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Danny -

Last Build Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 15:04:03 GMT


New blog site

Fri, 28 Apr 2006 15:04:03 GMT

I've decided to get a little more serious about this blogging thing, but that also means moving off LJ. It doesn't seem to support trackbacks - not very easily, anyway - and I wanted it to be integrated into my own web site more (currently I have to use scripts to pull the RSS into an HTML page and it's clunky). Plus, Wordpress seems to have some fun plugin options, which I'll be able to explore now, at my leisure. So. My blog (including RSS feed) is now at my own site. Do follow me over there. This will be my last post here on LJ. Thanks to Livejournal for the past couple of years. Bye!

Apple's PR faux pas

Mon, 24 Apr 2006 04:51:24 GMT

Apple's sniffy response to a nine year-old's letter offering suggestions for the iPod wasn't the best way to handle things. But the news report doesn't tell the whole side of the story. It's common practice in the US not to accept unsolicited ideas from individuals outside a company, for fear of being nailed in court at a later date by the sender, should you end up implementing the idea. Everyone has to be careful about the origin of their ideas now. Just ask Dan Brown.Say in 2004 I sent Apple a letter saying 'Hey! You should introduce an iPod that uses a video screen for its entire user interface!" And then, say, in Q4 2006, Apple releases the thing, having come up with the same idea on its own and filed patents critical to it after I submitted my idea . If the company doesn't make it very clear from the outset that it is not reading or accepting my unsolicited idea, then I could try to sue it when the product hits the streets. Not that I'd succeed, necessarily, but I could try, and such a lawsuit could be a thorn in its side, especially if there were more claims like mine. So it has to play hardball, and send me a letter saying "We don't take unsolicited pitches. We're not reading this. Go away."For examples of this policy check out none other than the copyright part of the web site for CBS5, the station that reported Apple's response to the kid's letter. The station's site carries the standard disclaimer that you'll see on the web sites of most production companies and TV channels with any legal sense:CBS has a long-standing company policy that does not allow CBS to accept or consider creative ideas, suggestions or materials other than those CBS has specifically requested. It is the intent of this policy to avoid the possibility of future misunderstandings when projects developed by CBS's staff might seem to others to be similar to theirown creative ideas, suggestions or materials.So, Apple was doing exactly what it should have done, and what it outlines here, in its own policy on unsolicited submissions. The problem is that it did it to a young girl, thus making a PR faux pas. But how was it to know that the parents wouldn't sue on the kid's behalf, further down the line? Like Usher says, Apple is an arrogant company in many ways. But these days it might be legally dangerous to "thank someone for the unsolicited advice and let them know it is certainly something they will consider." At least, it's dangerous if you're trying not to risk a court appearance later. Not that staying out of court seems to be something that Apple cares very much about these days, as long as it's in the litigant's chair.The problem is that we live in an increasingly litigious society in which people are very happy to try and sue each other for the craziest stuff, and intellectual property violations are no exception. Now, Apple has revised its policy on responding to kids' letters. Whatever. The real issue here is that someone at Apple, and all the other companies that eschew user suggestions, really should work out a better way to engage customers rather than dismissing their suggestions, whether harshly or politely. How about a customer feedback form or commentable set of Apple employee blogs with legal disclaimers clearly stating that Apple cannot be later sued for stealing any ideas expressed? As far as I can see -- and perhaps someone will come along and correct me -- Apple doesn't even have any company-sanctioned staff blogs (further adding to its increasingly arrogant, insular image). Just how do you deal with the IP liability issue, in an age where everything is meant to be about customer conversations?[...]

Snakes on a Plane

Tue, 18 Apr 2006 15:01:59 GMT

So, why all the fuss over Snakes on a Plane? Seems to me that the movie, which has become a cult classic before it was even released, relies wholly on the title. Samuel L Jackson said that he only agreed to be in the movie because of the title, after all.

Why is the title so attractive? Because the title is the pitch. If two guys walked into New Line and had to pitch the movie in five words or less, that's what they'd say. 'It's's about...snakes on a plane!".

I was asking Susie whether there have been any other movies that embody the pitch in the title, and nothing else.

Brief Encounter?
My Dinner With Andre?
Strangers on a Train?

Close, I guess, although I'm not sure that an executive could base a contract on any of those based on the title alone. Snakes on a plane works because you pretty much know exactly what's going to happen. No room for conjecture. The idea is so silly that making it the title of the movie highlights the inanity of the formulaic Hollywood action format. Take a random danger, and a location, put them together, and fill in the blanks in the script.

Will I go to see Snakes on a plane? Hell, yeah.

Hey ho, back again, vroom vroom vroom.

Tue, 04 Apr 2006 20:27:20 GMT

Welcome to America
Originally uploaded by itjournalist.
Sorry that I haven't posted in a while. I've been away and working madly. Just got back from the last (I hope) filming trip for my forthcoming documentary. It's been forthcoming for some time, but hopefully it will finally come forth this summer, so that I can go forth and do something else. This time round I was interviewing Pulitzer prize winner Richard Rhodes, Lynn Eden and Martin Harwit, the latter about his part in the Enola Gay exhibition that was canned in 1995. All of them fascinating interviews. Now I just hope that I can turn them into a film that does them all justice. But before I try, I have to turn some article ideas into cheques, so that I can pay to finish this whole thing off. The stock footage alone (which I just spent 2 weeks gathering at NARA - thanks for your help Jim) is really expensive. And let's not talk about the music rights. While I was at NARA I ran into Kevin Rafferty, who made Atomic Cafe, which isn't a million miles away from what I'm trying to do. I kept stumbling across the same footage that he was looking at 25 years ago, so it was an honour to meet him. It's amazing how "I really loved your movie" comes out as "arugha-ough-wagh" when you're feeling a little overawed and nervous.

I had 1.5 weeks to research my stock footage.
"How long did it take you?" I asked.
"Five years. And I had two people helping me," he said.
"Oh. Bugger." I thought.

Anyway, onwards and downwards. If you've mailed me and haven't received a reply, sorry about that. I'm going through my emails in the next few days. Sit tight. Especially on a personal note Trish, Teresa, Seth, and the two Tonys. All of whom I've owed mails to for months.

In the meantime, amuse yourselves with Google's Mars map, which I discovered while browsing the excellent Billy Goat Curse, while researching another article.
And for journalists, see if you recognise any of your antics here. I know at least three of the people mentioned in these posts. Glad to say I'm not in there! Give me a few too many early morning cups of coffee and some extra deadline stress and I'm sure I'll make it in eventually.

Fri, 13 Jan 2006 18:24:38 GMT

I was just chatting to an anti-virus bod who pointed out that we're rapidly approaching the target date for the End of Spam As We Know It. Two years ago, on Jan 24th, Bill Gates reportedly said that spam would be a thing of the past in two years. Is it?

But then, his trustworthy computing drive is now four years old. The company refocused on security in 2002 and even froze code development (a risky move in an industry predicated on growth through new releases) in a bid to fix the security problems plaguing windows. Did it work? You decide.

At the end of last year, Gates talked about a web services economy in a memo that could have been written in 1999, and which seems to be more of a kneejerk reaction to Ajax programming models and Google's gradual attempts at pulling together end to end services crafted around search, than anything else. How many more statements can be made that are lacking in vision or just plain wrong, before people - including shareholders - stop listening?

Tue, 03 Jan 2006 16:17:20 GMT

Hi all. Please note that I've switched to Vonage. While my old number still works for the time being, please update your contact books with the new one: +1 780 628 5755. For international callers, you still have to add the two zeros at the front. Happy new year!

Merry Christmas!

Wed, 21 Dec 2005 04:01:31 GMT

Originally uploaded by itjournalist.
We're foregoing the postal costs and physical cards this year, as per normal, and sending out electronic cards. Susie and I are donating the money that we would have spent on cards to Unicef and the United Way instead. Merry Christmas, all!

Enough, already.

Fri, 09 Dec 2005 18:01:46 GMT

Blogs often seem to be places for ranting and venting personal facts that are probably best kept private. I try to avoid both generally, but something happened recently that has caused me to suspend my own rule. It seems to be a general law that the further away you get from working in agency PR, the more demanding you become about getting copies of articles that you've been quoted in. Agency types often mail me and ask politely when an article is likely to run. In-house types are often a bit more sniffy, mailing to say "we still haven't seen the article, kindly inform us when it will appear", and so on. But the real corkers are the inteviewees who don't have PR firms. They often demand a copy of the publication, and get quite shirty when it doesn't appear. This happened to me very recently. Here's the backstory: I call a guy who works in a scientific field, asking for an interview. While I'm waiting for him to call back I find that he organised a conference for a relevant organisation (not his employer), so I call the PR woman there, who is very helpful. Some time later I got a call from the internal PR handler at his employer, who it turns out I had to go through first before he was allowed to tallk to me. That often happens, and even though she was extremely brusque, barking out questions and interrupting me with more before I get the chance to finish answering, I politely played ball. OK, so I've dealt with two PR people to get to this guy, but it worked. So far, no sweat. He calls and gave me half an hour of his time, taking me through the nuances of his particular field of research. He was a nice guy - very evuncular, knowledgeable, a really personable sort. At the end, I do what I always do - I gave him as much information as I could about the article's likely publication date. As it happens, my editor had given me a specific publication date - something which is very rare in the industry. So I told him the date, and explained that it would be on the web site, and gave him the URL and menu directions.So, the day after the publication day rolls around. The guy mails me and CCs in his PR girl. "I looked for it but couldn't find it," he says. And I looked, and sure enough, neither could I.This, or a variation of this, is happening more frequently these days. I don't know if it's because I'm writing more articles, or what, but one of three things happens. Either someone will look for an article and fail, and mail me to find out what's happened, or they'll mail me shortly asking the interview and ask me when it's likely to appear, or they'll ask me to keep track of the publication date and send them a copy of the paper when it's published. On nthe surface, this seems to be a perfectly reasonable request, of course - they've taken the time to chat to me, or arrange a call, so of course they should see the result in print. What's the problem?The problem is that I'm a freelancer. And I'm a freelancer working in a different country to the one where 95% of my client publications are based. So if something doesn't appear on the web site, I don't get to riffle through the print publication to see if it has appeared. Which means that the only option is to contact the editor.These editors are extremely busy. They're often facing ridiculous deadlines (especially the ones working on daily papers) and trying to get a publication out. So when a freelancer calls up to say 'hey! did the article run?' it's going to be pretty irrirating. Moreover, I generally do repeat business with each publication, which means that to satisfy everyone's demands I'd be calling the editor every time an article was due to appear and couldn't be found on the web site. That wouldn't just be irritating - it would be infuriating. Even though I write quality copy and get it in on time and do all the other things a good freelancer is meant to do, I'd be dropped pretty[...]

Fri, 02 Dec 2005 06:58:39 GMT

Hellow all. I haven't blogged in ages - too busy churning through work during the autumn rush and looking after two little ones. Talking of which, the reason I'm blogging today is purely logistical. to let people know that I won't be about today. Lucy, our two month old, is in hospital having surgery today on her cleft lip. And so of course we're both in there with her, holding her hand all the way.

I (and Lucy and her mum) will be back on Monday.

Back at work.

Tue, 18 Oct 2005 04:53:43 GMT

OK, people. I've emerged from the sea of poopy diapers that was my life for the last three weeks. I'm still on partial diaper duty of course, as all good dads should be, but now I'll be arm deep in baby poop on a cordless headset while interviewing your marketing manager about dual core silicon architectures.

Yup, I'm officially back at work rather than just vainly trying to tread water. Why? Because we're running out of money and diapers are expensive, that's why.

Editors beware: feature pitches incoming.

Killer Bees! Holy Shit!

Tue, 18 Oct 2005 04:47:41 GMT

What Fox News is really thinking.

Why I've been away

Fri, 30 Sep 2005 16:45:32 GMT

We had a baby! Lucy Jane is here! Our baby daughter was born on Thursday Sept 22nd. She weighs 7 pounds and 5 ounces, and is a doll! As soon as she was born she was crying at the top of her lungs, and her apgar rating (which measures the health of a newborn baby) was 9-9 (that means top marks!) So, she is in fine fettle.

She was born with a cleft palate, which means she will have to have two small operations – one at around ten weeks to repair her lip, and another at between six and twelve months to repair her palate. But the doctors say that this is relatively common and that the operations will straighten that out. Her speech and dental situation are going to be ok.

Unfortunately this meant that she had problems breast feeding for a couple of days because it made it hard for her to get the necessary suction. So she has to be fed using a bottle with a special nipple for the time being. This meant that she was staying in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for a few days because they wanted to monitor her feeding patterns, but this was simply a precaution -- she is fine and feisty, and not sick at all.

But the NICU thing has meant that things were particularly difficult schedule-wise as I was spending all my time there and dashing back from the hospital in the early morning and for a
couple of hours at night to get John, our 20 month-old, up, give him breakfast, and put him to bed. So that's why I may not have answered emails from people recently. And the impending birth was also the reason that I may have been unresponsive for the past few weeks, as I rushed to get as many interviews completed as possible.

Anyway, now we're back home. We've had the normal sleepless nights and tired days that you get with a newborn. Today (Friday) is the first day that I've had more than 4 hours sleep, so I'm only just starting to feel human again. I'll start answering all the outstanding emails, phone messages and whatnot today.

Epicentre pictures

Sun, 21 Aug 2005 14:42:01 GMT

I've finally managed to upload a few pictures from my various filming trips around the US as I researched my forthcoming movie about the nuclear weapons programme. Check them out here.

The Sickness of Reason

Sun, 31 Jul 2005 14:01:39 GMT

Robert Longo creates intricate charcoal drawings and, like me, has a fascination with atomic culture (although I can't draw. So that's where the similarity ends.) Apart from his drawings of atomic detonations and scientists' desks, he also draws sublime pictures of waves. Check out "Black Pipe" which is what I've currently got my wallpaper set to.

There are some more bomb picture links here, although because it's Flash you can't copy them for use on your own desktop. I love the name of his show at the Metro Pictures Gallery - 'The Sickness of Reason'. What better name for a show about the atom bomb, and what better time to go and visit the show's site than this week, so that we can remember?

Excellent ballpoint pen sketches

Fri, 29 Jul 2005 06:52:56 GMT

Wow. Excellent sketches and a very well-designed Flash site.

Mossberg and Gates on search (among other things).

Thu, 28 Jul 2005 16:34:31 GMT

Gah. WSJ tech columnist Walter Mossberg interviews Bill Gates, lets Gates whitter on about the advanced search capabilities in Longhorn (it's down near the bottom), and doesn't ask him about WinFS. WinFS was going to revolutionise Longhorn. It was going to be the object oriented final system that Gates had wanted for 10 years or more. They demonstrated it in late 2003, when they first gave developers the advanced 'bits' for Longhorn, and then they pulled it. It would have enabled users to link things like events, people, photographs, Word documents and places together. Not sure where that photograph is? The one that you took of Bob over dinner, six months ago? You didn't rename it, you can't remember what folder it is it, and so it's sitting somewhere with the filename 101DCM.JPG, which is the filename that the camera gave it, and which Google desktop search and Microsoft's desktop search won't be able to help you with very much at all.

No problem -- you remember that you took it at a conference six months ago, so you find the conference entry in your Outlook calendar, click on it, and it gives you all of the files that you stored on your PC around that time. Magic -- but it won't be in Longhorn out of the box, and because it is being sold as a bolt-on, who knows how to anyone ubiquitous it will be, or who will use it? Certainly not the team developing Office 12, which will not be building any kind of (even optional) support for WinFS into that version of the suite, in spite of the fact that they are emphasising information overload and the need to find the right information and the right people at the right time as part of the product's sales proposition. Instead, they're embedding the non-OO search capability that Gates was touting at Mossberg. Useful, I'm sure, but still - what a climb-down.

The annoying thing about this from a Microsoft perspective is that WinFS could have put them miles ahead in terms of desktop search. As it is, they have to rely on integrating more or less the same type of service into Longhorn that Google provides as a download. That will still probably put them ahead in the desktop search race, but it misses so much extra opportunity.

Ah, well.

Still, there are some interesting things in the interview. In particular, I like the idea of turning your camera-enabled cell phone into a sort of personal artificially intelligent assistant:

...we believe in the management software that's needed to build the cellphone that can, for example, recognize things. You know, when you take a picture it will say, 'Oh, that's a sign in a foreign language; you want it translated.' Or you take a picture of a receipt, and it says, 'Oh, that's a receipt. I'll figure out what that is and put it up in the expense software.' The richness of cellphones, whether it's voice recognition or the relationship back to your PC for things like scheduling, means that a software company has to provide a better use interface and richer capability...

Hopefully they will do better with that than they did with WinFS.

More Google Maps hackery

Tue, 26 Jul 2005 21:54:17 GMT

Cellphone tower search, from Mobiledia. This is an interesting one - I wonder how many 'environmental solutions' it would identify? 'Environmental solutions' is mobile phone company-speak for disguised mobile phone masts, often hidden in everything from flagpoles to casings on the side of buildings, and even trees.

I can see my house from here

Tue, 26 Jul 2005 21:25:12 GMT

Some people like my fellow blogger Drew say that Google Maps is useless for a lot of mapping stuff, because it doesn't include stuff like motorway exits. But the real benefit in the long term isn't the maps themselves; it is the ability to fold your own data into the Google maps experience, thanks to its use of XML documents as part of what has come to be known as the Ajax programming model. It becomes possible to create your own data overlays with this technology. Here's an example article about someone who did just that, hooking up pictures and descriptions of buildings from a 1906 Los Angeles tour guide. This search provides more how-to articles and examples.

With this new breed of Ajax-based sites, it's not the service that's particularly important -- it's the extensibility of the service. So when people say that Google Maps is shite because it doesn't include motorway exits, they're missing the point entirely. If someone cares enough about something to add it in, they can.

The whole mapping thing got a lot more interesting with the respective launch of satellite imagery-based mapping services operated by Google and Microsoft. Clearly, Microsoft is using older data than Google, judging by the nose thumbing over Microsoft 'deleting' Apple's HQ in Cupertino.

We just checked out our house on the Google Maps site (no, don't be daft, I'm not going to point out which one it is so that Internet stalkers can come and kidnap our dog) and we noticed that a building that has been there for decades and which was knocked down two weeks ago...isn't there! So I guess Google must be using some pretty up-to-date data. Certainly more up to date than Microsoft's anyway - and more comprehensive. Here's Microsoft Virtual Earth's best shot of the few blocks surrounding my area. Thanks guys. Maybe it'll be better when it's finally outta beta (even though Google Maps is still 'in beta', too, and probably will be for, oh, as long as they feel like keeping it there).

Olympics and the tube.

Wed, 06 Jul 2005 14:12:06 GMT

So, London won the 2012 Olympics, eh? Congratulations. And now, I think this link to a time-lapse movie of London Underground disruptions might be appropriate.

Every time I go back to London, I think "maybe they've fixed the tube now and everything will be fine," but it's never the case. I wonder if they'll be able to configure the infrastructure to support an event as big as the Olympics?

Arthur Podcast is now on iTunes directory

Mon, 04 Jul 2005 17:00:48 GMT

Some people have been slating some podcasts as valueless. (There's another barb buried in the body of this post too). This isn't a big secret - many podcasts, like many blogs, are self-referential, badly produced and, for most people, a waste of time. But when any new means of creating and distributing media emerge, this is bound to be the case. After all, remember what happened when DTP came along - all those terrible parish newsletters and fanzines that weren't worth the paper they were printed on. And then when the Web arrived -- all of those awful web sites with animated GIFs and awful design. One of the problems with postmodern culture, in which everyone gets the chance to have a go, is that you have to work a little harder to sort the wheat from the chaff. That's where other peoples' recommendations can help.

Anyway, take a listen to mine, and judge for yourself. The podcast for my online radio show, Radio Arthur, is now listed in the iTunes podcasting directory (the latest version of iTunes, 4.9, supports podcasts). Just go to the podcast directory and do a search for 'Arthur', or point your RSS 2.0 enclosure-friendly newsreader here. I'll be putting more shows up there pronto.

The downside of living on the prairie

Fri, 24 Jun 2005 16:15:32 GMT

I love lots of things about living in Saskatchewan. The wonderful people. The beautiful, rolling skies over open prairie. The great quality of life. But unfortunately, with only a million people in an area the size of three United Kingdoms, it's not a prime market for service providers of all types...

(Hint: we're the third province from the left).

EPIC schmepic

Fri, 10 Jun 2005 03:36:23 GMT

Today, someone posted a link to this Press Gazette article in a journalist's bulletin board system that I frequent. It kicks off with a discussion of the EPIC Flash movie that's been doing the rounds on the Internet for the last 2-3 months. The EPIC movie visualises a future where a merged Google and Amazon create the Evolving Personalised Information Construct (bleurgh). It's a system in which traditional journalists have no place. Instead, bloggers and citizen journalists post prolifically, and a super-smart personalisation system with an unprecedented level of knowledge about your personal habits and preferences cuts and pastes different parts of hundreds of postings to assemble a personal page for you. Think of traditional personalised news portals, but feeding you an amalgamation of hundreds of pieces of bastardised paragraphs from other peoples' posts, instead of stories from AP and Reuters.Sounds horrid, doesn't it? Assembling stories from snippets of hundreds of blog postings based on a personalisation system is the epitome of taking stuff out of context. It'll kill the quality of writing stone dead. Where's the room for analysis? For crafting the structure of an article? This isn't what Google News does now. Google News aggregates stories around certain subjects but it doesn't cut the stories apart and fit them together in new ways. And yet even when it relies on the decisions of human editors somewhere in the food chain, it still has problems.I think (and hope) that the produces of the EPIC movie underestimate the intelligence of the general public when they say the end result is vapid but that "this is what we chose". I'll stick to reading whole blog postings from people I trust, along with the publications that I've come to respect. The article's discussion about the absence of investigative reporting in citizen journalism is much more interesting. At the moment a lot of the stuff on sites like Nowpublic is on-diary (stories that are easy to find because the people they're about are happy to publicise them). People will snap shots of stuff like the new Airbus taking off, or the royal wedding etc. But where's the off-diary stuff - the stuff that people don't want you to know about? Jay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at NYU, argued when I spoke to him the other day that you shouldn't try to take conventional journalistic notions like 'investigative reporting' and shoehorn new models for journalism (like citizen journalism) into them. Collaborative journalism sites like Nowpublic and Wikinews allow for a different kind of reporting that conventional TV and print media didn't: people aggregated around this type of site can investigate certain subjects through sheer weight of numbers. A good example that someone proposed recently was getting everyone in an independent media network to read and summarise a small part of proposed bills in the House. No-one (including most senators) reads all of the average bill because they're too damn long and there's not enough time, which is how lobbyists manage to sneak stuff into law, under the public's radar. Using what I like to call the swarm journalism model could crack that particular nut.But I don't see the swarm journalism model cracking Watergate or Abu Ghraib. When it comes to depth journalism, rather than swarm journalism, 1000 citizen journalists don't equal one Seymour Hersh, or Woodward, or Bernstein. It's a different kind of reporting model, and some stories are harder to crack unless you ha[...]

Microsoft's Brazilian problem

Thu, 09 Jun 2005 15:28:41 GMT

BoingBoing blogged this story about shanty towns in Brazil being computerised using Linux. There are several such projects, and the Brazilian government is growing increasingly friendly towards open source software. Many Brazilian businesses are following suit. Bill Gates has tried to meet with The Brazilian President, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, who has turned him down. The BBC report says that Gates is nervous but needn't worry too much:Bill Gates does not have much to worry about. More than 90% of the world's personal computers still use the Windows operating system.But it misses the point. The PC market in the developed world is mature. Microsoft has succeeded in adding extra features into new versions of Windows and Office, but it's easy to see how these products could stagnate. Office comprises up to one half of the firms' product revenue, and revenues have been dipping. Office 12 won't ship until next year, and details are sketchy but it's going to take more than the adoption of XML to persuade users to upgrade from Office 2003 (or previous versions). Most businesses still don't really understand XML or why/if it's important to them.Meanwhile, everyone is still waiting for Longhorn, the next major version of windows, which may or may not ship in 2006 as originally planned (and Scoble doesn't seem to care). Even if it does, it'll come sans some of the major bits that the company showed at the first public demo in late 2003. The WinFS filing system will be shipped as a separate pack, and WinFX, the bit of the system that includes its Indigo web services technology and the whiz-bang display engine, will also now be retrofitted to XP. Will users bother using a file structure that isn't part of the main project? It'll put a dent in the takeup of an object-oriented filing system which has been Gates' dream for at least a decade, leaving the likes of Google to continue gaining mindshare on the desktop with its desktop search -- a quick-and-dirty fix to a filing structure which is still stuck in the 1980s. Sure, Microsoft has desktop search too, but all of this stuff is outside the main system, so it has to compete with other companies who are equally as good at branding their technologies -- if not better. So, Longhorn will be a major upgrade to Windows with a lot of its functionality shipping on previous platforms. The whole thing will be confusing for customers and developers alike, and when it does ship, it'll be a slow burn. Companies won't adopt quickly but will likely wait for service packs to be released.What does all of this have to do with Brazil? The tech market is predicated on growth. If you want to keep your share price up, keep your revenues and profits soaring. While Microsoft struggles to keep Office revenues growing and tries to continue Windows' success on the desktop, planners like Ballmer and Gates will have their eye on maintaining long-term growth. The developing world has to play a part in this. Which is where the likes of Brazil come in. And China. And India. All of them, large economies with large populations -- and a predication for open source. Why? Because it gives them more freedom to customise the technology, and drastically cuts license fees. And with the Chinese market in particular paying little attention to intellectual property (piracy is a huge issue there), Gates should be nervous. I would be.There's an excellent in-depth study of Brazil's open source movement here as part of a larger report on t[...]

Grey goo? Woo hoo!

Fri, 27 May 2005 16:18:34 GMT

I'm back from the trip now. Luckily, they decided not to ship me off to Guantanamo Bay, although I have to say I was a little nervous the next week, standing on a hill filming Lawrence Livermore Labs from a distance (no, they wouldn't give me an interview either, even though I contacted them several times throughout the course of a year, but some other equally interesting people in the area did). After the third car went past me on the highway I decided to pack up my kit and scarper, sharpish..

Well, this is a disappointment. People are heralding this self-assembling robot as a scary piece of technology with potentially sinister ramifications. The idea is that if you make them small enough - scale it down to nanotech or molecular sizes - such self-assembly could run wild and consume large bits of the surrounding environment, converting it into components that then become part of the robotic whole, in something known as the grey goo problem.

Anyway, I was expecting the robot to emit an evil laugh, or at least to say something like "All in good time, humans, all in good time. For now, go about your business and forget you saw this", or something. No such luck. If that robot could speak, it would say: "Me? Oh, Lord no, don't mind me. I'm not going to wipe out the universe. It's all I can do to make ends meet."

What happened in Amarillo

Tue, 17 May 2005 17:39:05 GMT

Pantex2 Originally uploaded by itjournalist. This is a picture of the fence at the Pantex plant in Amarillo, Texas, where they assembled nuclear weapons in the seventies and eighties before sending them off to the silos. It many not look like much, but it cost me two hours of roadside hassle. About three minutes after I took this photograph, an SUV pulled up with two guys in military gear. They got out and asked me what I was doing, and I said I was taking photos of the fences in the area, and then they took my drivers license and ran that and the rental car plates. While I waited, they said that someone else was on their way, and that I was to stay put. These guys were affable, but they still fingered their guns when they spoke to me.I had tried to get into Pantex for an interview but they were not playing ball. I began to think that I should have called ahead to let them know that I wanted to take pictures, although something tells me that they would have told me to stay away. Hmm. It's a bit late for debating that now, I thought, as I noticed the handcuffs strapped to both their belts.Another two SUVs pulled up, with a guy in each. While the other guys smiled, one of these guys - clearly the head honcho - was stony-faced. He grilled me on what I was doing and why, where I was from and how I got there, before frisking me for weapons. Then they checked the car, but thankfully left the video camera and the tapes alone.They were still running my details through the computer and they said that I couldn't leave until everything had been cleared up. 'Well, at least you didn't run. That would have been the worse thing you could have done,' said one. These guys weren't taking any chances. They teletyped the RCMP, Canada's police force, to check into my background and then, while they were waiting, the Carson city police patron turned up - another three guys in another two cars. With sunglasses, and looking just like you'd expect a Texas road patrol to look. Mean as a kicked rattlesnake. Oy. I made a joke about appearing on the next episode of Cops, to a series of snorts and snickers from the Pantex guys who originally turned up, before Stony.'Hey, how're you doing?" I said to the sunglass-clad cop who strolled up to check me out."Better'n you," he observed, after a pause. Touché. He told me that I'd been violating several federal regulations by taking a photo of the plant, and things were looking very bad. I had been pretty calm until this point, but I started to feel itchy, and hot, under the Texan sun.By this stage, there were seven guys and five vehicles hanging around to babysit little old me. "So, what if I'd just decided to step over this barbed wire and began walking towards the plant?" I said. "What would you guys have done? Would you have taken me to a secret room for further interrogation, or something?"One of the other guys whistled. "That would have been reeeaal bad," said another. "We would have shown force," said Stonyface, his gun snuggled warmly in its holster. It's amazing how big and heavy those guns look close up."You're not just dealing with us," said the Stonester. "Look over there." I looked. Then, the other guy told me to look closer, and pointed. Two Hummers were poised in front of the plant, facing us across the wide open stretch of grass. I don't like Hummers at the best of times. Mean, squat, evil-looking things. Now, I liked them even less."Bloody[...]