the background to keep them up to speed like the users in group one.
The third group - of which I am a member - are ordinary people who have bought computers to help run their homes and their business but who look upon the machines simply as tools. I bought a Vaio and a desktop about a year ago and run my on-line business using these machines. Once, the Vaio wouldn't load up and I had to reload from the restore disks but apart from that everything's gone smoothly.
My point is this - I believe that people in this third group probably constitute at least 75 per cent of computer users. We're aware that sometimes Microsoft downloads mysterious updates and installs them on our computers but I'm hanged if I know what they're for. We're basically sensible people - we use firewalls and virus protectors but we have no idea what goes on in the Windows Registry and we've never heard of SP2.
So this is the question .... are we at serious risk of missing out on something we need to know? Is the educative culture of the modern PC somehow lacking? When I bought my 286 in 1985 I didn't need to know anything other than how to stick the DOS disk in. Are we not taking our tools seriously enough? Should Microsoft be taking more responsibility for this or is it all down to us? And how are we expected to know?
Reading your column and seeing that the date for the installing this mysterious SP2 has been and gone and I didn't know anything about it makes me feel a little like the population of Earth must have felt as the Vogon Constructor Fleet arrived to destroy the planet.
It's an interesting ordering of the world of computer users. Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation does it somewhat differently. Category 1 would probably be "Innovators" and "Early Adopters". Some "Early Majority", "Late Majority" and "Laggard" users would probably have their relations with the bewildering world of technology mediated by those "backup IT teams" working in the background, but the rest would no doubt be struggling along in Category 3.
Category 3 users would presumably tend to belong to those generations that weren't introduced to computers at school. Younger people are more likely to be in Category 1, or possibly what we might call Category 1.5. They might not have a broad understanding of everything that's going on, but they can quickly find out what they need to know.
We think it's a lot more complicated than that. In our experience, computer users can be divided by a heirarchy of needs or interests, somewhat like Abraham Maslow's.
The first are what we call Enthusiasts. Technology represents an opportunity to these people. If something new comes along, they're more likely to invest time and money understanding it, because they can see a possible pay-off, either in terms of financial rewards through new career or business opportunities, or possibly the admiration of their peers. They're happy to lift the hood and tinker, because for them, technology is a process, not just a purchase.
The second category are Pragmatists. They've probably appointed an enthusiast or two as their personal scouts to blaze a pathway through the unknown and financially dangerous new territories. They'll ignore the enthusiasts' wilder fancies, but when they see a demonstrated benefit, they'll hitch up the wagons. These people aren't likely to waste their time bitching about why something doesn't work. They'll happily pay someone to fix it. If not, they'll read technology columns and magazines and visit sites like this, looking for assistance. Enthusiasts quite enjoy helping them out.
The third are Resenters. They actively hate technology, adopt it only when forced to, and in some cases are capable of emitting such powerful electro-magnetic interference that they can unaccountably crash a computer. Resenters can be somewhat wearisome for the other two categories, because they take the view that it's someone else's responsibility to make it all work for them. If you're not careful, they'll appoint you to the task. And blame you whenever anything goes wrong.
Our advice to Glenn is this: if you're not an Enthusiast - and it's not something you can fake - be a Pragmatist. Appoint some scouts. Read a little. Take advantage of services like the Bleeding Edge forum. At all costs, avoid being recognised as a Resenter.
April 16, 2005
More on news in the online world
We suggest you'll learn a good deal more from journalists committed to the practice of news gathering, than from Rupert Murdoch, who's merely committed to the practice of power - and very good at it.
BBC goes mad for podcasting
BBC Radio has just added 20 new shows, including BBC 4's Today show, to its line-up of podcasts [Click on Launch BBC Radio Player and select what you want]. And if you're particularly interested in technology podcasts, there's The World, which is a BBC-US joint venture.
The broken mass media model
Another take on the disarray within the ranks of advertising agencies and media. In it we learn that possibly some of the ideas Rupert Murdoch expressed about media and the Internet might have come from other sources. But not, we suspect "McKenzie and Company". The transcription service probably has never heard of those hired "brains", McKinsey and Company, who are famous in the newspaper industry for not having a clue about what it actually takes to publish a decent newspaper.
McKinsey types have been deeply involved in the systematic replacement of experienced journalists with keen young people, many of whom haven't been taught the difference between opinion and fact - or for that matter what it takes to form an intelligent opinion - and aren't likely ever to learn. So if they're advising Murdoch on the Internet, maybe we don't have as much to worry about as we thought.
PCs skills = genius? Puh-leeze!
Those techno-snobs at The Register seemed to be convinced that the fact that Prince Harry flunked a British army personal computer test means he's an idiot. As far as they're concerned, this judgment is confirmed by his less than stellar performance in his A levels.
The fact that Harry possibly isn't interested in computers obviously hasn't entered their heads, any more than the likelihood that the peculiar circumstances of his upbringing, and the squalid, tragic events of his parents' relationship and his mother's premature death, endlessly raked over by the contemptible so-called journalists who work for the British tabloids, might have affected his academic performance, and perhaps at times, his judgment.
We're anything but royalists, but we know a lot of people who aren't at all comfortable with computers, whose achievements and character are beyond anything these petty little minds might aspire to.
And whatever one might think about his morality - we're in no position to make any judgments - Prince Charles has taken some brave and intelligent stands on many issues. He's probably never had to use a computer in his life. But he can fly a fighter and a helicopter. And he's not bad at painting, for that matter.
The fact that someone might know more than others about computers doesn't mean there's anything special happening in their lunchboxes, as Barnaby Joyce observed about Liberal MPs.
How to store coriander
We're not just interested in technology around here. We have to eat too, and what with going to the Vic Market this morning, our attention has wandered towards really important stuff, such as what will we do with the coriander.
The Americans call it cilantro, but they have the same trouble with it as we do. Stick it in the fridge, and it turns into a horrible black mess. Blork blog, however, has a neat solution.
And in the comments there's tips on storing other herbs. We find growing a lot of them in pots is very helpful. Let's see now, we've got pots of parsley, mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme, chives, marjoram and Vietnamese mint. Generally, we also have basil. And a very large bay tree. Oh. And a wonderful lemon tree that fruits all year round. Those we don't have to freeze.
A blog primer
John Dvorak has observed that a lot of blog readers don't really understand how they work. He's therefore come up with a handy primer that explains the finer details.
April 15, 2005
Down home security disasters
What with a Novell survey [Hmmn, what could they be trying to sell?] revealing that 80 per cent of Britons don't bother to take computer security precautions when they're working from home, representing a substantial threat to business, we daresay bosses might be more reluctant than ever to let people work from home from now on.
Novell says the people they interviewed are "ambivalent to" security. Make that totally ignorant about security. And who could expect them to know better, what with being worried about distractions from the television, "feeling lonely" and "missing the buzz of the office".
The answer, says Novell, is for the office to remove the responsibility for security from employees who work from home. [We'll bet that Novell can sell them a service that would do that!] And they could probably put in a machine that makes buzzing noises.
Our new look
Fellow knights and ladies of the Bleeding Edge round table, reload your pages. We've got a new look. Well, we're partly there, anyway. We hope it's not too radical. Thanks to Danielle for the toad graphic. And Tao and Dije for the masthead and fly, and calendar, and for that matter the "Leap Years Ahead" line. And to Matthew for putting it all together.
Do let us know what you think.
So far as Bleeding Edge is aware, there have been no studies to indicate that people who buy iPods suddenly lose control of their senses, but if the extrapolations made by The Register are correct, those white earphones must surely be doing something to people's brains.
How else could you interpret this: iTunes Music Store has now sold more than 350 million songs worldwide since it opened its doors to US consumers in April 2003. By the end of March there were 15.33 million iPods out there, demanding to be fed with music. Clearly they're getting hungrier, because The Register guesstimates that 50 million of those downloads occurred in the past month or so.
According to its calculations, the music store must have at least 500,000 regular customers, whose average monthly downloads it puts at 100, which works out to ... ahem ... a mere $US99. Per month. Sorry. We simply do not believe it.
X marks the spot for new Tungsten
Bleeding Edge had a sneak preview of palmOne’s new Tungsten E2, which with Bluetooth and a beautiful, bright new screen looks like a very nice entry-level PDA. But what with the fact that their executives have signed an agreement which involves enforced euthanasia if they talk about upcoming models, not a word was spoken about the Tungsten X.
Nobody knows, of course, whether there even IS a Tungsten X, but rumours abound. It’s supposed to include a Hitachi 4GB miniature hard drive, and 64MB of RAM, running Palm OS Garnet on a 416 MHz XScale processor.
It will support USB 2.0, and will also offer Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 1.1 wireless networking. Sounds like you’ll be able to fit a lot more Podcasts on to your PDA when/if this little number hits the streets.
Happy birthday, Mr Da Vinci
It's Leonardo Da Vinci's birthday (April 15), and Google seems to be bursting out of its logo to celebrate.
The future of news online
The numbers certainly impressed Rupert Murdoch, who quoted it in his speech to newspaper editors that we mentioned yesterday. If you're interested in the fate of conventional news outlets and online journalism, you might be interested in looking at the original source, the Carnegie Reporter piece headlined "Abandoning the News".
The non-core safety net
As Lenore Taylor points out [CAUTION: Pay Wall] in today's Financial Review, the only thing that's changed between the election, when Honest John Howard promised the Medicare safety net, and yesterday, when it watered down the policy, "is that we don't get to vote again for at least two more years".
The only remarkable thing about the flip-flop is that some people apparently expected this Government would keep its promises, despite consistent, incontrovertible evidence that what Howard says before an election bears no relationship whatsoever to what he does after he's got what he wanted. Remember GST? Remember the phrase "non-core"? Remember interest rates?
Hell, even your sleepy old toad, Bleeding Edge, predicted, way back on September 27, that what with the Prime Minister's fistful of dollars campaign, we had the makings of of a new and diverting parlour game, in which the idea is "to pick which of the Government's promises he'll renege on after the election, and how long it will take".
We solicited suggestions then for which of the Howard offerings would be the first to go, or to be watered down. And we speculated that when interest rates blew out, what he'd say was, "You'd have been worse off under Latham?" It looks like C.J. one the first round, what with his comment that "My bet is Medicare as he has a stated hatred of universal health care and has already cut deeply into it. But won't it be Costello who has to sort out the mess The Man of Steel leaves should (heaven forbid) the tories buy and cheat their way back into power?"
We've got a new idea for a parlour game, by the way. Let's nominate how long it will take, this time, for those dyed-in-the-wool Liberal voters to forget that their incredibly responsible financial manager - the one who spent $20 million of our money telling us how great the Medibank safety net was - is an outright liar. We should send him to his room for two years.
Any day now, we'll be offered a new version of Firefox from a startup called Round Two, drawn from members of the Mozilla Foundation.
It's also sponsoring development of other products, including FlashGot, which lets Firefox work with third-party download managers; Bandwidth Tester, which lets people determine their connection speed; and SwitchProxy, which lets people surf anonymously with Firefox by configuring Firefox to work with multiple Web proxy servers. Round Two is providing developers of these extensions with technical resources including Web servers, bandwidth, project management resources and some financial support.
Here's a list of the top 15 Firefox extensions, but there's some other beauties. All you do is go to Tools/Extensions/Get More Extensions.
Bugging the Papal Conclave
You can understand why the Vatican is on the alert over fears high-tech eavesdroppers might be trying to bug the Conclave which will have its first session to elect a new Pope on Monday. For centuries, people have wanted to know what goes on in there, so it's reasonable to expect that satellite cameras could be zooming in on key buildings and grounds where the cardinals gather, and lasers could be pointed at windows to pick up their conversations.
Clearly the prospect has got some people a little over-excited:
"Surely many intelligence agencies in the world are trying to penetrate inside the Holy See [the Vatican]. They will do with special aircraft, for example, spy planes with ... lasers," says Andrea Margelletti of the Center for International Studies in Rome.
We're pretty sure even the Swiss Guard, with those pikes and funny uniforms would be able to detect a spy plane zooming around the Sistine Chapel.
What we'd be checking for is a rogue cardinal with a camera phone, however, it seems they've thought of that already. The Turin daily La Stampa says an American-made scrambling system will protect the Santa Martha residence where the cardinals will stay between voting sessions, and to prevent all mobile telephone calls, including outbound calls.
D (for re-Design Day)
It's two weeks since we raised the prospect of the end of the Bleeding Edge world, and we haven't been sitting on our hands, waiting for it to happen to us. We've been planning a re-design, exploring relationships, and learning a lot more about what it takes to attract more readers and - ta-dah - draw some display ads.
The early signs are good. There's been a steady increase in traffic. We're now drawing between 1400 and 1650 individual users per day, and page views have increased sharply.
Today we'll be playing with the design, bearing in mind that if you want a Web project to succeed, you'd better not get lost in the details.
So be prepared for things to start looking different ... hopefully a lot easier on the eye, and less slapped together. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll refine it. We'd love to hear your comments.
April 14, 2005
The Yellow Internet?
Bleeding Edge had a chilling experience of deja vu with the news that Rupert Murdoch has advised newspaper editors to “grasp” the Internet. That’s pretty much what Microsoft’s Bill Gates said when he set about attacking Netscape with such success, except that he used the word “embrace” and added a couple of other words, to produce the strategy called “embrace and extend”.
Murdoch is clearly plotting to do the same with the Internet, at least to that part of it that dispenses news and community information, having been convinced – what a coincidence – by Bill Gates, that Internet advertising will be worth $US30 billion a year within the next five years.
Look at the damage Murdoch has already done to newspapers, particularly in this country. Look at Fox News. Journalism – at least the sort of objective reporting of fact that most of us think of as journalism – has been strangled by Murdoch’s embrace, which makes his comments about bloggers sadly ironic:
“…we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net. There are of course inherent risks in this strategy -- chief among them maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability. Plainly, we can’t vouch for the quality of people who aren’t regularly employed by us – and bloggers could only add to the work done by our reporters, not replace them. But they may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve. So long as our readers understand the distinction between bloggers and our journalists.”
In many cases, bloggers have much higher standards for accuracy and reliability than the people who are regularly employed by Murdoch's more popular titles. We suspect though, that it's not really accuracy that Murdoch is looking for from bloggers.
Murdoch isn’t much impressed by the quality of his journalists. He quoted a recent study which suggested that “the percentage of national journalists who have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American public to make good decisions has declined by more than 20 points since 1999”. He sees that as a reflection of “their personal politics and personal preferences”. In other words – as difficult as this might be to imagine – they’re too damned left wing for Murdoch.
What Murdoch is clearly proposing is to capture his “fair share” – i.e. the lion’s share – of the Internet audience with a brand of “journalism” modelled on that of Fox News. As he puts it: "Success in the online world will beget greater success in the print medium. We can and must begin to assimilate to their culture." That sounds like "embrace and extend" to us.
Read his speech and tremble. Even the Internet is likely to have some difficulty evading that man’s grasp.
Apple does unreasonably well
What an ungrateful mob of bar stewards those investors are. I mean, look, Apple sells more iPods than it’s ever sold before, plus it sells a heap more Macs, lifting revenue for the second quarter by 70 per cent, and the share price … drops? Wouldn’t you think, what with the company beating its expectations significantly, and lifting profit to 34c a share, compared to just 6c in the same period a year ago, that the value of the stock might have risen just a teensy bit?
But no, that’s not how the stock market works. It works on what you might call the Oliver Effect, which is to say that investors always expect a little more. Many investors had expected Apple to report it had sold six million iPods, whereas the company shipped 5.31 million iPods in the quarter, a 558 percent increase over the period a year ago. And the company’s gross margin was a trifling [grinds teeth, mutters] 29.8 per cent.
Apple might be making a lot of clever devices, but it still hasn’t learned from Microsoft the secret of boosting the share price. What they do, every quarter, is deflate expectations. In other words, they talk the market down. “Yes, we’ve made $350 squillion dollars this quarter,” it routinely tells analysts, “but we can’t possibly continue that sort of growth.” Whereupon, the next quarter, it reports, sure enough, it’s made $400 squillion dollars. But, no way is it going to be able to manage something like that again! Investors love that sort of stuff.
It looks like Steve Jobs has finally caught on to this, however, because yesterday, in the company’s call with analysts, “executives tried to temper investors' expectations going forward and warned that they did not expect Apple to sustain its record-high growth rates indefinitely”. They claim to expect revenue growth to eventually start to hover at “a more reasonable 15 per cent level”, still higher than the industry average. They must be expecting to do REALLY well next quarter.
Long theses in Word
God knows there’s not likely to be any PhD students reading THIS blog, what with us having the attention span of a distracted ant, and a taste for the – how shall we put this so as not to lose too much face? – umm, off-beat.
But just in case (a) you’ve stumbled across this site while searching for something vastly more important and (b) are formatting a long thesis, the Macquarie University Library has a PDF file on using Word for that very purpose. We can’t say whether it works or not, because we tend to be incapable of writing anything longer than 1000 words. Although it’s amazing what we can stretch to, if they’re paying by the word.
Yours faithfully, King Canute
A reader informs us:
For months your column has been advising against installing SP2. Only a week or two ago you said something like it created big issues in 10 per cent of cases, and that YOU hadn't installed it. This advice was always pretty dumb. SP2 was always going to be essential.
Your article today just makes you look like a confused King Canute that has finally woken up to the inevitability of SP2, and now pretends that it was always your advice to install it. If you're going to write in a newspaper and give advice, get your story straight. It pisses me off to see you do such a big u turn, then make out that it never happened.
Umm, well it doesn’t look like a U-turn to us, but what would we know about it? What we thought we were doing was taking the position – like 75 per cent of American companies – that you ought to delay installing SP2 until the last possible moment, give or take a week or two, so that Microsoft had time to improve its patch, and the hardware and software companies identified the problems their customers were having and updated their drivers, and then make the procedure as safe as possible. That’s what today’s column is about. But of course, if you’ve been reading the blog, you’d know all about that already.
And apparently we’ve also upset Dick Smith, who are completely mystified about those CD copies of SP2 that Microsoft assured us they’d sent to them. We do hope SP2 hasn’t spoiled YOUR day.
Revelations on TV
That throwaway link to the influence of the Book of Revelations on US foreign policy in yesterday's post on George Dubya's iPod may reflect only a tiny piece of increasingly widespread apocalyptic thought.
According to Slate, US television seems to be full of the stuff.
Firefox super tabbing
One of the unexplained mysteries of modern browser life is this: how come EVERYBODY isn't using tabs? Well, part of the answer is that Internet Explorer doesn't have tabs, and if you've been an obedient Microsoft follower, you just sort of accept that every page has to open in a new window.
Not with Firefox [and Opera]. We've settled on Firefox, and become addicted to the amazing utility of opening sites in new tabs, and navigating between them. The downside is this: you can end up with stacks of tabs, and finding and switching between them can be a touch tedious. But not with a recently upgraded Firefox extension called MiniT.
With MiniT installed, you can re-order your tabs by dragging them along the Tab Bar, or using the mouse scroll wheel. You can also grab a tab and drop it as an URL into - say - your MovableType publisher.
Another tab tip: If you go into about:config, you can also change the Firefox default so that a new Tab opens to the right of the current tab, rather than to the extreme right of the Tab Bar, simply by toggling "tablib.tabs_open_relative" to True.
By the way, over in the forum, AussieBoykie has posted a link to an interesting article on the Evil Empire's likely strategy to rein in the accelerating demand for Firefox.
April 13, 2005
Protecting your back while blogging
You might find it hard to believe that those witty posts on your blog might affect your employment prospects ... might even [gulp] get you the sack, like the chap from British book chain Waterstone's, or the ever so slightly unbuttoned airline hostess.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has therefore come up with a guide to help you protect your anonymity and avoid causing offence to those who might have power over your pay packet. And CNet also has some words of advice.
There's a list of "blogophobic" companies that have dismissed, threatened, fined or not hired people because of their blogs.
The good news is that Waterstone's decided it would reinstate its blogger. He's chosen, however, to work elsewhere.
The New Yorker has collected much of its coverage of what it describes as “the conflict with Iraq”, and added a selection of articles from its archive here.
The BBC, Channel 4, the British Film Institute (BFI) and Britain’s Open University have jointly created the creative archive licence, which goes beyond creating a legitimate way for UK residents to download programmes from those organisations.
Based on a flexible copyright scheme from the US called the creative commons, the idea is to give the public access to footage from the different archives which they can use to create new material, including “pepping up” a school project or to create a home movie or make their own music video.
Bleeding Edge has been musing on the following quote in the article
Given the global nature of the internet, limiting usage to UK residents will be difficult to control
iPods for politicians
This could be a fertile field for study. George W. Bush’s daughters gave him an iPod for his birthday – dubbed “iPod One” - and his aides uploaded some music to it from the iTunes Music Store, and George W. has been photographed strapping it on while preparing to take his regular bike ride. Presumably he’s listening to it, assuming he’s worked out how to use the dial, which, let’s face it, may be an assumption too far.
A Rolling Stones journalist who’s examined the play list of 250 songs which includes
John Fogerty: CenterfieldJoni Mitchell: Baby I Don’t CareVan Morrison: Brown-Eyed GirlStevie Ray Vaughan: The House is Rockin'The Knack: My SharonaBlackie and the Rodeo Kings: Swinging from the Chains of LoveCountry stars Alan Jackson, George Jones, Kenny ChesneyClassic rockers Eric Clapton, Robert Palmer, Bryan Adams
George Jones is the greatest living singer in country music and a recovering alcoholic who often sings about heartbreak and drinking," he said. "It tells you that the president knows a thing or two about country music and is serious about his love of country music.”
Firefox (and Thunderbird) fallback
When your hard disk goes to heaven, you’ll probably want to join it, what with the hassles of reinstalling everything. And then there’s re-setting all your options. There’s a piece of freeware software called MozBackup that allows you to backup Mozilla, Firefox, Thunderbird and Netscape profiles including things like rules, favourites, RSS feeds, contacts etc. Web designer Nick Aster says it took only 10 minutes to back up everything, which is another reason to switch to Firefox. And Thunderbird.
Apple's Tiger out of the woods
Apple will release Tiger, the latest advance on what is already, in our opinion, the best desktop operating system, on April 29, which probably means that Australia will get it the following day, which happens to be a Saturday. The upgrade will be available for $US129 (or a bulk offer of five licences for $US199) and it will run on any Mac with a G3, G4 or G5 processor with a minimum of 256MB (but do yourself a favour and make that at least 512MB) of RAM.
Apple, with predictable enthusiasm, declares it will “ change the way you use a computer”. It certainly should make it a darned sight easier to find things, what with its new desktop search technology, Spotlight, being built into the OS core, keeping track of files, emails, contacts, images, movies, calendars and applications and automatically updating its results when you make any changes. That gives rise to “smart mailboxes” and “smart folders” and “smart address book groups”.
The new Dashboard feature also looks pretty smart, hosting mini-applications called “widgets” – we know this is not original – that scour the Internet to keep you up to date with the weather, stock prices, flight schedules, currency exchange rates etc. They pop up and then get out of your way. Whether or not that will, in practice, prove to be irritating for some people, remains to be seen.
Then there’s Automator, and VoiceOver, which should be a great advance for the increasing number of people who have visual or learning disabilities. It reads aloud the contents of files, including your e-mail, Web pages and word processor documents, and provides “a comprehensive audible description” of the workspace and a rich set of keyboard commands.
Apple is also supposed to be introducing a Windows version of its Bonjour network and printer connection technology in the first half of this year.
It’s going to be an interesting year for Mac users, because Tiger will unleash a whole armada of products that take advantage of the new OS. Synergy Advance, for instance, to control iTunes.
April 12, 2005
In praise of Treos
What with the fact that Bleeding Edge will shortly be replacing our Treo 600 with a Treo 650, we feel we should point out to those of you who are similarly attracted to what we still believe is the best PDA/phone rig, the existence of Treonauts. It will help you get more out of your faithful
Posted by cw at 01:07 PM
Wouldn't it be nice if you could archive interesting Web pages in Firefox. You can do that, plus interesting things like highlighting text, with ScrapBook.
What the story doesn't tell you is that you'll probably have to go to Tools/Options/Web Features, and tick the box "Allow Web sites to install software. Look for the yellow bar to open at the top of the page, then choose what you want to install.
We like O'Reilly publishers. Not only does their Web site contain stacks of useful information, they also have an open book project, which provides free access to a number of computer titles, among them Dan Gillmor's book on grass roots journalism, We The Press.
Posted by cw at 10:57 AM
Newspapers vs Apple
While they haven't moved at the speed of light, it appears that the mainstream media have finally started to catch on to the fact that Apple's court action against those online reporters - which our colleague, Mac Man described [SIGH] as "fair enough" - represents a disturbing threat to the practice of journalism.
Eight of California's largest newspapers and The Associated Press have submitted a brief asking that the online publishers be allowed to keep their sources confidential, despite the judge's ruling that ISPs turn over the reporters' email, to help Apple identify the source of leaks.
They believe that the decision could impair the ability of all journalists to report important news.
``Recent corporate scandals involving Worldcom, Enron and the tobacco industry all undoubtedly involved the reporting of information that the companies involved would have preferred to remain unknown to the public,'' the 38-page brief stated. ``Just because a statute seeks to protect secrecy of such information does not mean that the First Amendment protections provided to the news media to inform the public are wiped away.''
From an engineer with a lot of time on his hands, the definitive guide to streaming your iTunes music from your Mac to your Windows PC, via the Internet.
What with using SSH tunnelling and a proxy, and opening firewall ports, this is possibly not a viable solution for the technologically timid, but if the music is over there, and you're over here, it works.
Posted by cw at 10:06 AM
Firing up your laptop
Due to those overly timid airlines not being terribly keen on their aircraft flying around with a lot of methanol on board, you still have to plug your laptop into an AC plug to recharge its batteries, and you're not getting eight hours use out of each charge.
IBM and Sanyo plan to change all that by 2007, with their work on a methanol fuel cell-lithium ion hybrid system for ThinkPads, which will provide the benefits above.
We're sure it's going to be perfectly safe, however, when 2007 comes around, and the airlines do change their rules, we think we'll be doing a lot more travelling by rail. Or road. Possibly by bicycle. We see a good deal of potential, by the way, for a pedal-powered laptop.
By the way, if you want to wring some more life out of your Power Book, here's some hints.
Posted by cw at 09:34 AM
Posted by cw at 08:56 AM
A better spam trap
The answer to everything
Economics, it seems is rapidly replacing psychology, and umm, philosophy and let's see, Christianity and Buddhism and Grand Unified Theory as the Answer To Everything.
Steven D. Levitt, for instance, has run the figures and can explain to you the way human motivations work, so that you'll no longer be puzzled about why drug dealers still live with their mums, and what sumo wrestlers have in common with teachers. The world has clearly been longing to know this sort of thing, because even though it's not yet quite published, demand for Levitt's book has spiralled.
While you're waiting for it, you can discover from some other economists why the US plays baseball, and the rest of the world plays soccer - which unfortunately won't satisfy Apal's enduring question: "Why AFL?" Alternatively, you might like to know why the Kyoto protocol is inefficient and inequitable, and the precise economic value of marriage. Would you believe $US100,000?
Oh, and if you're a basketball coach, a little bit of science could be just what you need to make your opponents miss their shots.
Posted by cw at 07:55 AM
April 11, 2005
Cell phone beats sex
So when did the birth rate REALLY start declining? Well, when people started to make mobile phone calls to their friends and colleagues who were in the middle of making love. And they answered the phone! [Ad Age, free sub.]
A survey by BBDO reveals an average of 14 per cent of mobile phone users had practised "cell phone interruptus". Now we know why BBDO's boss, Andrew Robertson, is so keen on sending advertising to mobile phones.
According to Christine Hannis, head of communications for BBDO Europe, "People can't bear to miss a call. Everybody thinks the next call can be something really exciting. And getting so many calls proves social success. It fulfills a fundamental insecurity." Which apparently having someone in bed with you doesn't. That's some insecurity.
Let's find ET's shopping mall
This makes a lot of sense. Instead of SETI wasting time looking for radio signals from outer space, if it really wants to discover whether extraterrestrial life forms exist, it should be checking for evidence of real estate developers in outer space!
Posted by cw at 06:33 PM
Ending it all online
Just because charcoal makes such a splendidly efficient medium for suicide doesn't mean, surely, that the charcoal manufacturing industry should feel the need to instruct customers in the correct use of the stuff: ie, not snuffing out their existences with it. But that's the Japanese way.
And Japanese ISPs are probably considering a similar education campaign, what with their customers increasingly going online to recruit participants and orchestrate this terminal activity, with or without charcoal.
Posted by cw at 05:52 PM
Keep that camera
Just in case you were thinking of throwing out that old digital camera, John Dvorak has got all nostalgic about the qualities of CCDs he used to know. You should probably not take his comments too literally. Otherwise you'll need to hire a packhorse the next time you want to take a snapshot.
Posted by cw at 04:25 PM
Rating the audience
We've often wondered what it must be like for those 13,819 Australians - let's call them designated viewers - who've been recruited by the OzTAM TV audience measurement organisation to accommodate those Peoplemeter gadgets.
It can't be easy, can it, knowing that when they sit down to watch the box, they're being watched back? And it must be a terrible responsibility, knowing that their viewing choices determine what the rest of us get to watch.
Personally we think they're doing a terrible job, and it would be A Very Good Thing if we could get the Peoplemeters to reach out and administer an electric shock every now and again, so that the rest of us don't end up having to put up with so many crap programs. Alternatively, Parliament should pass legislation that forces OzTAM to stop installing Peoplemeters in the homes of people whose IQs, collectively, are surely somewhere south of the brainpower of a gnat.
But this is a mere irritation compared to the havoc that could be wreaked upon us when the sort of device we read about in the New York Times Magazine reaches these shores.
A Maryland company called Arbitron is currently asking a couple of thousand randomly chosen volunteers in Houston to wear a black plastic box called a "portable people meter" or PPM. It looks like a pager (three inches by two inches by one-half inch), and while the circuitry is roughly as complex as that of a cellphone, the New York Times predicts it will have an explosive effect. What it could deliver is a sort of neutron bomb of the media world - single-source measurement of media consumption, and the reach and effect of advertising.
The Houston volunteers will wear the PPM all their waking hours, clipped to their belts, or some other appropriate article of clothing. The devices will be able to detect exactly what kind, and how much TV and radio programming the human hosts were exposed to each day, by detecting signals encoded into broadcast material. At night, the volunteers will slip the devices into a cradle, and the data will be uploaded to a computer centre, where statisticians can review the information.
What the statisticians are likely to discover is that the designated audience are exposed to a lot more media than anybody ever suspected. Some P.P.M. tests in Philadelphia have already indicated that wearers tune in to twice as many radio stations on a typical day as they ever note in their diaries. It's also likely to show when people hit the mute button, or walked out of the room during commercials.
If publishers go along with it, the devices could detect what magazines and newspapers people read, and what they lingered over. That would almost certainly shoot down all those "readership" figures the print media tout to disguise the fact that their circulation figures are shrinking. And they could be refined to measure the reach of Internet media.
The story is fascinating, but vaguely chilling. As the writer points out:
At some moments, trying to discern the business of companies like Nielsen and Arbitron gives way to the question of whether America is becoming weightless, an agglomeration of data about who we are and how we behave that seems to have more substance (and certainly more financial value) than our actual selves.
And what of silence? Could we not have a PPM that measures how much of it we're allowed? And put a value on it?
April 10, 2005
We're sure we don't have to explain to Bleedng Edge readers that Microsoft will NEVER offer you an update by email - unless you've asked specifically to receive them. People who don't realise that, however, are likely to have fallen for a bogus update notification that directs them to a Website that will install a backdoor Trojan.
Posted by cw at 09:57 PM
Speeding up Adobe Acrobat
Despite its name, the Adobe Acrobat Reader doesn't exactly spring into action. Run Adobe Reader Speedup once, and it should make it a a lot more eager to get to work. It works by disabling the program's least-used plug-ins. It stores them in Acrobat Reader's Optional folder, so that if a particular PDF does require a plug-in, it will load it automatically for that document only.
Long spell for spammer
A North Carolina spammer probably won't be troubling your Inbox for quite some time, after a Virginia court sentenced him to nine years behind bars. In America's first felony case against spammers, Jeremy Jaynes - at the time of his arrest considered one of the world's top 10 spammers, grossing $US750,000 per month - had been found guilty of peddling pornography and sham products and services such as a "FedEx refund processor".
The defence is appealing the severity of the sentence.
Posted by cw at 09:06 PM
April 09, 2005
Blogs versus advertising
What with being boingboinged, slashdotted and spurled in the past few weeks, Jeremy Wagstaff has a fascinating series of posts on his Loosewire blog on the way information gets around, and the commercial implications for blogs.
The posts extend Jeremy's Wall Street Journal column,
[PAID SUB.] which explored the changing dynamics of the Web, and the different characteristics of certain audience segments. Slashdot readers, it seems, have a particularly short attention span. BoingBoingers are more catholic in their tastes, and not shy of commitment.
Part II of the series looks at the way news of the utility of the Clip-n Seal plastic bag got around, and the implications for manufacturers ... and advertisers. Part III explores the way the most enduring - admittedly a highly relative term on the Internet - blogs are becoming the equivalents of Reader's Digests of the Web.
It also raises the topic of Sturgeon's Law, which, we're delighted to report decrees that
90 per cent of anything is crap
Well, actually science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon said that 90 per cent of science fiction was trash, but extended that to "90 per cent of everything is trash". The other 10 per cent are anything but. As a measure of the relevance of blogs it's probably statistically sound, although, what with the fact that at last count there were 20 million of them, it's difficult to be completely accurate.
The other thing that's possibly of interest only to working journalists: Jeremy is something of a pioneer in the application of Internet Messaging as a great interviewing tool.
Posted by cw at 12:10 PM
April 08, 2005
Your future, via technology
Eminent Australian engineer, Lord Alec Broers, president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says he was astonished by the fact that in a recent poll which asked the public to rank Britain’s greatest inventions, the bicycle was chosen over electricity generation, the jet engine, the discovery of DNA and the invention of vaccinations.
Delivering the first [MP3 download and text] of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures series, Lord Broers says part of the blame for this profound lack of appreciation of the accomplishments of Faraday, Stephenson, Maxwell, Thomson, Whittle and Crick and Watson [too bad he didn’t mention Rosalind Franklin], lies with engineers and scientists. They have failed to explain the importance of advanced technologies in a way lay people can understand, he says, but there is also a failure to look forward, and to understand that technologists are determining the future of the human race. He suggests we’d better make it as easy as possible for them to do so.
Your suitcase be ours
Marketing manager David Cox had just checked in his baggage at Sydney Airport and was waiting in the departure lounge for the boarding call when someone drew his attention to the camel on the baggage trolley. Closer inspection revealed that it wasn’t actually a camel, it was a chap wearing a camel suit … Mr Cox’s camel suit. The one he’d packed in his suitcase and handed into Qantas’ care.
Having been liberated from his suitcase, the camel suit was apparently having a wonderful time, being driven back and forward between the terminal and the plane. Mr Cox went to the customer service desk and explained that he wanted to know – NOW! – what Qantas proposed to do about the umm, rather too intimate handling of his baggage.
Well, Qantas is currently conducting an “internal” investigation. And they’re paying for the dry cleaning of the camel suit. And lawyers for Schapelle Corby, who has claimed, while on trial for her life in Bali, that an airport worker had hidden a large bag of cannabis inside her boogie board bag, plan to introduce evidence of the incident in the trial, given that it does tend to challenge Qantas’ assertions that airport security is “fantastic”.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be planning to travel with an animal suit – Mr Cox also packed a crocodile suit, but apparently it didn’t feel like going for a trolley ride -you might want to take them on board. In fact, if you’re travelling Qantas, you might want to take everything on board. You’ll have to travel light, of course, but you won’t have some slob rifling through your suitcase.
A friendly call from your advertising agency
Thrown into a state of panic by the fact that the viewer’s natural reaction to television commercials these days is to mute them, skip them or give up watching TV entirely, the advertising industry is apparently plotting to make you equally averse to your mobile phone, PDA and laptop.
According to the Financial Times, [PAID SUB.] Andrew Robertson, chief executive of BBDO, the world’s third largest ad agency, the way for advertisers to reach consumers is “to use wireless devices such as mobile phones, laptop computers and the BlackBerry e-mail devices favoured by travelling corporate executives on the go”.
“We are rapidly getting to the point where the single most important medium that people have is their wireless device,” says Robertson, with the sort of reasoning that makes one’s blood run cold. “It's with them every single moment of the day. It's genuinely the convergence box that everyone has been talking about for so many years.”
The fact that people pay a lot of money to use these devices, and many of them are likely to become very cross indeed if someone starts beaming ads at them doesn’t seem to have entered Robertson’s stream of consciousness.
Having just released a report that reveals consumers are now more willing to live without television than without mobile phones or home computers – more than 60 per cent of respondents keep their phones on and within reach 21 to 24 hours a day – he’s convinced that provided the agencies can make the commercial intrusions “engaging”, they won’t mind taking a call from McDonalds or Pizza Hut. It might just be enough to drive us back to the TV.
Posted by cw at 11:51 AM
Should we call it Norton Perpetual Revenue Generator?
This month's APC Magazine has a fascinating interview with Peter Tippett, who actually designed the anti-virus software that was marketed with Peter Norton's name. It's full of fascinating quotes that aren't likely to endear anybody to Symantec.
Asked, for instance, what he thinks about today's product, he responds cryptically:
It's human nature to sell people both what they want and what they need.
Prodded for an explanation, he explains:
The first version I produced stopped any virus that could be produced. "No updates required" was the tagline. It recorded the state of all the software on your system and anything new just wouldn't run, which counted out all malicious code.
Tippett says that the anti-virus signature scanner was added only as an afterthought, but when the product was sold to Symantec, they dropped the software blocker because "[they] felt nobody could understand it". At the same time, Symantec was looking for products to generate subscription sales. The rest, so far as the consumer is concerned, is financially painful history.
Tippett says the blocker is still the only logical response to viruses, although not of course to Symantec's desire for subscription revenue. The logic appears simple enough:
The list of good things is finite. The list of bad things infinite, and will be that way forever.
Tippett is now a network security adviser, to among others, the White House Joint Chiefs of Staff. His advice to <em>APC</em> readers is to use a hadware router. His advice to the Joint Chiefs and officials of other governments is to lean on ISPs to filter traffic for home users.
It's so silly for them to pass the Windows network ports 137 and 139 from the Internet, and argue that they have no responsibility.
April 07, 2005
Mapping new territory
While Google - being typically American - so far hasn't got much beyond the area that Christopher Colombus charted, there is a global revolution in mapping going on. The phenomenon is called "community cartography", in which amateurs band together to draw up free maps.
With a GPS in your pocket, you can draw up your own local map, accurate to within a few metres, and link it to the work of others. A few amateurs are doing just that to create a map of central London. Someone MUST be doing the same sort of thing in Melbourne. Surely. Any hints?
Posted by cw at 05:19 PM
Disposable email address
On this morning's Jon Faine Show, a listener asked about the possibility of sending email anonymously to defeat hackers. We explained that it's not generally regarded as good etiquette. But there are times when a disposable email address would be handy - say for when you have to register at a Web site you don't particularly trust.
Pookmail is quite brilliant for that. Just pick an address - firstname.lastname@example.org for instance - and use that. You can log in and read any emails, even save them if you like, otherwise they're wiped from the system after 24 hours.
We picked up the idea from LifeHacker, which is also an interesting site. Sony just paid $US75,000 to sponsor it for three months.
More on iBurst
It's no surprise for you loyal blog readers, but in today's column, Bleeding Edge explores the iBurst mobile wireless technology.
Now we have to work out where to steal the money to buy the service. It's not cheap, and at the moment it's neither fast nor ubiquitous, but we're pretty confident it will rapidly improve in inner-city areas at least.
When we were at the Sony launch on Tuesday, talking about poseur consumerism, we felt distinctly superior, having mentioned the phenomenon of video blogging to one of the product managers, to be able to download an example on the spot. It wasn't a fast download, but we managed to get it all down before the show broke up.
Posted by cw at 08:45 AM
Call the lawyers! We've got an Apple leak
Apple has a quaint tradition of publicly burning at the stake any of its employees who leak information; Steve Jobs would rather spend an evening with Bill Gates than pre-announce any product; and the company has recently taking to suing bloggers who are spotted within 100 metres of a stranger on any dark corner.
But apparently Steve hasn’t plugged every source of intelligence. On page 14 of today’s Green Guide, for instance, there’s a small advertisement for the Ivanhoe AppleCentre announcing
iPod clearance sale now on!
They’re selling 40GB iPods for $379, and $60GB iPod Photo models for $499, with the helpful instruction
Hurry, available while stocks last!
We think we can leave it to you to work out what that means.
Posted by cw at 08:31 AM
April 06, 2005
The Skyper life
British work-at-home advocate Steve Richards moved rapidly from being a Skype user to the Typhoid Mary of the VoiP world. He's infected something like 20 of his colleagues, and he's letting the world know how Internet telephony can change your life. If you're prepared to change your routine. Oh, and also use DECT phones and a Treo.
Posted by cw at 07:32 PM
Politics, psychosis and Virtual Reality
Australian scientists aren't sure whether long-term exposure to virtual reality might cause long-term side-effects, although they have established that people could have a tendency to bump into things, what with having their vision blurred by the experience.
That reminded us of that Catalyst story recently, where Brisbane scientists converted somebody's psychosis into a virtual reality, interactive experience. Isn't that, essentially, Canberra?
Where to get that SP2 CD
You could order it via that phone number we gave you below, or on the Internet here, but you'd have to wait three weeks to get it.
Althernatively, if you don't happen to have one of those magazine CDs that ran in October, November and December, pop in to your local Harvey Norman or Dick Smith store, and pick one up from them.
Moving to SP2
It's less than a week now before Microsoft forces Windows XP users to update to SP2, or lose access to automatic updates. We thought very carefully about this. Did we want to apply such a major, potentially system-breaking update at the same time as thousands of other users, possibly exposing ourselves to long delays on help lines if something went wrong?
We suspect your response will be the same as ours: no way! After studiously avoiding SP2 - like 75 per cent of US companies surveyed recently - we decided if we were going to commit, we'd better avoid the rush. So we got hold of an SP2 CD - another thing we didn't want to do was download a patch that's close to 200MB in size - took a deep breath and installed it, after taking as many precautions as we could.
We'll be writing about this next week, but we thought we'd give you a head start. There are several ways of obtaining the CD. You can phone Microsoft on 132058, you can find one of those cover CDs that came out with local PC magazines a few months ago - there's bound to be one hanging around somewhere - or you can play a game of hide and seek on the Microsoft Australia Web site. We couldn't find it, but we've got their PR department searching around, so we'll let you know when they come up with it.
Next, back everything up that you don't want to lose, which means of course, NOT on the same hard drive that you're going to be updating.
Make sure you can read the backed-up files.
Scan your computer for viruses, with your regular scanner and/or the free Housecall Web scanner. Download Microsoft's free Anti-Spyware beta and run it. (You should be running it regularly, by the way, because it's very good.) Remember that you should run any spyware scanners in safe mode. If you want you can also update Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D and run them too, but we've found the Microsoft product picks up pretty much everything they do.
Update your firewall - hopefully you're running the free Sygate or ZoneAlarms firewalls we recommend - so that SP2 will pick them up during the installation process and not turn on the new Windows firewall.
If you've got a branded PC, check for any updates on the manufacturer's Web site.
You might like to have some reading matter on hand in the event something goes wrong.
Make your own System Restore point. While the SP2 install process will also make one, it's nice to have a choice. Here's how to roll back, if you need to.
Make sure you've got a couple of hours of uninterrupted time. Spend a few minutes in quiet meditation.
Then reboot the computer, wait until the system stabilises itself, slip the CD-ROM into the drive and follow the instructions. The install process took us just over half an hour, and although we had a slight moment of intense concentration when we rebooted and the Desktop did not, alarmingly reappear, everything was fine when we booted again.
If you do have problems, of course, you can always consult our experts in the Forum and Tech Support area. Good luck!
April 05, 2005
On walking faster
We think the Sydney Morning Herald might do a better job of screening contributions to its Heckler section, in which members of the public write about various issues. For one thing, they might check whether or not their contributors are, well, a little slow.
What other explanation could there be for the fact that Stuart Robinson's wife moves a lot faster without him, than with him.
According to Stuart:
A self-confident lady can move through a crowd faster, and with much greater ease, than a man. She naturally expects to be deferred to, given space and, without thinking, she expects people to get out of her way.
On the other hand, her male counterpart has been trained to be on the lookout to give way to almost everyone and everything. Critical areas include the Easter Show, railway stations, city streets during business hours, and the entrances and exits of almost any place of entertainment.
Perhaps things are different in Melbourne, but Bleeding Edge is constantly having to check himself whenever he's walking with the Bleeding Edge spouse, not because of other people, but because the Better Half constantly wants to [grits teeth] look at things.
Even younger women are apparently gripped by the same compulsion. On Sunday, at South Melbourne market, for instance, the spouse and the Bleeding Edge daughter allowed one to walk ahead, due to the fact that one was laden with the shopping. They still ended up 25 metres behind, due to their desire to survey various offerings, rather than to, well, walk to the car!
In fact we're probably slow in comparison to other males. The previous week, in the same place, we were almost flattened by a young man who cannoned off our shoulder while overtaking us, without a word of apology.
Our theory is that in Melbourne, the males walk faster. If they don't they'll end up in hospital
Posted by cw at 06:41 PM
What's the point, dammit, of spending an arm and a leg and possibly several other expensive body parts on a video camera, if nobody realises when they see you using it, that, in addition to being the next Spielberg, you're also a trend-setting fashionista!
Recognising the increasing imperative of not just keeping up with, but comprehensively overtaking the Joneses of the modern world, Sony has come up with the DVD7, and for that matter an entire range of digital video and still cameras that make the owner look like a God.
A Sony spokesman told us firmly this morning that the word it uses for these products - "Lifestyle" - quote can be overused unquote, and "we want you to understand that these are great products that deliver great functionality, but are designed in a way that is fashionable."
But even in its press release, directed at journalists who generally lack the requisite number of coins to create retail friction, Sony is less than subtle about the real attraction of its newest DVD model - one of five being released down here in Australia, next month - proclaiming in its headline:
Stand out from the crowd this season with futuristic handycam. Sony's DVD7 camcorder breaks all the moulds with its one-of-a-kind styling.
It’s one-of-a-kind styling tends to make it look like something out of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but that’s just the opinion of a distinctly unfashionable computer columnist, who is no doubt resentful of the fact that he’s not likely to be able to raise the $1399 required to buy the thing. Not that he would buy it anyway. He’s far more interested in buying a Mini DV camera with Firewire, which the models that record to DVD don’t of course have.
Girls aren't likely to buy it, either, because they will have spent all their cash creating a desirable impression with the DCR-PC55/E range – which comes in colours Sony describes as – let’s see if we’ve got this right – “ Racy Red, Glam White Graphite Black and Sleek Silver”.
The god-like female can slip one of these things into her Prada handbag, what with it weighing only 360g and measuring just 99mmx45mmx72mm. In addition to having a 3” hybrid LCD screen, it comes with a handycam station to simplify connectivity (USB, iLink and AV), and serves as a handy stand for the camera’s Slide Show Plus software to view the VGA still images they might have captured on the Memory Stick card.
It looks ever so much like an electric razor, which may or may not be why, according to the Sony chicks who displayed it to us, every female they’ve shown it to wants to buy one, immediately, at any price ... well, at $1499 at any rate, which is what Sony intends to charge for it. We’re not sure if it complements the prevailing Boho fashion rage or not. Possibly one could drape some beads over it.
Posted by cw at 02:58 PM
By the skin of our teeth
You may recall that when we first took our iBurst card out for a tram ride, we forgot to validate our ticket. This morning, heading for a Sony launch in Little Bourke St, we took the 96, and settled down to check the Inbox and inspect the blog.
Somewhere near the casino - our attention was distracted - an Indian gentleman wearing a yellow and black Polo Sport jacket, T-shirt and jeans took up a post at the door, then, as we took off, flashed a badge in Bleeding Edge's face, and asked to see our ticket.
Fortunately, this time, we'd validated a daily ticket.
Another inspector, wearing jeans and grey track suit top, picked up a respectable looking middle-aged lady who unfortunately hadn't.
By the way, the light rail route has terrific reception all the way into the city.
April 04, 2005
Subscribing to Bleeding Edge
"Payment," as one of our friends once noted, "is the sincerest form of flattery." We've therefore been highly flattered by the fact that several of our readers have suggested that they'd be willing to become paid subscribers to keep Bleeding Edge going.
Steve put it this way:
Tell me a reasonable sub, suck me in with some give aways that I don’t need and my funds transfer will be on the way. Sure you will lose some blog purists, but you will survive to do what you want to do.
And Maureen had this to say:
I worry about expecting everything for nothing. I have learnt heaps from the column, radio show, blog and forum, and have been inspired to learn more.
We appreciate the thoughts, but we’re not thinking of charging a subscription. We’d like it to be completely voluntary. That’s why we’ve come up with the Patrons idea. If you think you get some value out of the various Bleeding Edge activities, and you’d like to support us, you can either make a credit card payment through Pay Pal, or send us an email to arrange an electronic bank deposit.
We’re trying to come up with some ideas for additional value, as Steve suggests, and we’ll continue with our plans for display advertising. We’ve also pursuing an idea for another blog venture, that might produce some income. We’re going to hang in there for a while yet.
What with centuries of Catholic tradition having produced an extraordinary number of sexually depraved priests who have destroyed the lives of generations of their victims, it might have been time for a radical re-ordering of Holy Mother Church. John Paul II’s hard-line opposition to condoms having hastened the spread of AIDS and – who knows, caused perhaps as many truncated lives as abortions– one might have hoped that a new Pope might be prepared to be somewhat less authoritarian on matters such as women priests, contraception, homosexuality, liberation theology, and perhaps even papal infallibility.
After all, his predecessor has helped consign Communism to history’s refuse tip, and demonstrated that the Pope can draw a bigger crowd than the average rock star.
But no, not according to Cardinal George Pell. He’s scoffed at suggestions that there might be radical change. That seems a relatively safe bet – what with John Paul II having diligently stuffed the College of Cardinals with Pell-like conservatives. On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does get a vote, and there’s always that saying that “a fat Pope follows a thin one”. There are even suggestions we might be ready for a black Pope, or at least a tanned one, so perhaps the next one may be less likely than we think to echo the comments of John Paul II:
"I can't change what I've been teaching all my life."
Someone has to, surely, however, if the Church isn’t to completely run out of priests, and lose those of the faithful who’ve as yet had the good sense to measure their own conscience, and ignore a good deal of what the Holy Father instructed them to do. Perhaps that’s the ultimate legacy of a Pope who was, in our humble opinion, a good and well-meaning man, painfully misguided - the loss of reverence and a generation of “a la carte Catholics”. George Pell sees the status quo as “security”. We must pray for that man, because, truly, he’s a bit of a dill.
Onward! Ever onward!
We thought we were pushing the boundaries of Toad science with that Linksys WRT54GX SRX wireless router, but no, we’ve been assailed by tales of far superior feats of Wi-Fi derring-do.
We’ve scarcely been able to sleep, for instance, since one reader, Bryan, informed us that he had taken drastic measures to improve the performance of his Netgear WGT624 router, when he discovered that factors like triple-brick walls seriously impaired its range and speeds.
Bryan took this as a personal affront. He bought himself an external antenna, clambered up on the roof, and started learning an awful lot about connectors, transmission shadows and line loss.
A mere $200 and eight hours later, Bryan can now take his laptop to the coffee shop 200m down the street, and log in to his home network.
We suspect that this was no innocent sharing of information. A challenge has clearly been issued. The nearest coffee shop to the Bleeding Edge cave is somewhat more than 200m away, but we have no intention of being defeated by the piddling constraints of geography, particularly when we have the inspiration of a couple of kids like these.
We’re off to buy ourselves an antenna. Expect further reports.
Telstra 3 ... a great way to lose money
As the investment community whips itself into a fine old frenzy at the prospect of making big bucks out of the final Telstra sell-off, Alan Kohler was less than enthusiastic about the prospects for the investor. We absolutely agree – indeed we said much the same thing about Telstra 2. Keep it mind when they roll out the offering:
There is now a lot of tension between the company, the Government and the regulator, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). The ACCC is increasingly frustrated, pushing for tougher controls on Telstra to curb its market power. Telstra is getting more belligerent in its assertion that the level of competition is fine and that the ACCC is wrong. The Government is the umpire, but it has a clear conflict of interest, one that it's acknowledged. It doesn't want to damage the value of an asset it is about to sell, but it must decide between Telstra's board and executives and the ACCC’s Graeme Samuel and decide on the level of regulation.
Now, the world of technology and communication is full of unknowns for investors. Will wireless take over from wires in the ground, is digital broadband the future of everything, including television? It's hard to know.
But I reckon there is one thing we know for sure about Telstra: the regulation of it will get tougher once the Government is not a shareholder and there is no longer a conflict of interest. It may not be the current Minister, or perhaps even the next one, but eventually a minister of communications will side with the ACCC. Perhaps it will be the next Labor minister.
If you buy some of the Government's last shares, you're virtually guaranteed of a capital loss because Telstra's profit will be squeezed by tighter price controls and a tougher access regime. Now why would you do that?
April 03, 2005
On hating TV
We loved the recent Miss Marple series on ABC TV, but perhaps those mostly arrogant, dim-witted detectives she triumphed over have helped give the English crime series a bad name in the UK. The Guardian suggests they’re not a patch on their American equivalents.
Heartbeat is “whimsical piffle”. The Lynley Mysteries “basically Agatha Christie-esque crimes and characters in a contemporary setting”, the lead actor Nathanial Parker “looking like an investment banker who's late for a game of squash”, and his assistant Havers “lovely but thick”.
One thing the British do so much better than the Yanks, and for that matter practically anyone in Australia, is television criticism. They basically hate the medium that feeds them, which is a good start, in our opinion. Clearly Bleeding Edge’s style springs from the same tradition. We’re quite proud of the fact that during a stint of television reviewing we did for The Australian, we managed to get ourselves banned by every commercial network.
And Sam Chisholm (we’d better not say what we think of him) tried to sue us.
By the way, we’re blogging this with BlogJet, one of those blog editors that make the housekeeping chores on sites like this a little less arduous. It seems to work well with Movable Type, although we’re probably going to have a little trouble getting things like fonts right
Howard's report card
No doubt this is one of those educational "reforms" that Brendan Nelson is pushing through. Usually the teacher marks the report card, but when it comes to the Government's report card they fill it in themselves, and predictably, give themselves an A+ on everything.
Two questions: How much of OUR money did this utterly pointless garbage cost? Where can we enter all those C minuses?
And have you ever seen a more predictable, boring collection of links? Really, we've got to get his mind off sport. The boy lacks application.
Yes, but, we still beat them in cricket
We wonder if the fact that our Prime Minister is a cricket tragic has blinded him to the fact that while our professional team can beat their professional team, they're belting the cripes out of us when it comes to addressing issues such as the digital divide.
Posted by cw at 11:58 AM
Bleeding Edge felt like moping around the cave yesterday, as we contemplated our less than robust financial future, but the spouse insisted that we attend a Brighton movie palace to view Being Julia.
It's a wonderful movie, with a great performance from Annette Bening. We left the movie still slightly lost in the world of 1930s London theatre, and feeling that perhaps there's still hope for those of us who are somewhat older than 40. The screenplay came from a Somerset Maugham novella, which is no doubt why chaps who "bat for the other side" are portrayed so kindly. Unfortunately the story isn't yet in the public domain collection at Gutenberg.org. But The Moon and Sixpence, Of Human Bondage and The Magician are.
Spam king's shaky throne
Scott Richter, the self-proclaimed king of spam who is behind OptInRealBig.com and billions of spam emails is trying to OptOutRealBig by putting the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
What with having agreed to pay $US50,000 to settle a case brought by New York's Attorney-General, and having Microsoft on his tail with a $US46 million writ for anti-spam damages, Richter is probably regretting his hubris of December 2001, when he started suing anti-spammers, and boasted that he loved their attention.
The more attention we get, the more money we make. We are going to be big. REALBIG, the name we use says it all ... we are legit and getting stronger by the day. The more people talk about us the more companies find us. COMPLAINERS=$$$$$$.
Unfortunately for him, he managed to get under the skin of one complainer, legendary anti-spammer Susan "Shiksaa" Gunn, when he published her father's personal details on the Internet.
The background to the case appears in a book called Spam Kings, by Brian McWilliams. It's a great read.
Posted by cw at 10:47 AM
April 02, 2005
The trouble with newspapers, and with us
This morning we subjected the Bleeding Edge daughter to one of our all-time favourite boring renditions on the topic of What's Wrong With Newspapers, explaining that editorial resources were being brutally pared back because analysts and investment funds expect newspapers to meet the same operating margins as other, usually less mature industries.
Coincidentally, this afternoon we discovered a piece in Barron's which says pretty much the same thing. (It must be tough for daughters when Dad starts sounding like a Barron's article.)
We started running into these problems way back when we were launching what is now the Next section in The Age. We never had an adequate budget, largely because management of that era never considered the income stream. It was concerned purely with expenses. As a consequence, we turned in 80-hour weeks without overtime for a couple of years, as the section grew to three times what the original budget provided for. The profits, of course, must have been immense, but because they only ever considered expenses, it was a nightmare to resource.
More than a decade later, the situation is much worse. Not only have staff numbers been reduced, freelancers are being asked to accept the same rates that they might have worked for 20 years ago.
In the case of Bleeding Edge, for instance, having given up our cushy staff job about six years ago, we're now earning less than $30,000 a year before tax, after we meet all the expenses that are peculiar to technology writing. We always find it amusing - if slightly painfully amusing - when people suggest how well we must be doing, what with being recognised as a local technology guru.
Frankly, the sort of column we write no longer makes sense for a freelancer. It takes at least two days, and sometimes three, to install and test and remove software and hardware, and recover from various problems etc, to say nothing of the hours we spend answering emails, doing the ABC show (unpaid), etc.
We'd be making much more money if we were still writing features for the Good Weekend, because that sort of writing doesn't have the same sort of overheads, and requires much less research time per thousand words. After all these years fighting with bean counters, we must have finally picked up on their logic. The reality is that we aren't going to be able to continue writing Bleeding Edge for much longer, unless things improve.
We had hoped the blog might help, but it takes up an enormous amount of time, which means we can't do as much paid writing as we used to, and our particular readers don't seem terribly interested in responding to Google ads. Nor, it seems, are they willing to donate. We've had a total of three patrons so far, and we're tremendously grateful to them. In an era where it seems most people expect these things for free, they have been an inspiration. Unfortunately, the total amount being less than $100, it hasn't dramatically changed the bottom line.
Which leaves display advertising. We don't expect to earn much from that, but we're going to have to dip our toes in the water. We don't really know if we can get advertising, although we do seem to have built substantial traffic. We're now averaging almost 1000 individual sessions per day, which is more than 150,000 page views per month, so that should be relatively attractive. But it does raise some ethical considerations. We're pretty sure we can handle them, and if it ever came to the point that we thought an advertiser could exert the slightest influence on our opinion, we'd toss in journalism for keeps.
It will be weeks before anything happens - IF anything happens - but we thought we'd keep you informed of our thinking. The gloomy reality is that Bleeding Edge will probably be going out of business. But let's see.
This is important. The sort of car you drive, according to the New York Times, could be seen as a reflection of your politics.
Researchers say most Porsche drivers are Republicans, as are buyers of American cars - except, for some reason, those who buy Pontiacs, who tend to be Democrats. And Volvos may not actually represent quite what you think. Volvos in the past were the most "Democratic" cars, by 44 to 32 percent, followed by Subarus and Hyundais. But as Volvo's advertising has increasingly stressed performance, in addition to safety, they're being increasingly purchased by Republicans.
Volvos have become more plush and bourgeois, which is a Republican thing to be," said Mickey Kaus, a dual expert in politics and cars as the author of the Kausfiles and Gearbox columns for Slate. "Subaru is the new Volvo - that is, it is what Volvos used to be: trusty, rugged, inexpensive, unpretentious, performs well, maybe a bit ugly. You don't buy it because you want to show you have money; you buy it because you have college-professor values.
In our admittedly brief reading of this, we think we can say that conservative voters probably tend to speed, and possibly engage in attention-seeking behaviour that almost certainly impairs their driving performance. They are therefore probably best treated with extreme caution.
In the interests of reducing the national road toll, we have to try to translate this to the Australian market. For instance, who do you think would buy this?
What's blogging about, exactly?
We know we annoy some people with our posts on politics. The environment. The media. Food and wine. All those random things we cast our toad-like eyes upon, from time to time. We know we're supposed to be, purely and simply, a technology blog.
Well, we're mainly a technology blog, but somehow we think the [admittedly brief] tradition of blogging demands that these things should to some extent, reflect the character and interests of the blogger. And our range of interests is pretty broad.
We also reflect, from time to time, on the dynamic between blogs and traditional media, and whether blogs will eventually take a significant slice of the mindshare of the mass media. Here's an interesting comment on that.
We found this particularly amusing:
If you regularly write nonsense or lies (or if you can't write at all) then people won't read your blog and few people will take any notice of you. (I'd add that this isn't always the case in the mainstream media.) If you want to run a blog that people will be interested in then you have to find an audience, build it up, look after it, deliver something interesting and readable.
We haven't ever bothered with a FlyBuys card - we've always taken the view that our information is worth more than the rewards on offer - but maybe we would, if the sort of benefits outlined here were available.
According to retailing experts - can you imagine studying shopping as a career? - Australian shops are terribly behind the times. The big chains could embed chips in those loyalty cards so that when you popped into a store, you'd be greeted by plasma screens flashing "You-Only, Now" discounts. Trundle your trolley along the supermarket aisles, and you might get a personalised reduction - yours and yours alone - of say, 20 per cent. Would it make you want to go back? You bet it would.
The Danks hardware company, which also owns the store brands Home Timber & Hardware, Thrifty-Link and Plants Plus, is praised for its enlightened attitude to training franchisees in customer skills.
Our personal award for the best shopping experience would have to go to Jaycar Electronics. Every staff member we've ever talked to actually knows a lot - an awful lot - about the product range. If they gave us a 20 per cent discount, we'd probably want to move in with a sleeping bag.
More than coffee in Brazil
We don't imagine too many of our politicians choose to include Brazil in their publicly-funded overseas travel itineraries. And they're never going to invite Brazilian President, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, to address Cabinet, the way they did with Bill Gates.
That's why, unlike Brazil, we're going to go on wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year expatriating our public funds to overseas software giants, in the form of licence fees and royalties.
Unlike John Howard, and our IT and Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, Mr. da Silva seems to know something about IT ... or more likely is at least prepared to listen to people outside the professional lobbyists and entrenched interests who have captured this Government's ear.
He has instructed government ministries and state-run companies to progressively switch from proprietary to free operating systems, like Linux. Under Mr da Silva, Brazil has also become the first country to require any company or research institute that receives government financing to develop software to license it as open-source.
By the end of this month, Brazil plans to roll out a program called PC Conectado, or Connected PC, to help millions of low-income Brazilians buy their first computers.
On the other hand, Brazil has just given agricultural chemical giants like Monsanto a hand, by passing legislation that paves the way for legalisation of genetically modified crops.
Posted by cw at 10:11 AM
TV ... the missing link
One of the things we like about the Home Media Centre is its electronic program guide which allows you to view everything that's on offer on TV - including Foxtel shows - and schedule them for recording with just one click (or maybe two or three if you want to record them nightly or weekly).
A few months ago, we wrote about Peter Vogel's ICEguide EPG, which would provide the same, highly-desirable features to the Topfield TF5000PVRt, for $3 a week. It took a little longer than Peter thought, but it's finally available. They've got a special offer: $1099 for the unit, and a 12-month ICE TV subscription.
We haven't yet tried it out, but we've heard some good reports, and we'll be looking at it soon.
The war of words between Yahoo fans and the Google crew is interesting enough, but Bleeding Edge wanted to know a little more about these folks. In the process, we discovered a world that makes life in the Bleeding Edge cave seem awfully dull. And destroys forever the myth that geeks are boring.
Who, for instance, is Ben Hammersley, who wrote that Guardian story on Yahoo? Well, judging from his blog, he's something of a modern-day Byron ...
Armed only with a PowerBook and some fine pipe tobacco, Ben Hammersley is a journalist, writer, explorer and an errant developer and explainer of semantic web technology. He's also liable to spread his dirty dirty words over at Nice Mr O'Reilly's place [translation: he's written a couple of books published by O'Reilly, on blogging and RSS syndication.]
As an Englishman of the clichéd sort, his angle brackets always balance, and his tweed is always pressed. By day, mild mannered; by night, crimefighter. Jammily married to the most beautiful woman ever ever ever [Wedding pictures here] and godlike figure of huntsmanliness to his three dogs, Ben Hammersley lives somewhere in Florence, Italy.
Further digging established the fact that those three dogs are greyhounds. And - we're not making this up
Galileo's little finger is in a jar only 400 yards from his desk.
The writer of the second essay is Kevin Fox, a user interface designer at Google, whose biography is similarly compelling.
After detailing an awesome CV in the world of programming, Kevin gets to the personal bit:
Kevin is an avid ballroom and Irish dancer, and tries to write a thousand personal words a day. His current goals include learning both kiteboarding and the mysteries of love. Kevin's secret wish is to live in a spacious geodesic dome in the forest, with an attached sprung wood ballroom for entertaining, and an easy commute to the city.
Sounds admirable to us. Oh. And apparently he's got a greenhouse.
Bleeding Edge is off to buy a brace of greyhounds. And we've booked in for dancing lessons.
Posted by cw at 08:30 AM
An Open Source money scandal?
Posted by cw at 08:06 AM
Gmail sees Yahoo and raises it 1GB
While we probably won't get to the stage where they're paying US to store our mail, there seems no end to the lengths Google and Yahoo will go to attract users to their free mail services.
There's a space battle of sorts going on between the search engine giants. Yesterday, Google lifted its 1GB ceiling on its Inboxes to 2GB - enough to accommodate something like 200,000 text e-mails - just a week after Yahoo quadrupled its free storage to 1GB.
"One gigabyte did seem like a lot," Gmail's product management director George Harik told News.com, "but it turns out there are a lot of heavy users of mail. They send attachments, share photos. It all adds up. We wanted to make sure we have a plan in place for when people reach their storage limit. We don't want people to worry that they might run out."
That seems an unlikely event, because Google signalled that it will go on expanding those Inboxes in the coming months. To which Yahoo spokeswoman, Karen Mahon, responded: "At a certain point beyond 1 gigabyte, it's just a number and becomes irrelevant to most free e-mail users. As an offline analogy: Going beyond a gigabyte for free is like adding a bucket of water into an ocean." No doubt they're already forming their own bucket brigade.
April 01, 2005
Power to the (shopping) people
A lot of companies - Telstra springs to mind - haven't yet woken up to this, but the days when they could pay mere lip service to the notion that the customer is king are over.
According to The Economist [PAID SUB.] the ability to find information and share experiences online has given the consumer a decided edge. And if business - Telstra for instance - doesn't respond to the new reality, they're going to suffer.
Posted by cw at 10:51 PM
New forum posts
We'll adjust the formatting later, but over there on the right you'll see our attempt to bring the forum, which for many of you is the best part of the blog, up front.
What do you think?
The toad in history
There seems to be some consternation about the sudden appearance of a toad among new users of the blog. We think we should therefore coach you all in its origin. We wrote this column waaaay back in 1993. Reading it, all these years later, made us feel (a) nostalgic and (b) resigned, because, alas, little has changed. We are still addicted to speed.
Is this at all familiar to any of you?
The toad is back
We promised he'd return, but we thought he might look better in designer colours. Initially we wondered if he really was pretty in pink, but it's sort of grown on us.
Matthew's also been busy on the forum, and right now he's working on bringing notification of forum posts into the front part of the blog.
Let us know what you think.
Who says words will never hurt you?
Ever since Slashdot revealed that WordPress got itself banned from Google Adwords by secretly inserting words that attracted much higher-paying ads, we've had an irresistible urge to write about mesothelioma. And, umm, debt consolidation.
Posted by cw at 12:46 PM
Prince caught being honest
Look, he is a touch pompous, and he's a Pom so who cares anyway, but on the whole, we think it's a good thing that Prince Charles should express his true feelings about the Royal news factory. We think he should feel free, in future, to grab whatever microphone is stuck in his face, and extemporise. We'd probably like him a lot more if he did.
If Australian poultry is raised the same way as British poultry, we think that we might after all, be eating a lot more red meat from now on.
Please don't frighten the voters
We feel ever so much better about richly rewarding activities like clear-felling, petrol-guzzling and spreading chemical fertilisers etc now that our Minister for the Environment, Senator the Hon. Ian Gordon Campbell, has branded that Millennium Ecosystem Assessment warning about the degradation of the planet's life support systems as "alarmist".
Like the rest of his government, Senator Campbell doesn't approve of having Australians alarmed by these reports, which is why Australia contributed absolutely nothing to the project, and has comprehensively buried other reports that have said much the same thing about the local ecosystem.
The only thing that has us slightly concerned is, umm, qualifications. You see, those 1360 authorities from 95 countries who completed the report include some of the world's most highly-qualified scientists. Whereas, before he got himself put on the national payroll, Senator Campbell was, according to his biography, a commercial and industrial property consultant and company director ... the ideal credentials, obviously, for an environment minister. Also, there don't seem to be any letters after his name. And before being appointed as the guardian of our natural bounty, every time he used the word "climate", he tended to precede it with the word "economic".
But that's probably only a teensy-weensy consideration, because, in his latest rigorous research on environmental matters, Andrew Bolt has established that whatever qualifications those who disagree with him on the topic might have, and evidence that seems to refute his jolly guarantees that climate change is a fiction, they are, in fact, "global dimwits". So it's probably OK for us to trade in our bicycle for a Humvee.
Big Pond ... bringing up the rear
Read this and weep. The Guardian welcomes the widespread introduction of real broadband services by British Telecom at prices that ought to make Telstra Big Pond executives hang their heads in shame - had the capacity for shame not been firmly rooted out in the staff selection and training processes.
It then compares the British experience with France, where in major urban centres, "it is not difficult to get an 8Mbps connection, combined with free local and national telephone calls, and access to TV channels delivered through DSL, for €30 -
$A35 $A50- a month".
Labor's electoral reform
Victoria's leading the way in electoral reform, it seems, what with the revelation by one of its administrators that more than half the "members" of the Victorian ALP don't, in fact, exist. Their membership fees were paid purely for the purpose of electing certain candidates - this is really cute - at meetings that didn't happen, after which their involvement abruptly ceased.
The procedure eliminates the risk that electors might get to vote for candidates that might genuinely represent their interests, rather than the interests of the professionals who know so much more about the practice of power than - ho-hum - the man in the street. It's brilliant, when you think of it. Absolutely brilliant!
The obvious next step is to abolish compulsory voting ... indeed to abolish anything as costly and time-consuming as an election. What we'll do, instead, is out-source the entire democratic machinery to the Victorian ALP's faction chiefs. We'll save millions. Why bother, for instance, printing electoral rolls? That alone should save a few million, and the savings in paper should appease the Greens. And having elections that don't actually happen will avoid tedious conflicts with football Grand Finals etc.
It's anything but funny, of course, because it's not just the party that's been corrupted by these dirty little manoeuvres. The entire process of democracy has been trampled underfoot by cynical faction leaders.
Our esteemed Premier, and ALP state secretary Erik Locke both claim that the allegations can be handled through the party's internal processes. Just as soon as somebody discovers where they are. We suspect they're in the same place as Steve Bracks' missing moral principles. Gosh he looks good on TV. Almost cherub-like. But terribly, terribly flawed.
Can somebody please tell us this: we know the issue isn't exactly new, but why hasn't this become a MUCH bigger story? Somehow it seems to have been managed on to page seven, for God's sake.
Maybe that's the real news. We've all become so inured to corruption that something that should bring governments down causes scarcely more than a ripple.