Saturday, December 30

Bring David Hicks home

Bring David Hicks home
Originally uploaded by thatjonesboy.

It's way beyond a farce now. Get one of these great billboards for your own front yard FREE from
getup and lets send John Howard a message that says "tie a yellow ribbon around this, ya bastards!"

Wednesday, December 20

Another two entries in pseudodictionary

My geek biorhythms must be at their peak - this week accepted two of my submissions: "ex-cel" and wifeframe.

Don't spend too much time wondering why both words refer to failed relationships - I was inspired by an IM conversation with a friend having relationship troubles.


Nerds FC cast in St Leonards!

Left my wife and son at the dinner table to go worship at the awesomely talented feet of a subset of my favourite geek soccer heroes from Nerds FC.

They were very unaffected despite their near-legendary status. At no point were we mobbed by attractive women. Eventually I realised what a nob I was making of myself and went back to dinner. They were very patient with me.

Go Nerds!

Thursday, December 7

STIRR Sydney a stirring success

Marty, Mick and the Tangler team pulled together the first Sydney chapter of STIRR last night at the Hippo, in Ultimo.

In true Tangler style it was a hot, loud, casual, friendly, shouty kind of evening in which some of Sydney's most interesting Web 2.0 people and their potential backers and partners mingled and played some fun party games, including a cool 'pin the tail on the valuation' game, and an episode of 'half-baked' where thrown-together teams of people take a random two words from a keyword list (like 'sausage' and 'cowboy', make it a domain name (like '') and then come up with a business plan, marketing plan, logo and (crucially) a revenue model (users build their own custom sausage recipe from's list of ingredients, get their custom sausages shipped to them, then share their recipes in a sausage-related social network, where popular recipe writers get a share of sausage sales revenue.)

Emily and Omar of were runaway winners of the demo competition, where audience members were given green 'funny money' ($1m denomination notes printed with the ugly mugs of Cam Reilly and Mike Arrington) to 'invest' as they saw fit in the startups showing off their products in the demo area.

Audience members loved the shy, slouchy seriousness of Emily and Omar, and how that contrasts with their dynamic, innovative task manager app that integrates with Google Calendar and Google Maps.

Personally, Remember The Milk scores points from me for having a toy monkey, Bob T. Monkey on their team. But nobody could dislike their humble, quiet, serious intent on building a better Web 2.0 app.

I was there demoing, illustrating clearly and irrefutably how in the future, every 15-25 year old in the world will use on their mobile phone every day. Bluepulse CEO Ben Keighran was there briefly to deliver some of the last of our Bluepulse tee-shirts before returning home to pack for his relocation to the Bay Area this Friday.

Paul McCarney and Peter Crowe from were demonstrating how to save a heap of time and money when getting quotes from tradespeople of various kinds.

Jahangir Shagaev and the lads from were also there, showing how Australia needs a Facebook-style social network focusing on Australian youth. I didn't get enough time to get a good look at their product, but I'll check it out in the next few days.

This morning, I'm tired, hoarse, wrung-out, and smiling. I'd say the inaugural STIRR Sydney event was a stirring success.

Tuesday, December 5

Meanwhile, Bluepulse 2.0 goes off!

Picture 4.png

Wow, serves me right for going to the gym this morning without checking my email first. When I went to bed last night Oliver at Mobilecrunch hadn't yet run with the news of the Bluepulse 2.0 launch and everything was quiet. Then Oliver ran his news item, with a headline including "...may be the ultimate mobile media platform", it got mentioned on Techcrunch by Natali and with that dynamic duo of power-packed blogging exposure, everything pretty much went nuts.

Thanks for your long-standing faith in the platform and your support of the team at Bluepulse, Oliver, you rock!

Digg dug us, Technorati rated us, and by the time I was done staving off the beer gut for another day, lots of people were downloading bluepulse to their phones.
Bluepulse 2.0 launch gets blogged, bigtime

And then, when even more people started trying to download it, we hit overload. Think: servers making grinding noises, green lights on panels turning amber and then orange, a wisp of steam escaping from a rattling waste pipe, the smell of hot metal and burning cable ties... I'm exaggerating, of course - these days when machinery gets overloaded, it's disappointingly quiet. In reality, the only action to be seen is Ben and the dev boys flipping from terminal to terminal, shaking fists in the air, slapping foreheads against monitors, and begging for more capacity.

It's not like we didn't anticipate significantly more demand than usual - we added many times more capacity than we'd had prior to the 2.0 launch. But it was not enough. Everybody wants to try Bluepulse!

The scramble is on now to add additional capacity, and already things are starting to smooth out a little. If you've experienced delays getting through to in the last 12 hours, please go back and try again, as you should be able to reach it now.

If you're still having trouble, here's one possible cause: when you go to type the URL into your mobile browser, before you type in "" make sure you delete any "www." that your browser has automatically inserted at the beginning of the URL. There's no "" only a "". Delete the "www." and you should be fine.
The next challenge: shipping Ben and about half the office over to the San Francisco bay area at the end of this week to begin setting up our US operations. In the midst of our biggest-ever product launch. Just before Christmas. All we're now missing from the Top 10 Stress-Inducing Events is a divorce, a health crisis, an alien invasion and a continent-cracking earthquake.

(Actually, about the health crisis, there was the Bluepulse Christmas party we held last Friday night at Zachary's, home of the Bluepulse-themed 'pulsator'. Who knew absinthe shots were that toxic? You're supposed to dilute it one-in-five? You're supposed to sip it through a sugary spoon? That explains why my head still hurts. I hope the Bay Area is ready for Bluepulse...)

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Wednesday, November 29

Free wireless broadband for Sydney metro?

Australian IT reports the NSW government has announced it will move to introduce free WiFi in central and north Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith, Liverpool, Newcastle, Wollongong and Gosford... if it wins the next State election.

Well, talk about thinking outside the square - this is certainly an election promise the state opposition could never hope to match. When your opposition is a coalition of Liberal and National parties, you'd have to offer it in the bush as well as the city, and nobody's even going to go there.

Free municipal WiFi has been a hot topic in the US for several years but this is the first I've heard of an Australian state government putting their neck out.

I look forward to a spectacular reaction from Unwired, iBurst, BigAir, and to a lesser extent, Optus and Bigpond. They've all, to a greater or lesser extent, built a business model assuming they can charge a motza for WiFi access in the Sydney metro area. Ouch!

Tuesday, November 28

Yes honey, it's our new autonomous chore-saving device!

I may not fly to work in a nuclear-powered flying car, I may not dress in a one-piece silver suit, and I may not take my meals in pill form... But I DO have a robot housemaid!

Much to the collective household sceptics' amazement, it actually works! It cleans floors! No workchoice agreement, no awkward visa issues, no stealing from the coin jar!

However, it doesn't want to have an affair with me either... yet...

Thursday, November 23

Can't have it both ways? We need it more than two ways!

As the Australian Federal government tries to push through its nuclear energy agenda, I was catching up with an Australian renewable energy startup that's not only setting up a new HQ in Silicon Valley, it's actively discussing a major pilot program for one of the world's biggest technology companies.

Federal Minister for Acting a Complete Twat for Photo Opportunities, Ian Campbell, was criticising State governments for reacting against the proposal to install 25 nuclear power stations in Australia, saying, "They can't have it both ways... You can't say 'I care about climate change' on the one hand, but say 'We're not going to even look, even have a debate about nuclear' on the other."

You absolutely can, Mr Campbell, as long as you then say, "Let's have a debate about all the possible energy generation alternatives - coal, gas, nuclear and renewables. Not just nuclear. An inquiry that limits itself to considering nuclear energy only is a sham." ...or words to that effect.

Sham strategies for the energy industry have long been policies for governments of all persuasions in Australia. Too much attention is paid to supporting industries in return for guaranteeing jobs and export income , burning some of the world's worst-polluting coal and running some of the least clean power stations in the western world so that by this decade, we're in the position of having a carbon footprint far in excess of our tiny population.

It's a difficult environment in which to setup an alternative energy startup, and yet my good friend Max (not his real name) has been developing a world-first, ground-breaking solar technology for many years, getting by on the smell of an oily rag and infrequent, insufficient drabs of grant money.

Their pilot scale generation plant has proven the technology has a real future as a supplement for existing power station generation, and now is the time for commercialisation.

Except... (If you're in the startup business, you already know what comes next) they haven't been able to attract any investor support or government interest in Australia. So someone from a Silicon Valley VC firm contacts them out of the blue, and a few weeks and a few plan trips later, there's a short-form deal in place, and the company's relocating to Palo Alto, CA before Christmas.

That was a couple of weeks ago, and already the VC has them in to see one of the world's largest technology companies. It has a problem because its huge server farms draw a lot of power, and electricity in California is expensive, in short supply and famously unreliable. Plus, as a large international company, they'd like to begin reducing their carbon emissions.

So my friend and his team go in to meet the operations and facilities heads of the company, to do a quick introduction meeting, show the powerpoints, etc. My friend's hoping that maybe they can win some small support for their dream of building a pilot-scale generation plant in the US. Before the diet sprites are even warm, the discussion has progressed waayyy beyond that, and by the end of the meeting, the company is arranging to send my friend's team and their own senior execs down south to a possible greenfields site that they think just might be ideal for building a full-scale plant.

Just to recap: what we're reading about here is one of the world's largest technology companies, looking at investing in its own private national power grid, and considering driving all or part of its generation using a green, renewable, revolutionary technology from a tiny little Australian company that I guarantee nobody outside of the renewable energy community here has ever heard of.

And instead of homegrown technologies like this even being considered by Australian governments and industry as a possible means of reducing Australia's carbon emissions, the whole company will go offshore, taking its IP, its future earnings and some incredibly bright minds with it.

Wish I could disclose who the friend is, who the startup company is, and who the giant US technology company is, but I can't at this time. Hopefully I'll be able to soon.

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Friday, October 20

Another day, another bad day for MySpace

They should really rename this box on the MySpace homepage. It's not a 'MySpace Announcement Page', it's a 'MySpace Apology Page'.

Every day, I login to MySpace to maintain a few different profile pages (professionally, i'm not a weirdo, honest!).

And every day, something's not working properly on MySpace. Often I'm unable to login for a while, clicking a button produces an error page, and those are just the errors affecting me.

Then there's the errors I haven't experienced yet. Because at least once a week, the little 'MySpace Announcement' box is showing an apology from Tom about what's not working right today, with a vague, fuzzy description of what might be wrong, how long it might take to fix, and a glib reassurance.

If Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail or Gmail has a one day outage, the tech community is up in arms, it gets reported as front-page news, and the world as we know it is about to end. Meanwhile, MySpace, the world's biggest online community, staggers from messup to rollback and on to the next set of glitches, and nobody bats an eyelid. "MySpace has always been buggy, what's the problem?" I hear people say.

The problem is, with the sloppy dev culture at MySpace, one day they'll do something dumbass they can't easily recover from. A lot of user data will be lost, a lot of advertisers will want a make-good, and MySpace will acquire a reputation as the last place you'd want to trust with your personal information and social networks. Then, if people start migrating to another online community faster than MySpace's organic growth rate, the MySpace snowball may hit the wall.

MySpace developer

A MySpace developer at work.

Thursday, October 19

Rip. Play. Infect?

First McDonalds ships an mp3 player carrying a Windows virus, now some units of Apple's iPod have been infected with a virus loaded on by an OEM doing the manufacture of the little white music machine.

So do we now add our portable music players to the long list of things we have to be wary about plugging into our computers? Unless you're a Mac owner, the answer is yes.

No matter how Apple tries to spin the story into a security issue for Microsoft, it's still Apple's OEM chain that is primarily at fault.

Still, the scariest thing for me is that the virus was included in the pristine, shrink-wrapped, new iPod during manufacture. Something about the psychology of viruses means I never consider brand new hardware as a potential source of viruses. A scuzzy, scarred and nearly-full iPod from one of my many phreaky friends? Sure, I'd think twice about that.

But a brand-new iPod fresh out of the shrinkwrap? That's as close to virginal and pure as a device can be! Handed down from on high! It just doesn't feel right to consider it a home to viruses. Which means all the more risk of bazillions of iPod users on Windows getting mass infections.

I believe the Apple community when it almost universally contends that OS X is virtually impregnable. But it's not my Mac I worry about.

Instead, I worry about what Apple might be forced to do to the iPod and iTunes to protect the bazillions of dumb-ass Windows users out there. Things like hard or soft copy-protection, stupid interruptions along the lines of "are you sure you want to sync your iPod now?" which you'd be forced to accept liability for, and further delays in getting more music labels and more artists selling their music on iTunes Store.

Ick. It all smells of additional cruft to me.

Technology - the next big thing!

Thx to Garth Montgomery for spotting this one in yesterday's Courier Mail. Technology? The next big thing? Where you bin the last 30 years, sweetheart?!

For our overseas viewers, I should explain that the Courier Mail is a newspaper published in the northern Australian state of Queensland. Like the southern states of the US, it's redneck and retiree country, and the rate of change is a little bit slower up there.

Wednesday, October 18

Let's wrap your lunch in... fennel cake!

Q: Is the food at Google getting worse?

A: I was worried for a while. But this summer, three new cafes opened that are phenomenal. Chefs left their Bay Area restaurants to come cook at our cafes. Today for dinner we had avocado wrapped in fennel cake, topped with chocolate chips. It rocked my world.

(From an interview with Niniane Wang, a developer at Google.)

Yeah, that would rock my world too. Possibly also cause me to throw up. They call that "better"?

Thursday, October 5

Going Beserk in Berserker

Now, sometimes it gets so hot and humid in Rockhampton QLD it can drive you a little crazy. Still, it can't be good for real estate prices when you actually call a suburb Berserker.

I wonder if they have a problem with violent crime in Beserker? It could certainly make for interesting news reports. You couldn't be accused of stereotyping if you just reported that the assailant "was a Beserker." If that's where they're from, that's where they're from.

Wednesday, October 4

Yahoo! buys - smart buy

Here's a video I made in about 15 minutes using some footage from my phone of my son Alec re-enacting some martial arts dancing he'd seen at the zoo. The soundtrack is an MP3 from iTunes. The titles, edits, effects and transitions are all from which was recently acquired by Yahoo!

Smart move, because Jumpcut is to user-created content what YouTube has been to user-submitted content. Jumpcut lets you create very complex video projects, for free, in your web browser. With the Yahoo! audience behind it, it may be a real threat to YouTube.

Meanwhile, I give you Alec:

Friday, September 29

Pushing the envelope along the line

"Want me to push the envelope, toe the line, or push the envelope along the line with my toe?"

I said that to someone this afternoon without really thinking about it, and it's a funny mental image. Not hilarious, but amusing.

Wednesday, September 27

Is MySpace missing the biggest opportunity?

Yesterday I was listening to Taxi Ride interviewed on 2BL, and there was yet another independent band praising MySpace for its role in finding new markets for their music. It's clear that MySpace is now an important marketing tool for the music industry as a whole - it's gone way beyond the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon. My own music label certainly uses MySpace as its central point of communication - we work hard on attracting new visitors, encouraging them to sign up as friends, and then to buy our artist's music. We do this only because it works - it does everything from introduce us to new artists we might use as a support act, to keeping a dialogue going with keen fans, to actually selling music online for us.
While listening to the radio I was struggling with managing the MySpace profiles for our artists. Struggling because marketing music is a multi-user project thing, and MySpace's platform architecture is a Geopages-era single-user homepage publishing platform. (Actually, I'd hesitate to call MySpace a "platform" because it's so buggy - ridden with database and server errors - and its user interface design follows its own broken internal logic that new users must learn, if they want to do anything useful on MySpace. Let's call MySpace a "Web Heap" instead.)
To market an artist on MySpace, different members of my team need to have access at different times, for different purposes. Each member of the team needs to know who has responded to which comments from fans, who is going to upload new demo tracks, and needs to edit and approve new blog posts and comments. That's all really hard to do when a MySpace profile has only one user attached to it, and there's no reporting on what's been done.
Then it occurred to me: MySpace may be missing out on a massive business opportunity - to deliver a 'MySpace music management platform" for artists, labels, PR people, advertisers, distributors and retailers.
Right now, MySpace's attention is on the buying side of the equation, rather than the selling side. MySpace understands that it can make a lot of money out of the online music industry, but so far it's been focussing on selling content and ads to its teen users. Which is valid, after all, since we know they are likely to purchase online.
But there are problems with that audience: they are unlikely to have a credit card, or to have much disposable income. They are fickle, and as soon as you make something so successful that it becomes mainstream, you lose them. Most importantly, the nature of the content they publish on MySpace and the interactions they have with other users makes brand marketers shy away - there's a lot of weird, kinky stuff going on. While that continues to be the case, the revenue MySpace can earn from marketing and advertising will be lumpy, unpredictable, and prone to potential PR disasters of the "I was raped by a man I met on MySpace" kind.
Meanwhile, there's the entire-frickin'-music-industry and all of its associated support industries pedalling as hard as they can to grasp how to market music content and sell it online and via mobiles. They don't just have credit cards, they have expense accounts, and they have credit limits that would allow them to purchase nice fat yearly subscriptions to a new MySpace Professional platform.
What would a MySpace Pro include? I can expand on the thinking later, but as a teaser, let's consider:
- Multi-user access to one profile page, with levels of editing permission
- Group communication functionality, so multiple users can assign tasks, share a calendar and documents, without that being available on the public MySpace profile for the artist
- Better management of email communication with the fan list, along the lines of any commercial email marketing package
- Mobile marketing tools (like, we're playing a show in Houston, can we SMS all our fans in that  town to let them know?)
- 'in-line' views of the public profile, so that you can see at a glance who replied to that fan comment, and when.
- A reporting module with user data on stuff like new friends added, listens, purchases and user paths
- A stats module with 'site' data like pageviews, referrals, search engine keywords, popular pages
- [stretch goal] ecommerce integration so we can associate activity on the MySpace profile with an actual purchase from iTunes, CDBaby or Amazon
All this must surely remain a sad, crazy dream, since MySpace is a business clearly struggling just to stay on-top of its current consumer web platform (sorry, "webheap"). Without significant investment in new development there'd be no way to get MySpace Pro up and running, and the only investment I've seen evidence of so far has been in advertising sales and marketing.
Still, what a great dream!

Tuesday, September 26

Declining Blockbuster now a target for comedy

The decline of the once-dominant US video rental chain, Blockbuster, is now so obvious to the general public that it's the subject of gags such as this item in The Onion, where a struggling Blockbuster eliminates rental fees entirely and lets customers help themselves to whatever they want in the store - even the candy bar.

The company which once enjoyed total domination over a multi-billion dollar video rental industry, with stores as far afield as here in Australia, has been completely transformed in less than ten years by the advent of online media, led by the new giant in video entertainment, Netflix.

How desperate has Blockbuster become to survive against the combined pressures of on-demand movie content delivered by digital cable and Netflix? The Onion piece says it all:

"Please, we’re just asking for one more chance," added (vice president of marketing) Waters as she dropped to her knees and extended her arms out to the assembled crowd.
When the zeitgeist says you're dying, how to you save your business? You really can't - all you can do is delay the inevitable for as long as possible, or try as rapidly as you can to transform your business into something else. Blockbuster has been doing both - giving massive discounts to customers still prepared to walk into their stores and rent a DVD - and putting so much behind the company's DVD-by-mail service that it is now the official Blockbuster website, not just a button off the home page.

Too little, too late, unfortunately. Blockbuster had more market intelligence than anyone in the early 90s and should have known that when DVD replaced VHS it would change the rental business forever. It should have seen that, with a lower risk of piracy, more robust construction and smaller size, it would be possible to get DVDs to customers in innovative ways - like in the mail. It should have seen digital on-demand delivery coming and invested in it heavily, since in the US, postal delivery is only a stop gap - the US has the broadband infrastructure and high-density population to comfortably deliver on-demand content now, a decade after this trend should have been apparent.

And when the little plucky web startup which was Netflix didn't go 'pfffft' along with the likes of other online/home delivery startups like WebVan and, Blockbuster should have acquired Netflix as early as possible, for whatever it cost. By the time Blockbuster decided on a strategy - to compete rather than acquire - Netflix had five years of almost no competition from an established market player. It had five years of customer relationships, rental history, and smart guerilla marketing.

By the time the sleeping giant woke up and launched its own hybrid in-store/mail service, it was already too late for Blockbuster. Netflix had the zeitgeist behind it, and now the zeitgeist generally agrees that Blockbuster can't compete, and that it will go out of business. You can't beat popular opinion.

Saturday, September 23

Zookoda for sale, business as usual

A few Techcrunch readers may have been unduly harsh about why the founders of Zookoda have decided to sell their business. Critics should stop for a moment to consider whether they're really asking too much to sign up for free to a web startup and have that service continue unchanged and without growing pains. You want every email responded to in <24hrs and  no service interruptions? Pay IBM a lot of money for something bespoke, don't sign up with a free web startup!

Why are the Zookoda guys selling? Well, no experienced startup founder starts a new business with the expectation that they'll continue to operate the business 'for the term of their natural life'. Even offline businesses (you know, 'real' businesses, like restaurants, law firms, real estate agents) get bought and sold. Web startups aren't the only companies to get built and sold in a few months either - many software and technology businesses are bought and sold even quicker - subscribe to a genomics or mobile software news RSS feed for a week. In my own experience, I've founded and sold one business in 11 months, and even bought one business and then sold it back to the founders in a year, at a profit. Neither of them were web startups.

I'm no business coach, but I've done startups, and I think any startup founder should always have three options in their mind at all times in order to maximise the value of their investment of time and intellectual capital:

  1. Should I acquire another business?
  2. Should I restructure my business?
  3. Should I sell my business?
If you're not asking yourself those three questions every time you run through your strategy, you're not doing the right thing by your shareholders.

There are plenty of reasons to try and sell a successful business, including changes in personal circumstances, relationship issues between founders, and a lot of sound business practice - your startup may get a turbo boost by being added to a set of products onsold by the purchaser's sales team, or plugged into a suite of products that already sells well, or taken to the next level by the purchaser's experienced development teams. Reading between the lines, I think the Zookoda founders are hoping to find someone who can turbo-boost the business by plugging them into a small business sales team, a broader small business software suite, or a successful advertising sales network.

Choosing to sell at auction isn't always a sign of a fire sale, either. Economists will tell you that auctions are the best way to efficiently value an asset, and auctions are used to reach a broader range of buyers than can be found through your own business network. It makes sense that a few guys working as hard as they can to keep a service growing might not have the broadest network of contacts to find potential buyers for a fairly niche business.

Like any startup, Zookoda's had growing pains, and anybody who's experienced some of the customer service issues mentioned by Techcrunch readers should stop and consider how you'd fare if you were part of a tiny startup team trying to provide responsive service and support 24x7 worldwide for a business that's gone from zero to thousands of customers since it launched in March. Alexa ranks them in the top 1% of URLs worldwide and recently their pageview growth is way off the chart, very interesting if you compare it to a similar service like FeedBlitz.

I use Zookoda for my own blog email feeds and I've experienced problems, but with patience and communication they've been resolved, and it's never seemed to me that the guys at Zookoda were doing anything other than working very long hours trying to make the service better for me and other customers. I'd like to continue to use Zookoda once its in new hands, and I'd be prepared to pay a reasonable monthly subscription or include AdWords-style text ads in my feeds in order to do that.

I hope it pans out well for Zookoda and I'm grateful that I got to use such a cool service for so long, for free.

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Wednesday, September 20

Quickflix talks sense on Aussie movie downloads

After too long listening to people hyping up online movie downloads in Australia as if high-definition on-demand first-release movies-to-your-living-room were just around the corner, it was a refreshing surprise to read Stephen Langsford from Quickflix, who was quoted saying something much more sensible and realistic in industry email newsletter, Computer Daily News (CDN.)

To protect its subscriptions (its sole revenue source) CDN is only available via email, and only via paid subscription, so as much as I'd like to, I can't point you to a URL, but here's how Stephen was quoted in the article:

Pre-Murdoch, Quickflix said it would launch a download and streaming offering in "the coming months". However, CEO Stephen Langsford now says it won't launch movie downloads until it's sure of demand and service quality. He says the lack of content coming from film studios, slow broadband speeds and low consumer acceptance will slow take-up of video-on-demand for at least the next five years.

That's the most sense I've heard from anybody else in a long time, and admirable candour from the founder of Australia's only alternative to the appallingly bad Telstra BigPond Movies. I'd say five years is about right, and in the meantime, broader content choices, low cost and being able to watch them on your living room plasma screen makes offline DVD rental a way better proposition than online movie downloads.

Disclaimer: I own shares in Quickflix.

Tuesday, September 19

Google likely to partner with Apple on video?

Google's Eric Schmidt is an Apple board member, Apple is one of the few tech companies Google doesn't directly compete with for customers, and Google searches and indexes a whole lot of video content on the web.

According to ZDNet, that's enough to lend credence to speculation that Google-indexed streaming video content might be featured on Apple's pre-announced iTV product.

I don't think that's very likely to happen. Partly because Google and Apple are polar opposites when it comes to the importance of design. Say what you like about Google engineers, but they don't design attractive products. As an example, consider how Apple's logo has evolved from the same cheezy rainbow colour scheme as Google's into a thing of rarefied beauty, while Google's has remained a cheezy rainbow of clumsy typesetting. Consider how if Google updated their logo, it would cause outrage amongst Google's most loyal users. Consider the iTV interface showcased by Steve Jobs, versus the horrid default font nightmare which is Google Video. Enough said.

Consider your evening spent in front of the large plasma or LCD in your living room. You've laid out quite a bit of money for a surround sound system, comfy chair, big-screen TV. Now choose between a downloaded TV show from iTunes in high-resolution format, professionally produced, highly-rated by expert critics, running for about 30 minutes, or a series of 60 second home video clips indexed by Google Video, in glorious 480x320 (each pixel a foot high on your big TV screen), with low-fidelity sound, produced by amateurs, selected for you by the high school students of the world. As if you want to spend that much time with your finger on the remote control!

If that weren't enough of a hurdle for Eric and Steve to get together on this, imagine Jobs explaining to the TV and movie studios that if they agree to licence their content to iTunes, their biggest competitor will be the vast, free video indexes of Google Video.

Are TV studio execs likely to want the competition? Will they be comfortable seeing their precious content brands cheek-by-jowl with home-produced spoofs of their own expensive productions? Will they be able to keep it all in perspective?

If they can, it will be for the first time!

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Friday, September 15

Zune comes in brown!

I know this is trivial, I apologise in advance, but I can't believe the new Microsoft Zune portable player is going to ship in brown as well as the 'default player colours' of white and black. Don't get me wrong - I'm big on brown, I wear a lot of brown, and I think brown is, has, and always will be the new black.

But brown in a portable player? Brown in any consumer electronic product? Brown in any hard ABS plastic or metal finish? And such a pale, pappy, sappy brown? That's wrong... all wrong... won't go down anywhere outside of Washington State, and possibly not even beyond the Microsoft campus.

What they used to put in the Koolaid must now be now added to the frappucinos in Redmond (which are about the same colour).

Photos: Microsoft presses play on Zune | CNET

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Tuesday, September 12

Amazon's unbox video download service puts it all into perspective

Those predicting that digital movie downloads could be a commercial success in Australia would do well to observe the difficult birth of Amazon unbox, the first offering in this area from the world's most experienced online retailer, Amazon.

Saying it's an uninspiring offering in its first iteration is an understatement. The proprietary unbox application is a clumsy bit of client software that only runs on Windows, installs a bunch of cruft you may not want, and has a few critical privacy issues. Mike Hoefflinger reports (while trying to install it on an Xbox 360 but it's still a Windows Media Center installation) that the installation process was "craptacular"!

It won't work for Apple owners, downloaded videos won't play on a video iPod, and some eary users report having trouble even getting a download to finish in less than 24 hours. This in the Land Of High-Bandwidth Access? How's that going to play in the no-fibre-to-the-node network we limp along with in Australia? Let's not forget that Australian ISPs like to cap your monthly bandwidth, or charge you more if you download too much. At about 1.5GB per movie, download cost would be a factor if you started using unbox frequently in Australia.

Just to complificate things a little more, although you can keep the content on your PC for up to 30 days, once you start viewing it, you have only 24 hours to finish it. Tough luck if you were hoping to watch a bit of it today and the rest later in the week.

If you happen to own a non-Apple portable player (unlikely, but some people apparently do) you'll have to download an additional mobile version of your content to play it on that device.

All of that is important, but the number one problem is more fundamental still: the DRM encoding prevents you from burning the download to DVD so you can watch it in the living room with your 2-3 year old 'legacy' home entertainment system. No, you've got to leave it on the PC in the study, and watch it on a screen so small that the analogue TV exceeded those dimensions in the late 1960s. Good luck convincing the family to watch it in the study with you!

None of these problems are unsolveable for the Australian market, but many of them are intractable, to say the least. Securing a broad and deep content library that doesn't have unreasonable DRM barriers requires considerable leverage in negotiations with Hollywood studios that most Australian companies don't enjoy (just look at the challenges Australian TV networks have negotiating for free-to-air rights.)

Developing a technical solution that works on a broad range of popular devices both in the living room and the computer room requires world-class software development experience and significant testing and support resources.

The lack of high speed bandwidth to the home and the high cost per gigabyte of data over existing networks is a problem, whether you're Telstra (which must forego profit to offer free content downloads) or another ISP (which must pay Telstra for the data and then pass that on to you.)

None of it's insoluble, so it'll all be resolved at some point in the future. Maybe if we pay attention to the hard lessons Amazon's learning on the bleeding edge, the Australian offerings may be better than unbox when they launch.

Disclaimer: I hold shares in

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Friday, September 8

AppleInsider: Apple iPhone really, truly coming this time

I'm grateful to AppleInsider for brightening up my day in Grim City for meetings by once again reporting analyst predictions that an Apple iPhone is once again just around the corner, no really, truly, honestly this time... sorta.

This time it's Shaw Wu, analyst from American Technology Research, who's the analyst keen enough to drum up some hype to be quoted in a story. To be fair, Google says this isn't the first time Wu has commented on this area of the business, though his usual beat seems to be portable music players.

Really, the only missing piece of the puzzle is any actual evidence that Apple is soon to announce a product. No filing with the FCC for regulatory approval, no credible leaks from component manufacturers or carriers, no evidence of any marketing plans, no word from major retailers, and of course, no news from Apple itself.

Don't get me wrong, I'll buy the first Apple iPhone I see. I'll even get a friend to FedEx me one from the US and put up with inevitable localisation issues (because if Apple goes the MVNO route it'll be the year 3000 before they get around to doing it in little markets like Australia. They still don't offer book and photo printing for iPhoto.)

But in the meantime, my K800i is a kick-arse little beauty that puts Nokia's N-series and the LG Chocolate look like lame executoys and expensive lipstick holders, respectively. With Apple's iSync synchronising my all my contacts, to-dos and calendars beautifully with the K800i via bBluetooth, I really can't imagine how an iPhone could be better... other than offering a white version...

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Thursday, September 7

The flying car is coming! Duck!

Terrafugia are taking deposits on their flying car, the Transition, even though a prototype isn't due until 2008 (and prototypes aaaalways run late.) In the meantime, you're able to watch some lovely animations of the thing landing at a runway and driving home, read the planned specifications, and download a flyable demo using the X-Plane software simulator.

Terrafugia prefers to call it a "roadable car" because you're meant to only drive it to the airport and back - saving on hanger rental by parking it in your garage at home. It is about 2m tall with wings folded, only takes 2 people and requires a built-in calculator to help balance passengers and luggage when airborne, so I can't see it making much of a useful every-day car anyway.

Even from the animations I can foresee some significant engineering challenges that presumably are still works-in-progress, including a set of folding wings. Whatever the mechanism, you definitely want those puppies to work perfectly every time! You won't enjoy your landing if they fold mid-flight, and you won't get very far on the road with your wings still extended to their 8m span!

Minimum runway length is listed as 500 meters. Hmmm... of course, it would be highly illegal, not to mention incredibly dangerous, to skip the airport and use the nearest straight stretch of quiet freeway... you'd need at least two empty lanes... but I wonder if they could scramble the police helicopter quickly enough to catch me...

croc hunter has 275 tribute videos on YouTube!

If you want to guage public sentiment worldwide, check YouTube. Steve Irwin may not have been universally loved by ecologists and academics, but there are tribute videos here from Germany, Holland and asia as well as the more likely Australian and American users.

It had to be said: MYOB is a worst-case in software design

Nat over at Decisive Flow has broken the silence at last; MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) is easily the worst example of design in a popular software product available in Australia. It had to be said, and I'm sure I'm one of millions of small business owners who mutters several expletives every time they launch the product.

MYOB doesn't let me 'mind' my own business at all, it actually makes me shy away from the financial management of my business. There's nothing I hate doing more than using MYOB - I'd willingly stand in a customer service queue at the Department of Small Business for three hours rather than spend an hour using MYOB - and I'd almost certainly be more satisfied with what I'd achieved in that time!

Unfortunately there's little to no incentive for MYOB to improve their product. Only one competitor in the small business accounting software market, QuickBooks, and - incredible but true - it's actually harder to use and as marginally functional as MYOB. And accounting software is one of the few market segments in the software industry to remain local and parochial - you can't develop a new accounting software package in Australia and then easily export it overseas. Accounting and tax practices vary so much from country to country that localisation costs are huge. Even the big, hairy gorilla, Microsoft, has half-implemented a poor localisation of Microsoft Money for the Australian market, presumably because the costs of doing it properly are too great for such a small market.

Finally, MYOB must earn significant revenue from selling hard-to-use software - many MYOB owners I know have reluctantly signed up for one of MYOB's expensive premium telephone support subscriptions. Two MYOB owners I know have learned enough about the product over sufficient time that they've started clawing back that investment by offering their services trouble-shooting other friend's MYOB problems on an hourly rate.

Even though my own business is tiny, I've taken to using a book keeper once a month to do it all for me - she's my firewall between my business and MYOB. It means I never have to launch MYOB again. But there it sits on my hard disk anyway - a 107Mb fat lump of lard - so that my book keeper can send me the updated data file every month. If she gets hit by a bus I need to have it on file to take to the next book keeper. I don't even get to forget that I own the software, because every month I get some junk mail in my PO Box from MYOB, reminding me to pay an exorbitant fee to upgrade the software, or induce me to cross-grade to a related product, or even invite me to pay through the nose to attend further training courses. All this while it's such a bad product I pay someone else to use it for me.

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Tuesday, September 5

How'd you like to "invest" in a horse race?

I was walking past a TAB betting outlet in Sydney the other day, happened to glance at the big, bright posters in the window explaining how to put money on a horse, and couldn't believe my eyes: the posters all referred to the act of risking your hard-earned on a flea-bitten nag as an "investment"!

I took a photo with my cameraphone but unfortunately the flash flare obscures the relevant words in the picture. So I looked up the TAB's online FAQs, and sure enough, they refer to it as an "investment" too.

One man's "gambling" is one man's "investment". I guess it's marginally defensible as an "investment" as there's a chance it might pay a dividend, and I guess there are also highly speculative investments to be made in more sober markets such as stock exchanges and auctions. But still, the marketing team at TAB must have stayed up all night to hit upon that alternative to the word "gamble", and then gone out for a few beers to celebrate when they settled on "investment." Don't know how many drinks they had, but I bet they refrained from "investing" any money on a horse on the way home!

Thursday, August 31

My phone is not my music device, but it is now definitely my scanner!

One very cool feature of my new Sony Ericsson's K800i's 3 megapixel camera is the 'document' setting, which optimises the focus, flash and exposure to allow you to use the phone as a quick and cheap scanner.

Here's an unretouched shot of a story from a newspaper. The original document is about 250mm x 300mm. It's more than clear enough to read the body type and could easily be fed into your OCR software.

Next time my HP multifunction printer/scanner thingy goes bing I'm going to recycle it, buy a cheap laserprinter, and just use the camera as my scanner - it rocks.

A phone as a scanner has a number of advantages. You don't need to have a flat document when you scan, you can use the viewfinder to position the image for scanning, you can stealthily snap all kinds of documents (e.g. recipes right out of magazines) that you don't own and don't want to buy (copyright law not withstanding), and you can shoot things like fine print on public signs that you can't just dismantle and drag home.

Tuesday, August 22's .AU ad inventory sold to... an ad agency?

So if MySpace is such a valuable chunk of advertising inventory, can someone explain to me why all the impressions on .AU eyeballs today seem to be sold to

Monday, August 21

Liquid bombs on planes - a danger only to the bomber?

Gotta take some things you read in The Register with a tiny grain of salt but this analysis of whether it's possible to build a bomb onboard an aircraft using liquid precursors seems detailed and factual, and its conclusions are rather terrifying. In summary:
  • It's probably not possible to blow up a plane by combining the most likely liquids used by the terrorists. It is possible to make a small explosion, but likely that the bomber would be the only person killed, since the ingredients are very unstable and it would be incredibly difficult to mix them safely once onboard.
  • The explosives would be more effective (though even more unstable) if mixed and then brought on-board, and they would be easy to get through security (since it just looks like a white powder) but it's more likely the bombers would blow themselves up trying to transport the explosives to the airport.
  • Explosives are just as easy to detonate remotely via mobile phone when they are stored in the cargo hold, and it's still quite easy to get checked-in luggage onto a plane without much of a security scan.
TATP, the explosive the terrorists were most likely trying to assemble onboard the plane, looks like a generic white crystal. You could easily carry it in your checked-in luggage, and if searched, claim it was washing powder or sports drink concentrate. That is, if you could stop it from blowing up.


In summary, the response from the authorities following the latest UK terrorist action has been to ban the wrong materials, from the wrong part of the plane. At least, that's true if you want to reduce the risk of terrorists blowing up a plane. If all you want to do is make it look like you're taking it all seriously and taking steps to avoid bombings, what the authorities have done is effective enough.

Friday, August 18

Liquid bombs on plane - a danger only to the bomber?

Gotta take some things you read in The Register with a tiny grain of salt but this analysis of whether it's possible to build a bomb onboard an aircraft using liquid precursors seems detailed and factual, and its conclusions are rather terrifying. In summary:
  • It's probably not possible to blow up a plane by combining the most likely liquids used by the terrorists. It is possible to make a small explosion, but likely that the bomber would be the only person killed, since the ingredients are very unstable and it would be incredibly difficult to mix them safely once onboard.
  • The explosives would be more effective (though even more unstable) if mixed and then brought on-board, and they would be easy to get through security (since it just looks like a white powder) but it's more likely the bombers would blow themselves up trying to transport the explosives to the airport.
  • Explosives are just as easy to detonate remotely via mobile phone when they are stored in the cargo hold, and it's still quite easy to get checked-in luggage onto a plane without much of a security scan.
TATP, the explosive the terrorists were most likely trying to assemble onboard the plane, looks like a generic white crystal. You could easily carry it in your checked-in luggage, and if searched, claim it was washing powder or sports drink concentrate. That is, if you could stop it from blowing up.


In summary, the response from the authorities following the latest UK terrorist action has been to ban the wrong materials, from the wrong part of the plane. At least, that's true if you want to reduce the risk of terrorists blowing up a plane. If all you want to do is make it look like you're taking it all seriously and taking steps to avoid bombings, what the authorities have done is effective enough.

Tuesday, August 1

Stop attacking Lebanon!

Originally uploaded by Kiki J.
Civilised nations do not invade a sovereign nation in order to retaliate against a terrorist action. Hezbollah is in Lebanon, but it does not represent the state of Lebanon, or the Lebanese people.

Anyway, great tee shirt.

Tuesday, July 18

MySpace customer support still lousy

Another week, another lousy bit of customer relationship management from Tom and the MySpace team. Somebody writes an exploit that messes up your precious MySpace page using Flash, and instead of an email from the company with apologies and "urgent" all over it, you're left to glance-for-yourself at this little, low-key notification in your login landing page. Anybody who doesn't read and understand this note from Tom is still vulnerable to the exploit.

You wouldn't know News Corporation bought this company a while back. Perhaps to get it to treat customer relationships like they have some commercial value, it needs to be sued by, say, a big record label using MySpace to promote its artists when the label loses all the data in the artist's MySpace page due to an exploit...

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Thursday, July 13

My terrible secret curse revealed: I am a mutant gadget lover

Medical science has confirmed what I had long believed to be true: I suffer from a genetic predisposition towards a specific form of a cellular enzyme, known as monoamine oxidase A, which leads me to have stronger-than-normal need for new gadgets.

mutant genetics

Yes, it's true: it's genetic and it's therefore not my fault. My wife's attempts to curtail my gadget spending are unfair and unreasonable. I'm a genetic mutant, just like the X-Men, only my special power is burrowing through packing foam, removing cellophane, and jacking-in. Until a cure is found for this terrible disease I must  treat the symptoms as best I can... Where's my credit card?

lists, begone

It's come to my attention that:

  • Too many of my posts include lists;
  • I do it to save your reading time;
  • Maybe it's too much like scrolling through a PowerPoint presentation; so
  • I'll try to do it less often.

Don't throw out the DVD player just yet

This recent review of Telstra's Bigpond Movies download service in The Australian newspaper touches on some of the issues I've said would be important to solve before movie downloads can make an impact in Australia:

  • Content needs to be delivered to the media room, not the study computer;
  • Content selection and delivery needs to be a one-button seamless experience requiring no technical knowledge;
  • Content owners need to be persuaded to risk licensing their entire catalogue for download and cannibalising DVD revenues;
  • Rights control technology needs to be hardware and operating system agnostic, and transparent;
  • Licenses need to allow consumers to copy the content to more than one device in the home; and
  • Breadth and depth of content is much more important than download speeds.
None of that will be solved in the near future. So why does Telstra persist with offering downloads?
  1. The market expectation is that DVD rentals will be supplanted by downloads, and market analysts are prepared to penalise players like Telstra and Quickflix if they don't show evidence that they're moving towards downloads, even though such moves are massively premature. If Telstra doesn't offer movie downloads, it will hurt the already damaged share price;
  2. Somebody's got to do the hard yards of educating the content owners. It's a 10 year job, but the more people working on it and the sooner you start, the sooner you'll get there;
  3. It drives broadband consumption, and Telstra is rewarded on many levels by encouraging its ISP customers not just to switch to broadband, but also to consume bandwidth (it gives the misleading impression that consumers are using broadband for something useful.)

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Wednesday, July 5

Bring David Hicks home

What I wrote today when I signed's petition to the Australian government to bring David Hicks back from his unjust and now illegal detention in Guantanamo Bay:

(Alexander Downer,)"'s becoming increasingly apparent that your continued refusal is a desperate attempt to save face - both yours and your leader's. Show some compassion and integrity! Admit you over-reacted in the heat of the moment during the worst terrorist threat the world has ever known. Admit that the freedom of a young Australian is worth more than a few points in your next opinion poll. David Hicks is sorry he did the wrong thing, can you not at least admit the same?"

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Friday, June 30

Google Checkout: Uncle Sam stands by the register with his hand out

Google Checkout just went live! But don't go thinking non-US merchants can use it just yet. Looks like you need to supply US-only company ID and tax information.

I'd say PayPal still has significant leverage in the e-conomy of online payments while Google Checkout is only available to US businesses.

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Thursday, June 29

Gliffy: the Writely for Visio users

If you're getting into web-based Web 2.0 tools that replicate the features of Microsoft's evil product suite (such as Writely, Google Spreadsheets, BaseCamp, etc) then you should check out Gliffy.

Gliffy provides many of the flowcharting, UI design and floorplan primitives of Microsoft Visio, but adds the Web 2.0 hosting, sharing and collaboration features you expect in 2006. And for the time-being, it's free to use.

If I'm designing something for an external presentation and polish really counts, then Omnigraffle is still my fave tool by far. Gliffy's graphics are all web-safe only, it has only a few basic fonts, there's no anti-aliasing, and fills and shadows are quite basic. I thought maybe I could use the .PNG export to jazz my diagram up a little in my image editor, but unfortunately the whole diagram is exported as one uneditable object - a disappointment.

But for internal purposes and quick collaboration with workmates, Gliffy will do, especially while it remains free to use.

Getting a JPG of your diagram to post on a blog or webpage is so simple, even a project manager could do it ;-)

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Tuesday, June 27

Call that a foul?

Australians all, should we meet an Italian on the street today, it is our national duty to show them what a real foul is!

Make sure when they grab their leg and grimace, they've got a good reason for doing so!

Monday, June 26

When is a widget not a widget, or even a very good cartoon?

I'm such a big fan of Hugh Macleaod's Gapingvoid cartoons that I have one on the reverse side of one of my business cards. It reads, "First we need to talk, then you need to shut up" which is a great example of Macleaod's style - the sort of thing you often find yourself thinking but rarely saying, much less committing to artwork.

As reported in Techcrunch, you can now add the latest Gapingvoid cartoon to your website with a snippet of Javascript, though it's not really a widget as reported, just a javascript-driven badge, or chiclet.

Unfortunately the current Gapingvoid cartoon is not Hugh's best work, and it might just have been lousy timing, but his current cartoon is (a) not one of his best; and (b) at the expense of the very bloggers he's hoping will use the Gapingvoid badge. Not much hope of that, judging by the reaction in the comments of the Techcrunch article.

Get your own and offend your readers today.

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Tuesday, June 20

3x3 Consumer 2.0 breakfast, 20 June 2006

Exciting this morning to meet some of the other web 2.0 people in Sydney and put some handshakes to people I've known only thru email, IM, blogger and LinkedIn for months.

blurry rachel slattery from slatteryIT
Rachel Slattery,

Rachel Slattery from organised the event and did a great job of the invite list - even the headhunters there were more interesting than usual. The "3x3" format meant that three speakers each had three minutes to talk, followed by three questions from the audience. That doesn't take very long to do, leaving a good 30-40 mins afterwards for people to chat, which is the right sort of balance between presentation and networking time if you ask me.

Unfortunately the nightclub-in-daytime venue was a bit slow with the coffee and a bit dark to get good photos from the cameraphone, as you can see from the following pics.

Nick McNaughton from kicked off with a quick explanation of how his RSS-to-email startup had blossomed after some reportage from influential bloggers spread over the blogging referral networks. Zookoda's grown to an extraordinary Alexa ranking of 11,887, with Alexa reach of 73.5% per million users, almost entirely off the back of blogsposure and Nick's excellent personal networking skills. I played a vanishingly small part in the early coverage for Zookoda and it's exciting to see how well it's going now.
Nick McNaughton,
Nick McNaughton,

Michael Liubinskas of followed with a helpful outline on how his new business had suddenly appeared on the web 2.0 radar screen after a pitch at Demo. Zapr's got a really interesting and unique spin on peer-to-peer file sharing and I think it will go nuts when it comes out of private beta.

Michael Liubinskas,
Michael Liubinskas,

Nik Cubrilovic of Omnidrive, a Web 2.0 veteran who may be able to fund his next startup entirely thru United flyer miles, was up last, talking about how challenging it's been to manage a 'private beta' with more than 10,000 registered users, and about how that has resulted in a complete overhaul of the product based on that user feedback. Nik was questioned, but neatly dodged, some questions about the VC fund-raising experience, but you only need to head to his blog to learn more if you're interested in that.
Nik Cubrilovic,
Nik Cubrilovic,

Again, sorry about the lousy quality of the cameraphone photos, but next 3x3 I'll sit further back and try and get some more light on my subjects. 3x3 seems like a really time-efficient and useful briefing format and I hope I get an invite to the next one without the invitation list growing so long that it's no longer possible to meet and talk with everybody who attends.

GOTYE's 'Like Drawing Blood' is ringing in my ears


I can't remember how I happened across GOTYE's album Like Drawing Blood exactly, but it must have been online. Can't remember the last time I walked into a retail store. The artist has released the album independently online, and although he's had some great reviews and the album has been nominated for an award by TripleJ, most of his exposure has been online to-date.

You need to know about it. If you're a fan of Lemon Jelly, BT or Thievery Corporation, this is for you. Recommended for your listening are the tracks Thanks For Your Time, a bitterly funny comment on telephone customer service, and Learnalilgivinanlovin (I think I've spelled that right) which is a mashup of Phil Collins which makes him not just listenable, but downright funky and danceable again. Almost everything on the album's a potentially successful single, in my humble opintion. GOTYE's writing, multi-musicianship, vocals and production work are top-class.

You can buy the album online from <a href="" target="new" ></a> and he has some samples there and on <a href="" target="new"></a>. Judging by the reviews he's getting on MySpace I think he's probably starting to make good money from track sales too. Awesome to see the artist reaping 100% of the reward.

And in case you're wondering what "GOTYE" means, the only reference I could find was the acronym "Game Of The Year Edition". You pronounce it much like "Gaultier" but I think it's going to be a much more fashionable name than that pretty soon.

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Thursday, June 15

The internet saves you lunch money

I always feel sorry visiting people who work in companies big enough and far enough away from the real world that staff are served lunch in a big canteen, or from mobile vans in the carpark. For me the best part of the day is walking down the road, getting some exercise, escaping my loony workmates for a while, and trying a different place to eat as often as possible.

That's perhaps why I'm less excited than I might be at the news that can save corporate employees up to 48% of the money they pay to buy lunch each day. It's not for me - I'd probably rather get the exercise and spend the 48% extra. But it's probably a great thing for people trapped in corporate campuses at lunchtime.

It's certainly a creative mix of internet, tax planning and online catering delivery. Companies sign up to Ezybite and offer their employees the option to get an Ezybite smartcard. They order lunch online, and the food is delivered by Accor Services (huge catering giant). Delivery guy swipes your card with his reader, and.... ZAP! The money is deducted not from your own bank account, but from your pre-tax salary. That's right, from the money the company was going to pay you in salary but hadn't yet. They call it "salary sacrifice". Add up what you spend on lunch each year, and take 48% of that, and it's quite a bit of money you could save.

What I don't fully understand is the whole fringe benefit implication. I figure it works something like a car lease or mobile phone would - the company ends up paying fringe benefits tax on your sandwich and soup instead of you paying income tax on the money. When that happens, your employer reduces your salary a bit to account for the fringe benefits tax it has to pay to supply you with the benefit. Which is less than what you'd pay in income tax. I think that's how it works.

Sooo, if I have that right (and that's a big "if") it means Ezybite is really only relevant for white collar, high value employees worth salary packaging for. And in this brave new world of Australian workplace "deform", 2 cents an hour and the "race to the bottom" in wages, these sorts of benefits can easily be eroded when it comes time to negotiate the next AWA. Do you want a smaller company car in return for saving half your lunch money, Bob? Or would you rather bring in a packed lunch. Right, I thought so...

Tuesday, June 13

Jigsaw is an evil empire in the making

Jigsaw is a company that will pay you to upload the business contact information of the people you know. If you've ever felt like maybe you don't want people calling you at work to pitch you stuff, this company is your new worst nightmare.

I found some irony in this awful discovery though. Without signing up, Jigsaw wasn't about to let me scroll through all >4,000 contacts it has available from Yahoo! Inc. But it would show me an example business card from its database of Yahoo! employees.

Who else does Jigsaw display but my old mate Arturo Bejar, responsible for leading Yahoo!'s information security department. Arturo's been protecting your Yahoo! login, password, credit card details, stored files and contact information from evil hackers now for many years. I used to call him "paranoid android" but he does a great job of keeping Yahoo! users safe.

Now here's his personal information being displayed on Jigsaw's site, not a victim of hackery, but of social engineering and frictionless online commerce.

Friday, June 9

Music magazines on iTunes? Maybe it'll work, but not yet...

US indie music mag The Fader is one of a small number of specialist magazines starting to make PDFs of their magazines available via RSS feeds in iTunes.

Free music mag on iTunes

Will it work? Well, there's a couple of niggly issues to work out. For starters, limited merchandising space in the iTunes interface mean it's not likely that magazines are going to be actively promoted in iTunes by Apple. Magazines will need to drive their own traffic, which means many magazines will be reluctant to experiment for fear of cannibalising their print subscribers (not that this will actually happen, but it's a publisher's worst, most scary nightmare.)

There's also no navigation to magazines in the current version of iTunes. The PDFs of the mags actually live in the podcast directory as RSS feeds with PDF attachments. To the RSS feed reader element of iTunes, this makes perfect sense, but to Joe Consumer, compute it does not. Magazines would need their own spot in iTunes' left hand side navigation for much repeat traffic to come back.

PDFs, of course, can only be viewed on your Mac or PC, not your iPod, which is where many consumers consume the content they download in iTunes. There's a good chance many people will subscribe to a magazine feed, and then never come back to read issue two because it doesn't appear in their iPod or in their regular playlists.

File size is a problem too. PDF is a great format for high-fidelity rendering and printing, but it's lousy for data compression. I don't actually know how big the PDF file is for the latest issue of The Fader, because the whole time I've been writing this, it's been downloading on iTunes, and 10 minutes later, it's still downloading. Do you get excited about downloading magazines overnight so that you can read them tomorrow? Latest-release movies maybe, but not magazines. Not unless they're top shelf import mags that I'd otherwise have to wait a week or two for the airmail copy to arrive.

In summary, pushing magazines through iTunes is a great example of outside-the-box thinking, but it's not going to change the magazine publishing industry or the iTunes business for some time yet.

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Tuesday, June 6

sydney begins to wash away

sydney begins to wash away
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
47 more days of non-stop rain and the boat begins to float, you get me? and this was 5pm today Sydney time - spookily dark and ominous sky.

sydney begins to wash away

sydney begins to wash away
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
47 days of rain to go and then the boat floats. This phot was actually taken at 5.00pm Sydney time, so it's ridiculously dark and ominous out there.

Friday, June 2

Viruses: PCs 14,000, Apple 0... until now...

14,000 viruses on PC...
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
Yeah, but all the same, i'd be much happier if Apple didn't make that such a cocky selling point in their latest US marketing, including TVCs and online.

It all sounds very smug:

A Mac gets much of this out-of-the-box protection from its open source UNIX heritage. The most critical components of Mac OS X are open for review by a worldwide community of security experts. Their input helps Apple continually make Mac OS X ever more secure. And it’s simple to update a Mac with the latest advances.

Is it me, or is that a red flag to a bull? I's only true while you assume there's more people in the unix community working on security than there are working on cracking security.

An inflammatory statement or two from a computer company wanting to look cooler-than-thou might be all it takes to tip the balance the wrong way.

The other part of the claim is only true if you assume Apple's automated, easy security updates work as intended. My experience: Apple's updates are less problematic than Microsoft's but still hairy tarballs of stuff jammed together out of convenience, scantily-documented and often buggy.

A number of times I've had to roll back an update and wait for a fix to be posted, and I now wait a day or two before installing most of the updates I'm notified of, to watch the forums and see whether the latest patch introduces more problems than it solves. Enough people start doing that, and it leaves a window for hackers to strike and an installed base large enough to make it worth their time.

If you're going to boast, then at least use the language of your current core customer, not that of the lame Windows user - who the hell spells unix "UNIX" anymore? Makes it sound like a HAL9000. It's for people who still capitalise "Internet" and hyphenate "e-mail".

I'd be much more comfortable if Apple kept marketing to me rather than my lame friends, and I'd be even more comfortable if 'the virus thing' was just hinted at quietly, not broadcast like an air-raid klaxon. If that's the pitch, then please, Apple, do a better job of the security updates.

Thursday, June 1

iTunes Bugs Me When: Episode 1

itunes playlist issues.png
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.
iTunes remains the poor cousin in the Apple software family, being the result of third-party software it doesn't quite work as well as it could do in many respects. A couple of issues have been bugging me enough lately for me to blog them. So the first in this series of "iTunes Bugs Me When..." themed posts:

iTunes bugs me when I can't have a playlist that plays back my most recently-added albums, with the tracks in album order (i.e. track 1, then track 2, then track 3, etc.)

Please, correct me if I'm wrong (I often am) but I don't think this can be done.

iTunes' Smart Playlist feature ain't that smart. Although you can combine multiple search criteria, there's only the AND Boolean operator available, and when it comes to sorting, you only get one sort option. Creating a playlist like the one above would require something like:

Select 'Date Added'+'In the last'+''variable'+'days'
Sorted by 'Most recently added' then 'Album name' then 'Track number'

It's not rocket-science, but it's one in a number of user interface failings that really shouldn't be there in the world's leading music software.

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