Latin America is proving a fractious place at the moment, with Argentina in financial meltdown, Brazil and Uruguay looking decidedly dodgy and let's not even start on Colombia. Which means that, in common with most of the world, it's not a place with oodles of spare cash. IT should be especially useful, if it's affordable. And what a great thing free software is, said the Peruvians, 'cos its so much cheaper and also more reliable -- you can check it for bugs yourself. They liked this argument so much, in fact, they've got a bill going through the legislature insisting that government departments and people who do business with them should use open-source software. Cue paroxysms from Redmond, where Microsoft finds such ideas against the principles of fair competition, free enterprise and level playing fields that the company so conspicuously espouses. Letters have been sent, Bill Gates has been despatched with the Chequebook of Correction to donate half a million dollars worth of goods, services and cash to the Peruvian government, and still the southerners haven't got the message. Time to escalate, and so the US Ambassador was drafted in. He sent a stern note to the Peruvian president, saying that not allowing commercial software could hurt an industry with the potential to create 15,000 jobs. The bill's supporters, however, are having none of it -- the ambassador's missive is seen as adding a charge of US meddling in South American affairs to the original sin of Microsoft expanding its hegemony. That's deeply unfashionable at the moment, and full-blown trade disputes have been born of less. The final word probably belongs to the people who point out that in a country where schools can't afford to pay for water and electricity, a Microsoft licence fee is a luxury too far -- especially when there are good alternatives. To which I'd add that while open source does indeed need people to install, maintain and configure it, you might as well grow those skills locally and build up local companies. And understanding open-source software means more people will be exposed to programming and systems software design, which sounds better value to me than just learning how to install Office. Tuesday 30/07/2002
Nawww.... This is just silly. Western Digital's latest drive, costing £250 or thereabouts, is 200GB. Stonker! If you have a record collection too big to fit onto that, then you really should get out more. Unless you're The Avalanches (an Australian music duo, m'lud, who've made one smasheroonie of a record from 900 odd samples) in which case you should stay in and make more music pronto. And since even Microsoft and the army of synchronised penguins are proving unequal to the task of bulking up system and application software fast enough to keep pace with hard disk developments, there's not much doubt that such humongous data sponges are there for digital media. Which is ironic, given the ever-more frantic efforts of the media owners to stop us doing any such thing. On top of last week's business of allowing the record companies to hack into your computer and destroy anything they don't like, we now see the Anticounterfeiting Amendments of 2002, a bill presented to the US Senate. This was originally aimed at people who fake holograms and certificates of authenticity, but has been quietly rewritten to cover anyone who tampers with digital rights management, file watermarking and so on. With fines of up to $25,000 per act of naughtiness, this could severely impact on the petty cash funds of anyone who's tempted to perform the massively illicit, technologically sophisticated evil of masking out bits of a protected audio CD with magic marker so it'll play on their CD. What a fun world we're building. One of the effects of this sort of legislation, ironically, may be to weaken copy protection and anti-piracy technologies. If you know that you can bankrupt anyone who even so much as thinks of breaking your code, you don't bother to expend much energy in creating it. And the process of testing new methods and then building on what you find is going to be much harder, if it's illegal to do anything but play the content on whatever authorised players the powers that be are graciously releasing to the criminal classes this week. Legislation's a lousy way to change human behaviour. Wednesday 31/07/2002
Mondays come and Mondays go. In the case of PricewaterhouseCooper Consulting, renamed to Monday less than a couple of months ago, the corporate rebranding has lasted just long enough to get the business cards back from the printers. IBM has come along and bought the lot, pausing for nary a microsecond before relegating Monday back to a mere day of the week. Sensible IBM. It also paid a very reasonable $3.5bn -- down just a squeak from the $18bn HP almost ponied up two years ago. That makes the PwC staff worth around a hundred grand a head (curiously, almost twice the market value placed on the head of yer average ZDNet employee. Perhaps if we rebranded? Days of the week are out, so perhaps we could be January. Or Rainy Autumn Afternoon. Or Half Past Two In The Morning Waiting For The Nightbus Outside A Dodgy Nightclub In Camden). But it's not a good time to be a consultant. IBM's consulting arm's felt the pinch, and has been casting around for other ways to extract money from its clients. Outsourcing's been particularly good, but it's not clear how the 30,000 PwC'ers will fit into this model. Doubtless they'll get the consultants in to come up with an ongoing strategy. I wonder how you become a consultant. Some of my friends are consultants, but you can't tell. They don't like to talk about it -- one particularly smart woman pal is positively apologetic if you find her out. Others, journalists to the bone, became consultants for a while and it's absolutely true, their salaries doubled. But it wasn't enough: they're all back now and they seem happier. I think it's the feeling deep within the soul of every true-born hack that information wants to be free -- or at the most, available for £3.95 a month from WHSmith. Putting together a 64-page report of the blindingly obvious and then charging zillions of quid for it seems wrong, somehow. Thursday 1/07/2002
It's a grand life, being a commercial pilot, but spare a thought for some of the downsides. Airline food, of course. Pathological jetlag can't be nice. But how about having everything you do in the office recorded by robots? That's what it's like having a black box and cockpit voice recorder running all the time: the safety reasons are unanswerable, of course, but many pilots still find it an uncomfortable fact of life. They only really got accepted with promises of proper confidentiality: the recent proposed addition of cockpit video cameras created quite a storm, as it was all too easy to foresee one's last minutes before a fatal crash being picked up by reality TV and transmitted around the world. Not many of us would fancy that. Now the same arguments are being played out closer to home. Black boxes for cars are getting closer, whether it's last week's announcement of one that monitors teenage drivers and warns them when they're thrashing the family motor or today's announcement about Advanced Automatic Crash Notification. That's a device that monitors your car at all times, and transmits information about a crash -- who's in the car, what's happened and where it is -- to the emergency services. It'll save lives, but what happens when it gets dragged into the legal kerfuffle afterwards? Or what happens when the insurance company demands your driving logs before it'll set a premium? I ponder all this as I grab a minicab home after a solidly liquid picnic on Hampstead Heath, followed by a post-sundown pint or two in a nearby pub. As we screech through Tufnell Park, narrowly scraping past an old man walking a dog (five points) and hurtle down the Holloway Road (parked car, ten points. It's a police car, extra ten points. No occupants, minus five) I dismiss my libertarian objections to automotive snooping like the facile, crass and frankly terrified passenger of fate that I am. Instead, I decide, the darn boxes should be Bluetooth-enabled and us poor pedestrians should have full, immediate and unblockable access to the driving records of anyone on anything bigger than a unicycle. Friday 2/07/2002
So, Sony Ericsson is hiring 'attractive young actors and actresses' to pose as tourists, asking passers-by to take their picture with -- aha! -- the new T68i cellphone/camera. When the innocent bystanders express surprise and delight at the unbeatable gorgeousness of the gadget, then they can be told where to go and get one. What an idea. It works, too -- being an attractive young hack with a penchant for reviewing new gadgets in public places (Only been mugged once. Companies, your gizmos are safe with me), I'm all too used to handing out similar information. Usually, and this is even better than Sony Ericsson will manage, with a few words of comparative reviewer's advice. I hadn't thought of charging for this, let alone indenting for an attractive young female hack to act as stooge, but you can rest assured that I will not let this marketing opportunity go un-mined. That's not this week's only remarkable innovation in the world of personal advertising. A gentleman has been offering space via eBay for a tattooed commercial message -- logo or text, he's easy -- on his membrum virile. Alas, once this came to the attention of the eBay masters he was forced to take it down -- although I'm sure he can still be contacted by the determined. That all conjures up some rather unpleasant images of cross-media marketing. But it could be the solution to the current sad lack of nudists in Munich's famous English Gardens, where a report last week said that gawpers and (curiously) Belgians had driven away the massed exposed bodies of that city's more attractive specimens. All Sony Ericsson has to do is run the actor idea there -- with no clothes on, you bet people will be happy to take pictures -- and then send the pictures via email, there and then, to the happy punters. For there on the naked bods will be tattooed a URL -- and a barcode, why not? -- for further information, when the members of the public get home. Hey, this consultancy lark's easy. IBM, you know where to find me. To have your say online click on TalkBack and go to the ZDNet UK forums.