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There’s Money In The Middle

In 1997, when WAP was unveiled to the world, the proposed information flow chain neatly stated that content would be provided in wireless markup language (WML), converted to binary WML, sloshed through a WAP Gateway, blown out on cellular networks like GSM, and finally sucked into and displayed on mobile telephone handsets.

Customers who were even able to get the first WAP phones (many models were late in rollout) complained bitterly of slow speeds, caused not just by the service but also by the devices themselves. The over-hyping of WAP, especially in Q1 2000 and Q2 2000, and subsequent disappointing offerings nearly put the nail in WAP’s coffin, from a marketing standpoint.

More significant than the slowness, however, is the fact that with the wireless Internet there are heaps of different devices to format for, and WAP-oriented content providers have the not insignificant task of managing two content formats, one in HTML and one in WML.

Problems aside, WAP probably isn’t going anywhere, at least for the next few years, simply because of device penetration: millions of WAP handsets are already in the hands of users, and new GPRS (general packet radio system) or 3G-enabled terminals will need time to run their product lifecycle from early adopter high-fallutin’ business people, through to the kids in the discos to, well, my mother.

New solutions So as mobile data delivery moves from phone handsets to “terminals”, competing browser protocols and devices will come and go in the coming years. Getting content to all the different devices is still the challenge and there are lots of ways to do it.

Take a straight “delivery system” such as AvantGo, which is purely infrastructure: companies use it to extend their content or applications to a mobile device, by compressing image size and format and optimizing layout for the device requesting the information. It also manages offline versus online content, letting devices with always-on connections browse at will but caching entire sites locally for people with dial-up connections.

That’s a straight compression solution and many in the industry say that “trans-coding” (conversion) of one form or another will be the way to go in the future. Because legacy content isn’t just HTML (it’s often in the form of Word, Quark XPress, flatfiles and PDFs) software that trancodes or converts from old formats to new ones is hot these days, with dozens of startups saying they can do it better than anyone else. Those companies will undoubtedly get shaken out, and some clear winners will emerge in the next year or so. More interesting than them, however, is the coding method and the process used.

As we have seen, the darling of the “do-it-all-code” pack has been XML (extensible markup language). While HTML, the markup language of the Internet, allows control over the appearance of content, such as for bold (the command for a bold typeface), XML allows markup that describes the content itself, such as Le Grove.

The beauty of XML, and XLST, the stylesheets that control how XML can be presented on a page, is that they create a single source of uniformly-formatted data from existing content, which can in turn be squeezed out into whatever flavor you want – HTML, WML, nML and so on.

A new data chain So the new chain of data goes from legacy content to content conversion; to the generic, XML-ized content; to a content gateway, which takes the XML and converts it to both device and code-specific content based on the type of device requesting the data; to the protocol gateway, which negotiates multitudinous device protocols such as WAP, and iMode; to the network and finally to the wireless devices.

You could see how this type of thing would be of compelling interest to Roger Barnes, a consultant for the Rough Guides series of travel guidebooks, which sits on a heap of content in QuarkXPress.

Barnes was approached by AuthorOnce, a company that claimed that they could “actually do it now: take our content, put it through a GUI, and put it out to any platform we wanted,” says Barnes. As we went to press, Barnes had seen and been impressed with a small demo, the success of which had led him to schedule a meeting in New York with the AuthorOnce team and Rough Guides’ senior management.

AuthorOnce is one of several companies offering what may be looked upon as complete middleware solutions – from one end of the chain to the other, and then back again. The company, which has received friends and family backing to the tune of $750,000 and is currently fishing for a first round of funding, claims that what sets it apart from companies like AvantGo and Everypath, is its method of getting data from the legacy system into XML in the first place.

“We’ve got travel books, but we’ve also got guides to music,” says Barnes, “Converting text to XML is one thing, but we’ve got pictures, maps, headlines. The company’s “rule engine” system learns about the way we publish our books every time we work on one. So preparing the new Rough Guide to New York, it knows what we did last time.”

That’s a different added value from offerings from other companies, like AvantGo and Everypath, that simply take content, pull it up into XML, and send it out to a Web or WAP interface. Those companies say that their products are perhaps the most effective way of getting legacy information out to a world of different device formats.

AuthorOnce might disagree, saying that the hardest part of the chain isn’t delivery to the devices, it’s XML-ing it in the first place, and doing it in a way that allows you to control the flow of data and create rules for future conversions of like-formatted but different texts.

Taking one end of the chain
“Well, if you’re in the business of from n to XML, of course you want to view this as the problem,” said Rikard Kjellberg, CEO of Ellipsus Systems, a company in Stockholm that provides the Protocol and Content Gateways. “There are lots of excellent tools that offer the mechanics of going from the database to XML – I’d bet even Oracle would have tools for that.”

Kjellberg’s Ellipsus concentrates on what happens after the content is in XML, and how to best transmit the data to the jungle of devices out there. Its Sargasso Mobile Internet Server gives an open software platform that lets legacy content connect, through any IP bearer (CSD, GPRS, etc) to client devices. It consists of a pull and a push proxy gateway, a directory interface, a manager interface, a security pack and a “gatekeeper” firewall, allowing access control for the Web as well as RMI, CORBA, SOAP and other objects.

That is the unique selling point; Ellipsus allows developers to introduce CORBA (and, for example, Enterprise Java Beans) all the way to the device, letting them make a more dynamic interface to legacy systems than would be available with traditional HTTP.

What it’s doing is creating a virtual thin client within the Ellipsus system, which end users access via nML from their phones. The phone doesn’t need to support CORBA, it just needs to communicate with Ellipsus, from where the object communicates with the legacy content or application. The menu the user sees on the phone doesn’t change, it’s just got a different back end: where a menu would have behind it a URL, like , the object-access menu has an address like .

Ignoring the problem
And then there are those who would ignore the problem completely, saying that they’re focusing on the problems created by having multiple systems in the first place. Companies such as mi4e, a Stockholm-based company that makes a plug-in for web servers that acts as a WAP protocol gateway on existing Microsoft IIS or Apache webservers.

There are also service developers, like France-based Selfswitch or Stockholm-based Expedio, which is producing unified messaging systems that let operators offer customers one central repository from which they can stay connected to voicemail, email, faxes, and a synchronized schedule; or Port42, which makes application portfolio packages that operators can buy in bulk, branding entire suites of applications to offer their customers instant application packages.

Similarly, there is Stockholm-based ZoomOn, which designs and implements vector-based graphics (VBG), and operates on the assumption that WAP – which does not support VBG – isn’t here to stay.

These companies are in effect saying that it’s too early to dedicate a company to bringing content to users via existing platforms or procedures, but that when the platform is agreed upon, they’ll be there selling the stuff that will make people want to burn up those airtime minutes.

In fact, unified messager Xpedio is going one step further, developing a platform for that time, about three years from now, when Britney Spears or whoever is then Britney Spears decides to become a “Virtual Operator.” Britney’s going to give away a SIM card with every CD that lets her teeny-bopping buyers get 10 minutes of phone time, 300 SMS messages and a Kiss Britney game.

“The platform they’re working on lets you, say, if you’re a U2 fan get a U2 subscription whether you’re in Ireland or Sweden,” said Port42’s CEO, Johan Rosenlind. “That’s a great idea but it’s still a couple of years away.”

Not so fast; they, and all other platform vendors will confront significant resistance in the form of iPlanet (the Sun/Netscape alliance), Oracle (Portal-to-go, ASWE9i), the Icelandic entry WAPalizer and Microsoft MIS. Basically, all these tools do much the same thing. How Xpedio will stand up in a fight against the portal-mongers is left to be seen.

Nokia: Let ’em Make Cake…

The future is wireless, or at least that is what Nokia, Ericsson and a host of startups and network operators are earnestly hoping. But the quick success of 3G – The Third Generation of mobile telephony – is more than profitable icing for these companies; it has now become a matter of survival….

This article, which ran in the February, 2001 issue of Tornado Insider magazine, looks at the overall climate in European development of 3G, and then explores how each of Europe’s largest telecom networking manufacturers, Ericsson and Nokia, is coping with the challenge.

…………………………………………………….

In the main lobby of Nokia House, a wood-steel-and-glass curiosity in the Finnish city of Espoo, is an impromptu cell-phone museum. In it, alongside all the sexy phones that rocketed the Finnish manufacturer to No. 1 in handsets, we viewed the suitcase-sized Mobira Talkman “portable” cell phone all the yuppies were buying in 1986.

For all its prescience in handset design and user habits, no one knows better than Nokia how difficult it is to predict future trends. Painfully aware of industry missteps earlier in the 1990s, Nokia discusses 3G with a reverence, and makes predictions about “classes” of applications and “styles” of usage.

But it won’t predict specific applications that will emerge as killers. The logic is cunning: Predict the next SMS? Thanks, no. But it will hot-house every person with an idea for an application, maintain an open API (application program interface), provide technical details to everyone, and market support to the successful few. Now there’s a situation in which Nokia doesn’t care what the next big thing is, because in theory at least, it will already have it under its wing.

“Nokia’s approach is absolutely that,” says Mika Koskinen, CEO of Entirem, which develops a secure wireless transaction platform for banks and portals in cooperation with Nokia. “The general impression is: focus very strongly on our core business, and don’t then get too heavily involved with third parties, at least at the early stages.”

For startups, this is great news. “It’s impossible for us to define the killer apps,” says Mikko Pyykka, Nokia’s 3G application marketing manager, “so we just need to cooperate with a large number of developers. But we think that at the end of the day the real killers will be somehow related to messaging.”

Messaging is what Nokia says will be the main application when it comes to revenues for 3G, and it, like Ericsson, farms its developer community for the latest and greatest. But unlike Ericsson, Nokia seems to be cut-and-dried about the application developers in the overall food chain – they’re valued, to be sure, but they’re outsiders.

During the Sydney Olympics, MobileChannel.Network set up a one-way messaging system for Nokia to provide sport content services. MC.N now cooperates with Nokia on a number of levels. “We did some basic business studies with them,” says MC.N’s Janne Makinen.

“It’s kind of a two-way development cycle. They give us technical access and early releases of new products for us to develop new versions of our product, and we give them feedback of how things work. They also give us a live environment in which to test our solutions before we go to operators.” Makinen says he believes that Nokia’s involvement will play a significant role in MC.N’s development as a company, creating a need for MC.N products by delivering Nokia’s goal of a complete end-to-end system, from network to handsets to applications.

Another Nokia developer is Genimap (formerly Karttakeskus), which began cooperation with Nokia in 1996 when it released its first Communicator – Nokia’s hinged-brick PDA, aimed at the high-flying business and “poser” crowd (that’s Nokia’s own internal market-segment term). The first mapping products were popular address finders; the user entered an address and was served a digital map.

“There are different levels of cooperation,” says Mikko Salonen, CEO of Genimap. “In the beginning, it was very important for us to get cooperation on development tools – how to make WAP-based applications, and so on. Nokia gave us technical papers and documentation, but there was also a two-way exchange of technical information – we also gave our ideas to them and shared our views.”

Currently, Genimap is working with Nokia to develop location-based services such as “turn-left, turn-right” maps complete with street-level content. But Salonen stops short of saying that his company’s relationship with Nokia has changed his life. “The relationship has accelerated our business plan, and they are important for us, but I’m not willing to say this is so very extraordinary or different – they’re just a partner,” he says.

Nokia likes it that way. “In some cases, as with customer-specific services tailored and run for one operator, we might have an exclusive,” says Nokia 3G strategist Ilkka Pukkila, “but we would never go with one single application provider, for example rich SMS. Our strategy is to give operators as much choice as we can, but to offer value added – such as with the interplay between applications, like adding theater tickets to your datebook. We control the platform, and integrate the applications to suit the specific needs of the customer.”

Pukkila says very soon you and I will use our “personal trusted device,” a kind of handheld multimedia terminal to buy a Big Mac. Why would we ever buy a burger with the phone? Pukkila points out that is the wrong way of thinking. “You wouldn’t want to do it just out of the blue. But, for example, McDonald’s will have its own 3G wireless LAN in the restaurant, and when you walk in, you’d get, for example, messages about specials, which you could buy with your phone. And while you ate, you could view McDonald’s content. Or you could pre-order and pick up your paid-for meal with no waiting when you arrived,” he says.

To Nokia, it would seem, development of these kinds of applications will for the foreseeable future be left to the third parties, allowing Nokia – and McDonald’s for that matter – to pick the best of breed of every single app it buys. In fostering this climate, Nokia will likely never again have to say that the latest hot thing just never appeared on its radar.

In concentrating on the network vendors’ efforts to develop applications, we leave un-discussed, for now, the solidity of the model of UMTS as telecom savior. This could be far from certain. Industry analysts, notably those within Forrester Research, have been increasingly pointing to flaws in the revenue models the telecom operators are banking on. “There’s no killer application. There is no such thing. Let’s go for a killer environment. We don’t want to be bound by specific applications.”

This quote, from an executive at a European mobile operator, was featured in Lars Godell’s January Forrester report on the future of UMTS, which the report called “a survival question.”

“Of course it makes more sense for the equipment manufacturers to do the lion’s share of the application hot-housing,” Godell told Tornado-Insider, “But every operator must also have an open mind, to nurture niche and local applications developers as well as creating strong local partnerships.”

Forrester remains skeptical that, even with the hottest applications, incumbent European mobile operators as we know them today will survive the shakeout. Forrester predicts that by 2011, impending pressure from the network vendors to upgrade again to 4G technology will fuel a desperation to reach profits from UMTS amid an environment of saturated subscriber markets, continued spending on marketing and network upgrades and declining average revenue per user (ARPU).

Could it be that eventually the network vendors end up swapping gear for equity to bail out operators? Will forced consolidation result in the death of all independent operators and allow the survival of only the largest pan-European players?

Other analysts say that the Forrester report is overly gloomy and that it does not take into account the improved capital efficiency of investment in 3G as compared to 2G. But most agree that evolution, and indeed consolidation is not an unlikely prediction. “The shape of the mobile communications industry has not stopped evolving,” said Peter Knox, a telecom analyst at Commerzbank Securities, “and consolidation is probably a likely result.”

FUD is the Bastion of the Weak and the Shameless

Or, A FUD-Flapping Flack and her SCADA-Fear! Mongering

Were I less gracious, I would list the name and PR agency and customer. Sadly, I am gracious. I hate that I am gracious, especially since several people I know received this same papff from this flack. But seriously. This kind of stuff just has to stop. Next time? I swear, I’m naming names.

An open response to two recent emails from incompetent publicists:

On 10/02/2012 16:17, Marge wrote:

> Hi Nick,
> I see you are planning on attending RSA in San Francisco and I wanted to see
> if you have some time for a quick briefing during the show.

> The media have recently reported that hacker collective Anonymous posted
> what appears to be login details for Israeli SCADA industrial-control
> systems; including instructions on how to hack into nuclear power plants and
> water facilities.
>
> I wanted to give you the opportunity to meet with a [redacted] executive to
> discuss how critical infrastructures are utilizing SCADA software to control
> and automate machinery. [redacted] is uniquely suited to provide insights
> into how some of the largest oil & gas companies and nuclear facilities
> worldwide are protecting mission critical systems from cyber attacks.
>
> If you would like to speak with a [redacted] executive, please me know and I
> will be happy to set up a time.
>
> Best,
>
> Marge

> [redacted] PR Team

>

Hiya, Marge,

Let me get this straight: you state that a hacker collective posted what purported to be login details for Israeli SCADA systems and therefore I should learn about [redacted]?

Wayta attempt to capitalize on Anonymous, Marge!

Your measured, weasel-like wordsmithing indicates that you understand fully that no such incident actually occurred, and that you are intentionally misleading me, hoping that I read that, “media have recently reported” as proof that this happened.

Which means that you are trying to trick me into visiting your client.

Does your client understand the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt you are spreading like so much fertilizer? Do they understand that you are baldly exploiting a totally false episode which did not result in the dissemination of any SCADA credentials, so that your client might sell SCADA security equipment?

What, there weren’t enough actual or possible recent SCADA hacking episodes to capture your imagination?

Marge. Bubaleh.

Shame on you.

 

So I sent that back to her, and the next morning I get a reply from her boss:

 

On 13/02/2012 10:52, Betty betty@flack.comwrote:

Hi Nick

It unfortunate that this made it’s way out the door on Friday. We appreciate your candor in pointing out our error.

We are pointing to the fact that this type of cyber terror is possible. It is never our mission to “fear monger” and we reported what was all over the internet in short order. We were not the original source for this story, and it is certainly our mission to make sure we fact check whenever possible, unfortunately, this went out before we had a chance to double check the new updates on this story.

We have noted this, corrected our records and removed your name from our database of bloggers.

Again, please accept our apologies for upsetting your Saturday morning.

Best,

Betty

 

Well, Betty, “it unfortunate” indeed. Your reply acts as if this was a mere fact-checking error, made in the heat of sending out a breaking story – STOP THE PRESSES! – if only you’d had TIME to tear through this with a red pen as you ordinarily do, why none of this would have happened!

The krypt3ia piece ran on 20 January. Marge’s balderdashtardly missive went out 10 Feburary.

Let’s look at Betty’s explanation once more, hey?

…and its certainly our mission to make sure we fact check whenever possible, unfortunately, this went out before we had a chance to double check the new updates on this story.

I’m glad she likes to check facts whenever possible. Even if she can’t keep her “its”es straight.

Marge, yours was the worst kind of fear-mongering. Where understanding actual attacks against SCADA systems is so important, you’re using that fictional example – in which lazy, non-fact-checking journalists re-spewed rubbish and were later humiliated for doing so – as the pretext to try and get me to meet with you?

Lady, I write a security blog and run a company that deals in response to actual security incidents. Our clients are serious people with serious issues to solve, and no time whatsoever for bullshit.

Did you hope I was some kind of uninformed, lazy, press-release-consuming, video-news-release running hack journalist who would just suck that crap down and spew it out on the other side?

Shame on you.

As a matter of fact, starting right now, I am going to do what I can to call you out for exactly what you are: the worst kind of uninformed, unctuous, disingenuous, FUD-spewing, fear-mongering, press-release-writing hack of a flack. You, Marge, are what gives security PR people a terrible name. You are what make customers afraid to listen to vendors, afraid that their consultants are lying to them, afraid that they must triple-check any statement made by someone outside their organization. This causes delays in responding to actual security incidents, which allows attackers more time to do damage, while the attacked spend cycle after cycle trying to understand from which side they’re being screwed worse, the attackers or the consultants and professionals there to help.

There are scores, if not hundreds, of public relations professionals in the world of security products who have the integrity to leverage the actual product to demonstrate how it can stand on its merits; who believe as I do:

FUD is the bastion of the weak and the shameless.

Shame on you.

Type This…I Said, THIS!!

The idea of speaking into my computer and having it correctly type what I say has intrigued me since I saw the Star Trek episode Assignment: Earth, in which Gary Seven dictates to his IBM Selectric typewriter while plotting to sabotage a NASA launch.

The thought that I can now actually say – and have my computer type – the phrase,”the museum is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 6 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm, Sunday from noon to 4 pm, closed major holidays,” makes me positively giddy – covering Disney World doesn’t look so daunting anymore.

It was with this light thought that I cheerfully set about installing IBM’s new SimplySpeaking Gold (remember: IBM made the Selectric! No one gets fired for buying IBM!), touted by Big Blue as the software that would change the world. My father was with me, and as I was describing what the software would do (‘yeah, that’s it… I can just talk into it and it will type what I say,’) he was shooting me looks of open dubiousness, if not mild derision.

“YouE’re skeptical,” I said.

“I’m not skeptical,” he said, “I know it won’t work.”

“Why,” I asked, knowingly,”would IBM offer a 30 day money back guarantee on it if it didn’t work?”

“I don’t know” said my father,”But it won’t work.”

Chuckling to myself (what does he know?) I set to installing SimplySpeaking Gold. Following the directions to the letter, I donned the little headset that came with the software. The training session lasted about half an hour, after which I started talking and it started typing.

Unfortunately, those two actions were entirely independent. It was as if had installed Tourette’sSyndrome for Windows95. I said,”Hey, look Dad, I’m talking and this thing is typing,” and it typed, “pay stark land vice talking in myths saying it is typing.” (“typing”, I noticed later, was one word it consistently spelled correctly, along with`SimplySpeaking Gold”) I said,”this system sucks.” It typed,”cheese feet and ducks.” Okay, it wasn’t really that bad – I am exaggerating a little (just a little) – but it was, in fact, terrible.

I returned it the following day. Later I spoke with a software salesman, who told me that almost everyone who bought the IBM software at his shop (one of New York’s largest) brought it back.

“That’s not to say it’s bad,” he was careful to say, “it’s just that a lot of people bring it back.”

Oh.

This salesman went on to tell me that a lot of the people who were disappointed with IBM really liked Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but that that software was much more difficult to learn then IBM’s. Since I thought that learning IBM’s was simply a matter of training myself to speak in the manner of one of those VCR manuals that has been translated from the original Korean via Swahili, I was game for anything.

To be fair, IBM’s ViaVoice is said (well, said by IBM) to be better than SimplySpeaking. But in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, David Einstein reported something hauntingly similar to my experience:

“…when I said, “This is my first dictation” ViaVoice wrote “This is mild irritation.” I repeated the sentence and it came out, “This is missus sophistication’.

Why, that is much better!

My next test was with Dragon’s NaturallySpeaking. With doubt in my heart, I installed the software and went through its training session. One thing that struck me immediately was that while I was reading through the training session’s text (it gives you a choice of three, I chose Dave Barry’s Adventures in Cyberspace) it was recognizing my voice right out of the box.

But I was truly astounded when, after finishing the session, I was able to write a long letter with very few mistakes: this thing actually works! Don’t believe it? Come over to my house and I’ll show you (two of my neighbours are going out to buy it after one demo).

For example, I’m writing the following five paragraphs by speaking into my computer. It’s an absolutely joyous thing: I’m sitting here with my feet on my desk speaking absolutely normally and watching it type everything I say.

And okay, there are some drawbacks (like the fact that it just wrote “arson” instead of “all are some’, and I had to go back and correct): I sit at my desk wearing this funky headset and looking for all the world like a Time-Life operator ready to take your phone call (E’Good morning, my name is Nick, are you calling about our Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue?’).

But the fact is, I can dictate into this thing at about 100 words per minute after three days of use – and the folks at Dragon say that this will only improve over time.

I have noticed that in the last few days of using this software intensely it has made the same mistakes on a couple of occasions. But it also learns incredibly quickly. I only had to train “Minas Gerais” and “Sao Paulo” once, and never even had to tell it to recognize Rio de Janeiro. Handy, when IE’m working on Brazil (it also recognized, after training, “rodoviãria” and “real’, which are pronounced decidedly not as theyE’re written).

But you’ve got to have patience (it just wrote “patients’), and realize that it will take about a solid week before you begin to get close to 96% recognition.

The mistakes NaturallySpeaking made while I recited the last five paragraphs were “good morning, my name is neck”; “with my field on my desk”; and the aforementioned “arson” and “patientsE’. Still, that’s not so bad. Earlier OCR scanning devices made far more mistakes, and for most of the friends of mine who can’t type to save their lives, a couple of mistakes in each paragraph is a far happier situation than a blank page.

But Naturally Speaking – or its presence – did cause some problems on my machine. After running it and other programs simultaneously, my computer crashed – but it turned out to be a Microsoft problem, and I had to download a small patch to fix it. You’ll also need a relatively good machine: while Dragon says you need at least a Pentium 133 Mhz, 32MB of RAM and 65MB of hard drive space, I’d say that’s conservative.

Another good question is whether you can dictate into a tape recorder on the road – some smarter authors (and now I) use a tape recorder for mapping (“J&R Music World on the south side of Park row 200 metres south of John St”) and it would be a hoot to have the machine transcribe it. Well, short of spending upwards of $250 on a mini disk recorder, you’re out of luck: traditional minicassette and other analog recorders just don’t have the quality to work with NaturallySpeaking.

NaturallySpeaking has several models to choose from, but the recognition engine is the same on all – bells and whistles change as you spend more money. But their basic Point & Speak (US$59 RRP in the US) model allows you to do everything I did here. The Personal edition and Preferred Editions (US$99 and US$149 to US$159) have greater customization abilities, and very expensive Deluxe editions are available as well. SimplySpeaking Gold sells for US$139 in the US.

Apps Spijk Bought

I bought an iPhone on the Verizon network. I’d long held, after using an iPhone on AT&T a couple years back, that I wouldn’t get another iPhone until it was available on Verizon. In the meantime I fell in love with my Droid phone, until I saw FaceTime. My business partner David used it to video-chat with his kids while we were on a business trip. So I bought the iPhone (don’t tell me about the damn Skype video or whatever. FaceTime is better).

Then I bought Spijk an iPod touch so we could FaceTime.

Apps Spijk bought in the first two days of having his new iPod:

  • Veggie Samurai
  • Tiny Wings
  • Fruit Ninja
  • Doodle Jump
  • Froggy Jump
  • Stick Stunt Biker
  • Egg vs. Chicken
  • Fragger
  • Asphalt 5
  • Doodle Jump Christmas Special
  • Food Processing
  • Pocket God
  • Rat On A Scooter XL
  • Urban Ninja
  • Gravity Guy
  • Cave Bowling
  • Cat Physics
  • Monkey Flight
  • Crazy Chicken Deluxe – Grouse Hunting
  • Sherwood Forest Archery
  • Pig Sticker
  • Shoot or Be Shot
  • Uphill Battle
  • Sharpshooter Surprise
  • Saving My Hero
  • Battleheart
  • Volcano Escape
  • Crazy Chicken Quest
  • Burn the Rope
  • Shopping Cart Hero
  • More Crap

More crap?

Cheesy Feet & Ducks Redux

This is the result of feeding an interview into Dragon Naturally Speaking. Not a word or punctuation mark has been omitted or changed – this is the software in all its glory. The input was a good recording from a Sony ICD-SX750.

I’m still working on how it got “Saddam Hussein”.

So that it will work for just 5 pounds him and I have a small company now… I am starting to think that I am not a moment to him and on Rosenhaus and ask you a few questions are standardized so immersed in really stupid of him will not ask you if you have investigation is ongoing and occasional nasty stuff without going out of their way through it on up until the time that he got the shots were interviewed about 2008 that are possible for them have personal and you typically arrive on the scene with his or her homicidal value on called you arrive after the season closed out with and you can ride generally speaking long long time slot on its own would be dealt with promptly salt or if it’s during the shift will probably do okay at first difficult to be okay you didn’t than just the data to arrive on the scene and no I usually also the guys to do so as to have no car computers I have no car or a computer consultant of soul I don’t get it was like I was but a totally plausible to promote something ownership will call okay so far using it to direct your search for physical evidence or to somehow he even if in your mind or order me respect you a graphic WCCO okay if it’s difficult to Pacific side columns are doing something along the lines of what we’ll try and you will have wanted to go so long as R. what exactly will you stop like to use disputed to the showcase on the direct your search for people in the witnesses are… that’s a no no some threat to serve as the operating room when you let one person calls and as you’ll see shops along policy work for you kind of gauge who’s paying attention more believable claim that he was Saddam Hussein a sort of understanding the process by which interacts across as looking at a crime scene has changed the shots I have see change its enhanced and it’s given us while we…

For more transcription fun, see this article I wrote in 1997

SAP profit surges 60% as profile rises in U.S

SAP AG, the German-based business software giant, said Thursday that first-quarter net earnings rose 60 percent from a year earlier, to E298 million ($325 million), but revenue dropped 8 percent to E1.52 billion.

The company makes software that businesses use for accounting, supply-chain management and customer relationship management. Headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, SAP is the largest business application vendor in the United States and has nearly 20,000 corporate customers worldwide.

SAP said it expanded its U.S. market share in the first quarter, without specifying figures, and cut its operating costs substantially without cutting jobs.

But analysts pointed out that certain sources of revenue, such as those for software maintenance and for consulting services, were down, as were earnings overall in Europe.

SAP said that while the number of European sales contracts increased, companies bought less. Because of a weak European economy, it said, revenue in Europe, the Middle East and Africa dipped 4 percent to E854 million.

First-quarter Asia-Pacific revenue increased 7 percent to E198 million.

In the Americas, where SAP has recently reorganized its U.S. sales force and implemented cost-cutting measures, revenue was down 20 percent at E468 million. When measured in constant currency rates, however, there was a 1 percent increase.

Maintenance revenues – fees the company charges to maintain software it has already sold – increased by 1.8 percent to E608 million but fell short of the company’s own forecasts.

Consulting revenue fell 12 percent to E476 million.

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in Frankfurt downgraded the stock to “hold” from “buy.” But Morgan Stanley said that SAP performed well in view of the global economic situation.

“As a trajectory, those revenues are a bit of a concern,” said Ross MacMillan, vice president at Morgan Stanley. “But the company is doing a phenomenal job of controlling costs. They’ve ratcheted costs down almost E140 million by cutting variable costs and without layoffs.”

The stock closed up E4.85 at E94.10 in Frankfurt.

The results are the last to be reported before Hasso Plattner, an SAP co-founder, steps down as chief executive next month.

Hats Off: An E-Tailer Who’s Doing It Right

When each of your 200,000 customers gets a hand-signed “thank-you” note in every order box, you’d think they’d notice. Sadly, according to Darryl Collins, CEO of Belfast, Ireland-based online video retailer BlackStar.co.uk, “People don’t really realize how good we are until something goes wrong.”

That’s certainly true of this reporter, who called to say that a video had arrived that wasn’t working. In an hour I got an e-mail apologizing rather profusely. The next day I got a phone call, saying, “We’re very sorry, but we’ve had to special order the replacement, it should be here tomorrow.” And a while later, an impossibly indecipherably Irish accented voice called to tell me that they’d express-mailed the replacement.

“Let me get this straight,” I said, “you’re saying that this problem, which you had nothing to do with, rates one e-mail, two long-distance phone calls and free upgraded shipping?”

Yup. And another e-mail followed, confirming that the order had been shipped.

Now that’s customer service, and it might be the reason that in the crazy, mixed-up, topsy-turvy world that was the e-commerce private equity market this June, BlackStar wrapped up a second round of financing to the tune of €6.2 million.

This is a company to watch.

BlackStar took on a niche in what may have seemed to others to be an impossible-to-conquer market, competing against a certain e- commerce giant named after a swath of Brazil, Columbia and Peru. BlackStar moved on the fact that an online source of PAL-formatted videotapes was lacking in the UK. Amazon.com’s primary market, the US, sold tapes formatted in the US NTSC standard.

That was back in early 1998. And in the same fashion as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the team that would become BlackStar had been working to figure out something web-related to do since well before then. When Collins, a former film producer, along with a pre-Netscape era web developer Tony Bowden and former ad-man Jeremy Glover, saw their chance, they pounced, launching the primordial BlackStar site in March 1998.

The corporate history says that they slapped up the first website in just seven days (they make a joke about one of the team having a theology background, but others have run with that so we won’t stoop so low) and within the month they had £2,000 worth of sales. Although Collins refuses to say anything about revenues other than that they’re “substantial, ” sources close to the company confirmed that monthly revenues by this November are in excess of £1.25 million and growing.

In August 1999, BlackStar finally got around to their first venture capital investment, raising £3.8 million from Atlas Venture and Tarrant Venture (an arm of David Bonderman’s Texas Pacific Group). This June, they raised that £6.2 million through IBI Corporate Finance, Dublin, which is planning to fund the business to profitability in 2001. Backers of that second round included Atlas Ventures, Tarrant Venture, Goodbody’s Stockbrokers and a range of private investors through Davy’s Stockbrokers in Dublin.

The stats are impressive: With 100 employees in Belfast and in London, BlackStar claims well over a half million unique visits and more than 6 million page impressions a month and more than 200,000 customers.

Collins credits much of this to the aforementioned customer service, in addition to the fact that worldwide postage is included in the price. “In the beginning, we didn’t have any money and had to be different, and we reckoned that the attraction of buying online was superb,” he said.

“But when you got to the end and someone slapped on $10 for shipping it gave the customers one final ‘do-I-really-want-this’ hurdle before they clicked the ‘buy’ button. So we said, ‘let’s be a bit smarter.’ The price on the site is the one on your credit card, and psychologically it works very well.”

That great customer service platform, by the way, was developed in house, and is constantly under refinement. But the company doesn’t plan to re-license the software it created, effectively cutting off a large potential revenue stream. They fear that licensing software would put them in the position of making it look pretty and dealing with customers who won’t be as forgiving of the system’s bugs as are BlackStar employees, who put up with the constant tweaking and the prioritized bug fixes as a matter of course.

BlackStar said that it will continue doing what it does best: making money by passing on good deals it negotiates with the studios, offering good value (its mainstay offer is a 20% discount on pre- orders, which are delivered on the day of release; others include two-for- one and three-for-£20) and especially keeping up standards of customer service.

Customers seem to notice. BlackStar has added 50,000 customers since July, and people seem to notice the good service. As e-tailers spend hundreds to earn tens, and burn through cash like, well, like e-tailers burning through cash, it’s highly refreshing to see a company paying attention to the basics.

The natural question, then, is when is the company going public? It had planned initial pubic offering on the London Stock Exchange for late this year, but announced in July that it would postpone until market conditions improved. And at the same time it touted the fact that it managed to raise more than £6 million at a time when vultures were circling a bloodbath of tech stocks.

In the past BlackStar has shown another encouraging sign – patience. It waited for a first round of funding until revenues were solidified and for a second round funding until expansion was justified. So there’s reason to suspect that postponing the IPO wasn’t cowardice, but rather cunning.

Stay tuned.

Phoenix Struts Its Wireless Stuff

scared audienceI’m watching on a wide-screen television the most painfully revolting thing I’ve ever seen, and Mikael Hällström is gleefully pointing at the screen.

“This is almost…almost…broadcast quality, and there’s no delay at all,” he said proudly. Hällström’s biggest problem in the coming months is whether to stay at Ericsson, where he has been for four years, or to head out with the spin-off he helped create.

These are good problems to have.

Truth be told, the resolution is more than “almost broadcast” – in fact it’s clear enough to give me nightmares for weeks and ponder each future meal carefully. We’re in Ericsson’s Stockholm headquarters, in a conference room that has been temporarily turned into both a highly impressive display of very cool technology and a chamber of horrors.

Here’s the story: Malmö University Hospital in southern Sweden wished to demonstrate to a hotel conference center packed with leading international medical observers a controversial, highly unorthodox and possibly revolutionary approach to an operation to remove a cancer in a patient’s rectum – going in from the top.

I’m watching the “highlights.”

I’m watching this to see a clear end-use example of the types of networks Ericsson believes will be prevalent in the very near future. And Ericsson Business Innovations (EBI), the “incubator” arm of Ericsson, is looking into using technology like this to create a number of businesses.

For example, EBI has also been working on something it calls the Phoenix Project, based around Ericsson’s Open Service Gateway Initiative (OSGi) protocol. Phoenix was set up to establish a solution for home health care, security and safety products, and EBI is looking internally at Ericsson, as well as at third parties, to develop other OSGi applications.

Now, that horrible tele-operation challenge I am trying not to remember was not part of Phoenix, but with it Phoenix saw a chance to strut its technological stuff. To this end it established a 24-megabit-per-second (MB/s) upstream and downstream connection between the hospital and the conference center (which are meters from one another) by way of a 750km loop through public networks using existing technology and infrastructure.

The setup included two cameras in the operating theatre – one on the surgeons and the other on the action – that broadcast to two projection devices in the conference center, both producing crystal clear 20 and 35 square-meter images. Real-time voice communication between the center and the theatre was a key element, allowing the surgeon to converse with the observers.

“You can’t have voice delays,” said Hällström, the simultaneously mild-mannered and intense architect of Phoenix, “and we did this without compression or echo canceling – if we used those, we could have gone several times farther.”

With traditional broadcasts, such as television, a gap between the time of broadcast and arrival at the user’s device doesn’t matter as it’s a one-way signal. But anyone who’s watched the poor CNN reporter, listening to a question by satellite and standing clueless, staring blankly at the camera for two to six seconds, can understand why a satellite hookup would be unacceptable in a tele-medical situation, where seconds count.

You might well wonder why Ericsson is in the television business, and the answer is that it’s not. It’s in the business of building up teams that will form the core of new units within Ericsson or of new companies that will be spun off.

The broadband system above grew out of research by Ericsson Media Lab and the work of Hällström and others in Ericsson working on telemedicine applications.

Phoenix To Be Spun Off

The goal is to have Phoenix, now still part of Ericsson, build up its system around OSGi, establish and maintain its standards and protocols, license users of the system from health care, security and other industries, and then eventually remove itself from the fray, licensing third party operators who will pay Phoenix for the right to operate the slice of the network in their special fields. Phoenix, of course, would then sit back and count its royalty and licensing income.

Phoenix’s E-Box is an OSGi-based system. It’s a home-running device that brays at you if you leave the iron on and potentially allows you to, for example, let your kids in before you’re home but deny them access to the garage, oven and VCR. The box controls safety issues like those, security (locks and alarms), as well as health-monitoring systems. EBI announced in October that it began an E-box trial run in 3,000 homes in Sweden.

“The Phoenix group deals with infrastructure and we need to have a network,” Hällström said. “We don’t want to operate the network, but we need to make sure that it is, in fact, a network, and it will be maintained and operated in the proper way.”

Working with partners in those related industries (they’ve embargoed us from saying even which space within the industries), other groups deal with the health care and security aspects of the applications, and another deals with the construction and installation aspects.

“We will start to roll this out in new houses initially,” Hällström said, “because then the costs of building the infrastructure in the house is near zero when looked at in context of the building costs. And we want to have a large base of customers.”

Opportunity for VCs

That’s an opportunity for VCs looking to back products in the related industries. EBI is actively seeking venture partners and offering support and resources for venture-funded companies who develop related technologies or end-user applications that would use the OSGi protocol.

“We believe a very strong part of Phoenix is the partner program, which is mainly venture-funded companies – and it’s not just the money, it’s the knowledge the VCs and third-party companies bring to the table,” Hällström said.

If the demonstration I saw is any indication, EBI has a lock on the networking part. Observers interviewed afterward said on camera that the setup was incredibly valuable and remarked that it could have an untold number of applications in medicine.

And, of course, they mentioned the vivacity of the colors. “I’ve seen lots of these types of presentations,” said one doctor. “Many times the details are fuzzy, and the colors are often washed. But here the colors were perfect, the resolution and clarity better than I’ve ever seen.”

 

Smart money would say that, at least technologically speaking, Phoenix should make the cut as a spin-off.

Euronerds Have It…When Will You Get Broadband?

A paltry 362,000 predominantly young, white and male Euronerds–about 0.2% of all European households–currently have broadband Internet access [1999]. Broadband, which enables super-fast, always-on Internet connections, allows users to download and upload data substantially faster than with traditional dial-in modems.

But a new report by Forrester Research (NASDAQ: FORR) said that broadband usage in Europe will explode to a whopping 18% of the European population, or around 27 million users by 2005.

Internet use in Europe is nowhere near US levels, where 43% of the population had gone online from home by the end of 1999. The number in Europe was 13%. And in Europe, homes technically broadband-capable amount to less than 8%–so people who might want it couldn’t get it. Even if they could, high entry and monthly fees might keep users loyal to ol’ 56K.

“Europe lags somewhat behind the USA in terms of implementation,” said Lars Godell, analyst for European corporate technologies at Forrester Research and the lead author of the report, “but it’s growing quickly. Right now Sweden is the hottest broadband market in Europe, but it’s not the hottest end-market–it’s only one-ninth the size of Germany in terms of population.”

The report concludes that the reason this will change, and change fast, is that there’s boatloads of money to be made. “European providers,” said Godell, “see that US telcos aim to increase their average annual Revenue Per Subscriber from $480 to a potential $2,100 for a rich bundle of services.”

What’s The Holdup, And Where’s The Pipe?
The American market has been faster to adapt to broadband, with the proliferation of cable to such a large percentage of homes, and reduced copper-wire leasing rates. “Trying to break the last-mile bottleneck, AT&T gobbled up cablecos TCI and MediaOne to gain broadband access to more than 17 million homes,” said Maribel Lopez, a Forrester analyst and lead author of the March 2000 Forrester report Beyond Broadband. “Similarly, Sprint and MCI WorldCom paid fire-sale prices for multi-point, multi-channel distribution services (MMDS) licenses, hoping to redeploy this wireless technology for high-speed access in 60 million homes.”

Europe, on the other hand, has no such universal “last mile” solution, and companies are gearing up to actually bring the pipes to the users. They’re catching up, but as of yet telecoms and cable providers do not have the framework in place for an industry agreement on that subject. This will change within the next year.

Investors should look for tremendous opportunities in buying companies who will be actually bringing broadband to customers–such as Swedish competitors Bredbandsbolaget and Telia, as well as Nokia, Alcatel, Siemens, Austrian cableco Telekabel, Belgian telcom Belgacom and Italian entry Fastweb–which are pouring resources into creating new networks. Telcos and cablecos Chello and Deutsche Telekom, as well as optics and box makers such as Lucent and KPNQwest, are also well worth watching.

Europe vs. US
It is interesting to note that according to Forrester projections, the US will have 33% of households subscribing to broadband by 2005, versus 18% in Europe. However, when one takes into account the population of Europe (at around 385 million) versus the US (260 million) the percentages don’t necessarily mean significantly fewer subscribers. And in hot spots like Sweden, broadband penetration will surpass that of the US, with 40% of households signed on.

Barriers Remain
The remaining barriers to broadband taking off in Europe, said the report, should be gone by 2003. These include rapidly expanding the miles of fiber, copper and coaxial cable throughout Europe. Belgian telco Belgacom plans to cover 75% of Belgian homes with ADSL by the end of this year to try and compete with the widespread proliferation in Belgian cable coverage.

Forrester predicts that 50% of European households north of the Alps will have broadband coverage by the end of 2001, which is 10 times the number today. This kind of competitive climate, when looked at on a pan-European basis, will increase coverage while simultaneously offering a competitive advantage that will lower entry and monthly access fees: Forrester predicts that access prices will sink below €30 per month in 10 out of 17 European countries by the end of 2002.

“That’s a level well within the 2% of disposable income that European industry forecasters hold as a price ceiling in a 1997 expert survey for the European Union,” said the report.