Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The shortest path from you to your friends… on your cell phone, too: Microsoft using social networks to capture the mobile platform

May 8, 2006

I’m not usually in the business of making grand predictions, and I’m not about to make one now. However, something interesting just happened.

1) A younger sibling of one of my friends stated “Win a phone at hello.no!” in her comment field in MSN Messenger. I think she’s 15.

2) The main advert at hello.no shows a Qtek 8300 smartphone – with the MSN logo on the display.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well. Back in the good old days, when I was less than 20 years old and we still used ICQ and IRC (a lot more than we do now), I vividly remember seeing a commercial at the cinema. It was quite brief, and stated: “MSN Messenger. The shortest path from you to your friends!” (loosly translated from Norwegian; “MSN Messenger – den korteste veien mellom deg og vennene dine!”).

We all know what happened. You won’t find many people below the age of 20 who aren’t using Microsoft’s MSN Messenger for instant messaging today.

The Qtek phone above is debuting at a quite attractive price point – 299 NOK (~ 45$), with a total cost including the subscription of about 440$. The fact that it can run MSN Messenger means that a lot of teens will want one. And, obviously, the fact that it runs MSN Messenger means that the operating system on the phone is Windows Mobile.

From now on, young people who like to stay in touch with their friends and send lots of SMSes have a new option – a phone which lets them save money on SMSes while having access to a lot of cool MSN features, like smileys and presence information.

If given the choice between a phone able to run Messenger and one that can’t, most teens will have no problem choosing. This will be a big problem for Nokia, Sony Ericsson and other vendors peddling phones with non-Windows OSes. In the long term, it could give Microsoft a decisive advantage on the cell phone platform – similar to the situation we now have in the desktop market.

The fact that services like instant messaging are now moving from the desktop to the mobile market gives MS a opportunity to turn their monopoly in one market into a monopoly in another. There’s no point in an instant messaging service on your phone if you can’t synchronize it with the one you’re using at your computer, and so a phone with Windows Mobile will be the only realistic option for someone who wants IM on their phone. It’s quite ridiculous. If I was Symbian / Nokia / Sony Ericsson, I would:

  • Fund the development of good MSN Messenger client alternatives for my phone operating system of choice
  • Push the telecoms authorities to recognize the MSN Messenger as a service so important that Microsoft cannot be permitted to own the protocol – it must be made public. This makes it a lot easier to create a competetive MSN network client.

This would remove most of Microsoft’s unfair advantage, I think. But I doubt it will happen soon enough to stop Microsoft from benefitting hugely from the monopoly in instant messaging that they enjoy (which they in turn achieved as a result of the monopoly on the desktop in general). However, it would at least mean that other vendors have a better chance at competing with Microsoft in the long term, both on the desktop and mobile platform.

PS: The situation in instant messaging is of course mirrored in other fields, like media players (Windows Media Player vs other players), web browsers (Internet Explorer vs others), office suites (MS Office vs OpenOffice) etcetera. But I’ll save the big picture for a later post.

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7% to charity

April 17, 2006

I handed in my tax returns yesterday, so I got a decent overview over how wealthy I am. Unsurprisingly, I’m not very wealthy, the loans that are financing my studies are really showing on the bottom line. There were two good things about the tax returns, though. First, I’m getting back some money. Maybe enough to justify buying one of the new MacBooks from Apple.

The second thing was the field where they list how much money you’ve given to charity; that amount is deducted from your taxable income. It turns out I gave about 7% of my income to charity last year. I didn’t earn that much, so I’m not Bill Gates in the philantrophy department just yet, but it’s still enough that I take some pride in it.

Considering that most people I know contribute small amounts to charity, and usually do it on a random basis (as opposed to giving a set amount every month, like I do) I thought this is worth mentioning here. If they all gave 5% of their income to charity – it would make a difference. So this goes out to everyone who doesn’t contribute to some worthwhile cause on a regular basis: You should consider it.

It doesn’t have to be much. I don’t know many students who couldn’t afford giving 10$ or even 20$ each month. My 30$ go to Medecins Sans Frontieres, because after reading up on their work, I was convinced that they use my money well. If you need inspiration, you could check our their website, the Red Cross website, Amnesty’s website, Save the Children, or just do a web search for “charity” and whatever particular cause that appeals to you. I favour organizations that try to do something about world poverty, because poverty on the level seen in the third world (Africa, mainly) today is something we should do without. Freedom – in all of its guises – freedom from oppression, freedom of speech, religious freedom etcetera is a good second. And then there’s the environment to worry about.

In other words – there is no shortage of causes you could be supporting on a regular basis. Giving 1 music record’s worth of money every month to a good cause won’t dent your finances much, but it’s an investment you make in a better world. If we all do it, it makes a huge difference. If only you do it, it makes a small difference. And it might make you care more about the world as a whole than you do today, which is a good thing in itself.

Empire at War

March 5, 2006

Finally got to try out Empire at War today – Thomas dropped by and we played a couple of campaign games and a skirmish. I think it’s safe to say that EAW is the first truly successful Star Wars strategy game for the PC – developers Petroglyph have really managed to capture a lot of the magic associated with Star Wars. I’ll give you a few examples.

I dropped an invasion force on a Rebel-held planet. After having my stormtroopers duke it out with Rebel soldiers and seeing my AT-AT (properly scaled and well animated) make short work of his puny Rebel tanks, Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared on the field. With his lightsaber, he cut a swathe through my infantry. Fortunately, I had Darth Vader on the battlefield – and as soon as they got close to each other, they were locked in a duel. Our other units could not interfere. Perhaps not that realistic, but very true to Star Wars and extremely cool!

Of course, the fact that good’ol Darth won was a nice bonus.

I’ve also had numerous dramatic escapes into hyperspace after meeting one Mon Calamari cruiser too many. That’s another one of the scenarios you run into that feel very Star Wars. I didn’t take many minutes of playing before I really felt like seeing Episode III again!

The main weaknesses I’ve observed so far have been the fact that space battles tend to get pretty messy. Now, the graphics and effects are good, so messy can easily translate to “epic”. However, it can get too much at times. I’m hoping that this is a training issue and that I’ll feel different when I’ve played the game more (I think so).

The other issue is a bug – even though we are playing with version 1.02, we have experienced strange battle results a few times. Example: In the last seconds of a battle, a spacecraft goes down in flames – yet it is not listed as destroyed in the battle results, and the player doesn’t lose it.

You should really try the demo if you’re into Star Wars or strategy games. This looks to me like one of this Spring’s great strategy games alongside Battle for Middle Earth II from EA.

Today’s link to important stuff: The Guardian asks – Can our way of living really save the planet? After reading through it, nodding all the way, I take comfort in the fact that I do contribute in positive ways. Buying ethical goods is however one part of ethical living I should get better at.

Death Cab For Cutie – “On the road with…” DVD – background noise review

February 28, 2006

After chilling out in the sofa, surfing the net and gradually getting sleepier as the laptop grew warm on my lap while playing a DVD called “Drive well, sleep carefully – On the road with Death Cab For Cutie” in the background, it seemed only natural to write up a very short review of that DVD here.

Death Cab for Cutie DVD cover and sleepy netizen
No, I’m not on drugs, I’m just sleepy

I should probably start at the beginning (even though reviews seldom do). Why Death Cab For Cutie? Well, it happens that I live next door to a guy who tends to stay up late and listen to music. I tend to be a guy who stays up less late. As the wall between our rooms is pretty thin, I sometimes get a free dose of music through the wall. Usually, it’s pretty OK – he’s got a pretty OK taste in music. It could’ve been a lot worse.

Well, you’ve probably already guessed where this is headed. Indeed – he had been playing “Transatlanticism” (the album) by DCFC for about a week non-stop (of course, I didn’t know what the record was called then, and it was probably a little less than a week) when I asked him what he was listening to – and if he could please upload the stuff to my drive.

Eventually, he obliged, and eventually, I got down to transferring the stuff to my MP3 player. It turned out it sounded even better in my headset than through the wall. I especially like “The Sound of Settling” (though I am enourmously frustrated by its short length, which paradoxically is part of its appeal), “Transatlanticism” and “Title and registration”. (If you ever hear me humming “the glove compartment / is not accuratly named”, those are the first words of “Title and registration”. You know, just in case.)

Both of my, eh, “dorm mates” went to England some time ago, and a while after they got back this DCFC DVD turned up, and eventually found its way into the DVD player, in which fate or coincidence, take your pick, led me to play it today. So what do I think?

The DVD is a mix of concert recordings and interviews, apparently all recorded on 16mm film. The concert recordings are a bit weak in the technical department sometimes, but given the format, I guess that’s natural and meant to be charming (which is usually is on this DVD). Overall, I enjoyed listening and seeing the band in a live setting, but I think you’ll need to be a fan to really enjoy this disc. Meaning: Listen to the albums first, and since I only know one of them, that means “Transatlanticism”. I really like the first track on “Plans” too, but that’s all I’ve heard of that one yet.

Wow. That’s got to be the best background story to review-ratio the world has ever seen.

In technology, Apple released a boombox system for the iPod as well as a mac mini with an Intel processor. I feel slightly underwhelmed. Maybe if it had a wireless component built in, or something else to really differentiate it. Of course, it can charge your iPod, and you can kit it out with batteries and take it outdoors. But if I had an iPod and wanted to combine it with my stereo, I’d rather get a wireless transmitter and hook it up to my receiver, so that I could use the iPod itself as a remote control. With Apple’s solution, you swap the dandy display and cozy clickwheel of the iPod with the six buttons on the remote. Not a nice bargain.

Politics: In Iraq, somewhere between 400 and 1500 people have been killed since the Shia mosque was blown up last week. Tragic.

BigBang

February 25, 2006

No post yesterday – I was busy dodging drunk students and their beer while listening to BigBang, who played in Ås.

DSC00620

Overall, it was a good concert. Obvious highlights were “Wild Bird” and “Girl in Oslo”, but I also really enjoyed some of the other tunes they played. As always when on a concert with a band I don’t really know that well, I regret not listening to more of their music in advance. My faulty handsfree set is to blame for that.

I won’t make the same mistake with the Mew concert in March. Though I’ve nearly worn out my “Frengers” MP3s, the latest album is mostly unknown to me. That’ll be rectified.

Violence continues in Iraq (BBC). At least it seems leaders on both sides are united in calling for restraint, even Moqtada Sadr. Grounds for optimism?

Boxing-aerobic, Apple and sadness

February 23, 2006

Another day, another type of exercise. I agreed to join Margrethe and take a class of so-called “boxing-aerobic”. It turned out this meant you did some aerobic at the beginning, followed by situps, pushups and some, eh, power jumps (I have no idea what the English term for “spensthopp” is). Eventually we got to boxing – which involved, unsurprisingly, putting on some boxing gloves and punching away at pads held by your partner.

Being on the receiving end of punches proved more tiresome than I thought. Punching was fun, though. I can see why some people do it for a hobby. I’ve never tried anything much like this, so the satisfaction of landing some proper punches was a fresh experience ;)

After doing various punches, we moved to kicks, which was fun, although not as satisfying as punching – probably because the technique is harder to get right. I had to take it easy for a while – can’t seem to learn that moving from 0% to 100% intensity too quickly is a bad thing for me. The consequence is that I have to really cool down for a while before I am good to go again.

If you feel like doing some different and quite varied exercise and don’t mind being branded a girly man by your friends (that is, if you’re a guy, about 5 out of 25 or so there were male), this is something you could try.

In other news? Apple is preparing to launch new products and will announce them on February 28th. My bet is that we’ll see the Intel iBook and probably a new iPod Shuffle. I was really keen on getting one of those Intel-powered iBooks, but it seems Apple has made them more Windows-proof than people orignally anticipated. Attempts at making them boot any flavour of Windows have failed pretty miserably – apparently because the new machines use the new EFI type of BIOS, which is a first for consumer PCs. A blog on the matter is here.

Until I know I can boot Windows on those iBooks, getting one is out of the question. I wonder if Apple has done any market research on whether it would pay off for them to make their Macs Windows-compatible. I’m sure I’m not the only one whose purchasing decision depends on that.

So, with all the trivial stuff out of the way, has anything important happened in the world today? Meaning: Has anything headline-grabbing happened? Yes. Sadly, some extremists blew up a holy Shia mosque in Iraq (BBC), causing a huge increase in violence between Iraq’s two main religious groups, the Shia and the Sunni. You can read the reactions of some Iraqis here (BBC). This is just tragic; naturally, everyone is worried that this will move Iraq far enough towards civil war to make it become reality. An action like this – so obviously aimed at increasing tension between the Iraqis themselves – it just makes me sad.

Sleepy Monday, and: Becoming a Red Cross “standby supporter”?

February 20, 2006

Getting out of bed at 12:40 is no good. It means that your virtual “day at work” as a student willl last at least until 20:00. Correction: It should last until 20:00. I have to admit, my working day has been a bit fragmented, but I did manage to read some articles and do some work on the subject I’m a group teacher in.

Today’s most interesting pieces of information are the continuing unrest in Iraq (BBC) and the drought in eastern Africa (Reuters). Coincidentally, I heard about the drought earlier today – in the quarterly magazine of the Norwegian Red Cross. Fortunately, it seems Kenya is better prepared than a lot of other African countries when it comes to this type of crisis. They still urgently need donors though – Kenya’s image as a relatively well-organized country can make the crisis look less urgent than it is.

I’m considering joining up as a Red Cross “standby supporter” (in Norwegian: “beredskapsgiver”), meaning they’ll text you whenever some situation requires immediate funds. I’m already supporting Medecins sans Frontieres on a monthly basis, but this new Red Cross concept appeals to me. Of course, it’s not hard to find objections – firstly, there are always tons of emergencies at any given time, and maybe they could save the resources spent on texting people and use them for actual aid instead. However, I’ve got a feeling the novelty of the concept will make it worthwhile. Being listed on the Red Cross standby supporter list, always ready to dole out some aid when it’s really really needed (and getting the alert via SMS!) somehow seems more cool than just giving for the sake of giving.

I don’t know, we’ll see. This SMS thing could perhaps make giving a little more personal. “Hi Are, a flood just hit Bangladesh, and the people down there really need help.” Maybe getting the information via your cellphone brings it closer?

Interestingly, there’s no mention of being a “standby supporter” on their website, which is where it really should be marketed if they want to make this “cool” and target it at young people. I’ll send them an e-mail and ask about that.

Have a fabulous Tuesday, and consider supporting an aid organization of some sort on a monthly basis if you aren’t already.

Today: Israel imposes sanctions on the PA, PS3 really expensive, BF: 2142?

February 19, 2006

The major headlines in my world today are as follows:

Israel imposes sanctions on the now Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority (BBC). This means that a lot of the funding for the PA will be cut off. That happened a little too fast, I think. Wouldn’t allowing Hamas, the PA and the Palestinians a little more time to adjust to this new situation be a better idea?

On the technology side of things, Merrill Lynch (PDF file) (by way of Kotaku) is concerned about the cost of building the PlayStation 3. They believe it’s going to cost $800 to $900 to make, in large part owing to the Cell chip and the Blu-Ray drive. That’s a big loss for each console you sell if you price it at $400 or even $500. Consequently, an analyst cited by Merrill Lynch believes the PS3 launch may be postponed to allow Sony to reduce manufacturing costs. Meaning, the worst case is? Fall 2006 launch in Japan, Spring 07 in the US. Of course, this is just educated guesswork, but interesting nonetheless.

In gaming, the producer of Battlefield 2: Modern Combat for the Xbox360 dropped a hint about future Battlefield products in a Shacknews interview . To quote from their interview:

Shacknews: What can we expect for the future of the Battlefield franchise?

Dan Blackstone: We’re about to announce something very big, so stay tuned. One other interviewer asked this and I gave him a hint, so it’s only fair that I do the same for you: 3213/3X2. Or said another way: S.R. 4588164.

Bright minds quickly figured out that this can be calculated (S.R. being square root) and equals 2142. This would fit well with the naming of the first BF game, Battlefield 1942, and I guess it’s only natural to go from the forties, to the sixties, to the present day and into the future. I’m not convinced this means they’ll make noteworthy advances in the core gameplay, which is what’s makes the games interesting, 1942 or 2142. However, the squad and the commander mode really is what makes BF2 so interesting, and I’m hoping that they can come up with even more stuff to encourage cooperative play.

With that said, I’m not going to comment on today’s rather disappointing Norwegian results in the winter olympics, but do my schoolwork so time can be cleared for Battlefield later on.