Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Our helpdesk system detected some urgency in your request, Sir"

Nice technology scoop from my alma mater, Groningen University, or rather: from one of its technology spinoffs, Sound Intelligence.

SI specializes in intelligent automatic sound recognition. Its sound sensors can be programmed to distinguish between a smooth-running engine and one with worn-out parts, or to recognize the sound of breaking glass or other burglary-related noises.

The technique is so robust that it can do all this even when the progammed sound is 'drowned out' by background or other noise. The company's current hot item is the 'Agression Detector', a security camera that can detect whether human sounds are produced by aggressive or non-aggressive individuals, and swivel and focus on aggressors in a crowd. An experiment in Groningen's city centre has just been succesfully concluded.

For a Direct Marketing mind, no more cues are needed. I can picture a host of applications here, from prioritizing support requests in a helpdesk's voicemail box to intelligent voice response systems. (No, that is not necessarily a contradiction in terms.)

Venture capital firms are kindly request to leave a comment with this post. You will be contacted as soon as possible.

Finally: competition for the world's poorest customers

It's a good thing when the likes of Nicholas Negroponte and Bill Gates start to devote part of their considerable resources to fighting poverty by bringing things like affordable laptops and proper healthcare to the Third World.

But novel as these admirable initiatives may sound, they still boil down to traditional charity. Negroponte doesn't want his laptop to cost less than $100 to keep the sales price down: he wants to keep the costs down of giving them away. Ditto the Bill&Melissa Gates Foundation with its future cures for infectious diseases.

A small niggling voice inside me that charity, even this new kind of charity, brings short-term relief rather than long-term development. You don't help people by giving them things, you help them by developing the instincts to get these things for themselves. Microcredit, for instance, its that bill perfectly.

So it's promising and refreshing to see how a large and wealthy corporation like Microsoft is now actually starting to compete for the nearly three billion potential consumers. After Negroponte's choice for Linux as the designated $100 laptop OS, Microsoft has gone out of its way to promote a competing initiative centered around the cellular phone, turning it into a computer with the help of a cheap adapter, a keyboard and a TV.

The world's largest corporations genuinely competing to become low-cost suppliers to the poorest prospects in the world: let's hope this is the beginning of a worldwide trend.

Mobile payments: Japan leads the way

More mobile marketing news from Japan, where it all seems to be happening: the official introduction of Mobile Suica, a service that enables Japanese consumers to pay with a wave of their handphones things ranging from Japan Rail train tickets to fast food and electronics goods.

The six handset models that were promised to work with the service as announced last month now turn out to have become a full dozen, from providers NTT DoCoMo and KDDI. Unfortunately, three more Vodafone handsets that also support the technology are not (yet?) supported.

This will not stand in the way of a substantial increase in mobile payments in Japan, though. The number of Suica compatible handsets sold by DoCoMo alone has passed the 10 million mark.

Zip my colours, please

The impact of Quick Response codes for response generation in marketing cannot be exaggerated. In future they will become the supreme drivers for consumer response, from information requests to buying decisions.

QR codes, the squiggly blach-and-white squares, can already be seen on posters, theatre tickets, name cards and even on boarding passes.

But even before QR's widespread acceptation a sucessor has `already been announced: the Colorzip code. Colorzips are a Korean development, started six years ago at Yonsei University. They are now the de facto code reading standard in Korea, and are being introduced in Japan as we speak.

The greatest advantage of colorzips is their design flexibility: instead of being confined to squiggles or squares, colorzips can be morphed into any form that contains colour codes, and still be easily readable. The same goes for printing them on textured or flexible surfaces such as T-shirts or shopping bags, or even showing them on TV screens, not to mention mobile phones and other gadgets. In addition they can contain a lot more information than the QR codes' usual 300 characters.

Will colorzips become the new standards? To be continued.

(Thanks Douwe and Molblog.)

Programmable electronic computer now 62 years old

On 31 January 1944 the first programmable electronic computer in the world, the Colossus Mark I, was installed in the British cryptographers' headquarters in Bletchley Park.

It had been constructed over the previous ten months by Tommy Flowers, at the British Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill in North London, for the purpose of breaking German cypher codes.

Colossus predated its more famous cousin ENIAC by two years. The machine operated on 1,500 vacuum tubes (ENIAC would use around 18,000) and was programmed by paper tape which was optically read. Because of the fragility of the vacuum tubes, the machines, once turned on, were never powered down until the World War's end.

The machine helped the Allied Forces win the war, and in honour of that a replica was built in 2003, which can still be admired at the Bletchley Park Museum.

In Search of Evilness

You've got to hand it to them: Google did it again.

After single-handedly innovating the worlds of search, advertising, webmail and just about all other things internet, Google has now handed business consultancy it's biggest innovation since Tom Peters wrote 'In Search of Excellence".

McKinsey&Company have recalled their regional heads for a worldwide meeting, as a new standard slide has to be added to all the consultancy's future reports: the Evilness Chart.

I can't help but wondering if the chart was also used to determine Google's refusal to hand over search data to the US federal Government.

Monday, January 30, 2006

It's about time

Did you ever realize? Someone asks you the time, you look at your wrist and answer. But the answer you give is never precisely what you see. It's always "five o'clock", or "a bit past five". Unless you're German or otherwise anally focused, of course.

Design company Talus have finally come up with a watch design that tells you the time exactly like you tell others. This is a really cool idea.

Of course, given the current comeback of mechanical timepieces, a version powered by a mechanical high-end movement would be even cooler. IWC, Ulysse Nardin, where are you?

UPDATE: For our more anal readers, not to worry: by clicking the crown the watch toggles between 'about time' and exact time, showing hours, minutes and seconds (Thanks Norman for pointing out the omission.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

White-shirted student activist morphs into white-shirted middle-aged tourist

Google's much-criticized announcement to start a censored search engine in China has given rise to a new national sports: doing parallel searches on both Google.com and Google.cn and comparing the results.

And of course the discrepancies are huge, at least if you choose some nicely controversial keywords.

Here's what you get when you do an image search for 'tiananmen' on Google.com, and here are the corresponding Google.cn results. Americans get 22,400 images, with the first results pages dominated by the famous tank column being stopped by a white-shirted activist. Chinese only get 414, barely 2%, of these, mostly tourists' holiday snapshots on the famous square.

The picture with the white-shirted tourist above is result #29 on .com, #2 on .cn. Wonder if it's the same guy.

"Next time you break into our database, could you please leave the Californians alone?"

On Thursday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and consumer targeting information company ChoicePoint reached a landmark $15 million settlement for endangering the privacy of more than 160,000 consumers in February 2005.

The settlement includes a $10 million fine, the largest so far for a privacy breach.

A further $5 million is set aside by ChoicePoint to compensate consumers who fell victim to identity theft as a result of the breach. Since the FTC said 800 consumers ended up being victimized, this settlement sets an interesting benchmark of around $60,000 per record for privacy breach compensation where marketing data are involved.

ChoicePoint's database was compromised by criminals who set up fraudulous accounts that enabled them to access 162,000 records. Interestingly the whole affair only came to light because ChoicePoint had to comply with California's 2003 disclosure law, requiring the company to disclose security breaches to state residents whose information has been affected.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

2005 Not too dumb a year for DM

The 101 Dumbest Moments in Business for 2005 are out, and as always they make quite funny reading. For Direct Marketing aficionados, here's a small selection of DM related bloopers and their rankings.

#8: The hazards of voice response
Anheuser runs the "Mr Discount-Airline-Pilot-Guy" ad and AirTran Marketing Director Tad Hutcheson feels insulted. Tad calls the brewer, gets put on hold and is forced to listen endlessly to a loop containing the offensive ad. AirTran threatens to de-list Budweiser.

#51: The hazards of Deceased Do-Not-Contact lists
The Direct Marketing Association decides to charge the deceased $1 for making the list. The bereaved object.

#64: The hazards of renting 3rd party lists
Standard procedure should always be screening against a hoax name list. JPMorgan apparently doesn't know this and manages to send a credit card offer to an Arab American man, addressed to 'Palestinian Bomber.' No comment.

#98: The hazards of database analysis
Mail order company eZiba runs itself into the ground by doing a database analysis and subsequently mailing its catalogue to the least likely responders instead of the most likely ones. Great analysis job, though!

Only 4 out of 101, and not even the highest rankings: 2005 was all in all not a bad year for DM. Then again, ChoicePoint's security breach that endangered the privacy of over 160,000 people, resulting in the identity theft of 800 of them apparently didn't make the 2005 dumb list.

Given that it's only January and we already saw nearly half a million people's records lost or stolen from employees' cars, this year's start isn't exactly promising. Let's hope for the best.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Data protection? You mean we have to lock our cars?

It's been a bad week for privacy and data protection in the US.

Yesterday Providence Home Services, a Portland, Oregon healthcare provider, confessed that 365,000 patients' records have been stolen from an employee's car on New Year's Eve, four weeks ago. The data included about 250,000 Social Security numbers. Apparently the disks and tapes that held the data were sitting in the car as part of a routine precaution against data centre disasters. The procedure has now been changed.

And the day before Minneapolis-based financial services firm Ameriprise reported the theft of another 226,000 customer records, also late last month. These data too were stolen from an employee's car.

These are serious numbers, from serious companies who should know better. Ameritrust is a recent American Express spinoff. But the most striking part is the apparent carelessness with which the most sensitive types of data - healthcare, finance, and Social Security numbers - are apparently routinely taken off site, in laptops or on media, and left around in cars and God knows where else.


Gates + Davos = Predictions

What the bell did to Pavlov's dog, the World Economic Forum apparently does to Bill Gates: trigger an autonomous reaction. Either that, or it's the Swiss mountain air.

Either way, when Bill goes to Davos, you may hold your breath: come rain, come shine, there will be predictions. But although he's easily the most succesful entrepreneur in the world his track record in making predictions is less than stellar.

His forecast of spam's defeat in two years' time being proven false just four days ago apparently did not deter him from predicting victory over software piracy in China and India. In a speech at the WEF Bill Gates claimed to be optimistic about China and India becoming more licence-friendly, comparing the situation in those countries to Taiwan and Korea a few years ago.

Mr Gates is becoming a bit more careful at the future-betting game, though. This time he predicted victory in ten years, rather than two. Watch this space on January 27th, 2016.

George Washington's long tail

Remember Where's George? Fill in the number of your dollar bill, where you got it and where you are now.

With enough participation bills will surface every now and then, and you'll be able to track your bill's circulation in space and time. Cute.

That was five-odd years ago, and Where's George lived happily ever after. But now George's saga is getting a new twist. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen, Germany, are now proposing to use George's database to predict the spread of infectious diseases like bird flu. The researchers have developed a mathematical model that uses human travel to plot the future course of pandemics, but lack a sufficiently robust database of human movements. According to recent analysis George's database of 50 million dollar banknotes seems to be the next best thing.

Interesting development at a time when business models are increasingly judged on the length of their tails.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Brin to blogosphere: "Forget about Don't Be Evil. We're now going for Do Be Practical"

Add transparency to hypocrisy and what do you get? Sergei Brin in Davos.

Asked about Googles decision to launch a censored search service in China in the margin of the World Economic Forum meeting he's attending, Brin defended it explaining: "I don't like it either but in the end we decided less information is better than no information."

Brin admitted critics of the decision do have a point, but, he said: "France and Germany require censorship for Nazi sites, and the U.S. requires censorship based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). These various countries also have laws on child pornography."

That's an interesting ethical shortcut. Brin basically says "China thinks human rights are evil, France and Germany think Nazis are evil, the US think child pornography and violating copyrights is evil. What am I to think?"

Nice try, Sergei.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Suggested new motto: "Don't Be Hypocrites"

As of today, it's official. Google's "Don't Be Evil" motto has withered in the face of China's opposition against maintaining any type of human rights within the Middle Kingdom's borders.

Today Google announced the Chinese version of their search page, which promises to censor any reference to obscenities like democracy, porn, and human rights. In addition Google have decided not to introduce Blogger and Gmail in China, just to avoid finding itself in the position of having to hand over personal data to the Chinese government.

Microsoft and Yahoo had already succumbed to similar Chinese pressure by censoring search results and even by handing over independent-minded journalists to their jailers respectively, but let's face it - these two companies never plastered the frickin' motto all over their Investor Relations pages.

Google did, and it just turned out to be an empty promise in the face of 'political realities'. Makes you wonder if Google will grant future Chinese requests for search data, or if they'll stand fast like they did against the US government's recent porn fishing expedition.

My advice: don't hold your breath.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"I used to give iPods for Valentine. Now I give Valentines to my iPod"

Things are getting out of hand.

A little while ago we predicted tech is the new bling. Bear in mind this is all about using tech to look cool and sexy, people.

It's not, repeat, not about dressing up your iPod for Valentine. So get out there, bling up and find a real person to talk to!

Singapore forecasts 'sell' rating for eBay

Blog shops are conquering Asia.

Not only shopping paradise Singapore but also technology-savvy Japan see the rise of small online shops, created by posting articles, descriptions and prices on the web by using a simple blog interface. All you need is a digital camera, PC and internet connection, and you're in business. Literally.

Does eBay need to start worrying?

Source: Straits Times

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bill and bets: two down, one to go

During his regular appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos Bill Gates likes to make a prediction or two.

One of these made headlines all over the world: spam would be solved in two years' time. That was on January 23rd, 2004, exactly two years ago. Ah, well.

One year later, on January 29th, Bill was doing his 'Davos thing' again. “I’m short the dollar,” he said in an interview with TV host Charlie Rose. “The ol’ dollar, it’s gonna go down.” The dollar was worth 77 Eurocents at the time. It's 81 today. Can't win'em all, Bill.

Back to Davos 2004, where Bill made a second prediction. This one, a bit less publicized, was about Google. A "pretty good" competitor with a "high level of IQ", Bill said, but "we will catch them."

No two years' time span on this one. And hopefully for Bill, a bit more accurate than the other two.

American marketers taking Year of the Dog extremely serious

It was unavoidable: a mobile phone for pets. PetsMobility from Scottsdale, Arizona, has developed a bone shaped device that sits on your favourite canine's collar.

The phone has a 'Call Owner' button in case it ends up with strangers (or in case your dog's clever enough to use it himself - ya never know) and an auto answer function that can filter out calls from other numbers than your own. So your dog isn't in jeopardy of auto answering telemarketing calls, I guess. It can still receive them, though, as the phone has its own number. So you'll have to register your dog to the Do Not Call Registry as well, it seems.

Still, one wonders why the thing has the shape of a bone. For meeting other dogs, perhaps? A good thing it's waterproof, then.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

22 Years ago today: first sighting of Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field

A historic moment in the history of ICT and one of the most famous (some would say infamous) TV commercials of all time was the '1984' Macintosh launch ad.

The commercial cost $1.6 million to produce, and Apple paid another $500,000 for the 45 seconds of airtime. It ran only once, during the third quarter of the January 22nd, 1984 Superbowl, and it marked a seminal moment in personal computing history.

It was also the first public sighting of Steve Jobs' Reality Distortion Field, a phenomenon that was known at Apple since 1981 and still is annually on display at Apple's MacWorld Expo.

"We wanted to do a promotion but we're not really sure we want any response"

SMRT, Singapore's dominant public transport and taxi operator, clearly hasn't figured out how to do SMS promotions.

This ad in SMRT's subway trains tells you how to participate by sending an SMS with your taxi's licence plate number, receipt number, journey start date & time, and your passport or identity card number. Seriously. The ad even gives an example how simple such an SMS would look: SMRT, SHB1234A, 999, 011105, 1033, S77712345A.

Let's just hope SMRT didn't deploy too many extra taxis to cope with promotional demand...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Reincarnated Liberace sighted in Hong Kong

And here I thought very little had happened in grand piano design for the last century or so. How wrong can one be.

This Schimmel Pegasus Grand Piano was on display in a shop in Hong Kong's Times Square. It's a Colani design, done completely in high-gloss automobile lacquer (complete with American 60s type hood ornament - seriously) and according to Schimmel's website it's available in the standard grand piano colours jet black and mother-of-pearl white.

Trust a Hong Kong firm to order one in Ferrari red, of course.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

I, for one, welcome our new spiritual overlords

When analysts start to predict that Google's stock price may hit $2000 you don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the hype around Google is on its way to become a craze.

But when reputable business magazines like The Economist start comparing Google to a religion, calling The Algorithm its God and St Lawrence of Google its Prophet, you just know you have a craze of mythical proportions on your hand. The Economist even speculates that Larry and Sergei are on a holy mission to change the world with all their billions of dollars.

Pulling billioms of dollars out of the market in order to start a religion might even become a trend. At least that's what the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi must've thought when he started his latest campaign, asking the world for nothing less than 10 trillion dollars. Buy one or more shares for $50,000 each and you'll be part of the Maharishi's global initiative to eliminate poverty.

Guess I'd rather put my money on the Religion of the Omniscient and Omnipotent Algorithm, as The Economist calls it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Thanks, I'd rather live online

You live in a dorm with many others, and there's never a moment of privacy. You have almost no free spending money, and can afford very little luxury. You go to university in a city where real estate prices have gone through the roof, and owning or renting an apartment is a distant opportunity. So you go online.

This is, in short, the explanation for the wild success of Chinese website iPartment. iPartment is an online world where you can find an apartment, find someone to share it with and go and live there happily ever after.

And that's exactly what about half a million Chinese 18-25 year olds have done since the site's launch in July 2005. Couples spend time in their apartment, chatting in relative privacy, decorating it with furniture and luxury goods, or taking care of their pets. Stuff, pets and petfood can be bought at the site for a small fee.

Participants seem to love this cheap, commitment-free life and often spend hours a day on the site. The site turns a handy, though unreported, profit. This is China, after all.

You don't find the combination of low-income, internet-savvy youths in many other places, but I can't help but wonder if we'll see this phenomenon pop up elsewhere.

For Your Eyes Only: James Bond meets Star Trek

You can fill an entire conference these days with wearable electronics and other stuff that makes you look like one of the bad guys in Star Trek.

But this one I couldn't resist posting: video glasses that generate the sensation of a 42" LCD screen right in front of your eyes.

Why is posting this so irresistible? Not sure. Maybe it's the ridiculous idea that some people will shell out more than 500 bucks for a gadget that's outright dangerous to wear. Or maybe it's because the thing makes you look like one of those criminal suspects whose eyes have been covered in a newspaper photograph.

Or else it's the press photo, another splendid proof that Bling is King and the iPod is the ultimate Bling.

Microsoft and Google kick off convergence between internet and mass media

What promises to be the 21st century titan's fight over online media between Microsoft and Google has hardly begun, and already it's spilled over to the airwaves.

Last Thursday Microsoft showed a demo with a new technology enabling viewers of online video to click on objects they see on the screen, taking them immediately to ads for relevant products. The guys in Redmond also announced heavy investments in their newly formed adCenter Incubation Lab, which will concentrate Microsoft's research into advanced advertising technologies.

And an hour ago Google finally gave us an idea about the way they're going to spend all those billions in cash, by announcing the acquisition of radio advertising company dMarc Broadcasting.

dMarc connects advertisers to radio stations through an automated platform. Google wants to integrate this technology into their AdWords programme, which basically does the same for websites. In the near future Google's AdWord clients will be able to buy both online and radio advertising from one single source.

This is not just a skirmish any more. Google will overpay up to $1.2 billion for dMarc, a company that was formed as recent as 2004, in a deal worth $29 million. And this is just the beginning...

Monday, January 16, 2006

Moonrise over flight SQ5902

Not bad for a camera phone, eh?

Traditional marketing in high-tech city

Singapore, Chinatown. Midnight shopping madness in the run-up to Chinese New Year. A nice and refreshing change from glitzy high-rise shopping centres full of gadgets and luxury brands.

It's the middle of the night, but it could just as well be the middle of the day. Keong Saik Road has been turned into a crowded market that offers everything you need to celebrate the beginning of the Year of the Dog.

Lucky bamboo

Orange trees, for prosperity

Would you think red...

...and gold are the dominant Chinese New Year colours?

Special offer: not 3 for $30, not 2 for $20, but 1 for $10? Somebody needs a marketing course, maybe

But don't worry: professional beverage marketers too join the red-and-gold promotional fun

Happy New Year of the Dog!

SMS marketing comme il faut

This comment on my post below about SMS marketing and Cell Broadcasting shows that some companies are actually starting to learn how to use the medium in a consumer-friendly way. Indeed it is the first commercial SMS I ever saw with a proper unsubscribe line. (For those with less than 20/20 vision: 'To Unsub,reply citi_unsub'.)

Applause for Citibank, and thanks Lisa, both for the comment and for forwarding the message.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

They said that about SMS too...

Remember how SMS started? It was only meant to be used by the providers alone, enabling them to send system service messages to users. But soon the users themselves got hold of it, and next thing you know the worldwide number of messages sent annually approaches 1 trillion.

So when I see an increasing number of countries introducing GSM Cell Broadcast (CB), I have mixed feelings. And apparently I'm not the only one. Main question is, will the use of this one-to-many messaging system remain in the hands of network providers, or end up being abused in the way email fell victim to spam?

The Netherlands is the first country to implement the system, with a pilot already underway (in Zoetermeer, of course. It had to there or Apeldoorn) and national coverage expected by the end of 2006. Singapore, which pioneered CB during the 1999 edition of CommunicAsia, is now considering the idea as well (Straits Times, paid access).

Soon coming to a phone near you. Watch your screen.

Singapore Post, You're A Great Way To Shoooop

If you ever tried to shop online in the US from Asia or Europe (and live in Singapore), you'll appreciate Shop@USA, a new and very convenient service from Singapore Post.

E-commerce sites in the US have an annoying tendency to make life difficult for online shoppers from abroad (not counting Canada), either by failing to provide non-US shipping options, or by refusing to accept credit cards issued outside the US.

Personally I find few things more frustrating than going through the complete rigmarole of choosing your items, submitting your shopping basket, filling in your details including your Amex card (AMERICAN Express, for Chrissakes!), only to end up with a message that says non-US credit cards are out of bounds.

Thanks to SingPost, for Singaporeans no more. The Shop@USA website offers a handy combination of 68 US shopping sites, SpeedPost delivery including Track&Trace, and acceptance of just about every online payment method known in Singapore.

Postal operators across Europe and Asia, pay attention: this is an example worth following. Not to mention it's another step towards true global e-commerce.

Bling Is King

The hottest gadget of the moment is without doubt the iPod Nano. And Tokyo is still the fashion capital of Asia. So trendspotters beware: as long as people dress up Nanos like this (thanks Akihabara), you can safely assume bling still rules.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Ogilvy puts DOG on Korean menu

Advertising conglomerate WPP, through their subsidiary Ogilvy, seem to be on a tear in South Korea.

Acquisitions of Korea's #3 ad agency Diamond Ad (website motto: "commingsoon") and 36% of LG Ad, Korea's #2, the latter only weeks ago, are now followed by the announcement of Diamond's integration into Ogilvy Korea, resulting in a new entity branded DOG (Diamond Ogilvy Group).

Apart from the rather curious choice of branding (and Diamond's website suffering from an unlucky combination of Engrish and non-existence), Ogilvy do have a point. South Korea's advertising market is expected to be worth around US$6bn in 2006, making it Asia's #3 market after Japan and China.


Quickly: Sony, Symantec, Apple - which type of evil do they all have in common? Answer: utter disrespect for their customers.

Because that's the only explanation for the lackadaisical attitude all of these otherwise reputable companies display when it comes to consumer privacy. And this is only the last few weeks' harvest.

After Sony's 'rootkit' humiliation followed by Symantec's admission it made the same type of mistake in its Norton SystemWorks software, you'd expect big brand companies would think twice before trampling all over their users' private hard disks again.

No Sir. Now it's Apple who's being caught red-handed while sneakily harvesting information from its unsuspecting users' PCs, and having iTunes send it surreptitiously not only to Apple's iTunes Music Store itself, but to a third party as well.

Sony, Norton, Apple, these are big brands. It's simply astonishing how their owners keep thinking they can get away with the most despiccable privacy violations without endangering their most precious assets: their brands, and their reputation. Here's the mantra: transparency and permission, transparency and permission, transparency and permission.

Repeat after me, Steve: 'I shall not hide in my consumers' closets and I shall not install secret listening devices that transmit their private information without their explicit permission'. Now does that sound so difficult?

R.I.P. Film 1816-2006

January 12th, 2006: another tipping point. This one's in the realm of photography, and it was marked by Nikon's announcement to focus on digital photography and stop producing all but a few of its film cameras.

Nikon's position in photography, as dominant as it is high-profile, marks this step as the end of almost two centuries of image creation based on photosensitive emulsions, starting with Nicéphore Niépce's invention in 1816.

If it weren't for Kodak's unconvincing track record in the early years of digital photography, we would reveringly call this a 'Kodak Moment'.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

'Fatal Error' getting a whole new meaning

April Fool is still a long way off but I had trouble believing my eyes when I saw this harebrained idea: the Windows CE based petrol station. Several nightmare scenarios spring to mind, of which the screen message

Fatal Error
Memory overflow at 000000CE
Hang up your nozzle and reboot

is the least disastrous one.

Tech Cool is on its way

2006 is going to be the year of Tech Cool. If you were in doubt, here is the third pillar under the tech throne: after tech celebrities and tech bling, here is tech fashion.

Forget about things like the Scott eVest (motto: "SeV designs functional and fashionable clothing that's so dorky that it's worn by the Secret Service.") or wearable gadgets that make you look like a Borg. No, I'm talking about the TuneBuckle (motto: "iPod Nano meets low rider") and Levi's newly announced iPod-ready jeans, promising us a virtually invisible Nano docking cradle plus a joystick in the key pocket.

Tip for Steve Jobs: make iPod Nanos QR code compatible. Ticket collectors in Singapore and other tech-savvy places will be extremely grateful. Who wouldn't want to hold a scanner in front of a TuneBuckle?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Let's go to the movies. My phone or yours?

Sistic, Singapore's largest ticketing agent, announced today the start of ticket sales through mobile phones.

"M-tickets", as they are to be called, will be sent via picture messages (MMS) to the buyer's phone. The MMS will show a QR code. The phone can then be held in front of an image scanner at the theater's entrance. Receiving by email and holding up the printout will also be possible.

Nice 'reverse use' of QR codes, eliminating the need of special reader software in people's phones, since only the theatre's scanners need the software now. Sistic intends to roll out a more comprehensive QR based solution with QR codes on ads, posters, flyers or even flashed on TV commercials, by the time phones with QR reader software are commonplace in Singapore.

The article below the illustration explains to the ever-wary Singaporean public that QR coupons are actually more secure than paper ones, which can be copied or reprinted.

Privacy + Secrecy = Stupidity

In November, 2004 PC World lifted the lid on a shady deal between major printer manufacturers and the US Government allowing intelligence services to keep track of who's printing what.

More than a year later the ever-vigilant Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has decoded the secret markings that our colour printers include in every printout. Turns out, it's a storm in a teacup: the codes include date and time of printing and the printer's serial number, allowing the US Secret Service to track down currency counterfeiters. And of course, the secret's out. Bag open, cat gone. The EFF even provides the source code for an automatic decoding program.

This kind of stupidity does more harm than good: it scares the general public into countless conspiracy theories, causes privacy backlashes and is ultimately ineffective. Deals like these always hit the spotlight, sooner or later, after which workarounds for evildoers are a walk in the park. Meanwhile, the public is left behind with an unnerving "Told you so, Big Brother's watching" feeling.

Governments should know better than to succumb to this kind of short-term shrewdness. And companies should pay more attention to consumers' interests, instead of playing along when narrow-minded Government minions come up with silly plots.

Tech Is The New Bling!

Trendwatchers beware: not only are tech celebrities on their way to a screen near you; fashion's on the move too. Slowly but inexorably, hi-tech gadgets are freeing themselves from the curse of institutional beige, neutral grey and fake aluminium.

Of course it all starts with accessorizing: Hitachi deserves top credits for hiting bull's eye with a cool animation celebrating their latest mini HDs (picture shows 8GB version). Nokia, it seems, are finally finding some traction for their silly precious metal handphones.

And then there's PC manufacturer Tulip, who've come up with a $350,000 diamond-studded notebook.

For smaller budgets: 'Pimp my laptop'...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Trend to watch: geek celebrities

Paris Hilton, pack your Gucci bags; Britney Spears, eat your heart out: here come the tech geek celebrities.

The likes of Paris and Britney are out, Steve and Sergei are the new chic. As technology becomes a greater part of our daily lives, tech geeks, the bringers of these blessings, are definitely gaining media visibility. Admittedly there are still some ups and downs and some geek foremen might never get the hang of it, but high tech rockstars like Jobs and Brin certainly fit the bill.

Especially Steve 'Reality Distortion Field' Jobs shows the way in which tomorrow's celebrities will try to manifest themselves. Rather than bumbling across the flickering screen like blonde little Paris, they'll distinguish themselves through meticulously prepared, glitzy software demos.

"You lost your Bluetooth headset WHERE?"

Finally: a Bluetooth earpiece that doesn't make you look like a Borg. The Motorola H5 Miniblue disappears into your ear. More importantly, it contains both a loudspeaker and a microphone, which picks up sounds through your ear canal. The subcutaneously implanted H6 version is foreseen in 2007.

CES: daydreaming about the ideal road warrior's gadget

The final goal is in sight: the ultimate urban nomad's companion. This week's CES reveals three trends that will contribute to the road warrior's ideal:

1. The flexible screen. PlasticLogic announced an E Ink screen in 10" size. That's close to the on-the-road ideal, lightweight and rollable, and uses very little energy.
2. 'Core' notebook processors. Intel announced Yonah, its newest generation of single ("Solo") and dual core ("Duo") notebook processors. Not only are these more energy-friendly - they also provide plenty of scope to build more roadworthy functionality into future processor cores.
3. Instant startup. The last barrier: the endless wait until your laptop has started up. Main raison d'être for using PDAs and smartphones, despite their pathetic little screens. Bill Gates showed the SideShow feature as part of his Vista demo, enabling the user to access contacts, to-do lists, and calendar without having to start the PC. Toshiba has Express Mediaplayer, a similar feature for playing media on its Qosmio notebooks and announced EM's rollout to 80% of its high end notebooks. And HP announced new notebooks with QuickPlay, a similar feature.

Rollable displays with Yonah Duos in the rim, and QuickStart features. Who's going to invent the lightweight mini battery?