Big Data, Big Bucks

Monday, 13 February, 2012

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, data was declared a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold, during the presentation of a report titled “Big Data, Big Impact“. Here’s the Executive Summary:

“A flood of data is created every day by the interactions of billions of people using computers, GPS devices, cell phones, and medical devices. Many of these interactions occur through the use of mobile devices being used by people in the developing world, people whose needs and habits have been poorly understood until now. Researchers and policymakers are beginning to realise the potential for channelling these torrents of data into actionable information that can be used to identify needs, provide services, and predict and prevent crises for the benefit of low-income populations. Concerted action is needed by governments, development organisations, and companies to ensure that this data helps the individuals and the communities who create it.”

Those fine aspirations aside, the reality is that it’s the indefatigable masters of data harvesting, Google and Facebook, who will benefit most from purse seineing the web. Big bucks beckon for these Big Data behemots.

The crooked Path

Thursday, 9 February, 2012

A year ago, the tech press was all abuzz with rumours that Path, a social photo sharing and messaging service for mobile devices led by former Facebook executive Dave Morin, had received a $100-million buyout offer from Google (with $20 million more in incentives). Drunk on the hype of his entrepreneurial virtuosity, Morin rejected the […]

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We’ve got to talk about Hollywood

Friday, 27 January, 2012

Backgrounder: “What Happens At Y Combinator” is a lengthy and informative post written by Paul Graham in September 2010. Snippet: “The overall goal of YC [Y Combinator] is to help startups really take off. They arrive at YC at all different stages. Some haven’t even started working yet, and others have been launched for a year or more. But whatever stage a startup is at when they arrive, our goal is to help them to be in dramatically better shape 3 months later.”

And this segues nicely into the recently issued Y Combinator RFS, where “RFS” stands for “Requests For Startups”. It was the title wot done it: “RFS 9: Kill Hollywood“. Typical of the tenor of the piece: “How do you kill the movie and TV industries? Or more precisely (since at this level, technological progress is probably predetermined) what is going to kill them? Mostly not what they like to believe is killing them, filesharing. What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?”

This is pretty incendiary stuff and, sure enough, is has generated some heated responses. The entrepreneur and blogger Jason Calacanis has just kicked back with, “We Need to Empower Hollywood–Not Kill Hollywood“. As always, Calacanis is entertaining: “What if YC’s screed winds up on the desk of some angry or delusional CEO or studio head’s desk with a list of stolen files in Dropbox folders and says, ‘These guys are trying to kill us, let’s unleash a trillion dollar lawsuit on them and harass them to death!’ That’s what Hollywood does — it harasses startups to death and YC’s post is EXACTLY what those lawyers are looking for: the smoking gun that internet people want to kill them.”
Y Combinator is right in demanding a creative response to the increasingly legalistic, stultifying, predictable, biased Hollywood output, but Calacanis is on the money when he points out that no amount of Angry Birds can match the magic of Hollywood when the result is something like Drive.

Three stars for those Michelin apps

Monday, 23 January, 2012

Chapeau! Last year, a total of 1.4 million Groupe Michelin applications were downloaded from Apple’s App Store and three of them were among the 2011 bestsellers. ViaMichelin Mobile in the navigation category for iPhone, Restaurants in the France – The Michelin Guide Restaurants 2011 in the lifestyle category for iPhone and the MichelinFrance map in the navigation category for iPad.

Michelin Guide Although Michelin is not exactly a startup (it was incorporated in 1888), the company has always been at the cutting edge of innovation. After all, its core product, tires, are complex things with an evolving role in the safety and comfort of the driving experience. Talking of driving, those who find themselves in the centre of France this year should visit L’Aventure Michelin, which recounts the company’s historic journey from Clermont-Ferrand to the App Store. The secret of its success is that Edouard and André Michelin weren’t just great innovators, they were marketing geniuses and superb businessmen. Their big insight was that if people took more trips, Michelin would sell more tires. To encourage motorists to hit the road, they got into the content business and Michelin became famous for its roadmaps, for its Red Guides that grade hotels and restaurants, its Green Guides on regions and countries and the literary Guides Bleus, which offered cultural interpretation of destinations. And when smartphones came along, Michelin was well positioned to port its award-winning content onto the new platforms.

Now, it seems a more radical shift is in the works. According to a report that appeared in Le Monde on 14 January, “Michelin dans la tourmente” (Michelin in turmoil), the days of the Guide Michelin are numbered… in paper form, at least. The company is contemplating making it available digitally only. Why? The venerable Guide sold 107,000 copies in France in 2010, which is a drop of of 22 percent compared to a decade ago when sales topped 400,000.

GEMA breaks the internet every day

Wednesday, 18 January, 2012

“Imagine a world without free knowledge… The US Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.” So says the most prominent protestor in today’s net “strike”. But it’s not just the proposed US legislation in the form of the […]

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A short history of internet blackouts

Wednesday, 18 January, 2012

BBC: “Wikipedia has taken its English-language site offline as part of protests against proposed anti-piracy laws in the US. Users attempting to access the site see a black screen and a political statement: ‘Imagine a world without free knowledge.’” The combination of black screen and political statement is a venerable internet tradition.

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Nokia makes phones, but Apple makes money

Wednesday, 11 January, 2012

Has it really been five years since Apple launched the iPhone? Apparently. The “revelation” was on 9 January 2007, but the wide world had to wait until June that year before the magical device was made available to consumers. From the get go, the iPhone was a hit. And, apart from a few tweaks, it’s essentially the same phone today as it was five years ago. The screen size hasn’t changed and the mix of Gorilla glass and aluminium is as compelling now as it was then. In fact, the package is so captivating that Samsung is now making near-perfect copies and flogging them shamelessly as it they were something original. As one wag pointed out recently, Jonathan Ive now leads the design team at the world’s two most profitable phone makers.

Apple iPhone3 As RIM and Nokia look on in desperation, the question everyone’s asking is what will Apple do next. A clue can be found in Walter Isaacson’s magnificent biography of Steve Jobs: “One of Jobs’s business rules was to never be afraid of cannibalizing yourself. ‘If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,’ he said. So even though an iPhone might cannibalize sales of an iPod, or an iPad might cannibalize sales of a laptop, that did not deter him.” Jobs launched the iPhone at a time when iPods accounted for nearly half of Apple’s profits, yet a free iPod was a feature of the iPhone. Unsurprisingly, iPod sales have declined since 2007. But the success of the iPhone has made up for the loss. Interestingly, the iPod was five years old when Apple launched the iPhone so, if form is any kind of indicator, this should be the year when Apple gets back to cannibalizing its children.

Reflections on Gorilla Glass

Tuesday, 13 December, 2011

Gorilla Glass The screen on the new laptop is a 13.3″ thin-film transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD) protected by a glossy infinity Corning® Gorilla® Glass finish. This is an environmentally friendly alkali-aluminosilicate thin-sheet glass that’s used for the displays of about 20 percent of the world’s mobile phones today.

“Glass is a brittle material. Brittle materials are extremely strong under compression but extremely weak under tension,” said Dr. Donnell Walton, senior applications engineer at Corning, when he spoke to Andrew Nusca of smartplanet. “When you chemically temper a glass, you immerse it in a salt bath and you stuff larger ions in all the surfaces and put them all under compression. What’s unique about Gorilla Glass is that because of its inherent composition, it can allow those larger ions to penetrate the surface more deeply to increase the compression tolerance and tolerate deeper scratches. The compression pushes a flaw back. It’s harder to break from a deeper scratch.”

Not everyone likes glossy screens, of course. They’re a question of taste. Among the upsides are the resilience and easy-to-clean factors; the downsides include the reflective nature of the glass which, apart from usability issues in brightly-lit environments, tends to act as a mirror and confronts the early-morning user with an unneeded and often unflattering reminder of the night before.

Chrome, but without the Google location thingy

Monday, 12 December, 2011

In his review of the best tech things of 2011, Farhad Manjoo of Slate picks Google’s Chrome Web browser. Says he: “Google quietly updates Chrome seemingly every few minutes, so naturally it got even better in 2011. Among other improvements, the company added something called Instant Pages, a system that ‘preloads’ the first Google search result into the browser’s memory. This makes for faster searching — when you click on the first link in any Google result, the page loads up in pretty much no time at all.” And he adds, “This month, Chrome’s market share surpassed that of Firefox. Download it now and help it beat Internet Explorer.”

It’s the best browser by far, but Chrome can be a bit too clever at times for Rainy Day’s liking. Consider the feature that allows Google search to detect one’s location and then determine the search results that are served. Might be a bit too intrusive for some, which means turning the function off, which is a nightmare because it is really persistent and Chrome does not offer a clear cut way to leave the maze.

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, Rainy Day figured it out. Here’s how to do it: In “Basics”, go to “Search” and then “Manage search engines”. Then scroll down to “Other search engines” and make one of those your default search engine. One that’s done, scroll up to “Default search options” and delete Google. Yes, it’s a scary thing to do, but every now and then one must be like David Cameron and do the brave thing. Now, recreate your new Google search engine using the syntax After you have made this the default search engine, Google will drop the annoying location function in Chrome. But why does it have to be this complicated?