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May 31, 2006

Financial Review: pay for view

We don't know whether this is a backward step or not. Years ago, as assistant editor of the Financial Review, we tried to convince them to embrace the subscription model followed by the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. We believed it was the only newspaper in Australia which could do that. Instead the paper moved to what I always saw as a no man's land, trying to offer the online version as an incentive to print subscribers.

Now, it seems, it's about to change tack, with a new site, AFRAccess. It's "the serious investor's toolkit", and at first glance, with its offering of different packages, with different levels of content, looks to have a serious price. There's a free trial and a demo.

My initial reaction is that this is entirely the wrong way to go, and in my view it would be a disaster if the rest of Fairfax took a similar line. A newspaper's online section should have all the print content, with some online specials, in our opinion, and possibly some additional paid-for services, such as crosswords. But we'd be interested in your opinion.

Posted by cw at 06:48 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

May 30, 2006

Packer whale attacks TV minnow

We've been expecting this for a while now. The Packer empire has always been able to command Australian Governments to give it pretty much whatever it wants, at the expense of competitors and the community. (Even for God's sake, a State funeral for the late Kerry.) But it looks increasingly like its free-to-air television bonanza - for which we all sacrificed cable TV for years - is under threat from digital technologies like time-shifting and BitTorrent downloads. It doesn't look like even our weak-kneed government will dare to ban those technologies, perhaps because, even if they did, the public would simply break their laws.

We can't remember the last time we watched anything on the Nine Network. We've got such a huge choice of alternatives, what with downloading British TV through UKNova, to say nothing of the Topfield Personal Video Recorder, which, when you couple it with the IceTV electronic program guide, makes it absurdly easy to program what you want, then run your selections whenever you please. More to the point - and this is what the Packer write is all about - we can't remember when we had to sit through one of those boring bloody commercials.

Now Nine is trying to hold back the tide by suing IceTV for what it alleges are "copyright breaches". The guide looks too like its own, says Nine. Essentially, what Packer wants the courts to do is sentence the Australian community to a life sentence watching ads.

Three legal firms consulted by IceTV say its product doesn't breach Nine's copyright. (And then there's the fact that Nine's advertised programs so often fail to observe the advertised schedule.)

In our view, Nine's got far bigger problems to tackle than IceTV.

Their audience resents commercials, largely because the networks - driven by greed and contempt for viewers - have made them more and more intrusive and crammed too many of them into the available time. Inevitably, the advertising dollar will move to the online world.

Technologies like BitTorrent will increasingly make them irrelevant, while they have so little to offer in the way of good, locally-produced entertainment. Perhaps they should try to create content, rather than trying to bully the small-fry. We suspect they're going to lose this one, but the legal expenses are going to be a burden for a tiny company like IceTV. If you've got a PVR, or Windows Media Edition, we highly recommend IceTV.

Posted by cw at 02:33 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

New market for your know-how

So you're an expert on computers? [There's quite a few of them on the Bleeding Edge forum.] A new service called Illumio might allow you to earn an income from your expertise. And the opportunity isn't confined to computer geeks. If you're a genuine authority on pretty much anything, or you've got a great contact book, you can enter the Illumio marketplace.

According to John Markoff, in the New York Times, Illumio - which runs under Windows - will make it simple to "pick the brains of friends and colleagues for opinions and expertise". The software links with Microsoft or Google desktop search engines indexes of users' hard drives. According to Markoff, it transparently distributes requests for information to the computers in a network of users. "The questions can then be answered locally based on a novel reverse auction system that Illumio uses to determine who the experts are."

Michael Schrage, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, describe it as "the eBayification of organisations". "The reality is that organisations are run off of informal connections and tools such as this facilitate gray markets in information and interpersonal exchange."

Hmm. Maybe this is a model that could work with Bleeding Edge subscribers. On the other hand, there's so much free information available in the forum, who needs to pay?

Posted by cw at 12:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cheap .au domains

If you'd like to register or renew an Australian domain name, Jumba has a 48-hour special offer of $29.95 for two years, which looks looked pretty good to us, until Stephen popped up in the comments with a $27.95 offer at Intaserve. Makes you wonder how Melbourne IT gets away with charging $140! They seem to have adopted the Big Pond business model.

Posted by cw at 10:25 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 29, 2006

Ruth ... terrified of online sex

What can you expect in the days of social software? People are going to want to, umm, socialise. It's simply another medium, surely, for the sorts of things that people get up to in clubs and pubs and parties. But Ruth Ostrow, whose column in The Australian magazine we've often found extremely irritating, finds it shocking. Even terrifying.

Ruth told lies about her age and breast size on one of those "raunchier dating sites", so, not surprisingly, within a day, she received more than 50 responses from men interested in meeting her. She calls them "hits", but in the circumstances, that's surely not the correct term.

According to Ruth: "The modus operandi is that once you've etablished 'chat-room' contact, you then send photos via the site, then contact details, then arrange to meet. When I asked why, I started getting an insight into the world of cyber-deception. The sender was usually a married man wanting to tantalise and score a date without leaving evidence." Ruth, a former sex and relationships writer, says she was shocked. We're not shocked. In fact we're surprised at the degree of honesty displayed by these married men. Poor Ruth was even more shocked, however, when her partner also posted a profile on the site.

"Though his hit rate was far less than mine," she wrote, "some married women did contact him. But we estimated a quarter of his pursuers were married men!" Ruth says she was flabbergasted by "the level of deception out there in the 'burbs, and in our opinion she gets somewhat hysterical:

What your kids are up to online is nothing compared to what your partner might be doing behind closed doors. Where cyberspace is concerned, "be afraid, be very afraid"!
Seems disingenuous to us. Of course people of every sexual persuasion are online, playing the same games they play in the "real" world. And the numbers aren't all that surprising, are they? She says she was getting about 100 hits a week. Roughly half were husbands on the prowl. She says her husband's hit rate was far less than hers. Just how far less we can't say, of course, but let's assume a quarter of hers. If that's so, then her husband might have had approaches from as many as, let's see now, half a dozen bisexually inclined married males.

On the strength of that, people should be "afraid, very afraid"? We've never written about sex and relationships, and our advice - to enjoy whatever you do as consenting adults, mind your own business and let other people mind their's - is possibly simplistic. But we'd suggest you'd be crazy to follow Ruth's. There's some psychological counsellors online, too. Maybe Ruth should get a little help from them. She's clearly suffering from acute anxiety.

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

May 26, 2006

Vista is on track again. Possibly.

We told you that you couldn't take anything Microsoft executives say as an accurate representation of what they intend to do. Having stirred up a good deal of conjecture in Tokyo on the possibility that the company might miss the latest shipping date [below], Steve Ballmer arrived in Seoul, and declared that, hey, Vista was still on schedule.

But, he explained, "We're going to see what kind of feedback we get from users ... and we're going to work to make sure it's absolutely a high-quality product. That's number one." Which may mean that the corporate version will ship in November, and the consumer version in January after all. Or it might not. The interesting thing about Ballmer is that his normal speaking volume equates to shouting. Now if only he could master clarity.

Posted by cw at 01:02 PM | TrackBack

May 25, 2006

Vista will ship ... some day ... maybe

When will people stop taking Microsoft executives so literally?

Just because Steve Ballmer declared, cross his heart and hope to die, not a week ago, that Vista would not be delayed by Symantec taking legal exception to what it claims is the misappropriation of trade secrets, and just because Bill Gates described the synchronised release of the latest betas of Vista, Office 2007 and Windows Longhorn Server as a milestone, journalists started speculating that Microsoft would meet its latest schedules.

Bad move. Even world class semioticians are incapable of interpreting the real meaning of Microsoft statements.

You have to understand that Steve Ballmer was in Beijing when he made those comments about Symantec. So what with finding himself in Tokyo, he would of course naturally feel free to re-interpret his own remarks. Now, it appears, while the Symantec lawsuit wouldn't interfere with the schedule, something else might. And that something else might be the prospect of an additional 1.1 million sales if Vista ships later.

"Certainly, when Windows Vista comes to the market next year, and it will be next year, we will make sure that we make a high quality product, ship a high quality product, when it's ready," Ballmer told the Agence France-Presse (AFP) wire service. Microsoft would take feedback from the just-released Vista Beta 2, and decide "in the next few weeks" whether to stick to January or shift the date. And since Vista will already miss the fourth quarter sales season, it made sense not to ship until the next "machine cycle".

Which may mean Gartner was on the money when it claimed the latest shipping date was stewed rhubarb.

Posted by cw at 01:05 PM | TrackBack

May 24, 2006

Whoops! No feed

Just noticed that the latest posts weren't appearing in Bloglines. Hmmn, we thought, maybe we forgot to do something when we shifted to Site5. Not five minutes later we got an email from one of our subscribers pointing out that his RSS feeds weren't coming through. Which means [GROAN], we've got some more work to do.. Fixed!

And we've still got to fix the latest Forum posts link. Until we do, you might like to check the Forum manually. There's some very interesting discussions going on in there, with some great tips and resources.

Posted by cw at 10:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Sony BMG evades rootkit justice

Did Sony BMG get off light in the settlement of the rootkit fiasco? Under the terms approved by a US judge, the music studio will compensate the customers whose PCs were infected by its over-zealous attitude to rights management, patronised, then endangered by its inept attempt to fix the problem, millions of customers will get, umm, not very much at all.

The rootkit victims - consumers who bought a CD with XCP software, can receive a replacement disc. They will also receive either a cash payment of $7.50 and one free album download, or three free album downloads.

Those with discs with MediaMax, which was another clandestine DRM approach deployed by Sony BMG, will only get free downloads.

In the circumstances of this great escape from justice, we don't propose to lift our ban on Sony BMG products. What about you?

AND .... by the way, what with EMI's digital music sales more than doubling last year, isn't it going to be more difficult to convince governments to continue to legislate in favour of these robber barons? Sorry. Of course it isn't. We were dreaming, as usual.

Posted by cw at 09:33 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 22, 2006

Tools that make us dumb?

So much for the principle of "smart phones" - those devices that allow us to extend our working environment into our homes and holidays, gyms and restaurants and and umm, apparently, lavatories.

In an article which suggests that devices like the Blackberry keep us umbilically connected to our e-mail etc, at the csot of "solitude, focus and our boundaries", Sydney organisational psychologist, Grant Brecht says English research found people can work at 100 per cent efficiency for only 45 hours a week.

Drag another 10 hours out-of them, and their efficiency halves. and after that they're performing at no better than 25 per cent efficiency. Brecht says workers who are always available on the mobile and who ring overseas at all hours to check international markets "work hard, but not smart".

We need leisure time, you see, in order to prepare ourselves to cope with the accelerated demand of communications from our obsessive-compulsive colleagues who apparently rneed to be tied down to stop them despatching text messages and e-mails, despite the fact that these electronic communications lack the content of more direct contact.

A psychologist, Evelyn Field, says: "It's not a good trend because it doesn't improve the quality of the friendship or relationship. It just becomes more 'busyness'. People can be very busy while not doing anything, and people can be communicating electronically and not getting closer; just doing it for the sake of it. It's almost as if it's a defence against anxiety."

Is it true? Is your Treo/JASJAR/Blackberry actually sapping your energy, rather than improving your productivity? Or is it camouflage ...an essential tool for an elaborate masquerade, in which you pretend to be busy and socially active, while actually keeping the world at bay?

Posted by cw at 01:15 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

MS Word under attack

You might be extra careful about opening e-mailed Word documents from now on, what with the arrival of a couple of trojans that exploit a gaping security hole in the Office XP and Office 2003 versions of the word processing program.

At the moment, the attack seems to have been targeted at individuals in a particular organisation, which fortunately managed to detect it.

The Mdropper.H Trojan that exploits the new flaw arrived in an email headed "Notice", or "RE Plan for final agreement", and the [so far] known infected documents had names like NO.060617.doc.doc or PLANNINGREPORT5-16-2006.doc.

According to Symantec, the trojan crashes Word 2002 (the Office XP version), but in Word 2003 it activates the Backdoor.Ginwui program which installs a rootkit to hide its presence, while it gathers system information and allows the attacker to access a command shell and take screen shots of whatever the user sees on his or her computer monitor. Ginwui appears to connect to a Chinese server. Fortunately, you can get avoid the trap by using the Word Viewer.

Posted by cw at 12:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 21, 2006

Home sweet home

Thanks to a great job by Matthew, we seem to have made the shift to Site5 without too many hassles - (you might have to reload the page) - although we've probably missed some comments and forum posts. And [whoops] just noticed we don't seem to have the links to current forum posts on the front page.

CW has been re-entering some of the comments, but If you've posted since Friday night, you might like to check to see if your words have made the transition to the new site.

Inevitably there will be some things we've missed in the move. For instance we just noticed that we had to re-enter our TypeKey token to allow automatic posts by trusted users. Let us know if you spot something. We must say that we feel a lot more comfortable now that we're immune from anything SmartyHost does. And we've got a lot more space, for less than SmartyHost charges.

Posted by cw at 06:05 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Movable software feast

Over in the forum, Newman was asking for a portable e-mail client - one he could pop on to a USB key [or portable hard drive/iPod etc.] and take with him. Anandasim pointed him at Thunderbird, which has just had the treatment from PortableApps.

There's a couple of other new and interesting developments there that you might find interesting. Our favourite cross-platform media viewer, VLC, for instance, now runs in under 12MB, so so you can take your audio and video files along with everything you need to play them.

And the free open-source anti-virus program for Windows, ClamWin, can now follow you around. At the moment, however, it does throw up a false positive in portable VLC.

As always, the forum remains a great source of advice. And discourse.

Posted by cw at 05:57 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

Google gives us street maps ... to a point

Australia's finally on the map. Google Maps, that is. Yes, overnight Google's given us (and New Zealand) a new mapping layer that at last provides access to street maps. Which means more mash-ups.

Unfortunately, as yet there's no search capability, and the maps don't seem to be up to date. Which means we'll continue to look elsewhere for our online street directory.

Posted by cw at 05:34 PM | Comments (3)

Sol's sexist and not sorry

We could have warned Sol Trujillo to keep his mouth shut on the topic of what women want in technology, having foolishly ventured into no man's land a couple of years ago.

Our intention was to take a light-hearted look at how companies like HP were letting down their female users (ironically, at the time, HP was led by a woman), but two or three readers, including a male, regarded it as a sexist generalisation. We initially reacted with indignation [how could any woman regard us ... US, for God's sake ... as sexist?] before we realised the error of our ways, and started issuing apologies. We'd been dealing in stereotypes.

Somehow we don't think we were quite as patronising as Sol [but we're probably still a touch defensive on the topic]. He seemed to be taking a gratuitously old-fashioned view of the modern female by lecturing Telstra on how it should relate to women.

According to Sol: "A Blackberry's ability to fit into a shirt pocket or clip onto a belt is irrelevant to women. Of greater relevance is whether a Blackberry fits into a handbag, whether the keyboard can be locked to prevent unintentional dialling from knocking against sunglasses; whether the screen can be cleaned if it's picked up by a toddler with sticky fingers; whether the screen is scratch proof from keys in the handbag; and whether there's a choice of colours."

If that wasn't enough, he followed up with the following words of wisdom: "Women are likelier to be interested in services and applications that minimise travel time to Saturday-morning soccer practice to school pick-ups and can keep track of grocery items that need to be restocked. Don't forget that it's women who love to talk on the phone while performing other tasks. It's women that have so much to gain from the wireless age, especially if they can bathe a baby or prepare dinner and talk to their mother on the phone at the same time. Women are great multi-taskers. "

We couldn't quite fit the women in our life around those labels, and nor could the women who responded on Telstra's nowwearetalking blog.

Sol's comments were sexist, simplistic, and offensive and he should have owned up, apologised, and promised to do better. Instead, Telstra seems to have taken the attitude that the criticism was a put-up job from its competitors. Telstra's Andrew Maiden [pardon us while we insert finger into throat], opined "Could this be the continuation of personal attacks from competitors whose performance in the market is not so great. Look at Sol's record (four times more senior women executives than when he arrived), compare it with the CEOs of other companies, and then judge for yourself."

And Mary Williams [no indication of where her bread's being buttered], responded: "What's all the fuss about Sol Trujillo and women? Sounds like Telstra's competitors are playing the man not the ball. Facts are: Sol arrived in a company that took 100 years to appoint its first female senior executive; Sol took 6 months to quadruple that number. He has been on the record promoting the virtues of a diverse workforce, including the point that, in the battle to recruit good staff, organisations are gonna have to be flexible accommodating parents' needs. And he is a leader in the Hispanic community in the US, well known for sponsoring scholarships designed to give opportunities to capable Hispanic business people. If there's one thing Sol ain't, it's sexist."

Does it seem to have been cut from the same cookie dough to you? Does it seem a particularly stupid tactic? Defending the indefensible actually exacerbates the original offence. Someone really should talk to Telstra about their PR. It's not fooling anyone. It's increasingly seen as a reflection of Sol's take-no-prisoners personality, and seriously stuffed-up values.

UPDATE: We just read Crikey, and Optus (surprise, surprise) isn't all that impressed with Telstra's PR either.

"Optus director of corporate and regulatory affairs, Paul Fletcher, branded Telstra's public policy under CEO Sol Trujillo, and his head of Public Policy and Communications Phil Burgess, a tirade of “hyperbolic pleadings” from 'some self interested short term visitors'.

In an unprecedented analysis of a rival carrier's PR performance, Fletcher outlined a litany of Telstra's perceived failures, putting forward his take on the five key reasons behind Telstra's PR woes:

Posted by cw at 03:19 PM

May 18, 2006

CD or not CD? Is that the question?

Bleeding Edge has been doing a good deal of self-examination since we read a suggestion that in the age of iTunes, people are still addicted to buying their music in what you might call solid disc form. According to Kim Weatherall, commenting on a suggestion from co-expert Phil Tripp that music was on its way from being "a collectable commodity in a hard carrier" to a downloadable utility, people are inveterate collectors with an uncontrollable urge to buy CDs, even when they can download the contents.

That gave us quite a shock. Was it possible that we too suffered from this apparently atavistic urge to collect little plastic boxes with shiny polycarbonate discs and paper sleeves? It would be Freudian, wouldn't it? Some form of consumer death drive. We've spent God knows how long converting all our CDs to digital form - how clever of us to anticipate that it would eventually be legal for us to do that - but somewhere deep down, do we retain this burning desire to buy more of the things?

We think we can declare, after a good deal of contemplation, that we don't. In fact we're pretty sure we've uncovered an abiding animosity towards CDs - nasty, scratchable little things that sneak out of their boxes and lose themselves. But perhaps you're different. Have you switched to the online model, or do you still fancy that you have to collect things, and perhaps display them as the visual evidence of your good taste and conformity?

Posted by cw at 04:36 PM | Comments (15)

The BitTorrent blitz - and a Bleeding Edge plug

Phew! By coincidence (seeing that I never see what Garry Barker is writing about) both Bleeding Edge and Mac Man hit Green Guide readers with a double whammy on BitTorrent this morning. MacMan focuses on the decision by Warner Bros to use the peer-to-peer file-sharing technology as a legal distribution method. Bleeding Edge reports on what we consider to be the best BitTorrent client [no Mac version unfortunately], resources that will help you with things like port forwarding (a critical topic for anyone who wants to maximise speeds) and a Torrent site that gives you the best of British TV long before it's released locally (and in many cases they're not released locally). It also gives you a lot of great British shows from the past. You can read about it in today's Green Guide.

There's a bonus for our email subscribers, because we couldn't fit all our research into the story. Subscribers will get details of other Torrent sites that also weren't mentioned by Mac Man. They'll take a lot of the work out of finding new torrents. And there's some other links that will help you understand BitTorrent terms like "seeds" and "re-seeds", and walk you through a lot of the complexities.

So, if you've been thinking about supporting Bleeding Edge, but somehow just haven't got around to it, a $25 minimum subscription buys you an awful lot of free entertainment today, and heaps of money-saving tips all year.

Posted by cw at 08:06 AM | Comments (9)

May 17, 2006

Allofmp3 lives again ... sort of

We're delighted to report that despite all the stories about its sad demise, Allofmp3.com is up again. Possibly they were just adding server space to cater for increased demand, but Web page ordering is "temporarily unavailable". As a service to our loyal readers we took the opportunity to try out their SMS ordering. That makes the album we were interested in more expensive [$5 as opposed to around $2.13], but it may be the only way we can get some tracks at the moment.

The idea is they SMS a code back to you, and you enter it and start downloading. We've got part way through the process, but we're not sure it's going to complete. Again, possibly because that sort of ordering too, is temporarily unavailable.

Anyone else tried this?

Posted by cw at 04:48 PM | Comments (4)

May 16, 2006

Google Notebook goes live

That Google Notebook feature we mentioned has been released. And although the download site suggests that it might not work with OS X, it does. Well, at least it does with Firefox for the Mac.

We're not sure quite what to make of it yet - and we're particularly undecided about the ability to make one's Notebook public - but it does seem to have some useful features. For instance, every time you select some text from a Website and save it to your Notebook, it automatically includes the Web address.

Posted by cw at 11:31 PM | Comments (5)

Ruddock: a dill or what?

Could it be that we've misjudged Alice Ruddock, our nitpicking Attorney General, who, as we mentioned below, replaced our insane copyright regime under which we couldn't copy anything, with even more insane legislation that allows us to copy some things, provided we record them in a different format, and show the copy only once? Possibly in an unlit room. Alone. With the volume turned right down.

We were forced to reconsider our judgment - that Ruddock is an ass, and an unlikeable ass at that - by one of the comments on the Mashup blog [which has sort of replaced the Razor blog on the SMH and The Age]. According to Mark A.:

I think these new laws are great. What the Government has done is found a way to shaft the record companies while making it appear that they have sold us out to them. I mean now we have the RIGHT to copy and format shift any TV shows and CD's and abosultely no way for anybody to determine if we have watched it once twice or a hundred times.

The Government has made sure the record companies will have absolutely no way to prosecute anybody as they won't be able to prove anything! That's the real point. Do you think that if the Government allowed the Record/Movie industry to create "watch once only" DVD's , CD's, VCR's and related electronic goods, either the government or the industry would last a couple of weeks? Do you think that if the these new laws were in any way enforceable Phillip Ruddock would still be in a job? I think not!

That would make Ruddock a sly genius, wouldn't it? Rather than a genuine dill. But after thorough consideration, we have to say that we just can't see it Mark's way. For our money, Ruddock follows in the noble traditions of our former Communications Minister, Senator Richard Alston, who stunned the world with his ability to stuff up practically every decision he made involving digital technology.

Posted by cw at 06:52 PM | Comments (5)

Google opens Sydney shop

Got an interesting algorithm in your pocket? Or perhaps the next Google Maps? You might like to brush up your CV and head for Sydney, where Google's launched its Australian HQ. Unfortunately, there's no company washing machine. One can only hope that this means we're going to get some more localised Google products, like this. And this.

Posted by cw at 03:24 PM

May 15, 2006

Australia's sort of free-ish copyright review

What a curious person our Attorney-General is. The long-awaited copyright review means he's no longer going to throw you in jail and confiscate your property should you make a copy of that music CD or television broadcast. But don't think we're going to get anything sensible, like a fair use policy, that modern countries have had for an awfully long time now. The minister's press release and FAQ are a nitpicker's delight.

For instance, you can't backup your audio CD simply by copying it. Nope, you're going to have to change the format. And while you can record Desperate Housewives etc, you can only replay it once. Too bad if your wife or husband and/or kids or housemates might want to watch it at a different time. You'll just have to destroy the copy, and tell them they should have watched it with you. (Just make sure in future you hide the remote controls, so nobody else can get their hands on them).

We don't think that under the new rules you can legally shrink your DVD, but we're not completely sure, and in any case, the Government might change its mind after it reviews the format shifting
exception in two years’ time to decide "whether the scope can be expanded to digital audio-visual materials in a way which complies with our international obligations".

Let's see now. Does this mean that while Americans can make a copy, Australians can't, due to the terms of our Free Trade Agreement which were imposed by, let's see now, oh yes, by the Land of the Free? From now on, we're going to call our AG Alice Ruddock, because he's taken us all down a rabbit-hole.

It's another one of those stupid bloody laws that everyone will ignore. How are they going to determine how many times you've played that copy? By interrogating the kids?

Posted by cw at 03:19 PM | Comments (5)

Yet another view of Web 2.0

Everyone has his own view of Web 2.0. Here's ours, written for Intheblack magazine, which goes to Australia's chartered certified public accountants.

Posted by cw at 02:33 PM | Comments (2)

Beazley's irrelevant broadband plan

Bleeding Edge has been called to task for not commenting on Kim Beazley's broadband policy, unveiled in his reply to last week's Federal Budget.

Why was there no comment on Kim Beazley's statement last week about Australia's broadband being among the slowest broadband speeds recognised in the world? After so much previous comment about it, how could you let something important like the Opposition's promise to bring true broadband to Australia go un-noticed?
Well, let's see now ... the fact is, we didn't think it WAS important. We just haven't been able to get excited by anything Beazley has had to say about telecommunications since he totally missed the point with his 2004 policy - which would have entailed spending a pitiful $140 million over three years to achieve precisely nothing.

That was the time for vision. That was the time to try to inspire the nation with a realistic plan. What we got was waffle.

The fact that Kim is now proposing to roll out a national FTTN network using the "$757 million Broadband Connect program and provide an equity injection from the $2 billion earmarked to the Communications Fund to deliver the public funding of this partnership with the telecommunications sector" seems to us to be too little, too late, and far too sketchy. Even the figures they trot out were the ones we mentioned in our post. They're three years old, for God's sake.

And how long would it take to get this partnership rolling? How long would it take to get the infrastructure built? It sounds like the sort of thing the ALP dreamed up after reading the Financial Review's fraudband story, and decided - ho hum - that it might be able to capture a few column inches of space.

By the time a Beazley Government came to power - and frankly we would be amazed if a Beazley Government ever did come to power - all the decisions will have been made. The Howard Government's record on broadband is disgraceful. But can anyone tell me in what way the ALP would have done better? I just don't see it. Beazley is the sort of "leader" a political party gets when it abandons all principle and squabbles over what little power remains to it. It needs an urgent allocation of bandwidth itself.

But, oh, look! The Government's changed its mind. It's going to use the Broadband Connect fund to encourage large-scale broadband development.

Posted by cw at 11:42 AM | Comments (3)

May 13, 2006

Allofmp3 on pause

We haven't been able to get into Allofmp3 for the past few days. The message says the server's closed for "maintainance". We hope it's just growing pains. It wouldn't be the first time, as we mentioned in a recent column. But we've got our fingers crossed. While it's there, there's at least some pressure on the music industry to charge reasonable prices for compressed music.

Posted by cw at 08:19 PM | Comments (10)

May 12, 2006

Google moves goalposts

We have a great deal of pity for whichever executive in the Microsoft heirarchy has been nominated for the job of keeping up with Google. It can't be fun, spending one's working life in a cloud of dust. Yesterday must have been particularly tough. Google called a Press day, and announced a bunch of new Google stuff [Webcast link on the official Pressday page.]

Let's see now. There's Google Co-op, which seems to be a potentially vast exercise in communal search.

There's a new Google desktop, with Google Gadgets, which represents a bit of catching up for Google, on those Yahoo! and Apple widget things.

Then there's Google Trends, which allows you to keep up with the search herd. That could provide the guys at Microsoft with a handy periscope.

Next week, Google Labs will let us in on Google Notebook. It provides a little repository in your browser window to which you can drag text and images - another catch-up - and, if you like, share them. Microsoft might use it to store this little piece of advice from Yahoo! chairman, and CEO Terry Semel: "You can't buy in."

Posted by cw at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)

May 11, 2006

Let's hear it for the dragonfly

Look. We're all in favour of scientific researchers. We respect and admire their contributions to the stock of human knowledge. But. Don't dragonflies deserve a little privacy? And isn't it it a bit much to expect them to carry around a backpack that transmits their whereabouts?

On the other hand, should we ever feel like migrating, we'll try to remember to begin the move only after two nights of cooler temperatures. As every dragonfly apparently knows [but we didn't], that indicates a cold front is approaching with favourable north-westerly winds. Hmmn. But wait a minute. Maybe only dragonflies that have some extra weight to carry wait for a bit of extra assistance. Maybe they're the only ones who head out to sea, then think better of it. We think we may need some research on dragonfly psychology before we can accept this research.

Posted by cw at 09:37 AM | Comments (1)

Allofmp3 for the Macintosh

We're still having problems getting Allofmp3's payment handler to accept our Visa card. So far, judging from the response of readers, it seems like cards from the ANZ and Commonwealth banks can be problematic.

In the meantime, we've had a plea from a Mac user who'd like to try the service. The software they provide works only on Windows, unfortunately, and Allofmp3 never, in our experience, answers any correspondence. Fortunately the system is pretty much trouble-free, and I watch those credit card statements like a hawk.

We came up up with Geddum, which has a link to a Mac binary from Allofmp3. Anyone tried it?

Posted by cw at 09:22 AM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2006

Life with a JASJAR

It's taken Jeremy Howard six months of desultory praise for his latest instrument of delight to convince us, but we've finally decided to try to adopt the i-mate JASJAR. The phone itself arrives this afternoon, but we spent lunch-time trying to sign up for a service with 3. Jeremy's right. The organisation is insane.

First they told us emphatically that the JASJAR wouldn't work with the 3 network. We were prepared for that. "Just give us the card," we said, "and let us worry about that". Then they wanted to sell us a NetConnect card for a laptop (which we didn't need). Then they tried to sign us up as a company, then changed their mind, then told us we'd have to buy a separate phone in order to get the 200MB per month $29.95 data plan.

Next they told us there wasn't a $29.95 data plan for the SIM card [why not, for God's sake?] and for $29.95 we'd get only 100MB [which we're beginning to fear may not be enough]. Then they told us it would take half an hour to an hour, and probably longer, to do a credit check. We decided that probably meant we'd get the SIM card some time tomorrow, but 10 minutes later they rang to say we appeared to be legit.

All that messing around cost us a $50 parking fine. [When will we learn?] But we're looking forward to trying it all out. This could be life-changing. Aside from being able to do instant messaging and check our email etc on a device that is - well, let's face it, slightly larger than the ideal phone, but you can't expect to get a usable keyboard on anything smaller - we want to see if it makes an acceptable e-book reader. That 640x480 screen looks much more compelling than the Palm Treo, to which we've become quite attached. It will take a lot to convince us, but if we don't try it, we'll never find out.

We shall keep you informed.

Posted by cw at 03:09 PM | Comments (5)

May 08, 2006

Apple (Computer) beats Apple (Beatles)

This seems like common sense to us. Apple Corps - the record company owned by the Beatles - sued Apple Computer for damages, claiming its iTunes Music Store, and the iPod, breached an undertaking the computer company made not to compete against Apple Corps in the music business. A British judge ruled the Apple Computer venture was "a form of electronic shop" and not involved in creating music.

Given that the Apple Computer logo is the most visible bar none - far more famous than the Beatles' version - it's hard to see that the Beatles have suffered any damage whatsoever, espectially given that the Beatles have famously never made their music available as downloads. Their case seemed particularly weak to us. Maybe having to pay the legal costs might influence the Beatles to put their music online, at last. They'd make more money that way, we imagine, than suing the company that's done more to save the record industry from itself than any other.

Posted by cw at 10:19 PM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2006

Australia. Not a continent?

Now look. We're not entirely happy with what the Howard Government is (not) doing with the Internet in this country. But for the BBC to suggest that "Governments on every continent are using technology to stifle online debate" is surely bollocks, isn't it? Yes, the Howard Governemnt won't ensure we have enough bandwidth, but they're not closing down blogs, so far as we know. Well. There was that kerfuffle over the fake Howard blog, but that doesn't really rate, does it?

The scandal, to our mind, is that the BBC is too bloody lazy to do basic copy editing. But. It's Friday night, we've just enoyed a very nice bottle of rose, and we're possibly ever so slightly sozzled.

Posted by cw at 10:34 PM | Comments (5)

From Telstra to (lucrative) Solstra

What with Sol Trujillo having turned so many of the key positions at Australia's national carrier over to his pals and buddies, we at Bleeding Edge now call the company formerly known as Telstra by its new, correct title: Solstra. According to the AFR's Pamela Williams, however, that ain't the half of it.

In a front-page story that spills to a four-page-spread inside, Williams claims Sol's circle of friends include some French amis - the giant telecoms manufacturer Alcatel - and the hombre who runs Latin American phone distributor Brightstar. She suggests that "dramatically scaled-back" tender processes favouring those companies could have cost Solstra shareholders untold millions.

Williams quotes terrified Solstra insiders and frustrated competitors who feel the fact that they don't break bread with Sol has locked them out of lucrative contracts, and concludes: "In place of the tough competitions of a year ago, Trujillo is operating in a system which insiders say has less transparency and at least the perception that entree to the lucrative selection process can sometimes turn on a paast relationship with the CEO."

Other suppliers claim that the previous Telstra dual-sourcing model which meant at least two suppliers were selected for any major contract has been ditched, and the company now simply asks "select companies" about their overall capabilities, rather than issuing formal specifications to the open market, and inviting responses. They say this makes it impossible for them to respond.

Worse, a senior manager at Telstra outlined certain "problems" with Alcatel in recent years, including "overselling capabilities and time frames", "sometimes questionable software quality" and "overcharging". He and other managers appear to be concerned that some of these "problems" might have padded out the $3.4 billion Alcatel is charging for the construction of a new fibre to the node network. Sol's spokesteam counter that the company "acted commercially for shareholdes and customers", pointed out that the buck stopped with the board, and muttered about "formal competititive tenders" among "short-listed tenderers", but pleaded the corporate equivalent of the Fifth Amendment when pressed for further details: the company does not release this type of information.

What with the absolute mozza that Sol's like-minded circle is making out of Solstra, and the accusations about Brightstar and ... let's see now ... Accenture, this could have much bigger traction in the public mind than the AWB debacle, because there's all those shareholders who are picking up the bill.

More and more, it looks like the stars are beginning to turn against John Howard.

Posted by cw at 08:14 AM | Comments (3)

May 04, 2006

A helping hand for poor little Bill

Bill Gates says he really doesn't want to be the world's richest man. You can help him out. Don't buy Windows. Or Office. It's the least you can do for the poor chap. We know a lot of Linux users who'll be glad to oblige.

Posted by cw at 06:19 PM | Comments (4)

May 03, 2006

Now you can spend virtual cash

OK, the RBA has put up interest rates - so much for those brave but foolish experts who assured the public that they wouldn't - but it doesn't really matter, does it? Not when you can get a credit card that allows you to spend money you've earned in the virtual world? Coincidentally, on Sunday we were on a Comedy Festival panel with John Clarke, among others, during which we alerted the audience to the existence of this new and interesting virtual economy, where games can make you rich. Maybe we should spend more time playing games, and less time blogging. Then we wouldn't have to accumulate more debt to become a Vesparado.

Posted by cw at 11:08 AM

Microsoft's uncertain Vista

Here in the world of the Windows PC, Bleeding Edge long ago learned to live with uncertainty. Take shipping schedules for instance. IT analyst Gartner is predicting that the new Vista operating system will not meet its most recently delayed ship date of - let's see now - November for the corporate version, and January for retail customers, and will instead ship three months or so later. Gartner says Vista is "too complex" [but, hmmn, not as complex as it was supposed to be when they started stripping features out of it to meet another revised shipping date back in the distant past].

Microsoft says it's not too complex at all, and it will so too meet the published schedule. And surely, you know, they've eventually got to meet ONE of their deadlines. Possibly.

Robert Scoble, who clearly inhabits a similarly uncertain world, says he doesn't have a clue whether it will or it won't, but he'd rather it didn't if it was so complex that it didn't work terribly well.

Ed Bott says Gartner has more than once found speculating on Microsoft shipping dates a little more complex than they expected, and this one is stewed rhubarb.

David "Riches" Richards will be brushing off that story that got up Scoble's nose ... the one where he claimed that 60 per cent of the Vista code base would have to be rewritten, because it was, umm, too complex. And Bleeding Edge will remain serene in our contemplation of the uncertain world. As the Buddha observed in his analysis of Microsoft, all knowledge is inadequate. Besides. We aren't planning on installing Vista until we're completely sure it's pain-free, and we can afford any necessary upgrades. Which could be years away. And besides. Windows XP is perfectly adequate.

Posted by cw at 10:07 AM | Comments (4)

May 02, 2006

Dark clouds threaten Mac security

What with the SANS Institute reporting that in the security world, more and more pieces of sky have been falling to earth, and that the Mac's reputation as a more secure alternative to Windows is in "tatters" - but, well, it IS still more secure than Windows - the news that Apple isn't exactly racing to fix vulnerabilities hardly boosts one's confidence, does it?

Having had long experience with Apple's insouciant disregard for such things as customer support, and its apparent belief that any faults in its products have been deliberately manufactured by their users and/or the handful of journalists who dare to criticise them, we're not exactly surprised to learn that according to the Washington Post's Brian Krebs, Apple averages 91 days to patch vulnerabilities - which puts them months behind Linux vendors - that Apple security advisories don't assign severity levels, and that the company is much better at issuing assurances than helpful data.

The implications are more disturbing, given the arrival of trojans that affect OS X, increasing interest by the malware industry in the world of Apple, and the fact that with [how does Apple put it again?] "more and more people buying and loving Macs" the Bootcamp program means that (a) nasty stuff could enter those much-loved computers by way of Windows, and wipe out stuff on the Mac partition, and (b) a lot of Mac users inhabit a planet called Denial, where, as e.e. cummings might have said, no-one ever cries, "everyone's in love, and flowers pick themselves".

Footnote: If you happen to be one of those folks who buy and love Macs, please spare us the usual Mac hater label and other assorted items of splenetic rage. We buy and love Macs too. Alas, that doesn't automatically qualify Apple for corporate sainthood.

Posted by cw at 10:16 AM | Comments (6)

May 01, 2006

The two-wheel Bleeding Edge revolution

What with the petrol bill having spiralled around here - it's not just the rocketing price, it's the fact that we now have to travel to and from the Bleeding Edge cave, way over there in Abbotsford - we are seriously considering swapping the ageing Mazda MX6 for a Vespa GTS 250 i.e. Well, we're a technology writer, aren't we? And this is the most technically advanced Vespa ever built.

It's also heavy, and we haven't ridden a two-wheeled motor bike for 30 years or more, so we're possibly demented. Should we take a vote on the issue? Is it insane for a 60-year-old even to contemplate such a move? Or are we being cool and environmentally responsible?

We think we picked up the infection in Rome, where every second person seems to have one. They congregate at the traffic lights, gunning their motors to intimidate the car drivers. And we were constantly fascinated at the utility of the things. Just off the Piazza Navona, for instance, where we rented a flat for a few weeks, we saw an ageing gentleman nonchalantly commuting to the local enoteca every evening with his golden retriever sitting sedately between his legs, on the platform.

It would make much more sense, in our view, to have inner city dwellers using these things, rather than wasting fuel, polluting the environment and crowding the roads with four-wheel vehicles. But, as we've said, we're possibly sent our mind on a long vacation.

Posted by cw at 08:38 PM | Comments (17)