Category Archives: News

Goodbye Google Reader

I have had an account with Bloglines, then it closed, so I moved to Google Reader. This was about 5 years ago.

I have many blog and news feeds collated in there and it represents my window on the world, at least it used to.

To tell you the truth I haven’t opened it in at least a year. Sure it’s sad to see it go but I doubt I’ll miss it. My life has now gone almost entirely “mobile”.

I’m very happy with FlipBoard on my iPhone to “flip” through the news when I have a spare second. I find it more usable, immediate and pleasing to the eye.

RIP Google reader, you will certainly be remembered but I, for one, won’t miss you.

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The health business

This is a subject that, inevitably, makes me feel incredibly stupid and conflicted.

I am a big fan of free markets. However, when it comes to healthcare and the drugs business I am in two minds. While I agree that competition will probably push research forward and drive prices down I am not sure there should be a market there at all. I’m not particularly fussed about aspirin or vitamins. Those are drugs we can live without. However, when it comes to treatments for potentially fatal diseases I have an issue: A corporation, by its own nature, has a very different agenda and priorities than its customer’s health.

What is happening at the moment in India is the perfect example of this. and Time magazine picking up the issue in an article has finally brought the issue to a world’s audience.

In 1970, the Indian government disallowed the patenting of drugs, paving the way for Indian pharmaceutical companies to freely produce medicines pioneered by foreign drug companies at a fraction of the cost.

The price of HIV/AIDS treatment, a first-line combination of stavudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine, which cost patients $10,000 a year in 2000, now sells for $150 worldwide, due primarily to Indian companies’ low cost manufacturing.

In 2005, as a requirement of admission into the WTO, India reenacted patent protections for intellectual property, which included medicines. The Indian patent law, however, set the bar much higher than in the U.S.

I have no interest in the trial surrounding Glivec as I believe there is a more fundamental issue to be addressed – should corporations be allowed to set a price on your survival?

It’s a tricky subject and there’s arguments, some more valid than others, on both sides. My answer to the above question is NO.

Especially when a corporation producing drugs priced for the western world is trying to impose its trademark and prices to countries such as India.

A practical example is the cost of Glivec per life-year saved (disgusting term) $43,100

… cost of imatinib at $43,100 per life-year saved. A commonly accepted cost threshold for medical therapies in the United States is $50,000 per life-year saved.

The average annual income in India is 34,551 Rupees a year – roughly $500.

That’s a lot of years you’ll have to work for each life-year saved you can buy from Novartis.

If you can spare a couple of minutes go and have a look at Novartis’ board of directors. These are the disgusting people you can buy your life-years from.

Do me a favour. Send them all a letter. Tell them to go get stuffed

 

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Maps – Open vs Closed

World MapYesterday,  Following Foursquare’s announcement of their decision to switch to OpenStreetMap,  I had a long discussion on Twitter about the merits of open and “closed” map systems.

I am a big fan of Google maps. I like using the website both from my pc and my iPhone.
The only interaction I have had with OpenStreetMap has been through the Skobbler navigation app for the iPhone. I had even paid to get the offline maps. My experience was a thoroughly disappointing one. Partly because of the maps not being very accurate but mainly because of the frustration with the application. After spending the money to get the offline maps the app kept telling me to connect to the internet to navigate – which entirely defeats the purpose of paying for the offline maps.

Normally I’m a big supporter of openness. However, in this particular care, I find myself thinking that a “closed” system is probably better. I am using the word close losely here as what I mean is not a system unaccessible to developers but rather a system maintained and paid for by a private corporation.
My reasons are the following:

  1. “Mapping” is an expensive business – A private corporation fully invested in this business is likely to spend considerable sums of money making sure its maps are accurate and reliable, globally. Globally here is a keyword for me. OpenStreetMap is not likely to get very accurate data in areas which are not easily reachable or don’t have easy access to the internet (and that’s where I like to travel and use my maps)
  2. People are lazy – We see it all the time. Wikipedia (which I love) is updated only by a handful of users  while being consumed by billions – Creating content on Wikipedia requires relatively little (physical) effort, on the other hand creating content for OpenStreetMaps includes going out, driving and therefore spending money. Granted there will always be a handful of people eager to create and share this information, but is that enough to keep a world atlas up to date?
  3. Being popular online is expensive – OpenStreetMap to keep growing in popularity will have to raise an ever larger amount of money to keep its hosting facilities up to scratch to deal with the demand. Of course a business has the same issue, but they make money out of it and this money is invested in keeping the facilities up-to-date.

I love the idea of OpenStreetMap being an open data source and API rather than a product (like Google maps). I love how customisable it is and how easy it is for developers to integrate. Nevertheless I am not sure it will be able to stay accurate in the long run. Yesterday Skobbler’s creator claimed that OpenStreetMap is already better than Google maps in Germany. Just out of curiosity I went to google maps, picked a random small town in the middle of Germany then went to have a look at it on OpenStreetMap – quite a few roads where missing (especially dead end roads) – Urgh.

What do you think?

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Route.ly – Discover and share the best driving routes

Route.ly - Discover and share the best driving routes around the globeIt all started a couple of months ago. I am a keen biker and on one of the rare sunny weekends the weather god bestows upon England I decided to take my motorbike out for a spin.

The problem is, I’m not English. I didn’t grow up here so I know very few routes outside of London. I didn’t have a specific destination and wasn’t looking for culture. All I wanted was a spectacular windy road with breathtaking views to enjoy myself doing what I like most. Driving.

I quickly fired up a browser and asked Google whether they knew of some good driving roads around me. Needless to say I couldn’t find anything except for some blog post detailing how the writer had a blast that day with their friends.

When I arrived home that evening I decided to build a website to do just that – Discover and share the best driving routes around the globe – and now, after a couple of months of work, Route.ly is here.

No more disappointingly random day trips for me, or any other biker in unknown surroundings all over the world!

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Google vs Apple – Cell phone war continues

Ever since Schmidt resigned from Apple’s board we all knew that a feud between the two companies was about to start.

Google had just launched Android, a Mobile OS. I’m sure we are all too aware of this.
Android wasn’t, and still isn’t a serious competitor for Apple’s iPhone. Google’s OS still has a long way to go to reach the “slickness” of the iPhone OS. Furthermore Google doesn’t have control over the hardware running its OS. Which means that the brilliancy of the OS can be completely overshadowed by the absurdity of the hardware. Honestly, some of the Android phones look like they have been designed by some boffin called Jenkins who was given complete freedom by their boss, Who should have instead said “No Jenkins you imbecile that’s not a phone. It’s crap. Do it again.”

I’m getting side-tracked. Let’s get back to the point.

Today Google announced Google Map Navigation for Android; and somehow I doubt it will make it to the iPhone. My guess is that Google is repaying Apple in kind for the whole Google Voice debacle. This is a serious blow and Apple will have some work to do to catch up with this.

More importantly Google Maps Navigation runs entirely off the net.
I have an iPhone with the Navigon app. It’s great but on my slim 8GB iPhone 25% of the storage is used for Navigon maps. With mobile internet connectivity becoming ever more ubiquitous this is definitely the way to go.

All I can hope for is that the rumor that came out a while ago about Google developing its own mobile phone is true. Then I might seriously consider giving up my iPhone.

UPDATE: AppleInsider reports that Google is in fact planning to port Google Maps Navigation to iPhone. If Apple approves the application, that is. Just PR or are they actually working on it?

“Apple is a close partner,” a Google spokesperson told AppleInsider Wednesday. “Millions of users experience Google Maps on the iPhone. We will continue to work with Apple to bring innovation, including Latitude and Navigation, to users but you’ll have to speak to Apple about availability.”

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Have they seen the light?

The Register, among many other news sites, reports that UK TV giants BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are to launch an on-demand video streaming service sometime in 2008.

Details are scarce in today’s announcement, but we’re promised “an exciting collection of over 10,000 hours of the very best of the UK broadcasters’ current and archive programming”. We’ve known about the project, codenamed “Project Kangaroo”, for some months now. The launch name hasn’t been revealed yet.

Will they get it right this time?
I’m perfectly ok with free streaming and pay for download/rental – one question though, are they finally going to shunt DRM protection?

I’d like to think the BBC has learned something from the verbal abuse it’s taken after the iPlayer was launched – or perhaps they’ll just do as they please and throw some rubbish like this at me:

14. Does Napster work with iPod?
Napster would like to work with your iPod, but Apple has chosen to keep both the iPod and iTunes closed off from Napster and every other digital music service. Napster’s philosophy is different. A Napster subscription gives you more ways to discover and enjoy music on more players. For a list of Napster-compatible players, click here.

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Google tackling online storage

After much anticipation and hype the Gdrive seems to be on its way, or so the WSJ reports.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific online storage plans beyond what it already offers as part of its email and other services. But she said in a statement that “storage is an important component of making Web [applications] fit easily into consumers’ and business users’ lives.”

Most companies, from small businesses to big giants are moving their environments online to make documentation/presentations or whatever else may be needed available to their employees, wherever they may be whenever they want.

As I said in a previous post Google is pushing its online productivity suite and a shared online storage could definitely give an additional boost to the entire system.
The online storage is one of the few reasons why I use .Mac, the second rationale behind the choice is that the interface is just brilliant, the iDisk is mounted as a file system and directly accessible from my Finder.

In my opinion if Google really wants to make the Gdisk a must have for small/big businesses a client software to access the data is vital – not because it works better, but because it is a step final users have to go through to get used to online storage solutions. Most people don’t, and won’t for a while, use Writely or Google’s new PowerPoint-ish software – they’ll keep creating documents in their local environment and the sensation of accessing a local drive to save their work will make them feel somewhat more secure.

For its office components to attract big businesses Google still has do a great deal of work on the corporate accounts handling side – being able to organize accounts in groups and set different access permissions on a Gdisk’s folders would be a great start.
Another useful additional feature, which as I understand is due sometime soon, is offline availability of the applications. An internet connection is not always available and an entire company can’t just stop working because IT people in the basement are messing around with routers.

Having said that it’s not only functionality-related issues Google has to address but also privacy and security questions. If they want more of our data to be stored on their servers, and with Gdisk it wouldn’t only be images and documents but all sort of data we may not want other people to see, we expect Google to have some pretty satisfactory answers ready – Especially when we’re talking about reserved and potentially vital information its business customers save in the cloud.

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Now this is a big deal

There’s been a couple of rumors floating around in the last two days regarding everyone’s favorite internet giant, Google.

First came the news about Ebay selling Skype after losing a little bit more than 1 billion dollars over the value of the initial acquisition. Google is of course named among the potential bidders.
Now we hear that Google is getting ready to bid for some of the coveted 700-megahertz spectrum in the auction due to begin on Jan 24th.

Google phone “From the company’s perspective, the overriding factor is how to foster more openness in networks. That is certainly the driving factor in our thinking about bidding on the spectrum.”
The 700-MHz band airwaves, which are being returned by broadcasters as they move from analog to digital signals early in 2009, can go long distances and penetrate thick walls. The auction is seen as a last chance for a new wireless player.
Google is considering funding a bid not only from its growing cash pile but by working with Wall Street. Outside financing would reduce its need for partners, one source said.
Google has said it would be prepared to bid at least $4.6 billion for the biggest chunk of spectrum if regulators agreed to policies to promote open use of such networks.

Now I don’t know about you but I definitely think that this is a BIG deal. Google seems to be gearing up to do something more than just release an open-source OS for mobile phones.
The internet giant could, with these 3 items in its shopping cart, seriously corner the mobile internet market.

Another thing comes to mind. By integrating Skype on all its android-powered mobiles and providing said mobiles with free/cheap wireless connectivity Google could easily score a checkmate against the major carriers.

It’s all good and well but such a move certainly isn’t cheap. Google would have to bring in some partners to finance the entire operation. If instead of picking a partner it will “work” with Wall-Street as the article quoted above suggests it will still have to give away some of the control they might have by being the only player.

If we do some math we have something between 1.2 and 1.5 billion $ to buy Skype off Ebay (just a guess off the top of my head). Anything between 4.5 and 5 billion $ for the band airwaves. To these costs we have to add another hefty sum which Google will have to cough up to maintain Android free whilst building and evolving it.

I think we are looking at a total of around 7 to 8 billion. Let me say it again, this is a BIIIIG deal, Google is betting big here and if something goes wrong – which is very likely as I don’t think giants like AT&T or Verizon will concede without a fight – They’ll be in big trouble. Google’s market cap at the moment is of 195.79 billion $, however with the current volatility of the markets I wouldn’t put too much trust in that number – The statistic we have to keep in mind is that according to its sec filings Google has something around 13 billion $ in cash available, a big sum, but looking at the figures I mentioned above the sum looks a bit stretched.

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More unlocked iPhones for Europe

It seems that the EU really has something against American companies trying to lock their customers with exclusive contracts.
Apple, very much like Microsoft, has received a serious blow when Vodafone obtained a court order that requires rival T-Mobile Germany to sell Apple’s iPhone handset to Germans without a service plan.

Coverage of the matter by Dow Jones differs somewhat from the local German press by implying that the temporary injunction restricts any and all iPhone sales in Germany, rather than just those that would be sold with a contract. But due to the agreement between T-Mobile and Apple that iPhone only be sold with a service plan, it’s likely that both scenarios would produce the same result temporarily.

No doubt both Apple and T-Mobile will fight back. However, if the court order is confirmed and ratified, I don’t expect the potential legal battle to go anywhere.

I am not convinced by either approach. Love the idea of having even more unlocked iPhones around, and with the new rail tracks I can go from London to Paris in a little over 2 hours and pick up my phone there. On the other hand I don’t think Apple’s deal with T-Mobile has anything to do with anti-trust and unfair competition.
Obviously assuming that Apple was actually fair when deciding who to work with and was impartial when judging both carriers’ proposals.

All in all it sounds like Vodafone really didn’t like loosing the battle over the iPhone and instead of working to fight back with better services and contracts is just playing the primary school kid card.

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Kindle ignited

Amazon has finally launched its E-Book reader, Kindle, available now for 399 $ with access to 88,000 books including 100 of the 112 New York Times best sellers.

The entire idea sounds pretty exciting, especially considering that the big A will pick up all the “phone bills” for its Whispernet service, which is based on Sprint’s EVDO.

Whispernet allows Kindle owners to wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, dowload and receive content and works out the box — no setup required. Newspaper subscriptions cost $5.99 to $14.99 per month and Kindle Magazines cost between $1.25 and $3.49 per month — each is available for a free 2 week trial. Oddly, blogs will cost you $0.99 per month to subscribe. Just running down the specs again: internal storage for 200 titles (more via SD expansion), 10.3 ounces.

Today Seth Goding was advocating Amazon’s debut in the publishing world, or rather, virtual publishing.

I love the idea and fully recognize its potential, definitely the future, I’m afraid not mine. I love reading books, I do read every night and love my collection, which I always display proudly on my shelf. Not quite so proudly right now because I have exceeded the amount of avilable space and have started piling books all over the place, but I’m working on that.

Update: GigaOm has an interesting article I completely agree with. Inexpensive ebook reader and earn money through the books. Whoever is likely to buy an ebook reader is certainly not looking to a technology packed gizmo.

Update: Kindle hardware features

  • It doesn’t use a generic RSS aggregator — it’s Amazon-selected blogs only (and they “want every blog they can get”). Blogs that are aggregated by the Kindle get a revenue share with Amazon, since it costs money to get those publications.
  • The side scroller is, as we expected, a polarized PNLCD (pneumatic LCD). It looks amazing.
  • It’s SD only, not SDHC.
  • It uses the Kindle file format (which is a variant of structured HTML), but also accepts Word and PDF files (but only via email since they need to be converted by Amazon), Mobi, HTML, plaintext, and image files like JPEG, GIF, and PNG. Sorry, no RTF.
  • Oh yes, it supports Audible! Oh, and a little, unused file format called MP3.
  • It has a user-replaceable, 1530mAh battery
  • You can bind five or six devices to a single account, and share books you’ve purchased to those accounts. There’s no simultaneous reading lock, so if you and your significant other are on the same Amazon account you can both read the same book at the same time on your Kindles.
  • Amazon is also releasing the Digital Text Platform, which allows users to upload their own content to the Kindle store for sale and download.
  • The $9.99 price point is the sweet spot, but there are books for sale from the Gutenberg project for under $1 (if you don’t want to download them for free yourself), and upwards of that quoted $10 price point as well.
  • Amazon wouldn’t say who makes the device, just that “it’s an OEM in China.”
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