Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Interview with René Wolf

René Wolf teaches Modern European History at Royal Holloway University of London and runs the academic podcasting service backdoorbroadcasting.net; in May 2010 Palgrave Macmillan published his book "The Undivided Sky. The Holocaust on East and West German Radio in the 1960s"

I had the chance to interview him.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in 1958 in Kobe, Japan of German parents. My parents moved out there in 1950 to work for a German multinational. I lived in Tokyo up to 1970, when we returned to Germany. I left Germany in 1976 with no formal qualifications and came to London.

2) What had you been doing, before working in the university?

I had a variety of jobs, from window cleaner, dishwasher, picture-framer, waiter, barman, actor, theatre director until in 1982 I became involved in running a Jazz club in London, which I did for the next 10 years. Due to ill health I had to stop my night-time life and started to study, first A-levels, then a History degree, then a Masters, and finally a PhD, which I completed in 2006.

3) How and when did you discover your interest in the radio?

When I was about 8 years old my father gave me a transistor radio - a little Sony one. I kept it under my pillow and listened to it at night - to pop music of the time (1960s) with DJs like Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem on the American Forces Network (AFN) and a variety of Japanese stations. Later I aquired a shortwave radio and listened to broadcasts from all over the world - I must have been 10 or 12 at the time. This continued - I still listen to some shortwave today - although it's easier today with internet radio.
The book (which was my PhD thesis) came out of that interest, and initially I wanted to just write about the radio's ability to transcend space (esp the Berlin Wall), but what I found in the archives really dictated the content - the Auschwitz Trials and Germany's past.

4) Do you think that the radio was important in building a "new identity" in West and East Germany after the World War II?

Radio was certainly very instrumental in establishing a new German identity. The most important phase for this, I think, were the early years immediately after the war, when radio was in the hands of the Allies. Initially it was the Soviet radio which had the 'friendly' approach, wheras the Western Allies were more interested in using the medium for de-nazification and broadcasts from the Nuremberg Trials. This soon changed and the ideological battle-lines were drawn. But it is important to note that East German radio was not just Marxist-Leninist propaganda. Especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s the GDR radio output was very impressive, which was not always the case with all the regional broadcasters in the West. But the focus of my study lies more with some of the (mostly left-leaning) radio journalists of the West, who were extremely important in forging a new German identity.

5)What was the treatment for Germany during the Copenaghen Plan of 1948?

The 1948 Copenhagen Radio Frequency Plan allocated two AM wavelengths to Germany as radio, and expecially medium wave, was considered a powerful media tool in the eyes of the Allies. In reality this was far more complex and the shortage of AM stations did not make the slightest bit of difference. Most stations were available either on the LW or SW bands and many people still had old crystal sets. The old 'Volksempfänger' were all tri-band (LW, MW, SW) and in the same year as the Copenhagen Plan, 1948, Telefunken AG was already producing radio sets with VHF (FM) as standard. The switchover the more localised FM transmission happened throughout the 1950s, in East and West, although the GDR did not (along with many other nations) adhere the the Copenhagen Plan. Frequency allocations, along with 'Jamming' are two of the great myths of post-war radio history, hyped up in the frenzy of the Cold War. In reality radio broadcasts were diverse and lively, and above all, everywhere.

6) What happened to the East German Radio right after the re-unification?

East German Radio was already quite diverse and localised at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two main stations, DDR1 and DDR2, as well as the station aimed at West Germany, Stimme der DDR, the station for Berlin, Berliner Runfunk and the Youth Radio Station DT64 were all integrated into more localised radio stations in the five new Bundesländer. These very much followed the Western model of main broadcast studios in the state capital, and smaller ones in the regions. At present, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is covered by the (Hamburg-based) NDR, Thüringen, Sachsen and Sachsen-Anhalt are integrated into the MDR, and Berlin and Brandenburg are covered by the BBR. There are a few exeptions to the complete integration of East German radio into the West German media, most notably 'Deutschlandradio' which is really the continuation of the old 'Deutschlandsender' and can trace its history back to 1926. This international broadcaster has a very high quality output and rivals, if not surpasses, Germany's other international radio broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
What of course is so interesting now is that all these are available on the internet, digital, live and not live, which of course makes a mockery of the 1975 Geneva Frequency Plan.

7) How did GDR radio describe the events of 1989?

On the whole the East German media reported what was going on, as 'Peristroika' had also somewhat taken hold in the GDR. There was an uneasy undertone, and a lot of confusion in the reporting on 9 November 1989. The radio output managed to create a clearer analysis by the evening of that day, but the the day was really a 'television event', from that fateful utterance about new East-West travel regulations by Günter Schabowski a press conference to the opening of the check-points and the mass of East Germans flooding into the West.
Much more interesting is the archive material of the reporting on the Leipzig demonstrations, which started about a year earlier. There you have initially a very hard-line coming from the SED, and then factual reporting of 'disturbances' more like reporting about rowdy football fans.
The German Radio Archive (DRA) in Berlin-Babelsberg is a goldmine of material, most of it not digitized yet, and I fear that lots of the very old magnetic tape will not survive.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Interview with Grant Goddard

Grant Goddard is one of the best expert of radio and he runs a very interesting blog about radio and its evolution in UK and abroad.

I asked him an interview.

1) When and where were you born?

I was born in the 1950’s in Surrey, just west of London.

2) What is your first memory of listening to the radio?

In the 1960s, I remember 'Big L' (Radio London) booming out from the car
radio. The music was exciting, the DJs were entertaining - it was a great
introduction to radio. I also remember listening to Radio Luxembourg in the
evenings, playing songs that other stations did not. Then there was the
excitement of BBC Radio 1 launching in 1967 to fill the gap after Big L had
closed down. It was a time of great changes in radio, which made the
experience inspiring for young people.

3) When did you start listening to the radio and why did you like it?

I listened to radio for the music. I had always loved pop music and radio
provided the opportunity to hear all sorts of new artists, new songs and new
styles of music. We had a tape recorder that we used to record our favourite
songs from the radio so that we could listen to them whenever we wanted.
Radio provided my music education, for which I am eternally grateful.

4) When did you start working for a radio?

My first involvement in radio was in the early 1970s, when I worked for AM weekend pirate radio stations in London, including Radio Concord, London Weekend Radio, Skyport Radio and Swinging Radio England. I initially answered the listener phone line and then presented programmes, on my own and also with my friend Jerry.

5) In your book "DAB digital radio -licensed to fail" you seem very
skeptic about the success of digital radio in UK; do you think there's
no hope for digital radio in the foreseeable future?

I believe that digital radio has a great future. The problem in the UK is
specifically about the DAB platform and the way it has been implemented. The
technological developments that have enabled radio to be distributed all
around the world, and to a dazzling range of connected devices, are
absolutely incredible for the radio medium. Unfortunately, DAB had been
marketed in the UK as a means for existing radio broadcasters to maintain
their control over the radio market. Increasingly, consumers have been
disinterested in DAB radio, as demonstrated by declining sales of DAB
receiver hardware in the UK. The outcome is that DAB will not succeed as a
replacement for existing FM/AM broadcast radio. But digital radio as a whole
has a positive future.

6) What is your opinion about DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale)? and DRM+?

It seems that DRM will be useful for longer range radio broadcasts, though we are in a period when shortwave is being used less and less by international broadcasters. Those places that are most reliant on shortwave (Africa, Latin America, etc) are likely to have the slowest take-up of new, relatively expensive hardware technologies such as DRM. As a result, it is hard to see DRM as anything more than a supplemental technology to analogue reception. Just because a technology is inherently better does not guarantee its take-up (viz Betamax and digital compact cassettes).

7) As a paradox, could we say that in Italy digital radio has more chances for success than in the UK because Italy has basically skipped DAB and it's going straight to DAB+?

The biggest challenge for implementing DAB is the economics of radio, rather than whether the codec is DAB or DAB+. There are at least three economic issues. Firstly, consumers update their radio hardware infrequently, requiring simulcasting on analogue and DAB for at least 10, maybe 20, years, which at least doubles a station’s transmission costs for a long period. Secondly, advertisers use radio because it is a ‘mass’ medium, so they have no interest in using DAB until it reaches millions of people, which results in no revenues from the DAB platform for the first 10, maybe 20, years. Thirdly, consumers already have a large choice (compared to TV) of analogue stations on AM/FM, so it is hard to find ‘new’ radio content that will motivate them sufficiently in large numbers to buy new DAB radios. These economic issues make it unlikely that DAB+ will have any more success than DAB.

8) Are you sure that there is future for "radio on radio spectrum" or
is it just a waste of time because internet-radio will rule above any
other alternative systems?

I think that broadcast radio (FM/AM) still has a future because reception is
so robust, as a result of 50+ years of investment in the extensive
transmission systems. I can stand in the middle of nowhere and still pick up
broadcast radio. Internet radio cannot match that level of universality at
present. Eventually, the IP platform may be able to compete head-on with the
broadcast platform, but we are not at that stage yet. For the next few
years, internet-delivered radio is a very useful supplemental platform to
broadcast radio that offers the consumer a much wider choice of content and
the ability to timeshift programmes. It is important to remember that, when
local or national emergencies happen, it is broadcast radio that citizens
turn to for information, because electrical power cuts bring IP networks
(and even television) to a standstill. A single transmitter on long wave can
cover almost the whole UK - that is a difficult distribution system to beat!

9) Since your youth, you've beeing seeing huge change of radio-set (a topic that it's rarely discussed), from analog radio-set to digital display (including RDS) of today sets. What's your opinion about it? Is there any evolution that you'd like to see in the near future?

At the end of the day, it is content that drives people to listen to the radio. All the technology does is make it possible to deliver that content to them. Some of the most popular radio stations have had less than perfect reception experiences – Radio Luxembourg on AM, Laser 558 on AM, Atlantic 252 on long wave, and all the FM pirate stations – but consumers will sacrifice quality for content any day. This is why people are happy to listen to low-fi mp3’s on their mobile phones. I think this phenomenon will remain. The biggest difference between then and now is the huge choice of stations offered by IP. When I grew up, there were never more than a handful of radio stations to choose from. Now, there are thousands. The challenge now is to enable consumers to find something of interest to them and to help them navigate their way around the global menu of radio available to them. We need a Google for radio that will deliver search results to a listener, however arcane their request for a radio station to match their tastes.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Interview with Hayo about financial crisis of Eurozone

Bernd Hayo is a german Professor of Macroeconomics at Marburg Center for Institutional Economics.; he wrote several papers about ECB and Eurozone.

I asked him a short interview about the ongoing financial crisis of Eurozone.

1) According to you, after the greek situation and the irish situation, what went wrong in the European Union?

I think that it was wrong to give up the 'no bailout'-clause based on the reason that it is necessary for the survival of the euro area. From my perspective, there exists no necessary linkage between the sovereign debt crisis and the survival of the euro. Look at the situation in the US: California is bankrupt but nobody thinks that it should leave the US dollar currency union. If the EU had let Greece become bankrupt, creditors would have lost money. Nothing wrong with that. Costs of increasing Greek government debt would have risen-again nothing wrong with that. It would have made it clear to Greece that it ought to address its problem of tax evasion and corruption-this is a good thing. Now it is the EU which is seemingly responsible for the hardship awaiting Greek citizens in the future. In my view, there is one argument that would help explain why the EU was so keen on saving Greece: the continuing instability of the European banking system. But then Germany and the other relatively more solvent governments should have intervened directly in the financial markets again, as now we face two situations of moral hazard: private banks know that they will be bailed out and governments know that they will be bailed out too. This does not bode too well for the future.

2) What do you think about the decision of 3rd may 2010 when ECB decided to suspend its minimum threshold for Greek debt "until further notice"? Don't you think it's a big change in monetary policy and independence of ECB?

In practice, it is not such a big thing as Greece is small and the ECB sterilised the intervention (i.e. kept the monetary base constant). It is a violation of fundamental principles, though, and one can only wonder what is going to happen if more countries start encountering similar sovereign debt problems than Greece. If the ECB started buying government bonds from lots of countries than its mandate of keeping price stability could be in peril. This could really endanger the integrity of the European currency union.

3) What do you think about the hypothesis of expulsion or withdrawal of acountry from EMU? Do you think it could be possible, as extrema ratio, to save EMU?

First, I do not think that European monetary union is endangered by one country's sovereign debt problem in the same way as California's bankruptcy does not endanger the US dollar area. Second, there is no legal basis for a country's expulsion from EMU. A country could consider moving out on its own accord (of course, other EMU members could in principle exert strong political pressure), as I would find it unlikely that the political will of a free country would be disregarded by the other EMU members. However, the costs would be high indeed: loss of credibility, loss of deep capital markets, loss of trade, loss of ECB as lender of last resort, etc.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Bandwidth crunch: myth or real threat? 3

Another post about the so-called "bandwidth crunch": an interview with MIX, the internet exchange point of Milan.

1) a ABI research in august 2007 (quoted by many sites afterwards) said: “The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a ‘dirty little industry secret’ that no one talks about.”
What does MIX think about it? Is a "bandwidth crunch" a real threat?

Well, this is not a question having a simple answer beeing strictly related to the complexity of the Network and also the the ABI research statement would have to be read in a more articulated way.
Let's have a look at the macro Internet infrastructure: it can be roughly modeled into two main parts; from one side we have the access networks (the network components facing the end user, such as the DSL access networks, the wireless access stage for mobile users, the wi-fi areas); at the other side we have the long-haul transport networks and the network to network interconnections infrastructures where the IXPs like MIX play a major role.These two environments may belong to different operators or large operators may provide them both, according to their size and coverage.

Despite MIX and other IXPs experience a stable and strong traffic growth year after year , we do not foresee any significant bandwidth crunch problem here. Fiber transmission technology is progressing at a pace where long haul connections can accommodate even the most optimistic growth, where high speed Ethernet environments like IXP - even if 100 Gbps will be delayed till 2011 - will not significantly suffer from it while the traffic we expect will still grow significantly.

If exists a possible threat it could be at the edge of operators' networks, on the access part. End users are eager for high bandwidth while nobody is willing to pay more for it.
In large and industrialized country FTTH access infrastructure is the most reasonable solution. ISP and network providers may rely on this shared infrastructure focusing on services provided to end users.
This requires availability by network operators to long term investments and - maybe more difficult ! - a long term vision.

2) Worst case scenario: a terrorist wants to hit the MIX: if he succeded, what would happen to connection in Italy?

Internet does not stop to work. It would happen that part of Internet traffic going from one provider to another could flow slower beeing force to be routed through alternative connections not always enough sized. End-user could experience slowing down in accessing web sites but just if they are located outside their providers network. This is due to the fact that any ISP connected to MIX has at least one other connection to the Big Internet independent by MIX switches and MIX DC (paradigma of "Internet diversity").

3) What's the percentage of growth that MIX can handle (in the near future) ?

MIX adopts technologies and equipment able to manage big growth of traffic: at today we are configured for beeing able to manage more than three times current traffic exchanged on our infrastructures.

4) Does MIX think that the present infrastructure (generally, in the world) is suitable for IP-TV?

In the world there are huge differences between countries in terms of access infrastructure and is very difficult to answer to this question without keeping in mind the overall situations.
Countries where the copper lines are relatively short (few km from the homes to the public switch) can provide good IPTV services on DSL lines. Other countries must switch to FTTH or wireless LTE network to offer good IPTV service experience to end users. In general HDTV over IP is possible only through fiber access and this is why the present infrastructure in general is not really ready for that, at least not anywhere.

(Thanks to Valeria Rossi of MIX for the interview)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Bandwidth crunch: myth or real threat? 2

Another post about the so-called "bandwidth crunch": an interview with NaMex, the internet exchange point of Rome.

1) a ABI research in august 2007 (quoted by many sites afterwards) said: “The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a ‘dirty little industry secret’ that no one talks about.” Similar thing was said in february 2010 by RIM co-CEO. What does Namex think about it? Is a "bandwidth crunch" a real threat?

The growing demand for interactive and multimedia services in recent years has led content providers to an increase in the demand for bandwidth to Internet service providers. The current transmission technologies shift a large flow of data on the backbone of the operators, always keeping up with the increasing demand of the bandwidth from content providers. Today, however, Internet traffic has moved from the core of its infrastructure, represented by international transit providers (Tier-1). Part of the traffic is exchanged directly between content providers and customer networks.

So, if the core doesn’t have bandwidth problems, for example in Italy the growth of traffic shows up some problems about the users access lines where the “broadband technology” is not very radicalized: too few investments by Access Providers due to poor use by the population of multimedia services and so-called Web 2.0 applications.

2) Worst case scenario: a terrorist wants to hit the Namex: if he succeded, what would happen to connection in Rome?

The original design of the Internet was aimed at avoiding that a failure in one of its nodes could impact the overall functioning of the network, later in time people started to think about site availability, apparently forgetting the original design principle of the network itself. From a theoretical point of view, a failure of NaMeX should not affect the overall Internet traffic, neither locally, nor at a broader level. In practice, as experienced in past outages, we can expect some minor difficulties for ISPs not fully exploiting redundancy of physical links and logical forwarding paths.

3) What's the percentage of growth that Namex can handle (in the near future) ?

As the current utilization of our switching infrastructure is way below its nominal capacity, we could manage twice or three times the current peak traffic as well, without any need for upgrades.

4) Does Namex think that the present infrastructure (generally, in the world) is suitable for IP-TV?

In the Italian scenario, especially in suburban areas, edge access network is still unsuitable for these kinds of applications. Nonetheless, there is not a generalized answer for the entire world: while Japanese have 1Gbps fiber connections to their home, we can expect many european countries experiencing the same “digital-divide” issue as Italy.

5) Namex is a non-profit internet exchange; in USA some Internet exchanges are profit organizations and are listed on Nasdaq: what do you think the advantages and disadventages of being non-profit are?

NaMeX was established as a non-profit consortium whose goal was to provide a set of useful services to its members, that is: members gathered together to setup an infrastructure that was considered useful to all of them. In this sense, there is no reason to think NaMeX as a profit organization, as its guiding principles are mutualituy and neutrality. Being non-profit also ensures that revenues are wholly invested in infrastructural upgrades and organizational improvement.

(Thanks to Flavio Luciani of Namex for accepting the interview)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Bandwidth crunch: myth or real threat? 1

Is bandwidth crunch (or bandwidth crisis) a real treath or just a myth?

Let's have a look backward.

10 december 1998: CNN says "Study sees bandwidth crunch in 1999"

March 2002: The expression "bandwidth crunch" starts to get in common language, step by step, because it's included (as a name of a subchapter) in the sixth edition of the ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Report.

14 august 2007: ABI research says "Cable bandwidth crisis approaching" and this article led to a huge wave of other articles talking about scary bandwidth crunch. Many articles quoted this part of the article:

Vice president and research director Stan Schatt: “The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a ‘dirty little industry secret’ that no one talks about.”

But they didn't quote another part saying:

Some of the solutions noted in the study — such as rate shaping and expanding spectrum beyond 750 MHz — have already been undertaken by some cable operators (particularly in the United States). However, a number of other solutions will come into play during the 2007-2012 forecast period, including spectrum upgrades coupled with node-splitting, switched digital video, PON overlay, MPEG-4 compression, and home gateway bandwidth management solutions.

16 february 2010: Economic Times (english language indian newspaper) wrote: "Blackberry maker RIM warns of bandwisth crisis" and, again, another huge wave of articles in the web talking about bandwidth crisis. The most quoted words were:

Lazaridis [co-CEO of RIM] said: "If we don't start conserving that bandwidth, in the next few years we are going to run into a capacity crunch. You are already experiencing the capacity crunch in the United States."

This article (27 dec 2007) of Techdirt (US technology blog) has an interesting point of view:

the "threat" of a bandwidth crunch is pretty much a myth. We're not running out of bandwidth, and the ongoing upgrades to the network should be able to handle whatever growth comes along. There's no reason to panic... yet, that's not the message that the telcos want you to hear. After all, it's in their interest to work up fears of internet capacity problems so that politicians will pass legislation providing them with subsidies or other unnecessary benefits.

11 years and 2 months after the CNN article, we haven't had any bandwidth crunchc, we've had bandwidth expansion.

The best thing is to ask the Internet Exchange Points and i started asking the AMS-IX (Amesterdam Internet Exchange)

1) a ABI research in august 2007 (quoted by many sites afterwards) said: “The increasing bandwidth demands on cable operators will soon reach crisis stage, yet this is a ‘dirty little industry secret’ that no one talks about.”
Similar thing was said in february 2010 by RIM co-CEO.
What does AMS-IX think about it? Is a "bandwidth crunch" a real threat?

Whether a bandwidth crunch is to be considered a real threat probably depends on what part of the world you are talking about. The Netherlands and most of Western Europe, home base of the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, do not cope with serious capacity problems.

2) Worst case scenario: a terrorist wants to hit the AMS-IX: if he succeded, what would happen to connection in Netherlands?

The Amsterdam Internet Exchange is a so-called distributed exchange and is currently present in 7 separate co-locations throughout Amsterdam. Our office is situated in the centre of Amsterdam separate from these locations. All our co-locations are professional datacenters equipped with high security standards and extensive backup facilities for power and cooling. There is no "one" AMS-IX location. Recent studies have shown that most of our members are connected to more than one Internet Exchange, have several private interconnects and buy transit from different providers. In the most unlikely event that someone would succeed to disrupt our service by targeting all of our seven locations at once, the Internet traffic will be rerouted over other exchanges, private interconnects and or carriers.

3) What's the percentage of growth that AMS-IX can handle (in the near future) ?

AMS-IX has always been a frontrunner concerning traffic load capacity and creating enough capacity for future traffic growth. Right now our theoretical capacity exceeds the actual traffic that flows over our Exchange by several times. Our current traffic load is just under a terabit while our platform is able to handle 4 x 1.2 terabit and is equipped with the possibility to scale up and be able to handle 8 x 1.2 terabit.

4) Does AMS-IX think that the present infrastructure (generally, in the world) is suitable for IP-TV?

It is hard for us say anything about subject, certainly worldwide. AMS-IX does not look into applications. We work with IP traffic in general and for that we see no serious capacity problems in the Netherlands or for Western Europe.

5) Is AMS-IX profit or non profit organization?

AMS-IX is a not for profit organization. We have an association and a company. The association owns the company, which operates on a not-for-profit basis. AMS-IX pricing is simple and straightforward. It's just a simple portfee, no additional membership fees or install charges. Prices are defined on cost-basis including planned investments for platform extensions and upgrades to secure business continuity.

(Thanks to Anna Kocks of AMS-IX for accepting the interview)

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Interview with Gary Frost about history of FM

Gary Lewis Frost was born in Idaho (USA) and studied to be an engineer at California State University--Fullerton; later, he received a Ph.D. in history at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill.
The Johns Hopkins University Press published his book called "Early FM Radio: Incremental technology in Twentieth-Century America". I won't pretend i read his book (i haven't but i'm willing to) but i asked him few questions about it.

1) How would you describe the main point of the book "Early FM Radio: Incremental technology in Twentieth-Century America" ?

A: Most readers, I hope, will credit the book principally for correcting errors in the traditional history of FM radio's origins. For more than half a century, historians have claimed that practical broadcast FM technology sprang from the mind of one man, Edwin Howard Armstrong, during his solitary quest to conquer static noise. They have also claimed that by the time Armstrong patented his system in 1933, only he had not abandoned frequency modulation as unworkable. Early FM Radio debunks these and several other false claims.

2) If the commonly accepted history of FM radio is wrong, why did this account last for more than 50 years?

A: For one thing, any serious historian who desired to take a fresh look at early FM really had to understand how radio technology works. I'm not the first person to possess the technical knowledge required to write a book about FM radio's origins, but historians like me have probably comprised a very small group, perhaps a handful of individuals. Second, the most important archive of primary sources, the collection of Armstrong's papers (stored at Columbia University, New York), has been especially difficult to research. It's several hundred boxes of sketchily-indexed papers and microfilm, and only recently have Columbia's archivists had the funding to begin cataloging the collection adequately.

Finally, ever since 1956, the year Lawrence Lessing introduced the traditional history of FM in his engaging biography of Edwin Howard Armstrong, those who might have aspired to overturn that history have encountered a psychological obstacle. Lessing played on his readers' sympathies by describing Armstrong as a man of singular genius and moral integrity, who after inventing FM radio in 1933 courageously fought the heartless mega-corporation (i.e., RCA) that attempted to suppress his creation. Later, RCA tried to rob him of credit for inventing FM, and he spent a fortune defending his patents. Lessing also implied that Armstrong's suicide during the patent trials amounted to an act of martyrdom in defense of individualism, anti-corporatism, and technological progress. If my own experience is representative, it can be emotionally difficult even to think about questioning this story.

3) When was your interest for radio born? and How?

A: Although I listened to shortwave radio when I was a boy, and later worked as an electronic engineer, my interest in the history of radio surfaced only after I entered the humanities. I was seeking a historical topic for my master's thesis, and my graduate school advisor suggested early radio. I ended up writing about Reginald Fessenden, the Canadian who first transmitted the human voice using something like amplitude modulation in 1900. When it came time to choose a topic for my doctoral dissertation, I was open to almost anything, but I committed to FM radio quickly. Only a few hours of research revealed that although without exception every book that examined FM radio's history derived from Lessing's Armstrong biography, that book failed to provide citations, and contained several serious contradictions and omissions. Originally, I set out only to resolve those contradictions, and to fill in gaps about the actual technology. I never imagined that I'd eventually publish a book arguing that Lessing was wrong about so many things.

4) In developed countries they are trying to start digital modulations (mostly Ibiquity in US and DAB/DAB+ in Europe) but the listeners don't seem to be happy about it; what's your opinion about the transition towards digital radio?

I'm not familiar with the specific problems of Ibiquity and DAB/DAB+ that you mention, so I'll venture to guess why some listeners might express dissatisfaction with digital audio in general. The history of FM radio suggests both technical and nontechnical reasons. Perhaps somewhere along the signal path--from studio microphone to the listener's speakers--shortcuts have been taken that degrade audio fidelity. A wobbly sampling frequency or some other distorting factor created by an inferior analog-to-digital converter for example, will cause distortions on playback. So will the misuse of digital audio technology. Lowering the sampling frequency narrows the audio bandwidth. An excessively “lossy” method of conversion discards too much data to preserve fidelity. Again, I'm making these guesses solely on what the history of FM teaches us. In 1940 RCA proposed that the Federal Communication Commission establish an FM broadcast service with a maximum allowed frequency swing of 100 Khz. We should be thankful that the commission rejected that proposal and adopted a standard of 150 Khz instead. Otherwise, FM radio today would not sound as good as it does.

I want to add that by broadening our perspective beyond just the hardware, we'll almost always find non-technical factors that influence technical choices. Audio engineers and listeners typically have limited budgets, which motivate them to use cheaper (and thus too often inferior) apparatus. And then there's the sometimes bewildering factor of listener psychology. During my research I discovered many people in the 1940s and 1950s who expressed a preference for AM radio over FM. Their explanations resemble those of many people today who object to digital audio on principle: FM, they protested, sounded sterile and cold, and even “ghastly in its realism.” I don't know if this kind of thinking accounts for much listener dissatisfaction with Ibiquity and DAB/DAB+ today, but I've heard many people who have nothing but entirely subjective reasons to back their assertions that analog audio always sounds better than digital sound.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

2 Interviews about presidential debates

Sheila Blackford is library specialist for Miller Center of Public Affairs.
I asked her few questions.

1) How many people watch the presidential speeches in Miller site?

The Presidential Speech Archive at the Miller Center of Public Affairs gets almost 10 percent of the Center’s total web traffic. In raw numbers that means that the detail pages for the speeches plus the main page were viewed more than 81,500 times in the last month (from February 21 to March 24, 2010).

2) For Miller institute, is it very hard to get in possess with old video of former presidents?

To obtain a copy of the presidential speeches, the Miller Center partners with the National Archives presidential libraries (for example, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum--http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/ or the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library-- http://www.reaganlibrary.com/). These libraries exist for presidents from Herbert Hoover forward. From John F. Kennedy forward, it is relatively easy to obtain video copies of the speeches from these libraries. However, it is much more complicated to obtain videos for earlier presidents (Eisenhower, Truman, Roosevelt, Hoover) because the footage is not in the public domain but is protected by copyright and owned by television news networks.

3) Who owns the copyright of speeches of former presidents?

We post the videos on our site under the assumption that they are in the public domain. However, we recommend that anyone wishing to use or copy the video speeches, contact the relevant presidential library to get a definitive statement about the copyright before proceeding because we are not the official custodians of the records and cannot make a definitive statement about the copyright status.

4) Do you think that the presidential debates are decisive or, most of the times, is it a just a show for the media industry?

There have been moments in presidential election history where the presidential debates have made a difference in the election. Most famously are the Nixon/Kennedy debates of 1960, which historians argue helped tip the balance toward Kennedy. However, generally they are not a decisive event but help people learn more about the candidates and their positions, and reaffirm for the voters the candidate that they already preferred.

Alan Schroeder is an associate professor at Northeastern University (Boston) and he wrote a book called Presidential Debates: 40 Years of High-Risk TV (Columbia University Press, 2000)
I asked him few questions.

1) Do you think that the presidential debates are decisive or, most of the times, is it a just a show for the media industry?

In some cases they have been very influential, such as 1960 with Kennedy and Nixon and also 1980 with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Decisive is probably too strong a word, because it's impossible to separate debates from all the other factors that influence voting decisions.

2) This year, for first time in history, there will be a general election debate in UK (with 3 candidates). What do you think about foreign "adaptations" of US presidential debates? Do you think it will work among 3 speakers or will lose "duel-like" style?

More than 70 countries around the world have held live televised debates among candidates for president or prime minister. Last year both Iran and Afghanistan joined the list of countries that have experimented with TV debates. Debates have proven to be very popular in all parts of the world. Voters like them because they are both entertaining and educational. The element of being live and unscripted also heightens public and media interest.

Three debaters on the stage does change the dynamic, though it's impossible to predict how the format will work in the UK prime minister debates. In the US we had one round of three-way debates in 1992 that included the first President Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. Perot more or less won the first debate, Clinton won the second, and Bush performed well in the third. So who knows?

3) On 1968 Nixon ran again for White House, on 1972 he sought a second term and both times refused to challenge in presidential debates (i would say he could do that because there was not an established tradition of having presidential debates). I think that today a candidate for the White House can not refuse a debate (like Nixon did on 1968 and 1972). Since when, can't a candidate say "No, i won't go in a presidential debate" without seeming weak?

At this point in the US it would be just about impossible for a presidential candidate to avoid a debate. The tradition in this country is too well established. In other countries, candidates still manage to refuse -- just this year in the Ukraine, to name one example. In the US it would take an extreme national emergency for an incumbent president to get out of debating.

4) Who had the idea of a televised (and radio broadcast too) presidential debate in 1960?

Many people were involved in the beginning, but essentially the Kennedy-Nixon debates were a creation of the three major television networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC.

5) Using Internet, do you think it's possible to make innovations to presidential debates?

Yes, we see this already. The YouTube format, with citizens submitting questions on video, has been used successfully in both the US and New Zealand. Interactive online debates are now common as well. Nonetheless, debates remain primarily a television exercise that plays out secondarily on the internet.

6) Who owns the copyright of presidential debates? Broadcasters or speakers?

In America the debates are produced by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit organization in Washington DC, which I assume holds the copyright. I'm not an expert on the legal aspect of this, but it seems to me that video clips from all the debates are available to anyone who wants to use them. So the material may exist in the public domain, or perhaps there's some kind of common creative license that applies -- I'm just not sure.

7) We know that presidential candidates prepare for the debates: How can they prepare? Which advice would you give to a candidate?

Candidates prepare for debates in a variety of ways. In US presidential debates it is typical for the candidates to undergo full-scale rehearsals involving mock opponents, using the exact format of the actual debate. Candidates also do extensive reading about the issues and about their opponents' positions in order to prepare for debates. Typically the practice sessions are videotaped and critiqued by the candidates' advisors.

As for advice, I would remind candidates that debates are a different form of political performance than other campaign appearances such as press conferences, speeches, and interviews. Candidates need to have a thorough understanding of the format and also of their specific objectives for each debate. Finally, I would say that in spite of the pressure, candidates should try to enjoy the debate, because voters want to see a leader who is self-confident and in command of the situation.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Nobel to Internet? and an interview with Jodi Dean

Some months ago, italian version of Wired started campaigning saying "Nobel Peace Prize should go to Internet". Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize but Internet (=an item, not a person) might win the Nobel Peace Prize!! Why not give the Nobel Peace Prize to telephone cables or the air (that carries radiowaves)? (I would give the Nobel Peace Prize to BBC World Service for providing reliable information to people - living under dictatorships and not - for decades; but this is a different topic).

Jodi Dean (1962) is an american professor, she teaches political theory. I asked her about the idea of giving Internet the Nobel Peace Prize and other things. (Jodi Dean blogs here)

1) Italian version of Wired started lobbying for "Nobel Peace Prize should go to Internet" (http://www.internetforpeace.it/manifesto.cfm). What do you think about it? Do you think it's technological fetishism?

Of course it is techno fetishism, a ludicrous extension of the cult of the amateur and the fantasy that because crowd sourcing works for some things it works for everything; there is a middle ground between the false, romantic idea of the single genius and everyone

2) You wrote "In the US today there is a significant disconnect between politics circulating as content and official politics". Do you think that the election of Obama (probably impossible without Internet) changed this view? Can't it be seen like the come back of democracy?

No. Obama didn't need the internet to win (or, the internet wasn't the difference that made a difference although it is now an additional media field on which the game must be played). There were only 2 candidates; one was the least popular president ever in the midst of an economic debacle. Also, Obama raised more money--the candidate who raises the most wins. The shocking thing is that Obama didn't win by a larger margin. 'Come back of democracy'? I don't even know what that means--George W. Bush won his second term; the hideous Republicans in Congress were elected. All sorts of right-wing nut jobs are out there organizing, protesting, participating. The problem is not at all that democracy went away. The problem is that the left hasn't been able to use the democratic process to advance. Corporations love democracy--they give millions and millions to campaigns, candidates; they pay fortunes to lobbyists. Democracy is great for capitalism--just not for people.

3) Do you think that the economic crisis of 2008 (or better 2008-ongoing) is an event that makes to rethink theories of economic globalization?

If by 'rethink' you mean that fans of globalized neoliberalism can no longer deny the destructive force of capitalism, then I guess so. But how is this being done? The IMF is pressuring European countries to lower their debts--this means
cutting social services, which remains in keeping with neoliberalism. In the US, the big banks are once again saying screw you to the US government and giving massive bonuses; there has been no significant effort to bring them under control--derivatives (what Warren Buffet called financial weapons of mass destruction) remain unregulated. So, the real question is who is rethinking and what are the re-thoughts?

4) What is your point of view about theories like Manuel Castells'one, when an author seems so enthusiastic about internet, to talk about a network society?

Castells remains massively significant as the provider of one of the first comprehensive maps/over views/ of the shape of networked society. Is everything he said still correct? no. Did he leave stuff out? sure.
One way I look at it--Castells did the first map of the global; Hardt and Negri did the political equivalent of a Mercator projection. Using this as some kind of space of flows basis, I think Albert Laszlo-Barabasi is indispensable--
his account of the emergence of powerlaws and hubs in complex networks characterized by growth and preferential attachment make is absolutely clear why the division between multitude/empire can in no way be understood ontologically but only politically; network ontologies are characterized by extremes of inequality

Friday, 19 March 2010

Interview with Pure

PURE: "the idea of analogue radio in a digital world is a nonsense."

PURE (former name was PURE DIGITAL) is a british manufacturer that makes digital tuners. Colin Crawford (PURE's director of marketing) answered some questions.

1) When was Pure founded? and by whom?

PURE was founded in 2002 and is a division of Imagination Technologies, founded in 1986.

2) Beside the "propaganda" of engineers and lobbysts, what's your view of digital radio? Do you think it will be able to replace FM (in near future) or will it be always work-in-progress situation?

We believe strongly that the idea of analogue radio in a digital world is a nonsense. For radio to remain relevant, it must go digital and visionary markets such as the UK, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France and Australia are making that happen already.

3) Pure doesn't sell products with DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale). Why?

Because there is no consumer demand.

4) Might DRM+ change this choice?

We remain to be convinced but we will keep monitoring any opportunities in this area.

5) Do you think that a unique european standard (like DVB-T for television) will help strongly the manufacturers?

The DAB family of standards is already a unique European standard and the standardisation of profiles by WorldDMB, EBU and DIGITALEUROPE brought the digital radio market together for the first time and has already revitalised the industry for manufacturers.

6) Are you sure that there is future for "radio on radio spectrum" or is it just a waste of time because internet-radio will rule above any other alternative systems?

PURE is a strong believer in hybrid radio systems that combine broadcast radio content with internet connectivity. This provides a perfect solution whereby mainstream listening happens efficiently by broadcast and niche content and interactivity can be delivered over the internet. The idea that the internet could cope with the hundred of millions of hours of radio listening is preposterous.

7) Which radio station do you listen to, during your spare time?

I am a profligate radio listener spending nearly all my time on broadcast radio with a good mix of BBC and national UK commercial stations.


On march 2010 PURE announced that it will launch, for the first time, their products in Italy in summer 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Interview with Revo - part 2 of 2

After the first part of the interview
(interview with Revo - part 1 of 2; 4 march 2010)
we have the second part.

6) What does Revo think about DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale)?

For a while, it seemed like the next big thing. But as time has gone on, i think it has little chance of success.

7) Do you think we will ever see Revo tuner with DRM?

If there is demand, or a good chance of success ... we'll produce radios.

8) The transition towards digital radio is very difficult, even in UK: from your point of view, what are the mistakes made?

All parties need to work together. Government, broadcasters (public and commercial), the infrastructure guys ... everyone. If they don't, it fails.

9) There is much debate in UK about possible future switch off of FM band. What do you think about it? If u had the chance to write the rules of future spectrum for UK radio, which rules would you make?

In order to aid and accelerate the uptake of DAB (or DAB+ as it may eventually be) in the UK, an FM switch off date is essential, even if only to focus the minds of all the parties concerned. As for the rules of future spectrum use ... I'm a humble radio manufacturer, i'll leave that to other more qualified people.

10) Are you sure that there is future for "radio on radio spectrum" or is it just a waste of time because internet-radio will win above any other alternative systems?

I'm certain, i have no doubts. As a business, we actually sell more internet radios than DAB digital radios, but i am convinced that a radio spectrum based service is necessary, and that it will be the dominant platform. Internet radio devices have their places, but they will not prevail.


P.S. Mike Hughes submitted a petition asking the Prime Minister (of UK) to "Halt the proposed Analog Radio Switch-off" (Deadline to sign up: 19 December 2009; Signatures: 4,582)

The proposed analog radio switch off disadvantages everyone. It forces you to scrap all your existing radios - and buy DAB sets instead. Car radios, kitchen radios, bedside radios, stereo tuners, all become scrap. And the liberated bandwidth is used for extra services no-one wants - witness the DAB station failures - polluted with advertising, and never again the chance to hear a foreign station by accident. This is not a future I want.

3 March 2010 - The Government's response: "No, we won't halt it"

The Digital Britain White Paper set out the Government’s vision for a radio industry in a digital world and the mechanisms needed to deliver it. To date over 10 million digital radio receivers have been sold and around 20% of all radio listening is via a digital platform. Listeners are clearly being attracted by digital-only services, including the BBC’s digital-only stations. We believe there is already significant momentum towards digital radio take-up and the decision for Government is not whether digital radio will replace analogue, but to ensure that any transition to digital is delivered in a coordinated way which best reflects the needs and expectations of listeners. However, we have been clear that this process will be market-led and will only consider setting a date for digital radio switchover once 50% or more of all radio listening is to digital.

The Government recognises that we must ensure the environmental impact of any significant analogue radio disposal is minimised through a responsible disposal and recycling strategy. Any waste electrical equipment produced as a result of Digital Radio Upgrade will be disposed of subject to the requirements of the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. The Government is working with manufacturers to consider the implementation of a ‘set-top box’ solution for analogue radio which would allow existing analogue radios sets to receive DAB.

We acknowledge that some parts of the UK currently have access to overseas analogue radio services. Digital radio, via the internet, will in fact increase the opportunity for listeners to access overseas radio stations not just from neighbouring countries, but from around the world.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Discovering startups 2: Hyperwords

Hyperwords is a plug-in that lets people right-click for interactive searches. The company's advisory board include geniuses like Douglas Engelbart, Vint Cerf, Ted Nelson.

I asked Frode Hegland (founding director of Hyperwords company) few questions.

1) When was Hyperwords created? and by whom?

By me, Frode Hegland. In the early 2000's.

2) How many people work at Hyperwords?

Two full time, two part time and two development teams, one full time team in Russia and one part time in Germany.

3) I see a Techcrunch article about you in 2005 and i see that you were in Le Web 2009: why didn't you go to Le Web earlier?

We realized quite quickly that people were not interested in the idea of concept, but only in a very smooth and effective user experience so we've been working hard to improve the system since then more than promoting it.

4) In your site you say: "The Hyperword project is based on the work of Doug Engelbart", what does he think about it?

Doug is very happy with the progress of Hyperwords as a step in the evolution of what he calls "symbol manipulation".

5) What is the business model for Hyperwords?

Client installs (Firefox, Chrome and soon Windows, so yes, it will work in Internet Explorer) are affiliate driven (AdSense & Amazon primarily). Server is licensed.

6) Who and how much financed Hyperwords?

Personal finance.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Interview with Revo - part 1 of 2

Revo is a new radio manufacturer based in Scotland; in Revo official site they describe themselves saying "Revo Technologies Ltd is a privately owned designer and manufacturer of award-winning digital radio products for the DAB, DAB+, HD and internet radio platforms".

David Baxter is the CEO and agreed about an interview about digital radio (DAB, DRM), switch off of FM and similar topics.

1) When was Revo created and by whom?

I founded Revo Technologies Ltd in the summer of 2006.

2) How many people work at Revo?

Revo has a staff of 12 people based in Lanark, Scotland.

3) How many radio did you sell in a year?

We are a relatevely small (but growing) manufacturer, in 2009 we sold just over 50,000 radios.

4) I see that you don't have a distributor for USA: why? Do you have any plan to make radio for USA for the future?

Generally speaking, the USA is a difficult market for a small European brand to penetrate. It's geographically large, and the selling "culture" is more different than you would imagine. There have also been other barriers such as the economic situation in the USA over the last 18 months. This made U.S. retailers nervous about trying new things. Also, there hasn't been as much of an appetite for digital radio/internet radio in the USA as you would expect. We have only very recently appointed a small independent distributor to handle Revo in the USA. We believe that this is the best approach for the moment.

5) Some people blame the manufacturers for the failure of digital radio: what do you think about it?

I think that it's difficult to blame the manufacturers. In markets where a transmitter infrastructure has been put in place, and unique programming exists, digital radio has been a success. Without these things, there is little that a manufacturer can do.

(to be continued)

UPDATE: 11 march 2010 - second part of interview

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Discovering startups 1: Stribe

Stribe is a social network for any site, provided as Software as a Service.

Founders Kamel Zeroual, Gael Delalleau and Demba Diallo created the company in March 2008 and released the service in September 2009 during TechCrunch50.

Stribe allows blogs, casual gaming or even an e-commerce sites to create their own social network in theirs sites. It deeply engages the visitors and allows social interactions after an easy 5-minute plug & play installation, which can be fully customized and freely branded.

Stribe won the first place at Le Web 2009 (december, Paris).

Interview with Stribe

1) How many people work in Stribe?

We are 8 engineers working in Stribe

2) When do you plan to reach break-even?

It’s up to the viral effect of our service. We still working in designing the best business model to reach the break even as fast as we can.

3) right now, how many people use Stribe?

We’ve send more than thousand invitation to website and there is around 15000 users registered beta testing our product.

4) what's the business model of Stribe?

It’s Freemium business model: there is a free version for small websites/blogs and we provide premium features.

5) Stribe was and techcrunch50 2009 in september and at Le web 2009 in december (i know u won at le web): would you describe the differences between the 2 events?

TC50 is dedicated about startup launching. It’s the core event and everyone come for that and expect to discover the next “Google or Facebook”.

LeWeb is a conference about a topic with many web gurus and next to this event there is an European competition startup. People, media, bloggers and journalist are very careful about this because it’s a competition and all the web ecosystem are in Paris to meet them up.

Kamel Zeroual at Techcrunch 50, 15th september 2009:

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Number of failed banks from 2000 to 2009 in USA

The chart shows the number of failed banks from 2000 till 2009 in USA (source: FDIC)

We must not think that the financial crisis is over: in the first month of 2010, 15 banks have failed!!! The year 2010 may not reach the number of 139 failed banks (like 2009), but 15 banks in one month is a bad beginning...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Ownership and control of Google

In the last days i read this:

NYT: Google Founders to sell, but are not losing control

Paid Content: Google's Brin and Page to sell off shares; give up majority voting power over five years

Techcrunch: Google Co-Founders plan to sell up to 10 million shares over next five years

BBC: Google co-founders to sell shares

Everything started because there was a SEC filing (=communiqué from SEC) saying:

On November 30, 2009, Larry Page and Sergey Brin each adopted stock trading plans in accordance with guidelines specified under Rule 10b5-1 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Google’s policies regarding stock transactions. In the future, they will begin selling a portion of their Google stock pursuant to these stock trading plans.

It means: onNovember 30, 2009 Larry Page and Sergey Brin told SEC that they are going to sell some shares of Google

Larry and Sergey currently hold approximately 57.7 million shares of Class B common stock, which represents approximately 18% of Google’s outstanding capital stock and approximately 59% of the voting power of Google’s outstanding capital stock. Under the terms of these Rule 10b5-1 trading plans, and as a part of a five year diversification plan, Larry and Sergey each intend to sell approximately 5 million shares. If Larry and Sergey complete all the planned sales under these Rule 10b5-1 trading plans, they would continue to collectively own approximately 47.7 million shares, which would represent approximately 15% of Google’s outstanding capital stock and approximately 48% of the voting power of Google’s outstanding capital stock (assuming no other sales and conversions of Google capital stock occur).

To understand that, we need to understand the corporate governance of Google. At January 31, 2009, there were 240,289,354 shares of the Class A common stock outstanding and 75,004,353 shares of the Class B common stock outstanding. Class B shares are special shares: each one has 10 voting rights; Class A common stock has been listed on The Nasdaq Global Select Market under the symbol “GOOG” since August 19, 2004 and ; Class B common stock is neither listed nor traded.

If we read that: (annual report 2008; page 30)

Our board of directors may issue, without stockholder approval, shares of undesignated preferred stock. The ability to issue undesignated preferred stock makes it possible for our board of directors to issue preferred stock with voting or other rights or preferences that could impede the success of any attempt to acquire us.

We can be sure that, with Brin and Page holding 48% of voting rights (Eric Schimdt another 10%), nobody can take away the control of Google
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