Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Associated Newspapers buys SimplySwitch for £22m

"LONDON - Associated Newspapers has acquired SimplySwitch, the utility, broadband and phone price comparison service, in a £22m deal that includes a three-year earn-out for the management team."

I suspect they're grossly overpaying. Simply Switch have been roundly thrashed by USwitch in this arena. Utilities suppliers generally pay around £20 per switch. There are around a million regular switchers, making a total of £20 million potential revenue over the year for all the players. If Simply Switch can capture 10% of the market (I suspect they probably have a share around that size now) and have a 50% profit margin (not impossible) we can see £1 million profit a year. As the wholesale prices rise, we should see consumer becoming more accustomed to switching and the number of people switching will also rise.
Unfortunately, this rosy picture is about to be assaulted. Xelector and USwitch are battling it out between them to provide third party listings on major sites. MoneySupermarket and some of the other financial aggregators are moving into the utility bill provision market, hoping to capitalise on their strong brands in the personal finance market.
I think this is the wrong price to pay for a company and the wrong time to buy it. Good luck associated!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Search Medica - The GPs search engine

Yet more vertical search engines. Though this one is in the UK.

It could get quite useful for the medical community, though it will have to struggle to gain usage above Google Scholar.

Good to see people taking on Google on it's own turf though. The interface itself seems to use the clustering idea in order to deliver the best results.

It'd be interesting to see how they intend to make money out of it. Doesn't seem to be anything very obvious here. As I'm cynical, this makes me slightly suspicous. The site is being run by CMP medica who run a large number of journals. Might there be some kind of bias going on?

Is Myspace A Patent Violator?

Friendster was one of the first generation of the social networking sites. They were the first to try many of the ideas from which MySpace and bebo built their empires.
Another thing that they were first to do, it seems, is to run tot he patent office to protect their 'intellecual property'. It seems perverse that the idea of social networking should be granted a patent. Although the technology behind the platform is impressive and deserves protection, the idea of being able to get in touch with your friends seems to be pretty generic.
The problem that America seems to have is their government's willingness to bend towards the wants of business. In this case the patent office has gone too far.
Friendsreunited could be considered one of the first social networking sites. Surely they missed a trick here in patenting their technology? Did BT have something when it tried to patent the hyperlink?
If patents are so important, how did both Microsoft and Apple end up having 'desktops' and 'windows' within their operating systems? Companies and individuals are allowed to challenge the patents, if the owner tries to enforce it.
There should be some kind of method for alternative patent offices to challenge patents approved by foreign companies. Under WTO rules, all members must accept patents awarded by other WTO members. This creates a false market with the most lax patent office winning out.
Currently, the patent office of choice seems to be the US one as it is easier to get a patent and they award patents based on who came up with an idea first rather than when the idea was patented. Something needs to be done!

Hoff for Mayor!

Hoff living here?

I think little could be more perfect than having the Hoff wandering around London. If he can break down the berlin wall, think what he can do for us!

Ryanair.com - CHEAP FLIGHTS - Fly Cheaper, Car hire, Hotels, Travel Insurance

Ryanair trying to go back to being people's champions.
Interesting tactic to pressure the government, but it's probably a good thing that someone is taking a stand against government knee jerk reactions.
Good little piece of branding for them too!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Signs of Witness

Site find from Boing Boing.
It's very difficult to tell whether this is some kind of spoof site or not. It seems to be the world through the prism of a psychotic Christian.
To me, it is difficult to believe that anyone with a world view THIS out of kilter with normality is able to maintain it. The person seems to be getting information from reputable news sources. It can't believe they are this ignorant.
The concerning thing about the growth of user generated content is that some people are going to end up relying on sources like this for news, culture and information. The ways in which people can distort fact in an environment where fact is difficult to prove are worrying.
Alarmists would start moaning that Osama bin Laden is going to start recruiting through his blog. This would be a standard overblown overreaction. We should have faith in the vast majority of people who are still going to seek trusted sources of information.
Brands are key to trust. Information without a source is useless. Sources which are not linked to a reputable brand are worthless.
The current 'social search' as exemplified by Digg and Delicious can help direct people to information but we still need landmarks to rely on for veracity and consistency.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Living Room of the Future

What's in the living room of the future?

Video is coming from new sources, from DVDs, consoles, digital cameras and even mobile phones. We are now moving to a situation where televisions are no longer the central and only consumer entertainment object within the living room. What else is invading this space? What's going to be in front of our sofas?


There is ongoing competition between three different technologies for the mainstay of any digital living room, the display.

These are the Plasma screen, the LCD screen and the projector (and a resulting screen). Note the use of the words 'screen' or 'display' rather than television. There is a definite trend for televisions to be used as screens. The role of decoding television transmission is rapidly being delegated to distinct, separate boxes.
Tuning into external signals (television) is rapidly being delegated to boxes (Sky+, freeview, media centres). Internal signals such as DVDs have traditionally been delivered from external devices too.

Plasma Screens

To be brutally honest, the average consumer doesn't really know the difference between the two competing flat screen standards. Overall, plasma screen has one main advantage over LCD screens and that is price. On a 'price per square inch' basis, plasma wins at the moment. However, they have an ongoing (though slowly being solved) problem with 'screen burn'. This is a major issue as people start shifting towards media centres which will need to be able to surf on the Internet. Wanting to play computer games will also impose further limitations on the people who want to use their screen for games.
Power efficiency is not very good at all - Fujitsu are currently attempting to run some negative PR about the efficiency of the screens. They cannot achieve levels that can beat CRT, let alone beat the LCDs.
Image quality is supposed to be strongest on these screens, as they have the ability to get the strongest 'contrast ratios'. The contrast ratio tells you the difference between white pixels and black pixels. LCD screens tend to be around 500 whereas plasma screens will be around 3000. This leads to more impressive colours, if you believe the marketing blurbs...

LCD Screens

These screens are the most reliable and tend to last the longest, having a very low tendency to suffer from screen burn. LCD is the most price efficient for smaller screens, but they are having difficulty competing with the plasma screens on the larger sizes.
In terms of power efficiency, LCD screens win hands down. They are far more efficient than the average CRT (traditional TV screen) and manage to thrash the plasma screens.
Image quality is not as strong as the other two, however whether the quality is detectable without specialised equipment is a very good question. I strongly suspect that most people will not be willing to pay extra for the plasma screens.


Some might consider a projector a bit of overkill for the average living room. Though a projector can be a more practical solution than a 42" television.
Projectors sit somewhere between LCD and Plasma in terms of picture quality, though they can be the best if you are willing to pay eye watering amounts of money.
Costs tend to vary hugely. If the consumer is not worried about having enough resolution to run HD content, they can get a decent sized projector without spending more than LCD screens.
Projectors will more than likely become a more specialised choice as they will not be a 'space saving solution'. Reliability issues can come into it as projectors can get through their horredously expensive bulbs on a very regular basis.

Video Delivery


Sky+ penetration is growing steadily and heavily. The popularity of the PVR product is very impressive, and does not seem to be something consumers are willing to give up. Sky report seeing their retention rates leap significantly with the introduction of their PVR service. The fact they are willing to subsidise the introduction of the PVR to UK households indicates we will see the majority of homes with this device by the end of the decade.
BARB estimate that PVR penetration will rise to 78% within the next ten years. This is particularly interesting as it predicts that time shifted viewing will still only consist of around 20% of TV watching by this point.
PVRs are very simple to install and extremely easy to use. These two factors are the most important in terms of mass consumer adoption. It is very difficult to see a way in which PVRs, or something very like them will not become the dominant method of watching television. Products are coming to market which combine DVD functions with PVRs, allowing people to have a one stop shop for their video needs.
HDTV will result in more expensive PVRs, but shouldn't produce any signifcant changes to these devices.

Media Centre

Although media centres are currently being touted as the future by Microsoft, the costs of the systems are prohibitive at the moment. Microsoft (and the hardware companies) are looking to people to invest an extra £1,000 in a 'home entertainment system'. Since this is being targeted at people who have already invested in a large screen, companies are looking for a certain class of consumers. Suspicions abound that these consumers will not be found in large numbers.
Media centres offer people the opportunity to combine their PC and therefore internet browsing with the television. This is an interesting proposal, as many research papers (including Touchpoints) have pointed out that many people watch TV while using their PCs for other tasks. Will Microsoft expect people to use more than one computer in their living rooms?
HDTV will be a necessity for the media centres, as many of their functions will not work well on normal, non-HDTV screens.


Video doesn't have to be TV or films, it could also come from consoles. Video game usage among younger people is increasing, and the original 'gamer' generations have now reached the ages where they have serious amounts of spend behind them. Can the console makers convince consumers to spend large amounts of money on their products?
Already people are spending more on games than on cinema. A US study found that a significant proportion of men are spending more on gaming than on music. The average annual UK music spend is around £170. Will we see this being cut into to go towards games?
Both Microsoft and Sony have two strategies available. They can either look to incorporate their 'media centre' product into the new generation of computers emerging, or they can look to upgrade their consoles. The new generation of consoles have the capability to fulfil all the functions of a media centre, should their manufacturers choose to upgrade them.
The most likely scenario will be that the manufacturers will give the media centre another 18 months (until a while after Windows Vista has been launched) to see if they can make more money by selling the more expensive platforms. If this cannot be achieved, then they will move towards providing the necessary functionality on their proprietary platforms.
I suspect that we will see some kind of package come out for the consoles which will allow them to be used as 'digital hubs'. Sony are already pushing the PS3's ability to play the new blu-ray disks. Will they start enabling their PS3s to take TV signals and become PVRs? Will they give the PS3 a fully functional web browser?
Some of the answers are visible from Microsoft. They are trying to extend their 360 brand. Their online presence has recently rebranded to 'Windows Live', deliberately reminiscent of the XBox live. XBox live is one of Microsoft's few web successes (which wasn't bought) so it seems natural that they want to build on success. Plans to sell advertising on the XBox live system would also start their ability to fund an expansion of this service to cover a wider range of content.
Consoles offer the manufacturers a chance to roll back the development of the web and begin to offer 'walled garden internet'. Only allowing approved (or paying) partners within it. This content rich network would then be milked for all the advertising cash they could justify. If any of the three companies (Nintendo could get into this game too) can attract a good number of people to their network, we should see some interesting media opportunities.

Internet (IPTV)

IPTV is a serious proposition. Watching TV over the internet is something which can already happen (BBC's 'watch again' has been in testing for a long period of time). Internet delivery systems for film and video are under development from Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and other companies. Internet delivery requires large amounts of bandwidth to work effectively. Downloading large amounts of video content will result in large costs for the broadcaster and, potentially, for the consumer. Many consumers have deals with their ISPs that limit the total amount they are allowed to download a month. IPTV will be impossible to realise while these caps remain in place for the majority of consumers.
IPTV is a technology that covers a large range of possible solutions. There are current systems in place, being run by Homechoice, NTL and Telewest. Although they currently have a large amount of UK households with the service, details are currently sketchy as to usage.
The homechoice platform is of most interest, as it not only represents a live implementation of IPTV but also shows a possible server \ client implementation of the media centres. This means the homechoice servers (currently physically installed in the telephone exchanges) will be able to run web browsers for living rooms.
The fact that some of the services allow people to watch programmes whenever they want to makes them similar to PVRs. There are consistent rumours that the BBC will introduce a system similar to 'Listen Again' on an IPTV platform.
DVD playing will also be threatened by IPTV. A physical copy of films will no longer be necessary. Many consumers are now comfortable downloading their music. They will be able to download films. Currently, cable operators offer their users the opportunity to 'rent' movies which are then playable for the night through their platform. The rise of Netflix shows there is demand for easy and flexible film hires.


The next major battleground for consumer electronics will be the living room. There are a number of different solutions to the wants and demands of the modern consumer. The television battleground will end with LCDs on the top, though there will never be a uniform technology again in the same way that CRT once ruled the roost. There is constant innovation within this field and we should expect to see new technologies being able to deliver visuals in the near future.
The method of receiving the signals is where the majority of uncertainty lies. IPTV has the potential to deliver the majority of people's video content, though it will be necessary to develop enough infastructure to deliver the required bandwidth. In the short term, however, the PVR will be the most used solution before the rise of IPTV.
Consoles represent an attractive route into the living room for the major players. Sony is definitely using the PS3 as an 'advance guard' into the living room. Once the PS3 has been bought, consumers will then have a need for a HDTV. Microsoft hope to keep their operating system at the heart of home users, and so will aim to start extending the possibilities of their console offering.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Microsoft Training Video

Don't quite see why Microsoft have made this video, but Gervais always manages to amuse.

I'd be interested to know how much he charged them to appear

Friday, August 18, 2006

More hippies

The middle eastern conflict is very serious and important. Huge risks are taken on by each side. Both sides are ready, willing and seemingly eager to hurl themselves at the enemy not caring if they live or die.

Since these are small countries, they both also represent proxy wars by the region's major powers.

Therefore the Guardian decides the most relevant way to gain insight into the situation is to talk to local authors. On both sides.

Bloody arts students.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Guardian Unlimited Business | | London Lite risks newspaper 'bloodbath'

"Paul Zwillenberg, at OC&C Strategy Consultants, suggested paid-for and free papers could co-exist if they catered for different readers. Free papers opened an audience for advertisers they had not been able to reach with paid-for papers"

I want to be a strategy consultant - it sounds easy. I'd be good at it - look!
"If you give people free things, you might attract people who wouldn't normally pay for it"

"You can sell two of the same thing if you sell them to two different people"

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Plasma screens threaten eco-crisis

I really do hate hippies very very much.

There's a story in the Observer today bemoaning the current crop of consumers who are running into shops to buy 'flat screen TVs.' These TVs are going to result in so much energy demand that we'll need two new nuclear power stations to cope with the demand.

The calculations are rubbish - and also stupidly flawed. They calculate the amount of energy needed to have all the TV sets on at the same time, not taking into consideration the fact that a large percentage of these TVs will be replacements. Each TV will not result in incremental demand, just the difference in power between the old tv and the new tv.

They also confuse Plasma screen and flat screen the whole way through the article. Plasma screens are about twice as power hungry as old CRT screens. However, LCD screens are about half as power hungry as old CRT screens. Guess which ones are cheaper?

The problem here is that Fujisu Siemens have done some PR with their 'Chief Technology Officer' telling the newspaper about the problems with Plasma screens (hoping that they will then talk up the power consumption of LCD screens). The stupid arts graduates at the Observer obviously then has no idea of the difference in technologies making up flat screens. The idiots
(names: David Smith and Juliette Jowit) then got up on their environmental high horses and bemoaned the new british consumer.

Then, to top it all off, they go on about the wasted energy in standby electronics. Yes, a small amount of energy is wasted in standby electronics. If you compare this waste with the amount of energy saved by getting 5% of the UK population to use energy saving bulbs, you'll see where the best use of time and effort is.

Lesson - don't trust journalists. They are stupid.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Yet another one in the eye for the Hippies

A quick story from the BBC news site pointing out that wind turbines aren't generating as much energy as originally planned. Only attaining a third of the planned capacity sounds pretty rubbish.
However, the stats that they're looking at are slightly misleading. The story is reporting that they are only generating 30% of their 'capacity'.
The capacity is measured by the amount of energy that the wind farm would produce if they turned at full power 100% of the time. To be fair to the builders, reaching 30% of this number is extremely good going. If wind farms are being built the on assumption that they could get much higher than this, then that is slightly worrying.
Go nuclear!


Lego has always been one of my favourite things in the whole world.

Now they've released a robot! That's prorammable.

And made of LEGO!

I feel yet another boyhood regression coming on...

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Damn good film. Transposing a noir film into an American high school.
The whole idea of cliques and politics running rampant across a school works extremely well. Would have enjoyed going to a school like the one portrayed in the film. An adult world within a child's environment.
I like the idea of being called 'the pin'. I want to be a master criminal.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Big Brother and rant against BARB

Sometime there are times when I fell proud to be a snob, other times when I don't.

Big brother is one of those times where I feel justified in looking for slightly more quality than the average Peon. I think Peon is the right term. The people you see in the TV show represent the most extreme ends of the spectrum of Britain. More than that, they represent only the 'scum' end of this spectrum.
The programme itself is designed to make people feel better about themselves. "I might be an annoying person, but at least I'm not as bad as [insert relevant BB character here]." Maybe it fulfils a role within society of keeping the peons quiet through the summer. Maybe we should be grateful - without BB, people might be burning cars in the estates like the French in their equivalents.
I know there is a certain degree of snobbery in deciding that I don't like Big Brother. There's a whole media commentator beast out there determined to find things to disgust them within BB. I, quite proudly, have seen no more of the series than possible. Once I work out that BB is on, I either leave the room or change the channel.
My own personal boycott shows up the problems inherent within the BARB TV ratings system. I've got to hope that the people who 'represent' my demographic on the panel aren't watching the thing. If the people who represent me are watching, C4 will get the money and will commission more programmes like it to take advantage of this perceived niche. How anyone can even hope that a panel of 5,100 homes can possibly represent the almost 25 million British households is beyond me.
We are fast approaching the point where there is almost one TV channel for every five BARB homes. Soon we will see homes using IPTV. Where will these shows count? They won't be at the correct time. BARB has enough trouble with PVRs, let alone people watching shows independently of the channel. It might have advertising in it, it might not. WHo knows?


Bloomsbury Bowling

Originally uploaded by mild_swearwords.

Went bowling again last night, courtesy of Ad.com.

Really fun - want more chances to go bowling! Strangely, the food we were having was Sushi. Didn't know bowling was that big a thing in Japan.

Must be, the place we went (Bloomsbury Bowling) had Karaoke booths and everything.

Unforunately didn't do very well - I was doing my usual spinning thing, but I just couldn't get it consistent. Or I hadn't had enough beer. One of the two.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

New Conspiracy Theory

Interesting piece of detective work by a blogger.
Not the kind of stuff I usually read as this is some kind of right wing nutjob, but nevertheless quite interesting.
To be fair, both sides know how to play the PR game and are quite willing to exploit casualties to make sure that there is maximum publicity.
The fact that Hizbollah is willing to use civilian casualties against the Israelis is a positive thing, in my opinion. They should use them for maximum impact because it is giving the Israelis additional incentives (which they shouldn't really need in the first place) to not kill innocent civilians.
I haven't read this blog that thoroughly, but it doesn't seem to be implying that the Qana bombing was anything apart from what it appeared to be.
Quite good and convincing detective work by the blogger though. Maybe we'll see them turn up an actual story at some point soon!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A cool solution to waste disposal (July 2006) - News - PhysicsWeb


I remember being taught in school that half lives couldn't be changed by any physical process at all. If half lives can be reduced, we can bash all the hippys out of the land and start building nuclear power stations.

I'm sure people would start making new funky tools which would increase the half life within nuclear weapons, thus disarming countries without them knowing. Would involve a James Bond style infiltration of a nuclear bunker and attaching some kind of device to it. But you never know!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Michael Portillo

Am watching Newsnight. Michael Portillo seems to be the one defending Blair against the evil people from the Lib Dems and Jack Straw's version of the labour party.

What's going on? I was expecting Portillo to open his mouth and say how he didn't think Blair knew what he was doing. The ex-special advisor for Jack Straw seems to be all about criticising Blair.

The Israelis need another ten days. To do what? Ten days aren't enough to take the county over by ground. What are they going to acheive by further bombings and arbitrary raids into random villages slightly close to their northern border?

Scary stuff.