Saturday, September 02, 2006

A peep at this year's innovation (3)

Today it is decision day. The jury will have to select the nominees of the various categories. This means debate and voting. It is all done according to the rules of Roberts; not all jurors are familiar with them. This leads sometimes to confusion. But the jury is doing well on time.

During the presentations it was interesting to notice that students and young professionals are drawn in large projects. Of course among the entries are still a lot of small creative entities, but the number of entries with large projects and groups of young professionals. They work on large multimedia archives as broadcast and event archives and make them accessible textually and visually.

So far I have also seen two projects with real innovation. One is impressive. I know that Nike has smart shoes, but the smart shoes for blind people are a piece of technology and usability. The shoes can be sent on a guided tour, sense an obstacle, correct the angle of the shoe and steer the blind person to a safer route. Another application in the tourist world is simple and effective: take a picture of a monument or a statue, send it to the server and you will receive back historic information about the monument and the statue. The mobile category has been interesting over years such as PDAs for golfers, running against a competitor, a walking guide in the mountains.

By the end of the day all the nominees will be known. By tomorrow morning the overall winner will be selected. The nominees and the winner will not be announced until November, when the Grand Gala will be held in Vienna.

Today I will leave the hotel in which we have been staying. It is a theme hotel like others in Salzburg. I have slept before in a hotel in the Nussdorferstrasse Hotel Nussdorf, where the owner tells custommade stories for every guest; upon arrival the guest will find a welcome story at the front door and upon the pillow of the bed and a new one for every night he/she stays. This hotel had music as a theme (of course in Salzburg with Mozart, the Salzburg Festival and the indelable Sound of Music); and the music was angelic as Melissa Lee Price of the EADiM Academic Network demonstrated. I will fly back to the Netherlands tonight. It is a pity that I cannot see the entry of the winner of the Europrix TTA 2006.

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Blog Posting Number: 494

Friday, September 01, 2006

A peep at this year's innovation (2)

Jury duty is a lot of work. But sometimes there are breaks. Like last night, when the jury members have been taken to the mountains for a gorgeous view and typical Salzburg dinner, a rather heavy meal, with a typical desert (Kaisersmalz or something like that). While eating two jury members were discussing going for jogging in the morning; they told me later they did enjoy the heavy meal.

In the first two days of the jury work the jury has been selecting the potentials. In the second round another group of jury members is going to look at the potentials in order to put forward a shortlist to be evaluated by the entire jury.

I always love to see the statistics of the entries per technical platform. Sometimes it indicates what is going on and where students and young professionals are busy with. You would expect them to be developing a mass of games. This year the statistics read:
- Offline/Interactive DVD: 35
- Broadband Online: 54
- Content tools and interface design: 29
- Digital video and animation: 58
- Games: 35
-.Interactive computer graphics: 37
- Interactive Installations & Interactive TV: 42
- Mobile content: 22
Broad band online is not a surprise. Offline/Interactive DVD is still rather strong with 35 entries. Digital video and animation has a surprisingly high amount of entries, while games have a good representation. As usual mobile entries look low, but 22 entries is pretty good, given the fact that mobile is very complex. Interactive installations and interactive television is a very well represented platform. In this platform especially interactive installations is well represented. Years ago interactive installations hardly were en vogue. But in the past beautiful and funny installations have passed such as Kung Fu Fighter, interactive system, rope jumping and of course air guitar.

I am looking forward to the presentations of the short list. This will start this afternoon.

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Blog Posting Number: 493

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A peep at this year's innovation (1)

I am in Austria. Yesterday flew from Schiphol to Salzburg. Despite the fact that I was leaving very early, I was able to have a look at the new fuel station at Schiphol Airport. In bright colour travelers are attracted to the booth to load up music and audio-books before they fly. You can put your iPOD, mp3 player, telephone or e-book device to it and tank a song or a book. I am wondering how many people use the service and especially I would like to know the age curve.

I am in Salzburg where the Europrix Top Talent Award (TTA) Jury is meeting till the end of the week. The Europrix TTA is competition for young professionals up to 30 years aiming at innovative e-Content and alternatives to trash e-Culture. It is the fourth edition of the TTA and when you include the former students’ competition it is the ninth edition.

There have been 316 registrations from 29 European this year. This is lower than the year before and in fact it is the lowest amount of entries in the nine editions. And this news is more distressing, when you realize that many of the entries did not conform to the entry conditions. So only 136 entries will considered for evaluation. In the first analysis it has been concluded already that most of the entries not accepted come from schools. The 29 percent of entries coming from young professionals have all been completed.

So now the 13 man/women jury brigade of 2006 are evaluating the 136 entries. They will have to go through the categories, check the working of the entries and form an opinion about the project. Evaluation criteria are:
1. quality and comprehensiveness of content;
2. ease of use; functionality, navigation and orientation;
3. value added through multimedia;
4. attractiveness of design (aesthetic value or graphics/audio);
5. quality of craftsmanship.
Besides there are two more criteria:
- Strategic score on innovation and creativity;
- for the competition on Music Fusion, there is special score.

I am not on the jury since two years. Having done a series of jury duties, the organization liked to get new blood in the group. And they got. So there are a few former jury members and completely new ones. There are 13 jury members from 11 countries. And they represent all aspects of interactive media. They are academics, a journalist, two chairpersons of multimedia associations and of course some students.

While they are busy, I will be in meetings about the future of the European Academy of Digital Media (EADiM). Hopefully by the end of the week we will have a new manifesto to act upon.

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Blog Posting Number: 492

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

iLiad: Nice screen, but work in progress (5)

Yesterday we were overhauling our network infrastructure. After our moving shop we had been working independently and for shared documents we used the e-mail. It is a strange way to mail your business partner next door via e-mail; of course you could also bring a memory stick next door. But getting the network lined up was one of the priorities after moving. And now we have it working, including a 250Gb back-up station.

In the network we have cables and a WiFi for the portable PC. And while we were installing the Wifi, we got the idea to configure the wireless network profiles of the iLiad. So we went through the registration routine.

In order to configure the iLiad network profiles, you have a wizard to lead you through the configuration process. Configuration is a big word, as you are asked for a file name, a wired or wireless connection and for a WEP number of your wireless. That number is a very long number to type in with the virtual keyboard. I still think that typing on a virtual keyboard with a stylus is unnatural. But it suffices for the time being. Once you have filled the number in and checked it twice, you have the choice to okay it, test the connection and annul it. Best thing is to okay it. You can also test it first, but when the connection is unsuccessful you will have to re-type the number in the next go. By okaying it first, testing it, you have an opportunity to edit the number in case of an unsuccessful attempt.

I guess that in most cases you will be unsuccessful as the device will have to be registered with the MAC number. You might experience a problem there. For the number on the label on the back (see photograph) will give you a MAC address of which only the first four figures are right. The rest you will have to find out yourself. From the registration on the router you might find the proper MAC address and register the device with that number.

The real test is then to push the connection button and wait for the software to check the connection and start the download. And it worked successfully. It downloaded version 2.6. After the download the device had to be restarted. The most obvious change is the opening page with a graphic and a load time bar (see photograph). I have not checked the version notes not the software for changes yet. I will have a look today, when I am on the plane.

I am happy that I have the wireless functionality at work, as the wired facility requires a physical effort of you: getting up, getting behind the PC, pulling out the Ethernet lead, putting it in the hub, which is at the other side of the desk due to the position of the electricity plugs in your office. I still think that this is a stupid solution, which should be replaced by a USB connection with the computer.

But the fact that wireless worked without a blemish made me very happy for that part of the device.

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Blog Posting Number: 491

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dutch public broadcast transmission goes digital

The Dutch public stations Netherlands 1, 2 and 3 and the regional stations will change from analogue into digital brodcasts in the night of November 26 to 27, 2006. The signals will be accessible for free and without a smart card. The old television aerials will disappear from the skyline for as far as they were still visible, as the Netherlands is one of most dense cabled country in the world.

The regional public stations will also be allowed to beam up programs to satellites. The stations will get 2 million euro extra for this. This will give the station a new wider footprint and a new audience.

For those households which do not have a cable connection, a decoder without a smartcard can be bought for 30 to 50 euro.

Some 74.000 Dutch households are still watching television using aerials. This type of aerials is also used for television sets in holiday homes. In total, 220.000 aerials will be removed.

The change-over in October 2006 had been criticised by trade organisation, consumer electronic shops and politicians. In order to postpone the change-over a financial deal had to be reached between the ministries and the stations. Also the obligatory smartcard reader on the decoder was abolished. By postponing the change-over for a month, the stations are able to prepare for the change-over, the shops are able to stock up and the television owners can remove their aerials and replace it with a decoder. An advertisement campaign will carry the message across to owners with an aerial.

The Netherlands is the first European country, which changes over to digital public television. Many commercial television stations have changed over some time ago.
Once in the late fifties the rake shaped aerials were a symbol of wealth, but common in the seventies. Then the cable took care of their disappearance of the aerials from the roofs of the houses in towns and cities; only houses in the rural area still had the rake shaped aerials. Now only dish antennas can be seen in the street for people picking up programs from other countries.

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Blog Posting Number: 490

Monday, August 28, 2006

ADSL and cable speed going up

The Netherlands is has a high broadband penetration. Dial-in customers are a rarity these days. ADSL and cable are the conduits. Since 2005 the speed has been raised dramatically. Besides one can get a range of speeds. The Telecom company Versatel sports Fast ADSL+ tops with 22Mbps for television, while cable reaches 20Mbps.

I recently changed from Versatel ISDN ADSL (1Mbps down, 520Kbps up) to Chello (UPC) with 8Mbps down and 1Mbps up. The Versatel connection was not a very stable one. Although the Chello connection is on average higher than the Versatel one, it is not very stable either. My tests through the testing software of Nuria and Speedtest show different results. According to Nuria I have had in the past 14 days and average of 7Mbps. Speedtest recorded varying speeds during the past week, which was noticeable as the radio was interrupted several times. I am just keeping a close eye on it as I eventually want to go to Chello extreme with 20Mbps download. So there is a choice and a wide range of choices and companies, although the incumbent telco KPN is the dominant player.

And there are still developments: a change in mentality on glass fibre and technical development in SDSL. For years we have had a band of glass fibre tifosi. Their vision was that glass fibre had to be installed as soon as possible in order to keep the Netherlands in the forefront of the knowledge industry. A small group of consultants offered the cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague almost the same advice: the municipality should start a glass fibre network as private companies would not invest in it. But the European Commission warned the cities about the conditions to sink money into these projects. In the meantime also private initiatives have been realised, for example in Nuenen, close to Eindhoven, while many plans are on the drawing board in Haarlem and the bulb region in the West of the Netherlands. So the glass fibre networks will be introduced, but the urgency has gone.

In the meantime the speed of ADSL and cable is getting faster. Top of the list is at the moment Fast ADSL with 22Mbps download. A new development is coming up with Ethernet to the Home (EttH), developed by the Finnish company Teleste and tested by Essent Kabelcom. Advantages of EttH are the lack of a modem as the Ethernet plug is put into the box and the speed is guaranteed. Essent started a test in 2003 in the town of Boxmeer. Presently 10.000 households have the EttH connection at their disposal. They can load up and download at a speed of 10Mbps; the internet connection is symmetric. With the successes Essent will start another project, in which the symmetric speed of 100Mbps will be introduced. Essent will start this project in another town of 20.000 to 30.000 households; no specific town has been assigned yet. Eventually Essent wants to upgrade to 1000Mbps eventually. (Of course plans can change as Essent Kabelcom will get new owners after the completion of the acquisition by venture capitalists).

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Blog Posting Number: 489

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Virtual church

It is Sunday. For some people it is the day of the Lord and the day to go to church. Many people visit a church at Christmas time or when they are on holiday. Today I vited a virtual church.

As a service to tourists, the Dutch public broadcast company KRO (from Roman Catholic origin) has created a virtual tour of a church. On the tour people are shown the interior of the church such as the altar, baptismal font and the confessional box. In the background you will hear proper Gregorian chant. You are shown a lay-out of a typical roman catholic church with a legend of 10 attributes. Once you click on one of the legend points, you are presented with a visual and an explanation of the attribute. It is a nice service to tourists.

I have seen more of this kind of presentations in the past. Through my friend Anja Bobrowicz, who is a lecturer at the University of Kent, I received a DVD, produced by one of her students, with a virtual presentation of the cathedral of Canterbury. I enjoyed it very much as the DVD gave a good impression of the cathedral. You could move through the church and change directions to left and right, look up and down and zoom in and out to take in a detail.

One of the pioneer projects in this field was the reconstruction of the Abbey of Cluny. In 2000 I visited the site of the Abbey of Cluny and found a ruin, pillaged for building materials by anti-clerical French revolutionaries in the early 19th century. So there was not much to see. Of course there are drawings and models, but those are representations , but it is not the reality of what was once the brightest architectural jewel of 11th-century Christendom, an immense Romanesque celebration of stone and light. But thanks to computer power, the abbey was digitextured and became a cyber abbey. You can wonder through it with Gregorian chant in the back. But you could also examine a frieze high in the virtual vaults. The simulation was made in the early nineties by IBM in co-operation with the Musee d'Ochier.

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Blog Posting Number: 489

Saturday, August 26, 2006

2 mln documents in EU Digital Library by 2008

The European Commission urged EU Member States on 25 August to set up large-scale digitisation facilities, so as to accelerate the process of getting Europe's cultural heritage on line via the European digital library. In a Recommendation on digitisation and digital preservation, it calls on Member States to act in various areas, ranging from copyright questions to the systematic preservation of digital content in order to ensure long term access to the material.

"Our aim is to arrive at a real European digital library, a multilingual access point to Europe’s digital cultural resources" Viviane Reding, Commissioner for Information Society and Media (25/08/2006) “Our aim is to arrive at a real European digital library, a multilingual access point to Europe’s digital cultural resources”, commented Information Society and Media Commissioner Reding. “It will allow, for example, Finnish citizens to easily find and use digital books and images from libraries, archives and museums in Spain, or a Dutchman to find historical film material from Hungary online”.

At present only a fraction of the cultural collections in the Member States is digitised. A common effort is necessary to speed up the digitisation and online accessibility of the material in order to arrive at the necessary critical mass. With the Recommendation just adopted, the Commission invites the Member States to take concrete steps in this direction.

By 2008, two million books, films, photographs, manuscripts, and other cultural works will be accessible through the European Digital Library. This figure will grow to at least six million by 2010, but is expected to be much higher as, by then, potentially every library, archive and museum in Europe will be able to link its digital content to the European Digital Library (see IP/06/253).

The online availability of Europe's rich and diverse cultural heritage will make it usable for all citizens for their studies, work or leisure and will give innovators, artists and entrepreneurs the raw material that they need for new creative efforts.
The measures put forward in the Recommendation come on top of the financial contribution that the Commission already has set aside for the digital libraries initiative in the EU’s Research&Development programmes and in the eContentplus programme. The Commission will co-finance amongst other things a network of centres of competence on digitisation and digital preservation (see IP/05/1202).

Europe's libraries, museums and archives are taking the lead in a range of projects starting this year which will add to the building blocks for the European digital library.

The European Digital Library is a flagship project of the Commission's overall strategy to boost the digital economy, the i2010 initiative (see IP/05/643).

The i2010 Digital Libraries Initiative web site
The portal of The European Library
Fact sheet : Europe’s cultural and scientific heritage at a click of a mouse (179 Kb)

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Blog Posting Number: 488

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bring your blanket to PICNIC ‘06

Last night I attended a meeting of the partner network of PICNIC ’06 Cross Media Week in Amsterdam.. It was a pre-picnic to the real picnic to be held from September 27-29, 2006. It gave me a chance to meet the Cross Media Week Foundation Board, the PICNIC '06 team, the government, corporate and service partners, plus industry associations, cultural institutions and the media.

Mr Lodewijk Asscher, elderman for the municipality of Amsterdam, hit off the official part of the meeting by stating that the PICNIC meeting had to attract 25.000 delegates in 2010. The event should link creativity and business and make of Amsterdam a creative hotspot.

Mrs Karien van Gennip (in the middle of the photgraph), minister for Foreign Trade had also come to the pre-picnic and stressed that PICNIC ’06 should be a great international networking event, produced by a Public Private Network, yielding a gateway to creativity.

Bas Verhart, one of the founding fathers of PICNIC and managing director of Media Republic, gave an overview of the program and showed an artist impression of the venue (see photograph). The PICNIC will be a crammed event with a conference, specialty workshops, public lectures, an exhibition, art installations and parties. He pointed to the impressive list of foreign speakers such as Simon Guild (MTV), Michael B. Johnson (Pixar), Philip Rosedale (SecondLife) Lorraine Twohill (Google) and Craig Newmark (craigslist). He was also happy to have landed as a speaker John de Mol, who is considerd the father of crossmedia with his format of Big Brother.

At the pre-picnic a representative of MTV Europe announced the project Digital Scout. This project will kick off at PICNIC ’06. The project will solicit ideas on mobile, internet, digital television, gaming and social networking. The person with the best idea will get 10.000 euro to develop and execute the idea. In a leader film produced for the project the basic message was: Don’t hide your ideas.

The pre-picnic was also an occasion to have a look around the venue, Westergasfabriek. This is a former gas plant, which is being remodeled as a venue for cultural events. It is situated in one of the green parks of Amsterdam.

The slogan for the event is: Bring your blanket to PICNIC ’06 and we will provide you with the opportunity to discuss major trends, see innovative content, formats and channels and develop new opportunities.

BTW The Europrix Top Talent Award 2006 and the World Summit Award will present their combined roadshow at PICNIC '06.

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Blog Posting Number: 487

Thursday, August 24, 2006

iLiad: nice screen, but work in progress (4)

In this last instalment about the iLiad I would like to go into the aspect of power consumption and draw my provisionary conclusions.

The iLiad is a new concept as far as the screen and the power consumption. Battery life has been a problem so far with e-books and PDAs. The first e-books of Sony had big batteries and a power pack, which made it heavy to carry. Together with the short battery life, it was one of the disadvantages of the compact device. The second generation e-book had a reloadable power pack on board, which did not make it too light. Also the battery life was not impressive.

The iLiad has an internal power pack, which has to be charged. This charging takes about two hours and is completed when the LED indicator stops being red. The powering up of the iLiad (see photograph of opening screen) is very slow. I did not time is exactly but I could count till forty-two before the device could be used. The slow powering up will gradually be improved by the new software upgrades, as was already noticed in the first upgrades. The powering down is faster. One should complete the powering up and powering down routine without interference. Once the command has been given to power down, one has to wait till the routine is completed. Attempting to power it up again, as one forgot to read something, might cause a collusion, which can only be solved by recharging the iLiad.

The new USP of the device is the power consumption not on the basis of exposed time, but on the turning of the page. Only the turning of the page will consume power. Once a page is turned, there is no consumption. In this way more than 10.000 page turns could be made. Theoretically it also means that the iLiad consumes only power from the powering up and powering down as well as from the turning of the pages. Just like a book you can leave the iLiad on with the last page you were reading. I said theoretically as I have been unable to check it out, yet.

Conclusion
I have been awaiting the iLiad with great eagerness. I am excited about the screen. It is digital paper, very readable and crisp. The device has a handy format, although I am wondering about the protection of the screen, when time moves on. Of the navigation button the page flipper is interesting as it imitates the turning back of pages to go forward and the turning forward for pages to go back. The powering up is very slow. The power management, I have not tested yet. As to the software available, it is clear that iRex Technologies still has a long way to go; this is remarkable as the second generation of e-books (by Franklin and Gemstar) was already miles ahead of the iLiad software.

The conclusion for me:
- the iLiad has made its promise come true on the readability of digital paper;
- the design of the device needs improvement (see the confusion of the on/off switch and the network connection switch);
- the powering up takes too long;
- of the navigation buttons the flip bar is interesting; the other buttons are confusing or not functional;
- the present software available to read books, newspapers and documents is too rudimentary (no zoom-in and -out or magnifying bubble, no hyperlinks).

All in all, the iLiad is not a finished product. It has a nice screen. And that sadly is the only USP. It will take iRex Technologies still a long time to ready the device for particular markets. The technical documentation market is probably willing to accept the machine as is. But it is certainly not the plug-and-play device for the consumer market; to be that the iLiad will need improvement in device design and a complete rethink of the software.

The iLiad is presently definitely not the device to fight the upcoming e-books on the iPod. And I am wondering in how far companies working on digital paper e-books like Sony, PlasticLogic, Siemens and Fujitsu will be able to give iRex Technologies competition.

I like to end this test on a positive note. The iLiad with the digital paper is definitely a major breakthrough in readability and it is the first device of a series to come, which will give an impulse to specific, portable reading devices for electronic newspapers, e-books and technical documentation.

Tags: e-book, ,

Blog Posting Number: 486

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Flash: Vision Objects and iRex Technologies partner

Press release

Vision Objects, the French provider of the industry standard in handwriting recognition and iRex Technologies BV, the leading Dutch supplier of solutions for reading written digital content, announce today the signature of a technology partnership. iRex’s E-reader called “iLiad” combines revolutionary electronic paper display and best-in-class MyScript handwriting recognition to build business to business applications.

The iLiad E-reader is a portable device that allows digital print content to be read from various sources, anywhere at any time. The iLiad is based on an innovative electronic paper display, wireless networking and touch screen technologies. This provides a comfortable reading experience, just like normal paper, digital content delivery, interactive navigation and text input. The iLiad is a flexible platform enabling the development of solutions for B2B applications in areas like document reading, form processing, education and publishing.

As part of the alliance, MyScript handwriting technology is integrated into the iLiad through MyScript Stylus, an interactive natural text input method that converts handwriting in real time into digital text. MyScript Stylus features a handwriting input panel enabling users to write naturally and to easily interact with all iLiad’s applications.

iRex Technologies also distributes MyScript Notes, Vision Objects’ stand alone handwriting recognition software as a PC add-on to the Iliad. MyScript Notes converts handwritten notes, captured with the iLiad notepad and transferred to a PC, into digital information for further use in applications such as text editors, spreadsheets and email clients.

"We are delighted that we can match the strengths of our E-reading and E-writing technology with the character recognition strengths from Vision Objects” said Willem Endhoven, VP Marketing and Business development at iRex Technologies. “For our iLiad users it will be a great experience to write on electronic paper and see the extra benefit of their writing being digitized with such accuracy and ease of use. Together we provide a full end-user benefit in writing pleasure and productivity which is also of great importance for our B2B customers.”
“This agreement marks an important milestone in a long term partnership between iRex Technologies and Vision Objects to develop mobile business to business applications integrating handwriting recognition”, says Jean-Marc Aïchoun, VP Sales & Marketing at Vision Objects.

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Blog Number Posting: 485

Iliad: nice screen, but work in progress (3)

Yesterday I indicated that the iLiad was neither a tablet nor a PDA. AS it stands now the it is a container which can hold particular text documents with a mechanism to leaf through the documents. This sounds very basic. At present I have not seen interactivity, which I was already used to in the second generation of e-books.

Having entered a few books, I started to look at the table of content and select a chapter to look at. No dice. In a printed book you can see the page number and go to it. The iLiad has a page bar on the bottom, indicating the number of pages (see photograph). Every page is represented by a symbol, but not by a page number. Once you know the page where a chapter begins, you take your stylus and guess where the chapter starts. You tick on a symbol of the half of the amount of pages if you have to hit page 63 out of 100. From there you will have to refine your page search. A feature to make the table of content interactive is badly needed.

One of the advantages of digitisation is the hyperlinking. You jump through the text back and forth in order to pick up relevant information. If a document contains hyperlinking, iLiad will not offer this facility yet.

Another facility which I took for granted was the zoom-in and zoom-out or the text bubble in order to enlarge text. I supposed this facility to be present as in the photographs of among other the newspaper De Tijd the image of a page is kept and the article that you are interested in can clicked upon with the stylus. So far I have been unable to discover such a facility. The document in the 7 point font will not be magnified nor can you zoom into the text fragment.

For this instalment I will close the electronic book. Next time I open the device it will not automatically come back to my last page, where I left off. If I want to continue reading, I have two choices. One is to leave the device on with the page I was reading; remember only turning pages consumes power. Or I will have to power up the device again, I will have to select the book, remember the page and try to find this on the page bar.

Another luxery feature missing while we are talking about reading. There is only one way the pages presented on the iLiad. The top of the page starts under the iRex logo and has a portrait lay-out. But you can not use the iLiad in landscape mode.

So far there is not much interactivity available yet in the iLiad. There are basic functionalities, which hardly go beyond the functionalities of a printed book. So it will need a real boost in software development. It is surprising that after the demise of the second wave of electronic books, the software developed for that generation has completely been ignored or even bought from Gemstar. I still have a working Rocket book and I would love to have the screen of the iLiad on it.

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Bloh Number Posting: 484

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Flash: Outsell to acquire EPS Ltd

Outsell, Inc.'s has acquired Electronic Publishing Services Ltd. (EPS) of London, the company of my (new-media) life-long friend David Worlock (see photographs) and his colleague David Powell. "Both firms have long been committed to giving the publishing and information services industry and its stakeholders a strong voice by defining the industry and creating industry awareness. Today they are the only research and advisory firm covering all aspects of the information industry worldwide, and we are thrilled to be working together.

This union provides our marketplace with deeper coverage in all key information industry segments. It also provides global reach and geographic coverage, serving over 300 clients around the world; we are maintaining our offices in London and the San Francisco Bay Area. Our team is nearly 60 strong. David Worlock, Founder and Chairman of EPS, will serve as Chief Research Fellow of the new organization, and all members of the EPS team will remain an integral part of our company".

Congratulations David and David.

Iliad: nice screen, but work in progress (2)

The iLiad looks like a tablet, but it is not. A tablet is an extension of the PC with which you can freely roam within a certain distance of the PC. The iLiad looks like a large Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), but it is not. A PDA contains a diary, addresses, has textprocessing on board. But on the iLiad you can take along some 20 books for a plane trip or a holiday. It is a reading device with which you can not make spreadsheets, for example. But you can read documents in various formats.

This makes the iLiad interesting. It is not just a subset of a PC. It is a device in its own rights, comparable to the iPod. This has also consequences for the design of the device. You want to go back and forth turning pages.

One of the mysteries in the design is the hidden on/off switch. (This is the last time I will complain about it). I could not find it when I got the machine in my hands for the first time. And since, I have repeated the experiment more than one time. People did not find it at the right corner at the bottom end of the machine. Everyone who got hold of the device started pushing the button in the right corner on the top. The on/off switch is a sliding switch. No idea why a push button would not suffice. Given the present design, I would have put the button (sliding switch or push button down on the right side with an on/off sign on the surface.

On the left hand side of the device there are all buttons for the navigation. The nicest invention is the turning bar, with which you can turn the pages forward (push the bar to the left) and backwards (push the bar to the right). I am not sure about the logic, but once you se the pages turn in the intended direction you have the hang of it.

There is nothing like a soft exit switch. If you want to stop reading a book, just slide the on/off switch and the device will power down. Next time you come on the machine you do not come back to the page where you left off. There is no book marker, as far I can see now.

In order to keep the iLiad working you will have to put it regularly on an electricity lead. There is an icon indicating the quantity of electricity still available. The machine is aid to be power poor. Only the turning of a page will consume electricity. Of course the powering up and powering down actions will also consume electricity. It is said that you can turn 10.000 before reloading the battery. Whether this is still an objective or a mere statistics is not clear yet. Besides software upgrades will optimise the power management. The electricity comes through a lead linked to the hub, while the hub is connected to connector in the middle below.

The link is an awkward designed tool with no functionality to the iLiad itself. You can not click it on the device, for example; still there are some grips on this tool. Perhaps it will be part of the docking station which is promised for a launch in October.

In the hub there are two other connections: one for a USB lead and one for an Ethernet lead. With the USB lead you link up to the computer in order to transfer files such as pdf files. And the Ethernet cable is intended to link you straight to the server in order to upgrade the software. Personally I am not so charmed by this Ethernet solution. I guess most users will have to get behind their PC in order to get hold of the Ethernet cable. I guess the transfer is safer in this way, but using the USB cable to the PC would have been more comfortable.

There is a reset knob in the back of the machine. I have tried to use it several times, but it did not work. In fact when power up and want to reset, for whatever reason, the powering up is not completed and the introductory page begging you for one moment gets stuck. So you will have to unstuck this situation by linking the device to the electricity lead. The small LED will turn red and you will have to wait till the LED is no longer red. To me the machine is definitely not idiot proof, at least not idiot proof enough for me.

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Blog Posting Number: 482

Monday, August 21, 2006

Iliad: nice screen, but work in progress (1)

Up to last year I knew the Iliad Homer as a Greek epic, consisting of 24 songs telling about the battle against the Trojans by the Greeks. Since a month I battle with the iLiad, a kind of iPod, but only for text.

The iLiad is the embodiment of a long awaited promise: reading from digital paper. The LCD and TFT screens never achieved the quality of paper used to print books: a nice white background and black letters and colour illustrations. However the research of E-Ink and Philips changed this. Since last month the reader has been on sale for the first time. Being a gadget lover, I bought one for about 700 euro straight from iRex Technologies.

I received the reader on the day that we moved shop and house. All excited I unwrapped the parcel and found the reader, some extra hardware and small note. That was all. Having charged the battery, panic broke out as I tried to get the device to work by pushing on all buttons. I could not get it to work. My unwrapping party was spoiled and I knew that this was not going to be a plug-and-play device, but a project under construction. (I later on understood that the manufacturer iRex Technologies has counted me to their circle of intimae, supposing that I did not need a quick guide. iRex sent me one by e-mail.).

Once I had found the on/off switch, I was able to admire the digital paper at work. The first page bears the logo of the iLiad with a system message begging you to wait one moment and the URL of iRex. The page has a nice quiet white background, while the letters and illustrations come up in 16 grey tones. No flickering at all and nice sharp fonts.

Once I had the reader working, I loaded some pdf formatted books and brochures on a USB stick. I just wanted to see how that would work out. In the quick guide there is mention of the USB plug on the device, which can only be used for memory sticks; not for USB cables. But that is all that is being said in the quick guide about entering books by USB sticks. So far I could call up pages from the memory stick. And the pages showed up.

So last week took another step in the iLiad saga and moved into the downloading of the latest software version and downloaded some books from my computer. This was another experience. Of course I know the expression READ THE FUCKING MANUAL. But with the procedures of downloading software of the second wave electronic books like Rocket books and Soft books, I linked the device to the computer. However I could download books, but not the software. In order to do that I had to get my Ethernet cable from the back of the PC (which usually not in the most comfortable place) and had to put it into the external hub. With a push on the button, which I mistook for the on/off switch, the software started to be exchanged.

The screen is great, although I have noticed ghost images in some cases. But it is definitely no plug and play device. It is a project under construction. Worthwhile, but still work in progess.

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Blog Posting Number: 481

Sunday, August 20, 2006

PC album

Yes I am late with posting the blog. Apologies. The excuse is that we visited the mother of one of us, a lady of 94 years, who lives in an old folk’s home. It was the first time since moving shop and our home that we were visiting her. Happily she has got all her marbles still on a row. But as it is difficult for her to travel, how do you tell her about the moving and tell her about the apartment and business suite?

This morning I got up early and started photographing: the view from the balcony, the rooms and the business suite. After that I started to put the photographs into order on a portable PC to take along. We had a session sitting together and showing the pictures and telling her about the situation.

The PC has become a portable photo album. You can send photographs around the world; take them along on a portable and show them in a slide show. It is fabulous. It is even better than printed photographs. But the photographs have the same problems as any other digital information. How do you make them accessible? In the last three years I shot more photographs than in the 10 years before. Of course there are more shots of the same scene. Still there is a problem of accessibility. How can you find back your photographs with any precision?

Of course there is Picasa, which presents you with an overview of all the photographs on your computer. A problem is that the program duplicates photographs. But a main problem, not only for Picasa, is that photographs can be mainly found by their text description. By attributing a keyword to a photograph as a title you have a handle to find it back. But as most photographs have a subsequent number such as DSCxxxxx, it is hard to recognise what is behind it. Of course photographs should be placed in a context (recognisable file name indicating time and subject and should be keyworded in sequence. It means that you will have to put time in it in order to make it accessible.

But by the time that you have more than 10.000 photographs, what are you going to do? You will need a good program which offers you several metadata about the pictures: date, subject, names of persons, subject, etc. A first attempt has been made with JPEG2000 on this score, but as JPEG2000 is still in the professional lab, you will have to look for another program.

Of course you can share your photographs through Flickr. But I am not exactly a fan of net bound storage. I see this movement coming up every five years. Last time it was Sun’s big boss proclaiming the network computer. Did anyone hear about it again? Or better does anyone have a network computer at home? I rather have an extra external storage device for back-up and forget about the network storage.

But I need to have a look at a good album program for storage and retrieval.

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Blog Posting Number 480

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Tele2/Versatel stops sports program

Tele2/Versatel stops to broadcast their own sports program by ADSL and satellite. The company will continue to broadcast the soccer games and will use the wide screen format.

Versatel bought the rights to broadcast soccer by ADSL last year. The company aimed at 100.000 users by the end of 2005, but did not succeed. In the meantime it has merged with the activities of Tele2. At the start of their second competition season, Tele2/Versatel has now 84.000 subscribers by ADSL+ and 12.000 subscribers by satellite.

Tele2/Versatel own television program Tele2 Soccer Live will not return. It was broadcasted on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and had three presenters. The company indicated that the program did not attract too many viewers; so the company decided to save the money (Tele2/Versatel made a loss over the first half year).

Balancing the bad news was the announcement to broadcast the soccer games on wide screens. The advantage will be that a larger part of the soccer field will be shown than in the old 4:3 screen format. The new format will be used for the 306 prime division games and the 22 play-off games in the new season of 2006/2007. But Tele2/Versatel is not only serving the soccer fans. Tele2 will also start transferring movies in the 16:9 screen format.

Besides the premier league and play-off soccer games, the national public broadcast organisation is about to take the decision to broadcast its Champions League soccer games in the 16:9 format. In the fall the wide screen penetration in the Netherlands will almost be 50 percent of the 6.9 million households.

Although Tele2/Versatel are not giving up the broadcast of the soccer games through ADSL+ and satellite, the project has proven to be a real bootstrap for entertainment. The Tele2 Complete TV offers more than 50 television and radio channels as well as on demand repeats. You can link to a movies program or rent movies. All this is completed with soccer broadcasts.

Looking back, Tele2/Versatel will not be satisfied with their investment in the soccer broadcast. But in comparison with KPN it looks like Tele2/Versatel has a small advantage in the organisation of its entertainment and technical offer. Besides it has the advantage that KPN is not ready to roll out its service Mine. But 96.000 subscribers on 6.9 million households shows that there is still a long way to go...

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Blog Posting Number: 479

Friday, August 18, 2006

Story telling in a new town

It is now almost a month that we moved shop and house from historic city of Utrecht to the new town of Almere. We left the city with canals, historic buildings and the 112 meter high tower, called the Dom or in Italian Duomo. And we arrived in a town, which has started to be built on reclaimed land some 30 years ago: all buildings are new, all landmarks are modern. In fact the town of Almere is fast becoming the fifth city of the Netherlands with already 180.000 inhabitants. And they come from all around, be it dominantly from Amsterdam. Due to a welcome present I found out that the new town has already a project The Memory of Almere.

Some years ago I was attending a summer school on digital storytelling. One of the projects presented was a Bulgarian one, which eventually became the Goat Milk festival. During this project people went to countryside in order to digitally record stories from the villagers. These stories were later on published according to database publishing principle: from the database articles and books are published, but also broadcasts and movies as well as DVDs. Of course the stories were about the long history of the villagers.

At that time I suggested that the team would come to the Netherlands and would visit the new town of Almere to record stories over there. I thought that it would be interesting to see the difference between the stories of historic villages and towns and a new town. And what do we find in Almere: a storytelling project based on a database publishing principle.

In the project Memory of Almere stories (in the Dutch language) are collected and published. The stories form a multi coloured web which links people with each other and with the city. The project has yielded some 600 stories by now. They have been treated in radio and television broadcasts. A book with stories has been published. A web site is continuously available.

From a first look at the site, I have been unable to distinguish a particular difference between the stories from the historic villages in Bulgaria and the stories of the new town. There are stories, recounting the short history of the new town. But there are also special sub project such as the Memory of Wharfs. And contemporary stories are also stored: the visit of the Queen to Almere on Queens’ Day this year, for example. The database is still growing and stories are added to the database almost daily.

What really surprised me was the number of stories of people telling why they chose for Almere. This is an interesting fact: people from outside Almere keep asking you why you moved to polder, to the city of wind. You can move from Utrecht to Amsterdam or Hilversum without having to account for that choice, but it is different for the new town of Almere. And I must be honest: if you had asked me in 1998, when I organised a review for the European Commission in Almere I would have never thought that I would ever move to Almere. Now my partner and me are having our business here and live here.

We still have a lot of stories to read. It is a pity that you cannot read them. Perhaps the project team should consider making a selection and having them translated into English. The stories could then be shared with people from other new towns such as Milton Keynes in the UK.

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Blog Posting Number: 478

Thursday, August 17, 2006

E-books: strong demand

On August 15, 2006 the Boston Globe publishged a story on the project of the World e-Book Fair. This project had run from July 4 till August 4 and offered 300.000 e-books for downloading. The number of books was remarkable as hardly anyone knew the amount of available e-books in public libraries and collections. Major contributors to the collection were the Project Gutenberg with 20.000 e-books and the World e-Book Library which has the largest collection.

The organisers expected 10 million downloads, but already in the first week they knew that it was going to be a success as there was not enough server capacity. By organising extra capacity and extending the project for a week, the organisers were able to handle no less than 30 million downloads.

This is an unbelievable amount and it goes to show that there is a huge demand for e-books. Certainly when you take into mind that 95 percent of the e-books offered are in the public domain with no copyright and roughly older than 70 years. I think that this massive download should be a wake-up call for publishers, who forgot about e-book after the second wave. I am eager to see a top 100 e-books and know where the downloads came from. With 30 million downloads there must be a lot of marketing information.

Of course there are still masses of book readers, who like to hold a book in their hands and sniff ink. The portability and readability of e-books are still problems, but solutions are on the way. I recently bought an iLiad reader and I am experimenting with it, downloading book left and right. Once you have found the on-and-off switch the screen is a blessing for your eyes and the cover will not give you a slipped disc. I will come back to the iLiad later on, having loaded some e-books and pdf files.

The Boston Globe had as a headline: Giveaway shows: demand for e-books is strong. And I can only agree. As the giveaway show will be repeated in October, to go coincide with the World Book Fair Month, it should be interesting to see how much the offer has grown in figures, but also in copyrighted books and downloads.

BTW. John Guagliardo from World eBook Library wrote me: Apple's iPod eBook reader is being introduced to the market soon, http://www.engadget.com/2006/07/22/apple-to-do-ebooks/. We (World e-Book Library) hope to pre-load some of our eBooks onto the device.

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Blog Posting Number: 477

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fabchannel moving on

Fabchannel is the Dutch internet pop concert site of the two Amsterdam pop temples Paradiso and De Melkweg. Because of decreasing media attention for live music, they decided five years ago to launch Fabchannel. The foundation received a grant of 205.000 euro of the municipality of Amsterdam and the Dutch ministry of Culture. But after receiving national and international awards such as the Europrix.nl and the Webby Award, Fabchannel wants to go further and become a distributor. Now it is looking for venture capital in Europe and in the US.

Fabchannel now broadcasts concerts, festivals, lectures and competitions on the Internet, in sound and vision. It presently claims 600 concerts which can be watched for free on internet and on digital television channels. These programs are live registrations of concerts given in Paradiso and De Melkweg by bands such as Di-rect, Simple Minds, Sterephonics, De La Soul, Damien Rice and Fun loving Criminals.

Paradiso put a team of specialists together under the name "Fabchannel Foundation". This team developed a streaming video portal with Flash and PHP technologies. It is easy to use as in three clicks a user can make his/her selection. Fabchannel is also working on the Fabplayer with Quicktime and Flash and 360 degree camera on demand. But they also got a legal format in order to broadcast the concerts for free, live and on demand. Its archive grows fast. In June 2005 the archive contained 320 registrations and presently it holds some 600 registrations of concerts. And the archive is growing monthly and holds now 20 terabytes Part of the success of Fabchannel is that one can be present at a live webcasted concert even though one is not in Amsterdam. As for the marketing strategy Fabchannel will use television in order to promote their internet site.

Fabchannel was a strategic initiative. It aimed at distributing concerts though internet and television, interactive or thematic. That part is a success as the rewards are rolling in. Now the foundation is looking for a wider role as distributor. The foundation is talking with Microsoft, Sony/BMG and Apple’s iTunes. But it is also talking to the bands to acquire sales rights on iPOD and DVD.

In 2005 the Dutch jury of the Europrix.nl wrote the following judgement: Strategically Fabchannel has a big trump card for internet radio and television, but also for interactive television and video-on-demand. Fabchannel is technically high quality, innovative and strategically future-proof. As co-organiser of the Europrix.nl I am very proud to see this winner moving on.

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Blog Posting Number: 476

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Déjà vu in Limburg?

One of the Dutch provinces is Limburg. Since the closing of the mines it has been a problem area in terms of employment. So all kind of initiatives were taken to get new industry to Limburg. Eventually it was a car manufacturer which built a factory there. But in the eighties the province did get also a lot of money to start an interactive cable videotext project. It was supposed to be a new media laboratory for mass communication. After 10 years the project was stopped and stamped “disaster”. Even the Dutch government, which had sunk a lot of money into the project, never dared to investigate what went wrong. The conclusion of communication was that a lot of copper had been sunk into the ground, but that no one had thought about the services. These thoughts came up again this week when the Stream Group and KPN announced an experiment in the South of Limburg.

The Stream Group, led by a former Overture Benelux CEO, has developed a technology which they indicate as personalisable TV. Central in the concept is the Electronic Program Guide (EPG), which has three layers. It presents information on the national level on national broadcast channels and programs on the second level it makes local information accessible and on the third level there is personal content. The technology, which Stream Group wants to register for a patent, is part of the service MailMall. Within MailMall personalisable TV is possible through OpTV (OnTV). Every consumer, company or institution can start a channel or can exchange photographs, video and music. Besides consumers can use Video On Demand services, gaming services and thematic channels.

Recently the Rabo Bank stepped in as partner. It wants to offer the consumer the opportunity to do their banking online, including screen-to-screen visual contact with a Rabo employee. Besides Rabo TV will present information about investments. Also Rabo Sports – Rabo is sponsor of a cycle group, which was amongst others active in the Tour de France – will have a slot. The Rabo Bank, a co-operative bank, likes to extent its local presence in this way.

The service MailMall has been piloted in the city of Roermond among 100 households. Now the pilot will be extended to 1.000 households in the cities of Sittard and Geleen with the help of KPN. AS the technology has been proven in Roermond, it is now important to learn to market the service. And before that is done, a new interface has to be built. During the pilot a settop box, manufactured by Createl, will be handed out to the households. This is the weak point of the service. With the settop box Mailmall lands in the middle of the box war. The cable operators are either handing out settop boxes like UPC or people have to buy them as with Casema. But also Tele 2/Versatel has a settop box for television. And as usual, before the pilots and trials are over, Stream Group is dreaming about internationalisation. In 2007 KPN will launch Mailmall as part of its own television service Mine, which still has to be launched. Despite the fact that KPN is having 51 percent of the shares in Mailmall, the service can also be sold to mother telecom and cable television operators.

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Blog Posting Number: 475

Monday, August 14, 2006

Dutch narrowcasting in its infancy

The Netherlands has 16.700 screens in shops. That is one of the conclusions of the narrowcasting branch organisation Popai Benelux. The screens are situated in 2880 sales points, which means a density of 5.7 screens or 4,6 percent per sales point. Dominant are screens in retail shops: 9900 screens in 1770 shops. Top of the retail shops are the phone shops (47 percent).

Only 2.7 percent of all shops in the Netherlands are supplied with Digital Instore Media. Besides the phone shops, screens can most likely be seen in the luxury shops. . Only 2 percent of the supermarkets distribute information through screens. There are still several branches which have none or hardly any screens. DIY shops, speciality shops, photo shops, home sores, garden centres and furniture shops hardly take any advantage of digital communications in their shop, stimulating trade.

Digital instore media have a great potential. It is clear from the survey that there is still a lot of potential for the providers and for the stores. In the past travel shops used video to shorten the waiting and decision time. Now retailers and manufacturers can offer support to their brand. Suppliers of digital systems can enter new branches with their products, while the small existing markets can be expanded. All in all there is enough space to expand with digital instore media.

The survey is a first inventory. Popai has chosen to narrow the survey to stores. These can easily be approached. Besides they have usually small to medium screens. However Popai left out another growing market of bus and railway stations, company receptions and presentation rooms, gas stations, cabs and even a mosk in the Netherlands. They did this probably for a good reason as they could not establish the universe of outside places; this is easier for shops than outdoor places. They probably have to shop with bill board operators for a method to make an inventory and measure the penetration.

Popai Benelux is the knowledge center for digital instore media and outdoor information distribution. Popai regularly organises workshop and conferences as well as surveys and has a national award competition.

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Blog Posting Number: 474

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Monkey content

Soon a project will be started in which Orang-utans in a wild park in the Netherlands will communicate with their mates in a recovery centre in Borneo (Indonesia) through internet. The primates are a threatened species. In an earlier experiment it was proven that the primates communicated with each other through mirrors. The primates offered each other a banana by pulling leverage, but they expected to get something back for this kindness.

In the internet project the monkeys living in a Dutch park can offer their counterparts living in a recovery centre in Indonesia a banana by pressing on a banana image on a touch screen. The objective of the project is twofold:
- it is therapy for the intelligent animals which are threatened with extinction by cutting rain forests, eating of bush meat and the rise of the palm oil plantations;
- The initiative will draw attention to the plight of the animals.

The project is a co-operation between a primate park in Apeldoorn in The Netherlands and a recovery centre on the island of Borneo in Indonesia. On both sides a broadband infrastructure has been laid and monkey proof computers are in production.

For intelligent primates the content of the project is very low. Just pressing on an image of a banana is a basic drill often used in education. Of course it will take some time for his fellow primate to understand that a friendly gesture requires a counter gesture, which eventually materialising in a real, not virtual banana.

It will be interesting to learn whether the primates will come beyond the one image exercise. If not there will never be a portfolio of monkey content.

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Blog Posting Number: 473

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Happy birthday PC

It was confusing yesterday. A Dutch radio station and a commercial television station in the Netherlands had contributions about the 25th anniversary of the first PC. But it was today 25 years ago that IBM released its first PC. In 1981 that was a big happening. IBM was the top of the bill in computing; their authority weighed in. Besides IBM bundled an operating system with the PC. This eventually led to an industry standard, via MS-Dos to Windows. The 1981 model, monochrome PC cost approximately $3,000 (U.S.), equivalent to approximately $5,700 (U.S.) in today's dollars. The small number of consumers who opted for a colour monitor and graphics card paid about $4,500 (U.S.). Time magazine chose the "personal computer" as its 1982 Man of the Year.

Long before (in computer terms) I already worked on a personal computer which had the fabulous name Superbrain. In fact I got a Superbrain unit in 1980. You would not believe it now. It had a memory of 32KB and two 5.25" 180KB floppy drives. On order to run it, you needed the operating system CPM/2.2. It had a text editor, which was replaced by Wordstar. Instructors attempted to teach me the program Spreadsheet, the precursor of Excel. It had also a terminal emulator named Kermit for online. In the VNU lab, VNU Database Publishing International (VNU DPI) we could play with the machines and get familiar with the applications.

The first machine I owed myself was a Zenith Model 100, a portable with a screen of eight lines and an internal memory of 40K. It was a beautiful, very portable machine, which I used while I was in the hospital in 1983 and in the London underground, which must have been a strange sight at that time. Despite the 40K internal memory, I wrote a book on it, regularly downloading the chapters to the Superbrain. I still have the machine and it is still in working condition. I recently found back the complementary bra-shaped modem. I did not attempt an online session.

I never had an original IBM PC. Since 1986 I have had several stand alone clones and now I work on a Dell.

BTW The IBM PC did have the codename Acorn, a name which was in 1982 given to the PC used in the BBC computing program.

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Blog Posting Number 472

Friday, August 11, 2006

Analysis of a newspaper dying

The Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (AD) used to be a national newspaper. Its profile was that of a popular newspaper, the second after De Telegraaf. It was part of the PCM newspaper group, the owner of NRC Handelsblad, de Volkskrant, Trouw and some regional newspapers.

But AD lost a lot of subscribers (newspapers in the Netherlands are hardly sold on the street), which led to the usual actions of dismissing personnel and pimping up the strong points, in this case sports. A daily sports section was introduced, but it did not stop the rot.

By 2004 PCM was ready to start administering the last rites for this newspaper. But an intervention from Wegener brought another perspective. The Dutch publisher of regional newspapers had also a problem with its circulation. So a combination paper was dreamt up with AD as the figure head. The newspaper would have a national edition and seven regional editions. Wegener would take 37 percent in the venture and PCM would have the lion’s share.

A year ago AD was launched with a lot of enthusiasm and a new tabloid face. A loss of some subscribers of the national AD edition and the seven regional editions was expected, but this would stabilise; at least this is what the owners thought. By the beginning of January 2006 the owners expected to have had the worst part and hope that they would grow from 550.000 copies upwards. Cost cutting measures were taken and a regional section, which could be taken out, was introduced.

But AD and the regional editions did not grow. Worst of all the newspapers did not pick up enough advertisements either. It was logical that the newspapers would loose subscribers, but as far as advertisements AD and the regional newspapers thought to have a strong proposition: national coverage with regional penetration. But the advertisers would not have it. They clearly indicated that the newspaper was neither a national nor a regional newspaper.

This week partner in the AD venture, Wegener, announced heavy losses, partly caused by the AD joint venture. And again another cost cutting exercise was announced: 75 more journalists to be dismissed. In the meantime vultures (local newspaper initiatives in Rotterdam and Utrecht) are appearing on the horizon, promising to create more regional newspapers.

It is clear that the formula of a national newspaper with regional newspapers does not work. Internet was seen as a supporting act for these newspapers, but despite its popularity, it does not bring in money. So, is there any medicine other than the cost cutting for the terminally ill patient? Not much. The company can attempt to stress more the regional advertisements (go to the butcher around the corner) and upgrade its general offer to the advertisers, if they still consider newspapers a real channel. The editorial staffs should understand that they should be serving their regional readers by positioning the newspaper as a regional paper and of course with more and better regional news. Of course the newspaper management should have also understood the signs of the time and have forged bonds with regional television and radio stations.

When AD was launched last year, I wrote in a blog posting that they formula of AD would not make it. AD is now a terminally ill patient. The venture failed on two accounts: a loss of subscribers as the newspaper did not pay enough attention to the region and an unexpected loss of advertisers. Drastic medicines are needed, while the reverend (Montgomery?) waits in the wings to administer the last rites to AD and Wegener.

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Blog Posting Number: 471

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Your favourite newspaper worldwide

From the newswire I picked up the announcement that NewspaperDirect Inc., the worldwide news-on-demand printer, announced that it has signed an agreement with Beijing Founder Easiprint Co. Ltd. (Founder). The Chinese company will enable, for the first time, foreign newspapers to be printed in the People's Republic of China. The agreement provides Founder with distribution and printing rights throughout China for all NewspaperDirect's hundreds of print-on-demand newspaper titles. Both companies see the agreement as an important step in opening the country to foreign media, especially in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Starting in August 2006, NewspaperDirect and Founder will be providing overseas business people visiting or living in the world's fastest-growing economy with same-day access to their favourite newspapers. Through this agreement, Founder Easiprint's rapidly growing chain of over 200 franchised print shops in China will be authorized to print any of the titles published by NewspaperDirect's publishing partners such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune (USA), The Times, The Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph (UK), Le Monde, Le Figaro (France), Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung (Germany), Neue Zurcher Zeitung (Switzerland), Mainichi Shimbun (Japan), The Globe and Mail and National Post (Canada).

The news item made me wonder what had happened to such Dutch adventure. After some Googling I found the company. It was PEPC Worldwide, a European company based in the Netherlands. This company had developed an interactive Newspaper Kiosk that digitally prints the latest editions of publisher's newspapers on customer's demand. These International Newspaper Kiosks are installed at high traffic international venues such as hotel lobbies, airport concourses and convention centres. I see the same portfolio of newspaper titles popping up in their press releases and interviews as the portfolio of NewspaperDirect. In one of the interviews I also saw the name of Rob Dorpmans, a former colleague. He has been CEO of PEPC Worldwide, when it started to expand.

But I also noticed that PEPC was acquired by a Nevada company and had changed its name into Satellite Newspapers. The company has two products:
-- The Satellite Newspaper KiOSK: an automated free-standing kiosk that enables readers to select and print leading newspapers in the newspaper's original layout within two minutes. KiOSKs are currently found throughout Europe, Asia Pacific, the South Pacific, and the Middle East.
-- The Satellite Newspaper CLiENT: a user-friendly software application that enables users to print the latest edition of international newspapers from their own PC, either one copy at a time or in bulk.

I have always wondered how profitable this business is as it is basically middle-man business. Prices typically ranging from only $2.65 to $6.50 per copy. And newspapers want to have their share of it. In terms of portfolio of titles there is not much distinction as newspaper companies are always willing to experiment and distribute. So it is difficult for the distribution companies to compete on exclusivity. Remains competition in the kiosk points. Getting an agreement with a Chinese company is impressive. But if that company has only 200 distribution points, the business will not be great. Of course selling through hotel chains makes the marketing easy and distinct.

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Blog Posting Number: 470

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

@Home launches TV channel for and by viewers

After the slogan: every can be a publisher, now the slogan everyone a broadcaster can be a broadcaster can be introduced. The Dutch network operator @Home, part of the Essent Kabelcom group, is launching a TV channel, named ZiZone which will be filled with movies and television programs produced by subscribers to @Home. (If you look atr the site, you will notice that the site is still under construction; one could not wait with the press release…)

The service follows the pattern of YouTube, Video Google as well as some Dutch services such as Shoobidoo of KPN and the recently launched VideoTalent by the broadcasting station NCRV. Anyone can enter a movie, which will be made available on the site. This pattern has become fashion on internet. CurrentTV started the fashion on cable. And this idea has now been partly copied in the Netherlands by @Home. The network operator claims in the press release that ZiZone is a “next generation video site… unique in Europe”; the usual press release whipped cream, I would say.

People will be able to enter movies through internet. By entering the producer might be selected to have his/her movie broadcasted on the cable network. Viewers will vote to see their favourites on Dutch cable on the channel TV Digitaal. As Dutch cable channels are seen as television channels, they have to follow regulations. As such @Home will be unable to have a full television counterpart of its internet ZiZone. Essent Kabelcom will bundle four or five of the favourite movies in a carousel of about 20 minutes and show them to the 200.000 subscribers to the digital television channel TV Digitaal (out of the 1,8 million analogue cable subscribers)

The site has been produced by the video company Brevidius Multi-Media Projects, which also takes care of the hosting. Brevidius is an old hand at multimedia video projects. Together with @Home, it takes editorial responsibility for ZiZone

Any one can produce a take-off on an advertisement or weather news or give an impression of his/her holidays. Movies will be put in categories. For the time being movies will be uploaded through internet. But if ZiZone is a success @Home will also start to upload movies produced with a mobile telephone/handy/cell phone.

Like the other sites mentioned, ZiZone is another expression of citizens’ entertainment and journalism. Although entertainment is most in the foreground, also serious television journalism can be practised. On the internet site the movies can be called up ad random. On a television channel, not analogue, but digital, only 20 minutes has been reserved for showing citizens entertainment and journalism. It looks like ZiZone makes a safe start.

The service has been launched by @Home, part of Essent Kabelcom. This company has just been acquired by venture capitalists and will be merged with the cable operator Casema. It is not known whether ZiZone on TV Digitaal will be offered to digital TV subscribers of Casema.

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Blog Posting Number 469

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

KPN’s triple play will take time

The third leg of the Dutch incumbent telco KPN’s triple play experiences some difficulties. KPN had promised a national service by the second half of 2006, but told the press that it would be 2007 when national roll-out would be realised.

KPN decided in 2005 to go the triple play way. The company had almost everything it needed in order to realise its strategy: Internet ADSL. But the company had to start building up its expertise in the television field. It used to have, as the cable company Casema was part of it, but had to split off for monopoly reasons. Its only foothold in the television was a department taking care of broadcast transmission facilities. So when KPN decided that it was going to be a triple play company, it started to move fast.

KPN had bought a share in the digital terrestrial broadcast service Digitenne as it was also the partner that would deliver the transmission facilities. Digitenne was a joint venture of the Dutch broadcast companies and the broadcast antenna park Nozema. When that company went on sale, KPN was there to acquire it as part of its triple play policy. However the acquisition is moving slower than expected and now causes a slow-down for KPN on the introduction of the national digital television network.

In the meantime KPN has worked on its content side. It has developed the service KPN Mine, which has agreements with 60 television channels and 70 radio channels. This portfolio is larger that the portfolio’s of the cable companies, which usually have less than 40 television channels (I have 32 television channels and 39 radio channels; but who has time to see them all). There is an on-demand service with some 500 movies delivered by Warner Bros and Blockbuster Entertainment. In the second quarter of 2006 KPN had 230.000 subscribers; a rise of 23.000 subscribers.

It will be quite a job for KPN to fight the cable operators as KPN is still seen as a telecom company and not a television company or combined telecom and television company. In order to get subscriptions in it will have to use all the present clients it has already in ADSL (1,9 million), VOIP (156.000) and mobile (8,3 million). Of course the fixed line subscribers still form a large group of potential triple players to be addressed. But given the fact that most of them do not have an ADSL subscription with them will be a difficulty. Besides the fixed line business of KPN is declining as they lost 253.000 subscribers in the last half-year, of which 165.000 clients in the second quarter.

The delay of the national roll-out is no good news for KPN. For the cable operators it is good news as they can organise themselves better after the acquisitions (Multikabel, Casema, Essent Kabelcom). Also the common promotion of the cable operators Cable Digital can be prolonged.

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Blog Posting Number: 468

Monday, August 07, 2006

Of e-Books and digital paper (22)

I had a visit from a friend/client last week. He is working in the helicopter development and concerned with manuals and technical parts. I showed him the iLiad, the white and black text reader and despite the fact that I had kept him informed, the guy went crazy, when he saw and felt the real thing.

Helicopter business is a complex area with electrical systems, electronics, hydraulic systems; you name it. In order to have all information handy while working on a machine and save the remarks, it is ideal to have a portable source.
One of the major requirements is also the versioning: what is the latest version and who produced it.

So he had a look at the iLiad as I received it, without a sample of technical information. But the presentation was convincing enough for him to start talks about experimenting and think about the future. We will start with loading up a technical manual and test this. Soon after that experiment, we will start loading up a database and make this one available through a Wifi connection. This should be interesting in order to test the use of the iLiad in a workshop on the floor.

Talking about the present model of the iLiad for use in a workshop, he made a valuable remark. In order to fully functional in his environment, the device should exist of two connected tablets: one for illustrations and one for text. This is interesting. In the early days of the second e-book wave I have seen such a model (see photograph). At that moment I thought that the developers were imitating a printed book. But now I see this in another light. Of course the development of a two pages tablet is another project.

All in all, my friend was so impressed, that we decided to start the experiments in September. It will be interesting to see how the iLiad will work with technical manuals and databases. In the meantime I will start copying Word and PDF material to the iLiad in order to show people how readable the iLiad is.

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Blog Posting Number: 467

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Sunday, August 06, 2006

WWW 15 years

Today the World Wide Web exists 15 years. According to W3C, on August 6, 1991, Tim Berners Lee, send the file below on the world wide web to the newsgroup alt.Hypertext:

Hypertext links enabling retrieval from multiple heterogeneous sources of information?

The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow links to be made to any information anywhere. The address format includes an access method (=namespace), and for most name spaces a hostname and some sort of path.

We have a prototype hypertext editor for the NeXT, and a browser for line mode terminals which runs on almost anything. These can access files either locally, NFS mounted, or via anonymous FTP. They can also go out using a simple protocol (HTTP) to a server which interprets some other data and returns equivalent hypertext files. For example, we have a server running on our mainframe (http://cernvm.cern.ch/FIND in WWW syntax) which makes all the CERN computer center documentation available. The HTTP protocol allows for a keyword search on an index, which generates a list of matching documents as annother virtual hypertext document.

If you're interested in using the code, mail me. It's very prototype, but available by anonymous FTP from info.cern.ch. It's copyright CERN but free distribution and use is not normally a problem.

The NeXTstep editor can also browse news. If you are using it to read this, then click on this: to find out more about the project. We haven't put the news access into the line mode browser yet.

We also have code for a hypertext server. You can use this to make files available (like anonymous FTP but faster because it only uses one connection). You can also hack it to take a hypertext address and generate a virtual hypertext document from any other data you have - database, live data etc. It's just a question of generating plain text or SGML (ugh! but standard) mark-up on the fly. The browsers then parse it on the fly.

The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data. Collaborators welcome! I'll post a short summary as a separate article.


Tim Berners-Lee
World Wide Web project
CERN
1211 Geneva 23, Switzerland
timbl@info.cern.ch
Tel: +41(22)767 3755
Fax: +41(22)767 7155
(usual disclaimer)

When I was in Geneva in 2003 at the World Summit on the Information Industry, I had a chance to photograph the Next computer on which the www code was developed.

(Collection Jak Boumans)

BTW I have not tested the 1991 e-mail address of Tim Berners Lee yet.

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Blog Posting Number: 466