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December 16, 2005

To the beach

We're going to leave Bleeding Edge in your hands for the next three weeks. The forum will continue, but there won't be any posts. Best wishes to you all in the meantime, and we hope you'lll join us again in the new year.

Posted by cw at 11:12 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2005

Norton Insecurity

Yet another reason not to buy Norton Anti-Virus et al. Even the download process is insecure.

Posted by cw at 02:28 PM

The year in technology

We'd be interested in hearing your summary of the year in technology. Here's ours:

It's the end of another year in technology and Bleeding Edge has just repacked the last box of gadgetry and sent it back to the last vendor. Now it's time to head for the beach, pausing only for our annual reflection on the mad world of technology.

What has been most memorable this year, in one respect at least, is that it wasn't all that mad.

PC makers have adopted a far more leisurely pace. They're no longer piling on extra megahertz every few months, and what with the shipping date for Windows Vista and Office 12 several months away, there's no urgent need for more speed.

PCs that are one and even two years old are perfectly capable of running today's operating systems with ease. Fortunately for computer shops, customers suddenly developed an urgent desire for smaller packages. People threw out their CRT displays and took advantage of substantial price cuts in LCD screens. And cheaper notebooks proved irresistible to many.

There was another sense, too, in which computers became more mobile. This year, they shifted from the office desk top firmly into the lounge room. personal video recorders and MP3 players - smaller versions of computers, but still computers - were suddenly hooked up to hi-fi systems and people started learning about "time shifting" (recording a radio or TV show to a hard drive to watch later without the commercials).

They also started to learn about electronic program guides, the most impressive of which was the ICE TV (icetv.com.au). Subscribe to that and recording a show becomes a matter of clicking a button on the remote control.

All that digital recording placed considerable pressure on hard drive storage.

At the beginning of the year we were specifying a 120GB hard drive for our quarterly workhorse PC. By the end of the year, we'd moved to 200GB.

The storage capacity of Apple's iPod continued to grow, and by year's end Australia finally got its iTunes Music Store, followed by the first video iPod. The store gave podcasting a massive boost by offering a more convenient way to find and download the free audio from individuals and increasingly from broadcasters, including the ABC and BBC.

Apple users welcomed the latest version of the Mac OS X operating system, Tiger, which Bleeding Edge rates as the year's best operating system.

On the other hand, Windows XP continued to perform well as Microsoft's most stable operating system. Linux continued to evolve, but remains in the realm of the expert.
It was a year in which the web suddenly gained furious new energy and web-based services arrived in a big way with AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript + XML) programming and services such as the personal organising tool Backpack, the Basecamp project management tool and other offerings from Chicago-based 37 Signals.

The web became a digital cornucopia of interesting applications and new communities as word leaked out of developments such as del.icio.us, which allows you to keep your favourite websites, music and books in a convenient place, share them and discover what other people regarded as memorable. Flickr offered a new way to store, search and share photographs.

By the end of the year, Microsoft announced its version of web services called Live, although details remain sketchy.

Microsoft spent the entire year being increasingly overshadowed by Google, which launched initiatives such as Google Maps and Google Earth and threatened to become a planetary force.

The demand for faster broadband connections spiralled, but Telstra proved incapable of responding.

The good news was that competitors such as iiNet suddenly started installing their own ADSL2 equipment in telephone exchanges and those who located fortuitously in the right suburbs started signing up for speeds of up to 12 Mbps.

At the same time, internet telephony has blossomed and VoIP devices such as Netcomm's My Net Fone and the Engin voice box, along with iiNet's Belkin VoIP routers, picked up significant sales.

Whatever bandwidth they had, Australians suddenly wanted to be able to access it wirelessly.

Wi-fi (and faster wi-fi at that) became ubiquitous.

iBurst mobile broadband technology became available in Melbourne, allowing Bleeding Edge to blog - wasn't everybody blogging in 2005? - on the tram.

So how would we characterise the year 2005 in terms of technology?

Well, it was the year that computers stopped being associated largely with work and suddenly started to be a tool for fun.

But not as much fun as a beach. See you in January.

Posted by cw at 09:59 AM | Comments (5)

December 14, 2005

Browser holes

The Washington Post's highly useful Security Fix blog has news of vulnerabilities in both Opera and Internet Explorer. Time to make sure you're covered.

Posted by cw at 10:45 AM

December 13, 2005

Pushing pills for fun and profit

You've got to give it to those international drug companies. They're super-helpful. First they help people pop pills by teaching them to pester their doctors, then they help doctors push pills. Now, according to the Wall St Journal, they help researchers write articles [PAY WALL] for medical journals that promote the merits of their products. According to the article, "Many of the articles that appear in scientific journals under the bylines of prominent academics are actually written by ghostwriters in the pay of drug companies. These seemingly objective articles, which doctors around the world use to guide their care of patients, are often part of a marketing campaign by companies to promote a product or play up the condition it treats."

Maybe we shouldn't trust the medical profession as much as we do, given that at every point of potential ethical strain, they seem to succumb.

But don't expect anything to happen, just because the WSJ runs the story on page one. The New York Times wrote about much the same racket three years ago. The drug industry just got better at it.

Posted by cw at 11:21 PM

The costly bulldog

What with the fact that Basil, the Bleeding Edge bulldog, has been losing his hair, his humans have been visiting the veterinary specialist for several weeks now, buying thyroid supplements and antibiotics and ear cleaners and various other medications.

Today the specialist advised us - having performed another blood test and issued us with an entirely new set of pills - that bulldogs are worth an average of $2000 a year to the veterinary profession. In a pig's ear they are. If BleedingEdge can adjust to the hairless look, so can Basil. It's the height of fashion, we're told.

Posted by cw at 07:01 PM

December 12, 2005

Back on the air

We haven't been able to post or see any comments for two days - the comments table was corrupt, and Matthew has had to rebuild it. Not sure why that affected posting, but it did. And we'd also run out of server space, which might have led to the corruption in the first place. So we've added some more.

Yesterday, by the way, was Bleeding Edge's 60th birthday. We had the most fabulous party in the back yard, with a brilliant young jazz combo and wonderful food prepared by a friend of ours, and lots to drinik, including some French roses we picked up at Dan Murphy's. Can't think of a better drink for summer drinking.

Posted by cw at 09:56 PM | Comments (6)

Alan Kohler's arithmetic

Bleeding Edge signed up for a free trial of Alan Kohler's Eureka Report on investments, just in case we ever had enough money to invest. Since it expired, we've had the follow up email, which declares: "As your free trial of Eureka Report has now ended, to read the articles summarised below, you'll have to subscribe. The good news is Eureka Report - Australia's most comprehensive online media for independent investors - is not only inexpensive, it's also tax deductible.

"We're happy to extend our foundation member 15% discount to you if you act now. That means you'll pay only $ 24.00 a month, or $ 240.00 for a full year, instead of $240. Just click on the link below to subscribe."

Can someone explain the arithmetic? $24 a month, or $240 for a full year? That adds up to $288 doesn't it? OK, they probably mean that you get two months free. It doesn't say that, though. And how does paying $240 for a full year work out to be cheaper than $240? Somehow that sort of arithmetic undermines one's confidence in a financial newsletter.

Posted by cw at 09:54 PM | Comments (1)

Comments problem

We haven't been able to see any comments that might have been posted in the past couple of days. The reason: we've exceeded our 350MB allowance. It's now been increased, so feel free to try again.

Posted by cw at 02:18 PM

December 09, 2005

A very timely survey

Anyone who has used Melbourne airport on a Friday evening would be aware of the fact it can involve a very long wait in a taxi queue, largely because there isn't sufficient parking for taxis.

Today, however, has been a very slow day. We had to wait only five minutes for a cab, and the driver said he'd been waiting for two hours, compared to the usual 20 minutes to half an hour to pick up a fare.

So today, of course, is the day the airport authorities decided to do a survey on the taxi facilities, and the waiting times. Amazing!

Posted by cw at 07:14 PM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2005

The pay-for-loyalty phone plan

We're not going to be giving our business to Mobiles 2000 after all. You may remember we were somewhat suspicious about one of the comments. Thanks to Stephen, we did a little checking. It turned out that we'd been astroturfed.

Posted by cw at 01:41 PM | Comments (2)

Margo Kingston abdicates

Political journalist and founder of the Sydney Morning Herald's Webdiary has pulled the plug on her venture into independent journalism, on the perfectly understandable grounds that the enterprise sent her broke.

Margo has proved herself to be quite the master of the cryptic comment, given that she's in the communications business. She never gave us the details of the rift with the SMH that precipitated her departure. Now she writes: "Certain events have proved to me that my skin is not thick enough to survive in this game." Does she mean the journalism game? Or the blogging game? Possibly both. It's certainly true that journalism in the blogging medium is a lot tougher than in the traditional world of newspapers.

Out here, your readers bite back. It takes far less effort to dash off an abusive email or comment than to take the trouble to write a letter to the editor. So those of us who do have by-lines have got to be prepared to take it on the chin every now and again. Or maybe she found it difficult to get the sort of access a journalist needs to survive without a masthead like the Sydney Morning Herald's backing her up. What was it that got under her skin? Dammit? We do hope Margo will be a little more forthcoming on the topic.

We've always felt that Margo should have contributed more material to Webdiary than she did. While it's very worthy of her to give all these new voices a forum, and while we support the idea of grassroots journalism, we found we couldn't warm to many of the contributors to Webdiary.. It's fashionable to criticise the so-called mainstream media, but trained journalists practising their discipline seem to Bleeding Edge to produce a better product, by and large. Mind you, there do seem to be quite a few trained journalists who don't seem to be all that good at practising their discipline. On the other hand, we couldn't get beyond the first couple of chapters of Not Happy John.

Margo's departure then, is sad. She will be missed. But it doesn't mean that journalists can't build a career out of blogging. Provided they don't mind being constantly broke. And have ultra-thick skins.

Posted by cw at 11:13 AM | Comments (3)

December 07, 2005

What's a blog?

We've been up to no good, as usual, over at Razor, having stirred up quite a controversy about the "best blog" award by Smarty Host. We happened to be on the judging panel, but we were just a touch concerned about the process which led to a site that we thought had some considerable failings, being declared the winner.

As one of our regular readers, Trevor Cook, just commented: "How can a site that has no comments, no trackbacks, no feeds and has hitherto attracted no attention whatsoever in the blogosphere be considered Australia's best blog?"

Posted by cw at 04:23 PM | Comments (5)

Your phone isn't working? From now on, complaints will be received only by phone.

Looks like Bleeding Edge isn't the only one having one or two problems with our mobile phone. There's been a remarkable rise in complaints to the Telecoms Industry Ombudsman.

Mobile service complaints during the 2005 financial year rose by 87.5 per cent, from 21,465 to 40,254. That's one every 13 minutes. They included issues over billing, contracts and faults. Mobile faults doubled from 3692 to 7379.

Internet service complaints rose by 54.1 per cent.

That's an unacceptable level of increase, in our opinion. Makes one wonder where the telcos are making their cost savings.

Posted by cw at 03:33 PM | Comments (1)

December 05, 2005

Multitasking service

On Saturday, the atoms that formerly comprised the Bleeding Edge spouse's mobile phone spontaneously disintegrated and rearranged themselves elsewhere. Possibly in a parallel universe. [It would take a good deal more courage than Bleeding Edge has to suggest that this, or any other object formerly in the possession of the spouse might have been lost. They are simply subject to physical perturbations of an uncommon variety.]

This required an urgent visit this morning to Calculator King, and the expenditure of $900 or so on a Treo 650, case and screen protector, kindly applied by Jack Cooper, who is probably the world's greatest living applicator of screen protectors. (The price of these things has dropped quite a bit, fortunately).

Because the Telstra MobileNet account is in Bleeding Edge's name, it also required our attendance at Mobiles 2000, a Telstra dealer in Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, to obtain a new SIM card. We realise, of course, that replacing a SIM card doesn't earn a dealer much, if any money, and the process of hanging on the end of the line while Telstra verifies the customer's identity and talks to its machines is extremely tedious.

We therefore understood why the gentleman who served us was serially distracted. Unfortunately, this distraction prevented him from noticing that there was a system fault which meant that when we got it home, the SIM card refused to register on the Telstra network. We lost a half hour trying to get it going, then rang Telstra to report the problem. The operator was extremely courteous and helpful, but the upshot was that according to her, it's going to take another hour or so to fix the problem. Six hours after we bought the phone, and replaced the SIM card, it's still not operational. Stay tuned.

One thing that the Mobiles 2000 person should have realised though: our contract is up in less than a month, which means we'll be in the market again for another contract. We don't think we'll be taking up Mobiles 2000's time.

UPDATE: Finally connected at about 5.45pm. Which meant the spouse had no phone for an entire business day. The primary problem, of course, was caused by Telstra, but the dealer had a chance to impress us and gain our business, and instead lost us.

We're still happy, by the way, with MobileNet, although we know that the charges are over the top. The sheer reach of the network, however, and the service we've had from them keep us hanging in there. If Big Pond was as efficient, perhaps we'd still ... well, maybe not. That big a rip-off we couldn't contemplate.

UPDATE TWO: The chaps at Mobiles 2000 seem to be a decent bunch who were having a bad day - apparently Mondays tend to be bad days in the mobile phone industry - and happened to have been let down by the Telstra system. They've apologised. We've agreed to give them another go.

Posted by cw at 03:33 PM | Comments (7)

December 04, 2005

Howard's legacy of loss

This is possibly the most profoundly stupid thing we've read in ages, from Mike Steketee's lead story in The Weakened Australian's Inquirer section::

More than any other measure, including the GST or the sale of Telstra or even the welfare reform and anti-terror legislation the Senate is due to finalise next week, workplace reform will serve as Howard's legacy. It goes to the core of the culture of entrepreneurship and individual initiative he wants to entrench in Australia.

If John Howard were even vaguely interested in stimulating a flowering of entrepreneurial activity, he'd have long ago done something about providing better access to seed funding for our innovating start-ups. He'd have changed the tax and regulatory environment. He'd have done all he could to identify the innovations that Australians have come up with despite the indifference of the government and the investment community, and keep them here, rather than forcing those entrepreneurs to sell their ideas overseas. He'd have built an equivalent of Enterprise Ireland, for instance, or the Finnish National Technology Agency.

He'd have provided the computing and telecommunications infrastructure that Australian entrepreneurs and industry in general need to compete against their competitors overseas, rather than trading their future for a short-term - and it seems ultimately illusory - pot of gold from privatising Telstra.

He wouldn't have presided over policies like Backing Australia's Ability, which have done nothing to change the fact that Australian business R&D is about half the average rate of other OECD nations, and Mexico, Hungary and the Czech Republic are producing more technology exports than Australia.

Entrepreneurs don't need to exploit unprotected workers. They need the best and the brightest.

A government that recognised that wouldn't have done what the Howard Government has been doing to universities and industrial relations.

It will take Australia's entrepreneurs years to recover from John Howard's legacy. If they ever do. Steketee should be aware of that.

Posted by cw at 09:06 PM | Comments (7)

December 02, 2005

Norton under attack

Another good reason not to buy Norton's security software - aside from the fact that, as we have said so often, it frequently causes problems and can be difficult to remove completely- comes from Business Week. It reports that hackers have apparently got bored with exploiting Microsoft's security holes, and are now going after Symantec products, which offer rich pickings, given that with 65 per cent market share, they're installed on 50 million PCs.

This is clearly an area where there's no such thing as safety in numbers. A Nov. 22 report by the SANS Institute, a computer-security watchdog, showed a tenfold increase in attempts to exploit a flaw in a Symantec data-protection program after it was disclosed in May.

And it may be that smaller companies actually respond more quickly to threats. According to AV-Test.org, a German virus tracker, Symantec's average response time for the 12 major virus outbreaks during the first half of 2005 was 10 hours, 48 minutes. McAfee scored slightly better with 9 hours, 29 minutes. F-Secure, a Finnish security firm, took 2 hours, 37 minutes.

Jeremy Howard has already recorded his fondness for the free. Czech-based anti-virus utility, AVG. We wouldn't put it in quite the same class as Kaspersky or F-Secure. But you can't knock the price.

Posted by cw at 04:43 PM | Comments (5)

December 01, 2005

Just talk to the machine, while we sack the people

Over at Razor, we seem to have upset those wonderful people who gave us the talking service replacement machine, aka the IVR system. We've been trying to uncover the codes that allow one to evade the question and push-button answer routine, and immediately talk to a human being.

The comments have unearthed a good deal of resentment to these so-called boons to customer support, but also some of the total contempt for customers and myopic attention to profit that drives the spread of these infernal devices.

This morning, for instance, we got the following breath-taking put-down of those uppity customers who don't want to waste their time being stuffed about by machines:

"Do you really think that the 'dumb bunny' queue staff will be able to answer your question everytime? When they don't, you complain when you get transfered to the right place! HA! The irony....

"How can companies win when its customers are too stupid to realise we are trying to help them??

"Repetitive tasks are automated, either through speech or DTMF, to get those tasks out of the call centres in an attempt to shorten the queues for genuine issues so customers dont complain about long queues which happen anyway because of CRAP LIKE THIS.

"Hey, I'm not really worried, it keeps me in a job : )

"Think about this. The more you bypass a menu, the more calls that are in queue, so the longer you take to be answered. In turn the company has to hire more staff which increase overheads which the company passes on either by maintaining current pricing or increasing pricing. Good work team, jog it in. "

To which we of course replied.

Over at Loosewire, our colleague, Jeremy Wagstaff, seems to have picked up the issue from Dan Gilmor who drew the most inane response from one of those companies that are making money out of the systematic fobbing off of customers. Jeremy has analysed a that, and other pathetic defences of these systems.

Here's one of the so-called reasons the last link offers to obey the machines: "The more people that [the correct word, by the way, is who, but when you view customers as ciphers, you tend to get confused] use IVR systems for easy requests (see #4), the greater the number of live agents who are available for complex requests. This leads to better and more qualified service for everyone - by using the IVR system you are doing a service to all your fellow callers.." Jeremy concludes:`"In other words, by subjecting yourself to a time-wasting maze of dumb or irrelevant choices you’re helping the company cut down the number of ‘live agents’ who actually provide a service."

Posted by cw at 11:31 AM | Comments (2)