9th September 2005
This week we're barely able to contain our excitement over the launch of Sony's
new PSP, and judging by the record breaking sales it seems we're not the only
ones. We're also wondering who's likely to buy up Friends Reunited, and
cheering on the plucky staff of a New Orleans web hosting company that refuses
to let a little natural disaster put them out of business.
If none of that lights your candle, we've also found out which BBC radio show
gets the most pod-cast downloads and we've found an online service which will
manufacture pretty much anything you can dream up.
We hope you enjoy this newsletter. If you have any feedback or would like to
discuss how we can help you with your technology PR, marketing, copywriting or
surveys, please call me on 0208 996 1653 or email me at
Old friends for sale
At least five bidders are talking to Friendsreunited about acquiring it, or a
significant portion of it. The site, which puts schoolchums in touch with each
other again, is expected to generate profits of £8 million next year, up from
an expected £6.5 million this year. The company's CEO Michael Murphy said: "We
can confirm that the company has recently received a number of credible
approaches from large media groups and internet players." Given the data that
is available in Friendsreunited, the sale could spark protests about privacy,
depending on who ends up owning it.
PSP smashes console launch records
its highly publicised launch on September 1st, early figures show that Sony's
PSP (PlayStation Portable) has smashed all records with over 185,000 units sold
so far in the UK. The previous record for a hardware launch was set by
Nintendo's Gameboy DS at 87,000 in March this year. Hype aside, the device
unarguably kicks portable entertainment into a new era by offering high quality
3D graphics capabilities previously only available from bulky mains-powered
games consoles. Essentially a PS2 whittled down into a slinky, portable form
factor with a good sized wide aspect screen, the machine also allows users to
view a range of movies available on its proprietary Universal Media Disc
format, and we've even seen people playing Futurama episodes ripped from the
web onto the PSP's memory stick.
An integral WiFi adapter lets you connect to the web if you're within range of
a wireless hotspot, although we can't imagine that will be an especially
enjoyable experience without the help of a keyboard. There's no built in
camera, contrary to popular opinion, but if you really want to take photos with
the device, an optional plug-in camera accessory is available. The PSP
currently retails at £180, although it's expected that the price will drop
shortly after the Christmas rush has died down.
You have to feel sorry for Nintendo - for years it led the console market until
Sony barged in with the original PlayStation, and now the company's comfortable
lead in the portable gaming market seems set to disappear in much the same way.
What were they thinking?
As two men suspected of writing the Zotob worm are detained
by Turkish police, the BBC reports on the authors' possible motives. David
Taylor, a senior information security specialist at the University of
Pennsylvania, told the BBC that he traced the virus to an IRC chat channel
where he spoke to an administrator calling himself Diabl0. Diabl0 told him that
one of the worm's purposes was to lower security settings in Internet Explorer
so that pop-ups are displayed. Diabl0 said that he would be paid by the
advertisers for each pop-up advert. Even when the virus was removed, the
security settings would likely be unchanged. It's not clear whether Diabl0 was
one of the two men under arrest, but given how quickly Zotob spread, he could
be quids-in if he's not been caught.
Other virus authors, it seems, are more ideologically motivated: the new
Yusufali-A Trojan suppresses what it believes are pornographic websites and
displays a verse from the Koran instead.
New Orleans Web Host Battles Through Katrina
Extreme situations often turn ordinary men and women into heroes, and there's no
doubt that hurricane Katrina has revealed the hidden courage of many New
Orleans residents. Perhaps the most unlikely of these are the brave souls at
New Orleans hosting outfit, directNIC.com,
who struggled to keep their data centre running and thousands of customers'
websites online under arduous circumstances.
Throughout the crisis several directNIC.com employees have been living at the
data centre, and a detailed account of events since the hurricane struck is
regularly updated on a LiveJournal
blog. A quick scan through some of the blog posts paints a picture of
dedication above and beyond the call of duty; one can only hope the company's
customers appreciate the efforts being put into keeping their sites online.
Attention was drawn to directNIC.com's plight by the webmaster of
SomethingAwful, a popular humour site and one of the hosting provider's
largest customers. SomethingAwful responded by launching a fundraising appeal
on behalf of the Red Cross, which resulted in the site's fans donating over
$30,000 within just nine hours.
Business Travellers Ignoring WiFi - Gartner
Analyst firm Gartner claims that only 17%
of UK businesses travellers and 25% of those in the US are taking advantage of
WiFi hotspots to get online at airports, hotels and similar locations. The
company surveyed more than 2000 travellers on both sides of the pond and found
that rather than technological issues, most of those surveyed cited
educational, financial and cultural reasons for not using it.
Most respondents said they found increased baggage allowances, more personal
space and better entertainment to be more important issues than in-flight email
and Internet access. 75% of UK travellers said they welcomed the chance to be
out of contact for a while during transit and 32% said they had no need for
wireless hotspots even on the ground.
Delia McMillan, research vice-president at Gartner said "Whilst Wi-Fi has come
a long way, our survey shows that many business travellers remain uncertain as
to why they should use Wi-Fi, what equipment they need, how they can connect
and what they will be charged. If Wi-Fi providers really want to attract new
customers they must convince both end users and organisations of its benefits."
Top of the Pods...
By Kate Boulby
Bragg's history programme 'In Our Time' on radio 4 has beaten Chris Moyles'
Radio 1 breakfast show to become the BBC's most popular podcast, averaging
around 30,000 download requests a week.
Podcasting allows users to 'subscribe' to radio programmes and have them
delivered to their PC. Subscribers then automatically receive the latest
edition of the programme as it is aired. Files can also be easily transferred
to an mp3 player via an internet connection and a piece of podcast software
which is usually available free of charge.
Approximately 20 programmes are taking part in the trial, including Radio 4's
Today programme and Five Live's Sportsweek.
Simon Nelson, controller of BBC Radio and Music Interactive, said the figures
reflected the public's appetite for "radio on demand".
"We're delighted to offer new ways of listening that complement other,
increasingly popular technologies like DAB digital radio and digital
television," he said.
But it doesn't end there...
Podcasting may now also be the future for audiobooks. Author
Paul Story has written the first ever novel solely for publication as a
Living in a tent in the Scottish Highlands with no budget for printing and
postage, podcasting appears to be the ideal way to get his story to the masses.
Paul Story's novel 'Tom Corven' is currently being broadcast chapter-by-chapter
over the internet as an audiobook. After writing each chapter, Paul then
records himself reading it out loud and makes the recording available on the
net, with the feed broadcast each week to over 1600 subscribers at the last
The book is still a work in progress, leaving Paul with no time for
procrastination or writer's block. Let's hope he gets the next one finished on
By Kate Boulby
Wonderland, the new luxury glossy mag from BBC2 Dragon's Den joint winner
Huw Gwyther, went on sale yesterday.
The magazine will initially be priced at £4.95, with a starting print run of
140,000 copies. Publishers eventually hope to sell up to 100,000.
Targeted at both male and female readers, Wonderland will cover everything from
fashion, film, music and product design to stage and art. The first issue also
features an exclusive interview with The Aviator's film production designer
Dragon Den, which was shown earlier in the year, featured contestants pitching
business ideas to the expert "Dragons".
The BBC and ITV plan to have all their channels available to all UK
homes in time for the switch off of the signal for analogue TV, scheduled for
By joining forces, they are launching a free-to-air satellite service 'Freesat'
is currently being prepared to roll out to viewers who are currently unable to
access the Freeview digital service.
BBC and ITV aim for the service to become fully available by June of next year.
Freesat will also offer digital radio, a number of interactive services and an
electronic programme guide.
"Our long-stated aim has been to bring about an open market in
subscription-free satellite services so we can ensure free access to all the
BBC's services across the country in the run-up to switchover and beyond," said
Mark Thompson, BBC director general.
At the Guardian, deputy foreign editor Nick Hopkins has moved from the
international desk to become home news editor. He replaces Andrew Culf, who is
now on the sports desk.
The reshuffle of the papers editorial team is to aide the relaunch of its
Berliner format next week.
Prompt Guide to Corporate Doublespeak
Sounds impressive, doesn't it? When your boss utters a phrase like "Strategic
Realignment" it makes you feel like the people in charge really know what
they're doing; the company's future and your career prospects are in the hands
of intelligent, determined, focused people. Wrong. So wrong, in fact, that it's
gone beyond the conventional definition of 'wrong' as we know it and entered a
hitherto unknown realm of super-dense wrongness.
Strategic Realignment actually means: "Everything we've done up to this point
has been a hideous, terrible mistake and we're just this close to
calling in the receivers. But don't worry, the same people who got us into this
mess have come up with some brilliant plans to steer the company in a new
direction and make everything better. Oh, and some people are going to get
fired very soon."
Nanotech in industry #3 : Scanning Probe Microscope Tips
Over the past few issues we have looked at scanning probe microscopes in the
form of STM and AFM, and there are many other types of scanning probe
microscopes such as NSOM (near-field scanning optical microscopy) and MFM
(magnetic force microscopy).
All these scanning probe microscopes require extremely sharp tips to scan over
the sample of interest and, conveniently for the tip industry but
inconveniently for the users, these tips do not remain sharp and are considered
consumables. The tip itself is a sharp point suspended under a cantilever and
is typically made of silicon or silicon nitride.
Tips come in many
shapes and sizes depending on the application. For example one can get very
sharp tips for rough surfaces, hammer-head tips for side-wall profiling or
diamond tips for measuring hard surfaces.
The tip is built on a cantilever, the composition and stiffness of which is
another variable in microscopy depending on the sample under study. Tips are
formed using semiconductor processes such as
chemical etching, photolithography,
deposition and sometimes
All the SPM manufacturers also supply tips but there are some specialist
companies that only provide tips such as
NanoWorld or MicroMasch.
Tips cost £10 to £50 each and last for ten to fifty images depending on the
hardness of the surface and the skill of the microscopist. Unlike printer or
razor manufacturers, companies aren't giving away AFMs to make money on tip
sales - but like the car-spares industry, tip manufacture is a lucrative
business with a mature user base. Investor rating; buy.
Website of the week with Sean McManus -
Ever wanted to make something, but been held back by a complete lack of
practical ability? eMachineShop is an online service that will manufacture
almost anything you want to your exact specifications. The site provides a free
downloadable CAD (computer aided design) package which is designed to be simple
enough for non-experts to use, so all you have to do is draw out your plans and
send them to the company.
The software will automatically detect any possible problems in your design and
tell you exactly how much fabrication will cost. You can choose from a wide
range of materials including metals, woods and plastics. The company will
manufacture your item in quantities of anywhere between one and one million,
and will deliver internationally from the US. You can use the system to produce
anything from tools and machine parts to toys, models, furniture and even
We've already used it to build a robotic copywriter that never eats or sleeps
and is powered entirely by vodka and pictures of kittens.