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March 31, 2006

A prayer for single malt

As a young Catholic lad, Bleeding Edge can remember endlessly mumbling to a long list of saints to "pray for us". We're wondering now whether this might have been a mistake.

A new medical study reveals that having unknown people praying for you - at least if you've had a heart attack - can be positively dangerous.

The study of 1800 people over a decade, concludes:

Patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms, perhaps because of the expectations the prayers created.
So. Umm. If we do happen to sicken, don't go all religious on us. Smuggle in a bottle of single malt whisky. Our favourite is definitely Talisker. Or, on second thoughts, Laphroaig. It's safer.

Oh, and by the way, if you are partial to single malt, a great way to make significant savings is to sign up with Andy.

Posted by cw at 06:09 PM | Comments (4)

Got the latest column?

We've just despatched this week's column on that surprisingly cheap BenQ wide-screen monitor to our loyal subscribers. If you haven't received it, let us know. We're hoping that all the glitches have been sorted out, but you never know. If you're not a loyal subscriber ... why not think about joining the club.

Posted by cw at 02:14 PM | Comments (3)

March 30, 2006

Top restaurants

We're writing our annual list of capital city restaurants worth eating at for the Financial Review's annual diary. Any suggestions for Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra?

Posted by cw at 01:19 PM | Comments (13)

Bragging break

You may remember Bleeding Edge complaining that we've been completely humiliated in the table tennis competition this season. Well. Last night. We played the second last round. And Bleeding Edge won all three matches. And on the back of that, the team won its first match! Next week we play the top team again, so it will no doubt be more misery. But we've had a shining moment or three. And we intend to celebrate.

Posted by cw at 12:06 PM | Comments (1)

Information? Get me Jesus on the line

Sharon Gray's really going to be upset about this one. It seems that a growing number of people have become so attached to their mobile phones, that they're taking them with them to the grave. They're even taking along spare batteries. Just in case, you know, they might want to make a call. [The signal couldn't be all that good down there, could it?]

We know that the friend we wrote about in today's column - the one who's keeping the cost of his 30-inch Apple Studio display a secret from his nearest and dearest - will surely want to be buried with that. But however much we love our Treo, we can't imagine wanting to be buried with it. For one thing, the alarms keep going off. And what if it rang during the funeral? Wouldn't that terrify the mourners? On second thoughts, maybe we should have it popped into the coffin. We could have it play Amazing Grace, as they lowered the box.

Do you have any plans to take any of your digital companions on your final journey?

Posted by cw at 09:04 AM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2006

Allofmp3: a word of caution

We've not had any problems with the Russian music download site, Allofmp3.com, but a while back we noticed that they'd changed their credit card arrangements to what looked like a Russian site. Somehow, that didn't fill us with a lot of confidence. By then we'd downloaded pretty well all the music we were interested in, so we've not been back.

Now Sean's just alerted us to the fact that a European music magazine, Side-Line, had reported incidents of massive credit card fraud involving Russian music download sites. Side-Line says it has been "inundated by e-mails from readers from all over the world including the USA, UK, Belgium, France, Holland etc" claiming they have been the victim of fraudulous [great word, fraudulous] use of their credit cards" after dealing with Russian music sites. The modus operandi seems to involve hand-picking targets, and charging their cards between $US1000 and $US3000, says the magazine.

We're not sure if Allofmp3 is involved, and the sudden charging of amounts like that would surely set alarm bells ringing in the credit card companies, but it might be a good idea, if these sites have got your current card details, to give your credit card security department a call, alerting them to this concern. And in the meantime, as always, keep a close eye on your credit card statements.

UPDATE: As Stephen notes in a comment below, the response to the Digg article on this topic raises the possibility that this is a put-up job staged by the recorded music industry. Bleeding Edge certainly wouldn't put it past them. As we said, we've not had any problems ourselves. And those comments about these fraudulent fraudulous transactions being unrecoverable look suspiciously like wild propaganda to us. All the same, in our opinion it's not wise to discount these things out of hand. Don't be paranoid, but do exercise caution.

Posted by cw at 04:22 PM | Comments (8)

Bleeding Edge does a Ponting!

We think this is worth an entry in the Wisden's of the blogging world. We've just made a century! That's right, we've now got 100 subscribers to our e-mail service ... you know, the one where we e-mail you a year's worth of Bleeding Edge columns, plus extra material, plus bonus columns, plus some other benefits we're working on.

And the fascinating thing is that although we originally asked for a minimum of $15, the average payment is still just over $30. We decided that was a better indication of value than our original offer, so we've made the minimum contribution $25. After GST, there wasn't much in it for us at $15.

Given that we've got more than 3500 regular visitors, it's only a start, but it's an encouraging one. Thanks to all of you who have supported us. And if you haven't yet done so, think about this: just one of our columns could save you a lot more than $25. Think of the savings you could make with a searchable database of an entire year of them.

If you'd like to become a subscriber, e-mail us, and we'll send you the bank account details. Like Ricky, we're determined to get to the double ton.

Posted by cw at 03:15 PM

The mobile badge of cowardice

Got a mobile phone? Well, we hope you won't take this personally, but it's a reflection of the fact that you're not as brave as Sharon Gray.

Sharon doesn't need a mobile phone. She's not afraid to go out on the streets and get lost. So why should you? Huh? And, dammit, who was that so-called friend who gave Sharon a brand new mobile phone? Some friend! Trying to push some digi-junk into Sharon's life. And don't you know that you're being rude to Sharon when you talk loudly into your phone, or - heaven forbid - answer it in her company? Really! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

Who says 18 million [or so] Australians can't be wrong? Sharon does, that's who. She doesn't need a phone. She doesn't need friends. So there! Ho-hum. Have we completely run out of columnists who've got something intelligent to say?

Posted by cw at 10:22 AM | Comments (2)

The dill, the dolt, and the mythomaniac

It seems to have taken them an awfully long time to wake up to the fact that our Minister for Foreign Affairs is a dangerously incompetent twit, but The Australian has finally acknowledged in an editorial that he really must go.

DESPITE all the apparent evidence of commercial corruption and bureaucratic incompetence emerging at the Cole inquiry, two questions are unaddressed. Did Foreign Minister Alexander Downer believe anything he said when he explained the need for Australian troops to fight Saddam Hussein? And if he did, how could he ignore any allegation that AWB was paying off an enemy Australia went to war against twice in 12 years? The Foreign Minister still says he believed AWB's denials that it paid bribes to the Iraqi dictator. It is a curious defence that can easily create the impression that Mr Downer is either a dill or a cynic unwilling to explain what he really thought about the ethics involved if AWB was paying bribes in Iraq. With this week's revelation that as late as last September he was telling the UN's Volcker inquiry that bribery was just a routine part of business in the Middle East, it looks like he is both.
It won't happen, of course. Not when the nitwit - according to that other dolt, Andrew Bolt - has "the support - even admiration - of the Prime Minister" as his replacement. Could somebody please sack him too? And the Prime Minister?

While the PM is certainly no dill, his efforts to distance himself from responsibility for Wheatgate have surely cemented his place in history as Australia's greatest ever liar. We loved the coy way in which The Aus attempted to gloss over the fact that Howard continues publicly to praise the nitwit as an extraordinary talent, and promote him as a worthy replacement: "And talk among friends of the Foreign Minister that he could be a candidate for the deputy leadership of the Liberal Party, or even The Lodge, is simply not credible in light of what we now know about Mr Downer's judgment." Guess who's his chief "friend"?

Posted by cw at 09:16 AM | Comments (5)

March 28, 2006

Microsoft: security, some time

How nice of MIcrosoft to warn Internet Explorer users that there are three new vulnerabilities, which it will get around to fixing in its next scheduled security patch, on April 11, on the grounds that they're "limited in scope".

The problem is that the hacking community doesn't have the same relaxed work ethic, and at latest count they'd seeded 200 Web sites with malignant code to exploit those holes.

As one of the victims of this umm, cognitive dissonance, puts it, "IE and me are through. That's it." Good advice.

Posted by cw at 09:08 PM

Melb PC: from moribund to miracle?

You may know that Bleeding Edge's chief toad is an ex-president, and an Honorary Life Member (HLM) of the world's largest PC user group, Melb PC. You may be aware that while I have avoided re-joining the committee, I continue to try to help with advice and practical assistance. I also try to assist from time to time, by expressing what I hope is constructive criticism. Here's some constructive criticism:

Last night I attended the latest of three - or is it four? - meetings of HLMs organised by the committee as a means of tapping the experience of former officers and key volunteers who have given the club long-term service. It's a positive step by the committee, about a third of whom, in fact, were at the meeting as HLMs.

What became clear to me last night, unfortunately, was that the group seems to have been infected with an overwhelming air of lassitude. Instead of enthusiasm, and a determination to make things happen, the prevailing air is that it's all too hard. So many of the suggestions made by various people seemed to be regarded as too difficult to try, let alone achieve. Or it had been tried before, but didn't work. Reports would have to be done. Surveys taken. Maybe the HLMs shouldn't meet any more frequently than six-monthly, because it would take at least that long for any progress to be made.

Last night, for instance, we finally saw the first evidence of a review of the club magazine, PC Update, with the attendance of an external consultant to review its operations. It's taken just over a year to get that off the ground. It was way back in March last year, when I first met with a publications sub-committee to try to address the fact that PC Update was in desperate need of being updated.

In the interim, the committee first had to consider whether or not it would have a review. That took three months, and the decision was that they'd have two reviews: an internal review, and a separate review by the editor, Gary Taig. What a classic recipe for getting nowhere. The only review that stood any chance of effecting change was an external examination by an independent, competent operator. It took another two months for the committee to be persuaded that it should, after all, have that external review.

By August that year I was extremely busy, and I found it difficult to find anyone who'd be prepared to undertake a review at a reasonable charge, or had quite the background we needed. Finally, in early October, I suggested Melissa Cranenburgh, who edits the Ride On magazine for Bicycle Victoria. Her experience with a voluntary organisation seemed to me to be what was required.

Count the months between then, and when Melissa was finally given the brief: six months, pretty much on the button. And 12 months from when, after years refusing to even bite the bullet, the committee first started thinking about action.

There's no doubt that the committee is full of competent, hard-working, committed individuals. But what I discovered last night is that they've become mired in the bureaucratic machinery that's been developed to "run" the club. They're so busy "running" the club that they don't have the time, or perhaps the inclination, to lead it into the future. They're running on the spot.

As I pointed out to last night's meeting, Melb PC has become moribund. It's surrounded by exciting developments - the movement of the PC into the lounge room, the arrival of blogging and podcasting, and Wi-Fi and MMORPGs and LAN parties and God knows what else is either here or just around the corner - and it watches them all pass by without trying to get a piece of the action. What does something like Second Life represent to the club and its members? Nothing, perhaps, but shouldn't we be looking at it?

There's going to be a huge demand for online storage, the most expensive component of which is bandwidth. Hang on. We've got bandwidth. Is this a business opportunity? We've already provided storage space to members. Have we bothered to tell them how to use it, and what they might use it for?

Can we provide tools and facilities for blogging and podcasting? And teach members not only how to use them, but maybe even how to create businesses with them?

The club has moved into expensive new headquarters away from the centre of the city - Lord knows I tried hard to dissuade them - but it hasn't come up with ways of keeping all that space filled with activities and new members. It simply must do that. Money has been spent. Promises made. It's time to deliver. Would those businesses at Chadstone be prepared to pay for a Wi-Fi service if we gave them access to it?

While the committee has been busily running the club over the past 12 months, membership has dropped, as I understand it, by something like 10 per cent! The average age of members is now 63. Think about what that means.

The dial-up Internet service that some of us came up with, in the days when the committee had fire in its belly, has led to the happy situation where we have about $3 million in the bank. But it is going to be rapidly overtaken by the demand for broadband, and this committee has come up with nothing, as far as I'm aware, to replace it. Instead, the lease agreement they've signed will gradually eat away at those reserves. And there's a plan to dramatically cut the price of the dial-up service, and run it at a loss. I'm not saying that maybe that might not produce more income in the long-term, but I'd want to have more convincing evidence for that than I've so far heard.

The group needs leadership. What it has, instead, is an administration. A corporate-style administration, with corporate-style surroundings. It needs to invest in the future. What it does, instead, is spend. And too often it spends far too much on the wrong things.

We should have had, long ago, a series of business plans for new, membership-boosting activities. We should know what we have to provide in order to attract new members, and keep the existing ones. We should be talking to the people who make things happen around the Chadstone area, telling them what a wonderful resource they've got on their doorstep, and getting them involved. We should be looking at what we might be able to provide that younger age groups might be attracted to. Can we get young parents involved? Can we get their kids involved? Can we get local businesses involved? We should identify what's needed, and what we can provide, and we should develop a coherent marketing strategy that uses the magazine and the Web, the local and other media to get the message out.

But most of all we need people running the group who can see opportunities and identify talent. People who can inspire and excite. People who are prepared to get rid of entrenched interests who either can't see that what's good for them isn't necessarily good for the group, or alternatively simply don't care. We need to cut out the old wood, and grow the new.

It's time for tough decisions. A time for action. A time not for despair and excuses and finger-pointing and groans about problems, but a time for energy, wisdom, good faith and enthusiasm. As I told last night's meeting, Melb PC has some incredible minds and resources available to it. We have people who are not prepared to stand by idly, while the group moves along its all-too-obvious trajectory towards irrelevance and extinction. Time is running out.

Give us your thoughts and ideas. Imagine the sort of club you'd like to be a member of. Help create it.

Posted by cw at 11:18 AM | Comments (19)

March 27, 2006

Journalistic jerk upsets Microsoft

Seems we missed out on quite a bit of excitement while we were communing with the trees over the weekend. Australian journalist David "Riches" Richards managed to trigger an apoplexy in Robert Scoble, with a story suggesting that Microsoft would have to re-write 60 per cent of the Vista code base.

Scoble - who's clearly in desperate need of a week or two communing with trees - not only hit the roof about "non credible journalists" who didn't check their facts, but also suggested that credible bloggers should start deriding other bloggers who linked to non-credible journalists who didn't check their facts, such as, for instance, "that jerk down there in Australia" and The Register, which runs non-credible stuff from Andrew Orlowski.

In all honesty, we were just a little miffed that some other jerk down there in Australia had managed to irritate Scoble, rather than Bleeding Edge, although we weren't really surprised that it was "Riches". He's the sort of journalist who believes that he's always just one phone call away from uncovering another Watergate. He came across at least two "scoops" while we were up at that IT media conference a few weeks ago, and he has no doubt uncovered at least a dozen more since then.

We don't believe for a minute that Microsoft really plans to rewrite 60 per cent of the code [if that were true, you could expect Vista to ship in about 2010, if then], but we're sure that David is genuinely convinced. Frankly, he needs an experienced editor to calm him down every now and then, but what with him owning the publication, that's unlikely to happen.

The thing is, though, while David's almost certainly been - how can we put this? - possibly unwilling to adequately to test his source, there is a genuine story in there somewhere. Microsoft has been working since July 2004 to improve its software engineering practices, ever since Jim Allchin realised that the company's traditional practices meant that Vista would ship late, and without key enhancements. But almost two years later, they haven't got there yet.

The Wall St Journal quotes a Microsoft memo citing as the reasons for last week's announcement of a restructure of its Windows division that it had to "improve clarity of decision making, drive greater accountability and reduce layers in the organisation so we can move faster". No executive is going to admit that some of the Vista code base is a mess, but ... some of the code clearly IS a mess, and the reason the ship date has been put back, yet again, is that somebody finally realised that the traditional death march under which Microsoft has got so many of its products out the door wasn't going to work this time.

It may be that the story David was trying to write is that as much as 60 per cent of the code might have to be re-written if Vista is to regain that new file system we're being denied. That sounds quite plausible to us. We doubt that his story, as published, is correct. But it's not without at least some credibility. The irony is that in calling "Riches" a less than credible jerk, Scoble has almost certainly increased his readership. We can point him in the direction of a calming tree or two.

Posted by cw at 03:07 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2006

A Bleeding Edge break

It's been a busy and - what with the column being (temporarily) dumped from Green Guide - not an entirely happy week. But the Bleeding Edge spouse and oneself (should that be ourself?) are about to leave for a weekend among the trees at the Ecolodge, in Aquila. Apparently the trees aren't blackened stumps, and with any luck at all, they'll maintain that condition until we leave on Monday, and long after that, God willing.

Bleeding Edge would just like to place on record our gratitude for all the support from loyal readers, perhaps particularly those who've written to feedback@theage.com.au to express their views, and those who've decided to subscribe. You're a genuine inspiration to us.

We feel like we've been thrust back 15 years, when we first started battling to gain recognition for our baby column in Green Guide, and when we then battled to launch Computer Age, which has since become the Next section. Unfortunately, we don't have quite the energy we had then for 80-hour weeks without overtime. Although. We must say. When we're backed into a corner. We are still up for a fight.

Posted by cw at 11:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 23, 2006

Subscriber bonus

Just emailed two (updated) bonus columns to our loyal subscribers who might be suffering from acute deprivation as a result of Bleeding Edge being kicked out of today's Green Guide.

We've had a bounce on one address at ozeview.com. If that's you, can you let us know by email please what the new address should be? And when we get a bounce like that, for some reason the software sometimes spits the dummy and doesn't complete the list. So if you've subscribed, and you haven't got yours, let us know.

Posted by cw at 04:42 PM | Comments (1)

Apple attacks France

As predicted, Apple's come out swinging over that French bill which would force it to open iTunes to other formats. It describes the bill as "state-sponsored piracy". And the analysts say that because France represents about 2 per cent of iTMS sales, Apple's more likely to withdraw from France than comply. It shows you how far the modern corporation has come when it starts to attack governments like that. Perhaps the State Department should outsource its diplomacy to Steve Jobs.

Posted by cw at 09:45 AM | Comments (6)

Bleeding Edge. Not even an also ran

There's no question that Bleeding Edge is the most popular column in Green Guide's LiveWire section. All the reader surveys and my e-mail confirm that, week after week, and hundreds of readers have told me that they buy Thursday's Age simply to read it. But today, there's no Bleeding Edge column in Green Guide. There's a Mac Man column, despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of the readership have Macs. There's a Personal Space column. There's a piece on home cinema screens.

The official reason is that industrial action meant that four pages had to be pruned from LiveWire.

The question, of course is what criteria were used to determine what would run and what would be cut. The editor of the LiveWire section makes the choice, so it clearly indicates her judgment of the value of each column. Over the end-of-year break, she ran the Mac Man column but didn't run Bleeding Edge. Do you think the editor of Live Wire is trying to tell us something? It is, after all a troublesome column. The sort of column advertisers hate. And by the standards of The Age it's an expensive column. This is what freelance journalism is like. You never know which of your worries is real, and which imagined. Should we start taking the medication?

As for subscribers. Well we're not about to send out a column before it runs in The Age. But what we can do is comb through our archives to send you a couple of columns that you might have missed, and which you might find helpful. The benefits of that subscription are unending!. Get yours today!

Posted by cw at 07:43 AM | Comments (13)

March 22, 2006

Microsoft drops the Vista ball - yet again!

Microsoft has cemented its leadership in the field of product postponement with today's announcement that it would not be able to meet the much-delayed latest Vista launch deadline. You can therefore safely bet that Microsoft will not deliver the new OS until January next year. Or possibly 2008. Depending.

This time, apparently, it's the PC manufacturers' fault:

Microsoft said it delayed the new Windows to improve overall quality, particularly in security, and that PC makers didn't want the operating system introduced in the middle of holiday sales, because a new version would create instability in the market.

It's now five years since Microsoft released Windows XP, which, by the standards of an industry that's famed for the rapidity of updates, is surely worthy of a place in the Guinness Book of Records. It's also worthy of a Harvard Business School case study into how a company with that much money can be so inept in the area of development cycles. Bear in mind, it was only yesterday that Bill Gates acknowledged that it took the company just a while to release an update for Internet Explorer (which will also be further delayed, of course, with Vista). Even elephants are more efficient.

What Reuters doesn't seem to have grasped in this report, is that Microsoft pretty much staked its reputation on getting Vista out the door this year. Does Bill Gates really expect people to take seriously his assurances that it was finally preparing itself to meet new challenges, when it continues constantly to stumble at the old ones? The company's shareholders should be furious. So should its customers. Really. We think it's time to look seriously at a Mac. Or Linux. As we were saying: woefully inert.

Posted by cw at 03:10 PM | Comments (3)

French iPod revolution

Here's an interesting development: a parliament which thinks its job is to protect the interests of its voters, rather than those of the copyright controllers. The French parliament has passed a bill which would impose interoperability on Apple, Sony and Microsoft digital music players.

“It is unacceptable that . . . the key should be controlled by a monopoly. France is against monopolies,” said Martin Rogard, an adviser at the French Culture Ministry, quoted in the Financial Times, after the vote. “The consumer must be able to listen to the music they have bought on no matter what platform.”

Mr Rogard hopes it's the start of a Europe-wide move to open up digital music, but predictably, the technology industry reacted with horreur. CompTIA, a trade association, said the law was the latest in a series of measures in the European Union that were “punishing inventors and stifling innovation”. The truth, of course, is that the unprecedented extension of copyright laws is what's stifling innovation. We don't expect any similar move in the corporate protection institute that we quaintly call the Australian parliament. But if the French force Apple to build more open iPods for their market, guess where we'll be buying our next music player?

Posted by cw at 10:05 AM | Comments (3)

Split your monitor

Here at Bleeding Edge we've been looking at wide screens and dual screens, and in particular at BenQ's 20-inch FP202W, which we've seen around town for as little as $615. We've looked at a couple of programs that might be useful for fine-tuning the resolution of wide-screen monitors, and come up with a useful resource, but what we didn't find out about until today was an application called SplitView, which is a Windows screen manager.

SplitView increases productivity by making it easy to work with two applications side by side. It helps make full use of your high resolution monitor and gives the benefit of dual-monitors without their associated cost.
It costs $US19. We found it via Loosewire. SplitView allows you to sub-divide the screen real estate into two separate allotments, and switch between them, which could be particularly useful for owners of wide-screen laptops.

Posted by cw at 09:26 AM | Comments (2)

March 20, 2006

A forest of (new) Firefox pain

Those unfortunate individuals who - like us - have been afflicted with the upgrade gene, will no doubt be beside themselves with joy at the news that Mozilla has released the alpha of Firefox 2.0. This means that we will be able to download versions for Windows XP, Mac OS X and Linux that are full of bugs and other miseries, which will probably cost us untold hours of pain. What fun! If you must join us, don't say that you weren't warned.

Posted by cw at 07:55 PM | Comments (5)

Microsoft: empowering itself

Pardon our scepticism, but is Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer really serious when he suggests that Microsoft's a better bet for the corporation than IBM, because its software allows employees to be more innovative?

Ballmer is about to launch a $500 million marketing campaign to try to win a bigger share of the $US1 trillion business-computing market. The phrase du jour, it seems, is that Microsoft is the champion of the "people-ready" business.

"Fuelling our vision is a series of software solutions resulting from a $20 billion R&D investment over the past three years that is producing new [SIC] innovation in a range of categories," Ballmer proclaimed. "From business intelligence to the mobile work force, from collaboration to communications, and from CRM to enterprise search, the opportunity for software to deliver even greater customer value is limitless."

It seems to us that the reason there's such limitless opportunity to deliver even great customer value is that Microsoft has been woefully inert for so long. Can there be another company that's been less innovative than the slow giant of Seattle? There's something about the Redmond culture that seems so focused on exploiting its standards, locking users in, and strategising to defeat the Open Source software movement that it ignores any significant progress until it's forced to react to its competition.

In our opinion, companies that want to foster innovation, and at the same time trim their costs, would do far better by ignoring Microsoft - and Oracle and Computer Associates etc - and exploring the opportunities for Open Source alternatives to proprietary solutions. IBM pushes its own proprietary barrows, but its does seem to have caught on more than others to the commoditisation of software applications, and is better placed to assist its customers to implement them than Microsoft, which is implacably posed to anything that it doesn't own outright.

While Microsoft is trying to re-invent itself - yet again - having once more arrived late at somebody else's party, and it will gain tremendous leverage from its marketing clout, it's scarcely the nimble-minded partner that modern business should be looking for. The odds are that customers will find the best candidates elsewhere than at Microsoft OR IBM. In fact, we'd go so far as to say that businesses that choose to embrace Microsoft will probably fare worse than those of their counterparts who are prepared to look beyond this sort of empty rhetoric.

Or are we being to kind too IBM? And characteristically mean to Bill Gates?

Posted by cw at 02:37 PM

March 18, 2006

Where in the world is Ruth?

This has got Bleeding Edge fascinated. A reader, Ruth, has sent two emails from the domain aunz.au. They get through to us, but each time we try to reply, the message bounces. It's such an odd domain. Anyone know anything about it? And why it's problematic? And if you've got an alternative address Ruth, let us know, because it's quite frustrating. You might like to try a free account at Fastmail.fm, or a Google address.

Posted by cw at 10:06 PM | Comments (5)

March 17, 2006

Did you get the latest?

The latest column - on broadband cable/ADSL2 problems - went out this afternoon. If you've subscribed, but didn't get it, please let us know by email.

Posted by cw at 07:09 PM

March 16, 2006

The new world of online storage

You might have noticed that our posts haven't had quite the same frequency over the past week or so. The reason is we've been working on a 2000-word magazine feature on Web 2.0, which involved a lot of research.

What we found particularly interesting is how few Australian projects there are in the directory of Web 2.0 services. That might increase, perhaps, if more people learn how to use Ajax.

The other thing we started thinking about is the way Web 2.0 tools like Ruby on Rails are altering the competitive landscape in the area of Web hosting.

The current theory is that web hosting has become a commodity business. Smartyhost doesn't think so, and given that they're charging $144 for 150MB of storage, plus 20GB a month of bandwidth, maybe they're right.

But Nik Cubrilovic, who is currently in Silicon Valley on a mission that's presumably associated with the public beta of Omnidrive has done some more exhaustive research on the economics of online storage. His point is that the cost is in the bandwidth, and given that he proposes that we all start using Web servers as our primary storage, he's going to be hoping that he's got the numbers right.

Nik's betting that Omnidrive will succeed because "users will have benefits outside of just copying files to a webserver (simple desktop access, offline access, rich media publishing, encrypted storage, sharing and multiple interfaces from multiple platforms".

We suspect he's right. The thing is that he's going to have some pretty stiff competition from the likes of Site5, which adds Flashback to the mix. Its ability to provide an instant roll-back could be compelling for a lot of customers. The fascinating thing about Flashback is that its architect, David Felstead, is Melbourne based. He got the job with Site 5 largely because they were using the Dashboard widget he developed to handle Ruby documentation.

Another Melbourne programmer, Justin French, works for a competitor, Joyent which recently took over TextDrive, which 37Signals uses. (By the way, we still admire 37Signals, even though we couldn't resolve our differences over their e-book).

Joyent's variation on the theme involves bundling its email, calendars, contacts, and shared applications into the hosting mix.

We'd be interested in your thoughts on online storage, which we think will become increasingly valuable to most users.

UPDATE: And what about box.net? It adds mobile support, and promises a slew of other new features. Russell Beattie cals it "awesome". They don't see themselves as competing against other hosting services. They think they're competing against Google! This is not an area we'd like to be invested in, but for the user, it's great news.

Posted by cw at 06:02 PM

Fancy yourself as an architect?

A friend of ours, Pete Yandell - a genius programmer - spent a day recently playing with an application called SketchUp. He loves it. It's an architectural 3D drafting package which is a brilliant example of user interface design. For example, you can quickly drag out a cube and draw a line over the top, then lift it to form a roof over your house. It's designed for sketches, rather than final drafts. It was used to design the sets for the movie Good Night and Good Luck.

What makes it particularly interesting is the way the developers added a Google Earth plug in, which allows you to import terrain data, and draw your sketch over it. Because it has the latitude and longitude details, it can automatically fill in the shadows. It's a great example of how Google Earth is beginning to be integrated into applications. And Google just bought the company. You can download the software and play with it free for eight hours.

Posted by cw at 02:34 PM

March 15, 2006

Does Zooomr out-Flickr Flickr?

Ever since Slashdot picked up a post on the Techcrunch Web 2.0 blog about Zooomr, a new competitor for the Flickr photo sharing service which suggested that "Flickr has some catching up to do", Zooomr has been off the air, in transit to a new and more robust data centre. We therefore cannot confirm whether Flickr really has any catching up to do or not.

It might be worth keeping an eye on, however, given it was designed by 17-year-old Kristopher Tate in a few months of spare-time tinkering, and is currently (when it works again) in beta. Who knows what it might look like if they can keep Kristopher [who comments below] out of the pizza bar for a week or so.

The real benefit of Zooomr is the wide variety of metadata that can be associated with a photo. Any photo can have an audio annotation, although recording functionality is not yet built into zooomr and so you must do this from your camera or an audio program and upload it separately. Zooomr has a built in flash player to listen to the annotation. You can also associate any person with a photo (something you can’t do on flickr, where you can only tag a photo with a person’s name if you like), and there is very tight integration with Google maps to allow geographic information to be included with a photo. If a lot of photos are geo tagged in a specific place at the same time, zooomr assumes they are part of an event even if the photos are all from different users. Finally, to see a blowup of any picture, just click on the lightbox in the photo and it instantly pops up in a larger size.

Anyone had a chance to check it out?

Posted by cw at 12:22 PM | Comments (3)

March 14, 2006

Our iPod lifesaver

Just had a reader send us the following, which indicates (a) how tough life can be for the modern parent and (b) how useful those Bleeding Edge columns can be:

Dear Charles,

I dearly want to thank you for saving me from an unenviable situation. My teenage daughter's friend has been using our PC for her iPod shuffle (since her mum stupidly bought her one, but won't subscribe to the internet).

But one day she decided to use the computer of a different friend to download some songs. Simple enough idea. If it were my el-cheapo MP3 player it would have been no problem. But not for the proprietorially inclusive Apple. She connected the iPod, answered "Yes" to THAT question ("do you want to associate your iPod with this computer?"). Swish! All her current songs on her iPod gone.

She came to me for help. Oh dear. Beware the wrath of a 14-year-old girl.

But thankfully, some weeks ago I had the forsight to save the article you had in your Bleeding Edge column in The Green Guide of 26 January, about Apple and iPods and the "Forbidden Questions": 'how do you get songs from an iPod onto a PC?' Having had nightmares with my own daughter's iPod shuffle, I thought maybe one day I might need to know that.

So - I did as you recommened; simply unhid those sneaky hidden files. Fantastic. Then I saved the songs from her iPod (the ones she downloaded at the other friend's place). I added them to her playlist on our PC, then transferred all of them back to her iPod. Easy.

SAVED.

Now they think I'm brilliant, and yet really it was you.

Thank you so much.

All the Best

If you're an email subscriber, let us know, and we'll send you a bonus copy of the iPod column, just in case the same thing happens to you.

Posted by cw at 03:31 PM | Comments (7)

March 13, 2006

A family extension

We can report that the wedding was a truly magical event, and we're delighted that, in addition to the beautiful Bleeding Edge daughter, we now have another handsome son (making their way, in this picture, through a flurry of rose petals after the ceremony).

It was a three-day event at Hesket House, near Romsey (which we can thoroughly recommend if you like country weddings) and the image of a fleet of origami boats - each carrying a candle and the best wishes of each of the guests - floating across the lake on that superb summer night, will remain with us, I think, for a long time. What with two Bleeding Edge sons yet to be wed, it may turn into a family tradition.

Bleeding Edge had to deliver a speech on the Meaning of Marriage, which was a truly hazardous undertaking, given that the Bleeding Edge spouse, being a family relations psychologist, is an expert on marriage, and the Bleeding Edge daughter, a PhD scholarship student, is an expert on meaning. We'll spare you the details.

The newlyweds are on their way to Paris, the Loire and Morocco for their honeymoon, and the Bleeding Edge household is slowly returning to normality. Our thanks to all the well-wishers.

The latest column was e-mailed yesterday, so if you haven't got yours, please let us know. We're still having problems with one or two of the e-mail addresses.

Posted by cw at 09:46 AM | Comments (3)

March 10, 2006

Apologies

Sorry everybody. It's the beautiful Bleeding Edge daughter's wedding tomorrow, and my schedule is shot to pieces. I'll send out the column email on Monday. Hope your weekend will be as delightful as mine.

Posted by cw at 03:41 PM | Comments (2)

March 09, 2006

Workhorse PC - and another plug

It's that time of the year again - well, actually, one of four times a year - when we deliver our specifications for our workhorse PC. The event is keenly awaited by readers, who start sending us gentle reminders about a month or so before they're due.

What's particularly interesting is that the data we've collected over several years of doing this is extremely valuable. One very large government organisation bought the entire series from us and used it to completely change their PC buying behaviour. They saved a tidy - an outrageously tidy - sum of money.

You can save money too. You'll find it hard - make that impossible - to find cheaper prices, and the components are the best in terms of value for money, and reliability that we can find. There's a couple of discussions over in the Forum, by the way, about the best DVD writer, and the implications of AMD's new AM2 socket motherboards, that have arisen from our latest bit of homework.

This month our advice is to be patient, rather than rushing out right now with your cash. You can read the column in The Age, but if you want to keep it handy, and create a searchable database, think about subscribing to our e-mail service. We'll send you the column every week for a year. Send us an email and we'll give you the bank details.

Posted by cw at 11:28 AM | Comments (9)

Playing poker with Telstra

We haven't yet ascertained whether our Communications Minister, Senator Helen Coonan, plays Texas Hold 'Em in her spare time, but our bet is that she's trying to bluff Telstra with her threat to use Government money to build a "semi-national" [what's that for God's sake] fast broadband telecommunications network.

The good senator, who continues to talk about her apparent willingness to face down Sol and his amigos - far easier than actually doing it - told the annual meeting of the Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) in Sydney yesterday she was considering setting aside a large part of available government funding to "stimulate the development of a competitive wholesale access network in regional Australia".

The Age ponders whether the minister "may have been trying to jolt Telstra into giving ground on its adamant refusal to build the FTTN extension of the ADSL broadband network", which doesn't make any sense to us. She's talking about a purely regional/"semi-national" network. That Fibre To The Node extension Telstra's been teasing us with is aimed firmly at areas of high population density.

Telstra's likely to dismiss the latest threat as little more than a bit of grandstanding for the rural voters, and Sol's got a lot of chips to play with.

Coonan has to learn a little bit more about poker strategies if she's going to trouble Telstra. What she has to do is threaten to build a national network, that provides FTTN in the cities, and makes it available to all comers. And she has to be prepared to actually follow through, if Telstra calls the bluff. That might require her to start the planning process, because Telstra's playing a high-stakes game of brinkmanship. They want the Government to ease the regulations, so they can use this new network to continue to screw their broadband competitors and the Australian public, which in any country other than Australia, would be regarded as a scandal, but which Telstra and this government believes is their birthright.

Coonan still doesn't seem to realise that if she's going to serve the needs of Australian business - let alone the needs of consumers - she's got to break the Telstra network stranglehold. Here's the situation that the unholy Telstra/Government partnership has produced: an American company can get a T1 broadband - real broadband - service for $700 a month, with unlimited traffic. Here, Telstra hits local companies with volume-based charges that are - let's make no bones about this - crippling them financially, and making them internationally uncompetitive.

This is a situation, Senator Coonan, that your predecessors should have done something about 10 years ago, and it's unfair that the hand they've given you to play is such a poor one. But the Government's got all that money that we've been paying them to do things like build infrastructure, so rather than constantly hiding it away and then using it to get themselves re-elected [what a cute bunch of cynics they are], all they have to do is spend it on a truly worthwhile, indeed critical piece of infrastructure. And to do that, Senator, you've got to get John Howard and Peter Costello into the game. And bluff them. Are you up to it? Somehow we doubt it.

Posted by cw at 09:53 AM

March 08, 2006

Origami unfolds

We've deliberately avoided getting caught up in all the speculation about Origami, the Ultra Mobile PC - essentially a miniature Tablet PC - largely because the images that have been kicking around on the Web have looked pretty suss. Now some pictures are emerging on the Origami Portal, and CNet which do look like genuine products. And all will be revealed on March 9 (US time).

The first devices have a 7-inch touch screen, standard x86 processors, weigh 2lb. (which sounds awfully heavy to us) and can run full versions of desktop operating systems including the Windows XP variant being used for Origami, and Linux. Battery life for the initial versions is expected to be a disappointing three hours - an advance on the 15 minutes for the prototypes - but in a year or so, we could see smaller versions that will last all day.

Forbes magazine isn't impressed. It says it's unclear whether it makes any sense, given the less than overwhelming demand for Tablet PCs. "The history of computing over the last decade and a half is littered with other portable products that have gained cult status, but little else."

Posted by cw at 01:00 PM | Comments (2)

March 07, 2006

The Blogbar wars?

Sabeer Bhatia, the Indian-born, Stanford-educated entrepreneur who gave the world HotMail, then sold it to Microsoft for umm, $US400 million (no wonder, according to an admiring Indian journalist, he's full of worldly wisdom, and has an arresting smile) is about to launch a service which will allow you to leave your footprints all over the Web. Oh. And get your HotMail faster.

It didn't need all that much worldly wisdom for him to realise that 10 years after the Hotmail deal, Microsoft hadn't done a lot to speed up the service. His idea - well, actually the idea of a former Cisco employee - is to provide users with a "Blogbar" [FAQ here]which will download unread e-mail messages and store them in a local cache while a first message is being read. Users will then be able to access unread messages from their computer’s own memory instead of having to retrieve them from the internet. The Blogbar is available for Internet Explorer only, but a Firefox version is "coming soon".

Meanwhile, as they're browsing Web sites, they can also use the Blogbar to "write your thoughts and opinions directly on the web page you are browsing", without leaving it.

"Tell the world what you think!" the site exhorts, then read what other bloggers have to say about the site. We're not absolutely sure how this works, but we confess to a slight touch of anxiety. Somehow we wonder if the world is ready for this. Maybe some bloggers might feel hostile about people writing whatever they like on their blog, particularly when a feature called CC Blog CC Blog "automatically posts the blog you wrote on BlogEverywhere.com to other popular blogging websites".

On the other hand, maybe it will catapult unknown blogs to fame. Who knows? Could this be the "enhancement" that starts a world-wide blog war? We can scarcely wait.

Posted by cw at 06:01 PM | Comments (1)

Greetings: and thanks for giving us all your money

We didn't see this until Paul H. drew it to our attention. You've got to admit it's efficient. Rather than going to all the trouble of logging your keystrokes, the latest trojans just wait until you log in to your online bank account, and then transfer the money into the hacker's account.

Coincidentally, just yesterday we took delivery of one of those little devices that HSBC issues to its customers which generates random passwords. We were feeling just that little more secure until we read the comments of Alex Shipp, a senior anti-virus technologist at MessageLabs: "All of the authentication, little keys you have to have in your hand, biometrical things, it doesn't matter. The bad guy just waits until you're there and then takes the money out," Shipp said.

These little pests are likely to dampen enthusiasm for those on-line greeting cards. According to Shipp, the malicious software typically arrives in an e-mail with an apparently innocent Web link, for example, to an online greeting card. "If you click on it, you will download an executable that installs itself into your browser and then just waits until you go to your bank site."

Posted by cw at 05:37 PM | Comments (4)

March 06, 2006

ANZ Visa - first class security

Looks like some of our financial institutions are finally getting serious about Internet security. Bleeding Edge just signed up for a magazine clipping service from KeepMedia.com, which happened to advertise a Newsweek story we were interested in, on the blog.

It could be a useful service for a journalist, and rather than paying the $2.76 for an individual article, we signed up for a $US4.95 per month service as a trial. The first 30 days of the trial are supposed to be free, and we're not supposed to have a charge on our credit card until April 5.

Within minutes of the transaction, ANZ Bank Visa rang to ask if we'd authorised a $2.76 payment to KeepMedia. They've charged us for a single article, a month before the payment is due. It's no doubt a stuff-up, but we're disputing the transaction.

We almost certainly wouldn't have noticed had it not been for ANZ Visa's response. That's the way to stop online fraud.

Posted by cw at 02:56 PM | Comments (2)

When cheating pays

Who says cheats never prosper? It turns out that professional writers are making a fine living writing game strategy books that can sell hundreds of thousands of copies. Plus they get to play the game ... for week after week.

It doesn't sound all that good for one's immortal soul, given that what you have to do, in say, a game called Godfather, is familiarise yourself with a range of weapons, the best ways to blow up buildings and how to extort various characters. "There are 50 to 60 ways to murder people in the game — from running them over with cars to garroting — and many ways to shake down a merchant." Better not let our zealous team of Commonwealth censors know about that. They might feel that compulsion to start banning things.

The problem is that there's another game going on - the battle between publishers who bring out the paper guides, and Internet publishers - "shoestring amateurs and well-financed professionals" - that produce online guides. But maybe it could be a more lucrative way for Bleeding Edge to spend our time. And we might pick up some clues for negotiating with 37Signals.

Posted by cw at 12:46 PM

Entrepreneurial solutions

Our contretemps with 37Signals is a storm in a teacup, which is our favourite kind of storm. We still think their agreement leaves itself open to interpretation in our favour, but their book suggests they're an entrepreneurial company, and Bleeding Edge is all for fairness and generosity. (Why else would we tolerate the mindless carping of Molly for so long?)

So, in order to keep faith with the members of our organisation, and with 37Signals, we're going to make them an offer. We'll pay them another $US5 for the right to send out each of 10 additional copies. That means they'll get $US100 for a bulk deal. And we won't charge them for our contribution to their next book.

Posted by cw at 10:34 AM | Comments (6)

March 05, 2006

A matter of crossed (37) signals?

Oh dear. Bleeding Edge seems to have upset the chaps at 37Signals, over our offer to distribute 10 copies of their Getting Real e-book to subscribers. Here's the e-mail they sent us overnight, headed "Site Licence Violation":

"We just noticed [your offer]. That doesn't seem kosher to us. You can't buy a 10-book licence and give away copies to your customers as a bonus for signing up for your service. The site licence is in place to distribute to co-workers in your company, not to distribute as a bonus to your customers.

"I'm sure this was an honest oversight so we'd appreciate if you wouldn't do this. Please email a confirmation of your understanding of this request."

Well, we understand their request, but we're not sure we're the ones who've made "an honest oversight".

Here's what their offer says: "I agree to be charged $49 for a site licence copy of "Getting Real" in PDF format. This payment is non-refundable. This site licence copy allows me to distribute up to 10 copies of the PDF to other people in my company or organization."

The crucial point, we imagine, is whether people who subscribe to Bleeding Edge constitute an organisation. We think they've joined "a group of persons organised for a particular purpose; an association."

We don't send out a copy until they join our organisation, but once they do, in what way are they different from members of any other organisation? Does 37Signals really feel that they've lost, let's see, nine sales, because we've distributed it to 10 members of the Bleeding Edge organisation? Between Stephen's and our post, they've almost certainly had more sales from us. And almost certainly will gain more after our promotion ends. Shouldn't they be expressing gratitude? Maybe they should devote a chapter to us in their book?

By the way, 37Signals hasn't offered to send us a refund. They're just telling us we can't do what we believe, having paid them for their product, we have every right to do.

If they didn't want organisations such as Bleeding Edge interpreting the agreement this way, perhaps they should have written it differently. If we're wrong, we'll be happy to comply. Provided they refund our payment. At the moment, however, we take the view that they're interfering with our right to the full enjoyment of our purchase.

Would any of our legal eagles care to venture an opinion? Have we committed an "honest oversight"? Or have 37Signals? Until we resolve the issue we're not going to be able to send out any more copies to subscribers. And if we are wrong, we'll happily refund subscriptions.

Posted by cw at 05:05 PM | Comments (6)

March 04, 2006

Music industry gets legal come-uppance

We wouldn't want to pre-judge the issues, but online music lovers must feel a certain delicious satisfaction in the fact that the music industry - which has been suing students and their parents and anyone else they can get their legal hooks into - looks like getting its own day in court, with the US Department of Justice beginning an investigation into charges that companies like Sony BMG have been engaging in anti-competitive conduct in their online music pricing.

Posted by cw at 08:43 PM

Woz: "I didn't know the guy was wired."

OK. So maybe Steve Wozniak tells fibs. Maybe he does deny saying things to journalists who inconveniently keep a tape recording of the conversation, but we're prepared to forgive him (even if those nasty commenters aren't.). He's a genuinely nice guy, and without him, there'd be no Apple. And he is committed to a free exchange of information.

We all know what happened, don't we? Steve Jobs shouted at him. And he got a bit rattled. Or possibly he fell off that Segway.

Posted by cw at 12:08 PM

Using jargon for fun and profit

Bleeding Edge wouldn't want our readers to be left behind in the world of Jargon 2.0 - the rapid re-purposing of technical-sounding, pseudo-intellectual terms as a status-enhancing vocabulary for Web 2.0 types.

We caught Cameron Reilly [who else?] throwing one of these terms - "Cambrian explosion" - into a discussion on podcasting up at Coolum this week. We suggest you familiarise yourself with it, because you're going to be hearing it a lot. Cameron probably picked it up from Bubble Generation, which deploys the term in its discussion of the concept of the "Attention Economy", which you'd also better add to your lexicon. We suspect it originated from a PBS special called "The Shape of Life". It's amazing how educated you can get, just by watching the right sort of television.

Bubble Generation is a treasure trove of these expressions, possibly because they generate a bonanza in consultancy fees. Management types go mad for this sort of stuff. It puts them into a hypnotic trance, during which you can remove their wallets from their pockets, and extract whatever cash they have in there. Honest. They won't feel a thing.

While you're at it, expect to hear a lot of talk about "edge competencies" as distinct, of course, from that management consultancy power phrase, "core competencies". You can expand that into something called "strategic delivery points".

Then there's "coordination arbitrage", in which entrepreneurs exploit "coordination asymmetries". We love this particular one, because the people who are going to get "arbed" are newspaper publishers and editors, meaning that according to the Wall St Journal, tech blogs are going to be fawned over. You bet. Only, possibly not ours.

You'll almost certainly be hearing the term "peer production" any time now. You'll score a lot of points if you give it its full title: "commons-based peer production".

We wonder if we could turn this into a subscription business model?

Posted by cw at 09:59 AM | Comments (3)

A subscription deal

Over in the forum, Stephen's written about an e-book called Getting Real, by the developers at 37signals, which has given the world useful, and highly imaginative products like Backpack, Basecamp, Ta-da List, and Campfire, a few of which we've written about in the past.

It's a "book of ideas", aimed at "anyone working on a web app — including entrepreneurs, designers, programmers, executives, or marketers" which outlines the business, design, programming, and marketing principles of 37signals. It is "packed with keep-it-simple insights, contrarian points of view, and unconventional approaches to software design". It must be pretty good, because it sold more than $33,000 worth of copies in just a day.

At the same time, we've been coming up with some ideas to give subscribers some additional value. For instance, we're going to negotiate to get price reductions for subscribers on some of the software and hardware we like.

Getting Real costs $US19.95 a copy. There's also a deal where you can buy a licence for $US49.95, which allows you to distribute 10 copies among your organisation, so we thought, hmmn, why not? So for the next 10 people who sign up for a subscription to Bleeding Edge at $25 or more - the average price our users are paying us is just over $30 - we'll send you a free copy of that $US19.95 book. Who knows, one of those ideas might help you launch a great product. And that's just the beginning of the cheap deals and money-saving information and ideas that a Bleeding Edge subscription will bring you.

Posted by cw at 09:23 AM | Comments (2)

March 03, 2006

Broadband: getting what we pay for?

Can someone please explain how the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and the Sydney Morning Herald for that matter, could possibly interpret the figures in a report on broadband performance in Australia to mean that "Australians pretty much get what we pay for"?

The findings, based on download tests conducted on residential and small business users, indicate "service availability in Australia was very high at 99.85 per cent or more across all platforms".

Actual internet performance among customers tended to vary depending on a range of factors that included PC architecture, modem and software and security measures, generally preventing most services from performing at the advertised maximum download rates.
That doesn't mean we get what we pay for. Given that broadband subcribers in other countries get vastly greater speeds and traffic allowances for less than we pay for speeds that in most cases aren't even officially regarded as broadband, we manifestly do NOT get what we pay for. All the report suggests is that we almost get what the ISPS say we'll get. If you ignore their suggestions that what we'll get is "unlimited". Or "blinding fast".

It's a non-story, written almost entirely off a press release, with a comment from one expert. Don't reporters know what questions to ask any more? Don't sub-editors read the stories any more?

Posted by cw at 10:33 PM

Coral Sea Battle over copyright?

The House of Reps Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs report, which has the temerity to refuse to be a rubber stamp for US copyright interests, could cause a huge rift with the US administration, according to the Financial Review [PAY WALL].

The report makes 37 recommendations, many of which are going to irritate the hell out of Bush and his backers, who kind of regard the Free Trade Agreement with the Aussies as a licence to divert the contents of Australian wallets to America. They can't see why Australian consumers should have the same rights that US consumers have, to burn copies of their CDs, andtransfer songs to their iPods etc.

The report, however, demurs. It insists Australians should have the right to make back-up copies of computer programs, have DVDs without region-coding, and enjoy such fair use provisions as copying the music they paid for, so they can listen to it where they, rather than the record companies, choose. Warwick Rothnie comments here.

Melbourne IP academic, Kim Weatherall, thinks Trade Minister Mark Vaile is going to take a huge caning from the Yanks next week, at a meeting in Washington to review the first 15 months of the FTA, but suggests that he should gird his bloody loins up, and stand firm for his electors.

"From an Australian political perspective, it would be difficult, I would think, to simply reject the recommendations of a properly convened Parliamentary Committee which has considered Australia's interests. But from a realpolitik perspective, the US is not going to be happy if Australia veers too far from America's preferred interpretation. Not just because they care about the Australian market. Because they will be worried about the precedent it would set for the many other countries in the world who are in (or negotiating) FTAs with identical provisions."

Her advice to Mark Vaille, whose eagerness for a fight might have been re-kindled by a small victory following all those nasty Wheatgate allegations, is this: "While it is important that Australia not go off on a complete frolic, it is also important that Australia interpret the FTA in accordance with its own laws, legal structure, and interests. I don't envy the Minister. But I would reiterate my submission to the Committee - in international legal terms, we do have some freedom here to interpret the treaty in accordance with our interests. That is, after all, the reason we negotiated a delay into the FTA text - in order to do so." And besides, Mr Vaile wouldn't want to add to that "small glitch" which led to today's announcement of a record monthly trade deficit of $2.69 billion, including worsening trade deficites with the three countries with which we've signed free trade agreements: the United States, Singapore and Thailand.

Posted by cw at 04:07 PM | Comments (1)

Bolt (sort of) anoints Downer for PM

Last Thursday night, on the way to our weekly humiliation at table tennis - we haven't had a single practice game for five weeks, and we're rapidly losing fitness and confidence - we were listening to Derek Guille's quiz on Radio 774.

The question that got you two free ones was this: Which philosopher/mathematician said, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure, and the intelligent are full of doubt." [Something like that, anyway.] We didn't get to hear the answer, but our's would have been Bertrand Russell. It's the sort of thing he would have said, and besides, we don't know any other philosopher/mathematicians.

More interesting, however, was the immediate link our mind made with cocksure = stupid: Alexander Downer.

The second might have been Andrew Bolt - the man our Prime Minister says [in his promotion of Bolt's collection of umm, words of wisdom, Still Not Sorry] "talks a lot of sense". The latest evidence for our assessment of Bolt's intellectual ability is that he now seems to be promoting Downer as the next PM. Bucketing Peter Costello in this morning's column, Bolt claims "It's the supremely confident Alexander Downer who is ready to be our next Prime Minister. At least, Downer feels ready. Readier, perhaps, than many voters may feel to accept him. And, I suspect, he now has what Costello fears he doesn't – the support, even admiration, of Prime Minister John Howard. It's on."

Bolt acknowledges a couple of problems with the man famously described by Keating as "the idiot son of the aristocracy". "The Foreign Affairs Minister knows he bungled his last brief stint as Liberal leader more than a decade ago, but has learned from his lumps. He's become tougher, more careful and more experienced – although he remains dangerously arrogant."

And he makes the point that, "Already Downer is perhaps Howard's closest confidant in Cabinet, and infinitely more so than Costello. The two also share many of the same reassuring conservative values, while Costello meanders from marching for reconciliation to frogmarching imams." Could that be a sign of Costello's intelligence?

We put this public inflation of Downer down to a cunning ploy by Howard to keep himself in the job for as long as possible, by promoting as his replacement the most inept candidate possible. Can anyone really imagine the Liberal Party endorsing that man for PM? Hmmn. We could be wrong, of course. They're awfully cocksure at the moment.

Posted by cw at 01:28 PM | Comments (4)

Trials of broadband

What fun we are having with our wise selections of broadband providers. At home we are connected by Optus Cable, which has been troubled of late by painfully slow speeds to overseas sites - recently fixed - and a couple of episodes of random disconnections, the latest of which seemed to have been caused by a power failure in Sydney.

Meanwhile, over at the Bleeding Edge cave at the Abbotsford Convent, our iiNet ADSL 2+ service has been dropping out. We have had some extremely pointed conversations with the tech support department, housed in an Auckland call centre, who are quite happy to have us spend hours re-setting hardware, and plugging lines into and out of the wall, leaving us without a PSTN phone for hours on end.

All of this will end up in a column, so we can't say it's an entire waste of time. But it's INTENSELY irritating.

Posted by cw at 01:05 PM | Comments (1)

Subcription housekeeping

Just sent out this week's column. If you've subscribed and haven't received it, let us know by email. If you haven't subscribed ... let us know by email.

Posted by cw at 08:27 AM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2006

Bleeding Edge: international pundit

Oooh! Our words of wisdom on the Apple product flop have been picked up by one of our favourite newsletters/web sites, the San Jose Mercury News' Good Morning Silicon Valley. Maybe Steve Jobs even read them. Maybe he'll subscribe?

Posted by cw at 01:16 PM

Telstra's BigBlog bloggers

Telstra's launched its BigBlog site to bring blogging tools to the masses, and guess who's using it? Telstra people. There's Justin Milne, for instance, who just happens to head up their Internet stuff. Except that Justin's blog seems to have been compiled by Mike Burke, almost certainly because Justin couldn't, or didn't have the time to work out how to use it.

We do hope that people aren't going to take this as a model for blogging, because the best Justin/Mike can come up with is a free plug for the Telstra movies on demand service, and a picture of Justin with Toni Collette, whose expression suggests it must have been pretty hard work earning that appearance fee.

More to the point. Young PR spotted the fact that it doesn't work.

But it does give us an opportunity for a spot the Telstra blogger game. Who's Davo, for instance? And why do all 21 of them have so little to blog about?


UPDATE: According to The Age, it doesn't work because it's not going to be officially launched until next week. The idea, apparently, is to use the site to stimulate the use of mobile phones for photo blogging, which makes it a variation on the theme established by Nokia's LifeBlogging idea. That might explain why there are so few words. Will it work, we wonder, with Optus, Vodafone and 3 phones?

Posted by cw at 12:16 PM | Comments (3)

Pandora's music box

Wow! If you like music, you're going to love Pandora, a music discovery service that's an off-shoot of the Music Genome Project - a five-year project that analysed the musical qualities of the songs of more than 10,000 artists.

Pandora can become your personal DJ. Enter the name of an artist or a song, and it will identify music that's similar, and create a station that will stream it to you. If you want to change the mood, just change the station. Tell it what you like or dislike, and it hones the selections. Thanks Casey. A nice one!

Posted by cw at 10:47 AM | Comments (4)

Save money, your phone, and Bleeding Edge

The latest Bleeding Edge column in this morning's Green Guide explores the concept of "ambient losability", and what to do with your mobile phone when the official service centre tries to charge you $35 even to diagnose what's wrong with it.

It may be weeks or months before you find that you really need this information. You probably won't be able to dig out that copy of The Age. But if you've bought a subscription to our weekly e-mail version of the column, it will take you a matter of seconds to find what you're looking for.

Bleeding Edge saves you money, and entertains you too. It provides you with this blog, and with the forum that gives you the opportunity to get answers to your problems from expert users. Think about contributing something to help Bleeding Edge remain a worthwhile member of the bill-paying community. Plus buy some bones for Basil the Bleeding Edge bulldog. Ask us for the details of our bank account. Our friendly staff are waiting to take your call.

Posted by cw at 09:10 AM

March 01, 2006

Apple ... from hype to ho-hum

Apple's had a dream run since Steve Jobs returned from exile. It's established its pre-eminence in design with a string of wildly radical Macs, and display screens, and practically every other product, with the possible - make that the definite - exception of the mouse. It's become a major force in the music industry with the iPod. Its software - both operating system and applications - has been superb.

That sort of performance has shielded some significant failings. It's mostly avoided criticism for some truly abysmal customer service and quality-control blips, and it's kept the mass media on a drip feed. One of my journalist colleagues told me yesterday that a local Apple executive recently informed him that the company gives absolutely nothing away. Pepsi, he was told, had to buy those iPods that it was promoting.

Even its forced transition to the Intel platform seems to have gone relatively well, despite reports of slower-than-expected sales for the new models.

Then this week, Matthew - a confirmed Mac fanatic - sent me an email telling me that he was fed up with his Mac PowerBook. Pardon? "I didn't think it could ever happen," he wrote, "but I'm getting sick of my Mac. I got a mini-DVI to S-Video converter and it will not work - so it's useless; taking it back tonight. Now my new Motorola V3X will not work with a Mac, either via USB or Bluetooth." We can't help wondering if it might have been some sort of omen.

The launch overnight of the new Intel-powered Mac Mini and an Apple iPod speaker system - plus a leather case for the iPod has drawn uncharacteristic criticism of Apple. According to the critics, the new speaker system is "ugly", and lacking features. The Intel Dual Core Mac Mini is too expensive and lacking features. The iPod wallet is too expensive and forces you to take it out of the case to watch a video or use the controls.

Bear in mind, this company makes the following proclamation with each of its press releases:

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning desktop and notebook computers, OS X operating system, and iLife and professional applications.

Apple is also spearheading the digital music revolution with its iPod portable music players and iTunes online music store.

A company that declares that it continues to lead the industry in innovation has to do just that.

The company might have done better to roll these products out without the usual fanfare, possibly using someone other than Steve Jobs. Some of the current disappointment is the inevitable result of Apple's own success. It's set such a high benchmark that anything short of a breakthrough is regarded as a flop.

But we suspect the management has been infected with a sense of its own entitlement. It's trying to cash in on its own hype, charging the traditional Apple premium without delivering its customary design flair and state-of-the-art features.

Or are we engaging once more in our well-documented cynical, one-eyed Apple-bashing etc? What's your view?

Posted by cw at 10:40 PM | Comments (10)

Comment is king

Shane Williamson's comment on umm, our comments, reminds us that the egos of bloggers (yes, unfortunately, we have one of those too) can blind them to the fact that it's the comments that give life to a blog, and it's an essential part of the blogging art to learn how to be a great conversation host. Feed them well, keep their glasses filled, usher them gently to the door if they can't behave themselves (by that we don't mean censorship), and they'll provide the elements for a great dinner party.

How often do you find a site where the blogger is engaging enough, but the comment threads are little more than monosyllabic grunts, interspersed with predictable prejudices and insults? It takes effort, and it can get you down, at times, leading to the Russell Beattie comment tragedy:

I’ve gotten into some really bad habits as well. I’ve found myself posting, and then obsessively checking my comments over the next day or so, moderating them, responding, etc. Since I always learn something from at least one of my commenters, this was something that I was willing to do. But over the past year the percentage of worthwhile comments has started to drop, while other priorities in my life demanded more of my attention - yet I was still obsessively checking comments instead of doing other things (like answering email). Since I’m not one to break bad habits by simply saying to myself “don’t do that any more,” the only real solution is to cut out the comments all together.

A great blogger, Russell, but with the greatest respect, Bleeding Edge can't agree that it's the "only real solution", let alone being an acceptable one. He's a must for any blogroll, in my view, but his blog would be better with comments enabled.

Bleeding Edge has been blessed by the fact that it has become a corroboree of diverse minds, most of whom have something interesting to say on practically any topic. We suffer from a few twits, but they tend to be disciplined by the commenting community, as much as by us.

Posted by cw at 12:25 PM | Comments (4)