Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rediscovering C Crane at CES 2012

I love connecting the past with the present, especially as everything is often new again. In the days when I hosted a wireless show for Radio Netherlands, we often featured medium-wave listening from the powerhouses like Radio Luxembourg to the rare stations which were only logged under very quiet solar conditions or during DXpeditions to the Arctic. If you click on either of those two links you can listen to or download those programmes right now. But I digress.

While travelling in the States I picked up the great General Electric SuperRadio II (photo above) which had a superb set of speakers on it and a great receiver inside. And all for under US$50. I paid 39 bucks for it at a discount store in Virginia. 

If you have one, hang on to it. If you want to know more, check out this excellent link to David Moison's site. It was produced from the late 1980's until 1994 when it was replaced by the (less good) Superradio III. They were all made in China to a US spec, but I never saw them in Europe. Perhaps because the sets never did longwave or that the mains power was integrated into the set and was only 120 volts. But that didn't matter to me because the other thing about it was that the batteries lasted for ever. My set lasted for 15 years until the dial cord snapped out of sheer wear and tear and I didn't have access to David's site to know how to fix it properly. I hope Joe's Radio Page will forgive me for lifting their photo. 

When the Superradio disappeared, the only serious contender that came anywhere close was produced by a northern Californian firm called C.Crane. They modified radios made by Sangean and came up with a series of very sensitive AM sets, which also perform well on the 2 metre ham band. I have one of the early versions. The price has come down to 150 US Dollars and they say they have tweaked the CCRadio-2 for better AM performance.

I lost touch with the company but remembered the name when they were popped up at CES 2012. Seems they are still around, operating out of an unassuming warehouse in Fortuna, in the wilds of Humboldt County, California. Leo Laporte interviewed them on his tour of one of halls and it was then I discovered their fascination with long-distance wifi

I travel a lot and often find the WiFi in the hotel to be less than satisfactory. C Crane make a USB WiFi antenna which plugs into a Mac or PC laptop and vastly improves the reception (and therefore the throughput) of the WiFi. It hang over a curtain rail with a lanyard or you can use suction cups to fix it to a window. The antenna costs just under 110 dollars and comes with a split USB cable, so if you have two USB ports on the computer you can get even better reception by using both. 

There are also circumstances where it would be useful to connect two buildings with wifi. C Crane also sell a kit which can connect buildings up to 5 km away - the range really depends on the local terrain. If the antenna's can't see each other, then forget it. Their preconfigured set up costs around 300 US dollars including the directional antennas shown above. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Help wanted in Kigali

So how could this happen? A newspaper in Kigali gets a sudden increase in traffic. May be it is because they are measuring hits not unique visitors. The website is full of ads, each of which generates several hits for each visitor. The website is actually quite good. But the reasoning is faulty. Don't go into a boast about hits...it will end in tears.

KIGALI - Shortly after featuring among the most visited websites on the African continent, The New Times web portal registered 13,178,261 hits last month alone.

It literally means that readers of The New Times exceeded the country’s total population by over 2 million, as the newspaper’s online version grows by the day.
At the beginning of this week, 8,254,317 had visited the website this month.

The January statistics show the second biggest number of hits following the over 14 million hits in September and October 2010.

February statistics indicate that on average, Wednesday is the day in the week when the www.newtimes.co.rw is most visited registering 563,575.33 hits, followed by Thursday with 510, 998.33 hits and Monday with 501,337.50 hits.

The busiest time on website is between 7 a.m., and 9 a.m., 705,290 hits at 7am, 802,789 hits at 8 am and slightly dropping to 655,492 at 9am, indicating that most people in the country and region read the website first thing in the morning.

Rwanda leads the pack of countries where The New Times is widely read, registering 3,231,720 hits, followed by United States with 1,246, 607 and Canada at 647,449 in January and February.

Great Britain followed closely with 540,622, while on the African continent, South Africa leads with 164,793 hits. In the region, Uganda leads 18,216 followed by Kenya with 14,722.

According to The New Times IT and Production Manager, Jean Pierre Twizeyimana, the growing trend is a result of the improved quality in content and a redesigned website.

“Our website has continued to register a considerable amount of traffic in terms of visits and hits, whereby in December 2010 it had 12 million hits and more than 13 million in January 2011,” he said.

“The trend keeps going up by the day. We hope by the end of this year we will have moved to the top 15 of the most visited websites on the continent,” said Twizeyimana.

“The reason behind this growth is because the content has greatly improved in terms of quality and accuracy, and the new design implemented last year is more user-friendly. We are continuing to add more features to make it even better.”

The New Times emerged among the top 25 news website in Africa in a survey conducted by 4International Media & Newspapers (4IMN) of Australia, this year.

Intellgient, cheap USA charger. Unplug and it switches itself off

I have a power block that closes itself down when current is not being drawn. But this is the first time I have seen the technology in a USB charger. The video seems to be an over-the-top promotion for a 13 US dollar charge, but still. When you unplug the phone, the power consumption of the charger drops to near zero.

Monday, February 14, 2011

IPad Killers - Enter LG in Barcelona

I have not really been a fan of LG so far. Bought a phone a few years back and although it has great software and features, it was mechanically poorly constructed and fell apart in my pocket. Now, introducing the LG Optimus Pad designed to be a direct competitor to the Apple iPad. Sleek stuff. Curious to see how Apple is going to react with their iPad2. One point that surprises me is the fact that this iPad seems to have two cameras in it for 3D capture..if I understand the trailer completely.

For the moment I am going to wait and see. And take good note of the what the telecom guys add to the plan. The Motorola iPad likker called the 'Xoom' is still supposed to be launched in the US in a few weeks time on 24th February. Rumoured to cost 800 US dollars, look at the details of the 3G/Wifi plan. There were rumours that you had to buy a 3G plan in order to switch the wifi on! If true, its bonkers. So Xoom is off my shopping list from the start and I don't believe they are going to make the Feb 24th deadline. And the LG ...it is so fresh at Mobile World Congress that I need time to take it all in. It will live of die by the strength of the apps, not just the beauty of the hardware. LG still win the prizes for rebranding. Remember when LG meant Lucky Goldstar and it was a plastics brand that also made toothpaste? I am sure that LG hope you don't.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

iPad for Presenters

It is inspiring to see what's happening in live event studios and the type of technology that is now being put in front of the presenter. During live sports or elections, you now see many anchors standing up and wandering around between tables of guests. So is there a need for them to be in control of the graphics or video sequences by tapping an iPad with a special app on it? You be the judge. I actually would find it useful as an autocue or memory jogger during live stand-ups. Beats a notepad.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Fraunhofer and the Future of Radio on Vimeo

Fraunhofer, the German labs that develop all kinds of coding technology are probably the best known for their MP3 audio encoding system used to squeeze lots of music onto portable music players in the 90's and 00's. They also developed a way to compress the audio onto the now defunct Worldspace satellite system. So what are they up to now? It seems from this interview on the Fraunhofer stand at the recent IBC that they are putting video and text into low bandwidth audio transmission systems. Whilst I see that they have managed to squeeze video into a very tiny pipe, I don't share the sort of Open University for Africa dream that I see demonstrated here. With the number of shortwave transmitters in the region being reduced, and few DRM capable transmitters in the region, that video option may have come too late. So what do you think?

Insights into Radio's Hybrid Future 2011 on Vimeo

It hasn't been an easy path for radio to go from analogue FM broadcasting to a digital future. But the arrival of new IP based platforms has forced a rethink - and I think the path forward is now much clearer. I think broadcasters should be thinking about how to integrate the notion of apps into their programme formats. At the European Broadcasting Union in Geneva, Switzerland they are developing practical proposals to show broadcasters the kind of content that can benefit from radios with screens. That is going to be important as the 2 trillion dollar car industry starts getting rid of the FM radio as a separate device in the dashboard. That is also important because radios with screens may be devices like tablets as well as discrete radios we know and love.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Soluto Antfrustration Software

I first saw this Israeli software mentioned by Robert Scoble and installed it to test it out. It's simply brilliant if you're a Windows 7 user and trying to work out what is causing your PC to slow down over time. Apparently there is more to come in a matter of weeks time. Still in glorious beta. The press room at LeWeb had this strange blue spotlight beaming in to the interview area.

Clipping the web - great tools for researchers

I have no problem stumbling upon all kinds of interesting material, but Googling your bookmarks history is not the best way finding documents, videos and web pages for a second time. As part of my quest to find relevant applications for editors and researchers, I've been comparing various clipping services. There are a few out there, but only a couple that seem to be actively developing new features. I've been playing with Memonics after a chance encounter with Keren Eldad at LeWeb10. I am very impressed. I think its better than Evernote. I see that Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung (NZZ) is also experimenting with it, though I don't think they really explain the potential of the service very well. Memonics really starts saving you time when you're able find the stats you were looking for without resorting to a search engine. Hope they prosper. Complements nicely the features I see in Pearltrees.com

Kodak's New Camera's

I have been impressed about how Eastman Kodak has embraced social media - and listened to its public of camera users. It has done a much better job than the likes of Sony, Canon and Nikon. And this from a former chemical company! I have been using the Kodak Zi8 for simple reporting work - and it turns out very acceptable video, especially if you add an external lavalier microphone. I'd put it well ahead of the Flip camera just because of the sound quality. I have also tried filimg with an iPhone, but not impressed. In Paris at Leweb10 I saw the camera that's coming next. And do download their tips for social media.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Radio DNS

This is the first in a series of short videos made at IBC-2010 to explain Radio's connected future, or perhaps "hybrid" is a better description. In this segment, Nick Piggott explains the bridging function that RadioDNS will provide and the problems it will solve for the global radio industry. I think the great thing about RadioDNS is that the concept is simple, it is already implemented in some countries and it works with any kind of FM or digital radio.

To me it is the equivalent of the decision in 1963 to adopt a 19 kHz pilot tone to switch on the "stereo" indicator on an FM radio. RadioDNS deserves the same instant global hit (and therefore rapid adoption). See radiodns.org for more information.

Radio and cars of the future

Leweb10 continues to surprise, becoming a sort of SxSW for European entrepreneurs. At the one just held in Paris, Renault Nissan gave away the keys to one of its new electric city vehicles, the Twizy. Delivery will be at LeWeb11 in Paris in December 2011. Chairman and CEO Carlos Ghosn suggested that there will always be a market for personal mobility. The car industry needs to adapt to maintain its position as the most desirable object for most people. That means responding to concerns about energy - but also opening up the car as a platform for application developers rather like the iPhone and Android. Hopefully the personal mobility industry, worth 2 trillion dollars we're told, will be able to agree on some open standards to avoid the developer nightmares we've seen in the mobile handset space. Sit back and watch the demo of the first in a series of new Renault electric cars. And then join me in working out what radio needs to do to be part of the application boom that is coming to in-car entertainment. Radio needs to remain part of personal mobility as the car radio disappears as a discrete device.

Camtasia, Lectures & Screen Capture

At the recent Leweb conference in Paris, I bumped into two people who know more than most about capturing conversations. Many colleges and universities spend a fortune providing lectures to under a hundred students at any one time. Even some of the better learning institutions have not found a way to capture that knowledge on video so that it can not only be viewed again later but also used for distance learning. I'm surprised this isn't being given a higher priority. Techsmith certainly have worked out a lot of answers, focussing on keeping capture as simple as possible. Yes you can capture a screen with a standard keyboard action. But you can't manipulate it as easily without SnagIt. Cheap program that's saved me hours making Powerpoints or Keynotes.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Christina Fox on what's better than DSLR

I need a new camera to replace my ageing HD cameras that rely on tape. I have done quite a lot of research into the use of DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) stills cameras for video work. And for that "cinema" look (shallow field of depth), I have been tempted.

Until I went to the Panasonic stand at IBC 2010.

Now that the PR hype around the show has finished for this year, time to reflect on what I really saw. I am helped in this video by Christina Fox, who is a brilliant trainer and camera specialist. She runs an excellent site at urbanfox.tv, where I see she is also changing the line-up of cameras she trains on. If you want a great briefing on video journalism, then Christina is definitely the one to hire. She's run several workshops at IBC and always manages to keep them fresh, practical and relevant.

Looks like this new breed of video cameras will turn up in January 2011. Hope my Sony lasts out until then.