That's a lot of data

The University of California (UCAL) Berkeley has completed its second “How Much Information” study. The researchers conclude that the the amount of new information stored on paper, film, optical and magnetic media has doubled in the last three years, reaching five miliion terabytes or five billion gigabytes or five exabytes by the end of 2002, compared to half that in 1999.
I wish I could remember the source — probably Wired or could have been something Kurzweil wrote — of some geek's estimate that if you could digitize all the experiences of an average human being's lifetime, you would end up with 5 terabytes of data.
Nonetheless, a terabyte is still an awfully big chunk of data.

Letting your subjects have their say

Whether it's a book-length biography or a newspaper profile, writers who do biographical pieces are often faced with a dilemma: Access versus Independence of Thought. As a writer, I want to get as close to my subject as possible, to see him or her in their private moments, in closed door meetings, and get lots of exclusive material. The price for that kind of good stuff, though, is usually Independence of Thought. The subject may grant that access in return for some control over what you write. That can range from veto power over the entire project to being able to modify interview notes. If you want complete independence of thought, you may never be granted a chance to speak to your subject let alone get close to him or her. Well, here's a neat new strategy. For his new biography of Larry Ellison, Matthew Symonds agreed to let Ellison share the page with him. Ellison gave Symonds some terrific access, allowing the writer to accompany Ellison to closed-door meetings, for example, and, in exchange, Ellison was allowed to respond via footnotes in Symond's biography. I like it.

Interviewing analysts now a "public" appearance

Corporate governance and issues of disclosure and transparency are the hot topics on Wall Street these days.
Now, in the wake of some rule changes by the New York Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ, if I interview an analyst by phone that will qualify as a “public appearance”. What are the implications for journalists in Canada? Well, for one thing, I got a note yesterday from the PR woman at Merrill Lynch Canada letting me know that I can no longer phone up some of the economists and analysts I would routinely contact at that banks Toronto or New York office without first going through a PR woman and listening to a standard spiel about disclosure.
And while none of my sources have done this to me yet, there's a chance the analyst could be forced to disclose what s/he said in that interview as soon as it's over, even before I publish the contents of the interview!
Here's a story on this;

Banks Eye Analyst Disclosure: Big Board Expands 'Public Appearance' Guide
The NYSE and the NASD have added print media interviews to existing rules on disclosure of TV appearances by analysts. Banks must maintain records of interviews whether they're published or not.

Sony caves to angry Quebeckers

We reported on this in today's Globe and Mail (Toronto). Sony deletes terrorist attack. From the story: Electronics giant Sony Corp. yesterday bowed to intense pressure from Quebec politicians and decided to delete video-game scenes featuring separatist terrorists engaging in bloody gunfights in a Toronto shopping mall and subway.
Syphon Filter 4: The Omega Strain included terrorists from the fictitious Quebec Liberation Front attacking Toronto with biological weapons, machine guns and grenades. The video-game player is told to “mow down” the terrorists.”
Here's the paragraphs I wrote for that story that didn't make it into the paper or online version. Please note, that the following really should be viewed in context with the story at the link above:

Almost all ex-FLQ members now live away from the spotlight, working in trades such as librarian, university professor or union executive.
The FLQ began in 1963 with a series of bombings against symbols of the Anglophone establishment in Quebec — army depots, factories, mailboxes — and culminated in the October, 1970, kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and the murder of provincial labour minister Pierre Laporte.
The real FLQ of the 1960s and 1970s never attacked any targets in Toronto or outside of Quebec.
Reached by telephone afetr Sony made its decision to change the contents of his game, Mr. Garvin seemed to be in ill humour and quickly hung up the phone.
Mr. Garvin heads up one of Sony’s in-house software studios in Bend, a medium-sized city of about 60,000 people in the central part of that state.
As with previous Syphon Filter games, the player works through various levels or missions.
The meta-mission for the series to stop a global terrorist consortium from unleashing the fictional Syphon Filter virus, a biological weapon that could kill millions.
Syphon Filter 4 started in a Toronto shopping mall. The player comes across dozens of dead people, victims of the Syphon Filter virus. The player must then avoid some gun-toting scientists while trying to perform an autopsy on one of the bodies. Subsequent missions put the player in Toronto’s subway system where the player must jump up on the roof of a moving subway and defuse a bomb while fighting bad guys.
The central character is named Gabe Logan, who works for a group known only as The Agency. The Agency’s mission is to rid the world of the Syphon Filter virus.
Logan’s goal and, by extension, the goal of the game’s players, is to destroy the terrorist organizations who are planning to use the virus, and prevent an attack on Moscow by Chechen rebels.

Can phones keep track of kids?

A story moved on the Reuters wire last week describing how some new services are about to debut in Finland that will let parents keep track of their kids using a GPS-enabled cell phone. My producers thought it was a neat idea and wondered if anything like that was going to happen in Canada. I said I'd look into it. Then, this week in Toronto, <a href=" 9-year-old girl was abducted from her home, apparently while sleeping. The idea of some technology gadget that would lead parents and law enforcement types right to the missing child became especially appealing. It quickly made it to the top of my to-do list.
So I asked around about a technology, be it cellphones or anything else, to keep track of kids using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.
The short answer is: There is no, nor is there likely to be, a GPS-enabled solution that could keep track of our kids. If you think, otherwise, of course, let me know.
Some stuff I learned tracking down this non-story:

  • No service provider in Canada has a service like the ones to debut in Finland although “Telus last week announced the first GPS-enabled cell phone handsets in Canada. )
  • A company in the U.S. called Wherify offers a 'Child Locator' service using GPS systems and digital PCS phones. The service is available only in the U.S.
  • In all cases, be it Finland, Telus, or Wherify, a consumer GPS deviced can be easily defeated by someone who wants to remain hidden. That is most easily done by simply moving indoors. Consumer GPS systems do not work unless there is a line-of-sight connection to a satellite. Providers are working to get around this limitation mostly by using digital PCS phone transmitters to act as locators. Even still, digital PCS coverage is spotty in many areas and can also be defeated in, say, a parking garage or a subway. And, of course, relying on a cell phone network to transmit data means the cell phone network has to work. And not just any cell phone network but a digital PCS network. Travelling to a remote area or an area where the only cellphone coverage is old-fashioned analog cellular will defeat the GPS system. In all cases, the devices will be defeated as soon as the battery wears out. We're all familiar with how long batteries last in cellphones. They are most quickly drained by making calls. Using them for GPS would drain them even faster. The makers of the Wherify device (it's a thick wrist-watch device that gets locked to a kids' wrist) lasts for about 60 hours before it needs recharging.

Software piracy in Canada

Prince Edward Islanders are notorious software thieves, an industry group said today while one in three copies of business software in use in Canada's most populous province, Ontario, is a counterfeit. These findings are from the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft, the Canadian chapter of the Business Software Alliance. Some excerpts from the provincial software piracy study press release are below:

But Problem Still Costs Ontarians Over $1 Billion Annually In Lost Wages
TORONTO, ON – The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (CAAST), an industry alliance of software publishers, today released a study that places Ontario's software piracy rate at 35.5 per cent, the lowest rate the province has had in four straight years. The province's piracy rate is almost four points below the national average of 39.4 per cent, ranking it as the second lowest in the country after Alberta.
The independent study, conducted for CAAST and the Business Software Alliance (BSA) by International Planning and Research Corporation (IPR), indicates that in 2002, Ontario lost $210 million in retail sales of business software applications due to software piracy as well as $1 billion in wage and salary losses and 13,000 jobs.
“While Ontario is showing excellent progress in its fight against software piracy, the impact that software piracy continues to have on the local economy cannot be ignored,” said Jacquie Famulak, president CAAST. “Despite having one of the lowest piracy rates in Canada, Ontario accounts for 51 per cent of the impact of dollar losses due to piracy. As a province with a significant software industry, Ontario must continue to be diligent in preventing software piracy from becoming an even greater economic burden.”
The ranking of provincial piracy rates, starting with the highest, is: Prince Edward Island (65.3%), Newfoundland (61.5%), Nova Scotia (53.3%), Saskatchewan and Yukon (53.1% each), British Columbia (47.4%), New Brunswick (40.5%), Manitoba (39.6%), Quebec (38.6%), Northwest Territories and Nunavut (36.6%), Ontario (35.5%) and Alberta (33.6%).

Internet Population hits 150 million

I realize a lot of folks will poke holes in the methodologies used by Comscore and its competitors. Still, a couple of interesting points from the company's latest release.

First — The Internet population in the U.S. hit 150 million in September. You are a member of this population, Comscore, says, if you used the Internet from any location at least once during the month.

Second — Check out Verisign's SiteFinder-assisted numbers . . .

From the Comscore press release (which has tables):

comScore Media Metrix


U.S. Internet Population Breaks the 150 Million Mark

RESTON, Va. October 21, 2003 – comScore Media Metrix today announced the top 50 U.S. Internet properties for the month of September 2003. comScore Media Metrix also reported that in September, the total number of U.S. Internet users passed the 150 million mark for the first time ever. Further, the total amount of time spent by Americans on the Internet grew by 3 percent in September, although the month of September is one day, or 3 percent, shorter than August. This increase in time spent online was driven almost entirely by the university population returning to campus and their computers ….

In September, there were three new entrants to the Top 50 Properties ranking. Verisign's launch of SiteFinder, which redirects mistyped URLs to its site, drove a sharp spike of 540 percent in unique visitors. This increase – the largest of any major property in September – pushed Verisign Sites from a rank of 135 in August to the number 11 position in September…

Cowpland admits to insider trading

Michael Cowpland, the founder and former CEO of software maker Corel Corp., was in front of the Ontario's stock market regulator yesterday. He is accused of and admitted yesterday to insider trading for a trade in 1997 in which he sold $20-million worth of stock a few weeks before Corel surprised the market with disastrous financial results.
This is an important case for Canadian stock market regulators. Unlike the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission, Canadian stock market regulators — there is no national regulator but one for each province — have relatively weak enforcement powers. None can, like the SEC, send anyone to jail and they have little power to actually levy fines. Any fines paid by those who break securities laws are 'voluntary' fines.
Cowpland and regulatory investigators are proposing total fines of about $1.6-million for the $20-million trade. Cowpland and investigators say the loss he avoided by the early sale is anywhere between zero and $1.3-million, so total fines of $1.6-million means he will be worse off after the fines. But critics of Canada's regulatory system say you could calculate the loss he avoided differently and that when you do that, he actually avoided losing $5-million. By that yardstick, he has still benefited from breaking the law.
You can watch the report I did on this story for last night's CTV National News here. The original statement of allegations by the Ontario Securities Commission is here.