A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

iTunes Milestone
Apple's iTunes Music Store has reached the milestone of 100 million songs downloaded. This is no mean feat in the short time that the business has been running. The lucky downloader of the 100 millionth track won a specially engraved iPod and a load of other Apple goodies.
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Monday, July 26, 2004

Bloatware - take a look at VisiCalc 

I came across this site which has the original VisiCalc .exe available to download. Why is this interesting and what is VisiCalc? In answer to the first part, the Excel 8.0 .exe is over 200 times the size of that for VisiCalc but with no real added functionality that actually gets used by the majority of users.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Mobile 'phone health alert

In Nigeria it seems that mobile 'phones can really cause death. Panic is apparantly sweeping Lagos after two people died shortly after reciving calls from these numbers:

0802 311 1999
0802 222 5999

One belongs to a subscriber to V-mobile, the other does not exist (or maybe it does). They look like old BT Cellnet (or was it Vodafone?) numbers. Maybe that's why 0802 became 07802...
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Friday, July 16, 2004

BT respond to Skype
The BY Yahoo! partnership has spawned VoIP with Yahoo! Messenger. The product is called BT Communicator. Voice calls to other BT Communicator users are free, calls to "real" 'phones are charged at BT Together rates and appear on your 'phone bill. The catch is that you need a BT residential 'phone line.

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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Google competition hots up

Two more developments in the search wars....

On 9th July Yahoo! bought Oddpost, a web-based e-mail application. The best way to describe it is Outlook in a browser. Yahoo! are going to use the Oddpost team to create an upgraded Yahoo! mail product with two Gb storage and search capabilities...

Blinkx launched its beta product this week. This runs as a client and has a definite Autonomy feel to the way it works - Suranga Chandratillake was CTO there for three years. It's very beta, but has the attraction of being able to index your e-mail (not GroupWise, though) and local documents. The Autonomy-like bit is that it looks for patterns within text or video to find related items. All those (sometimes strange) article links under SEE ALSO on BBC news stories are Autonomy generated.


Don't look at the almonds for too long (from Good Experience). The image is a static .gif.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Bob Bemer RIP

The man who helped to create COBOL and ASCII died on 22nd June 2004. Bob Bemer devised COMTRAN whilst at IBM in the 1950s. This, with FLOW-MATIC, formed the basis of the specification for COBOL in 1959. He has been called the Father of ASCII and while serving on the committee which created the ASCII specification added several characters which were, at the time, usused in computing, such as the ESCape sequence.

I'm not sure if he's ever been known as the man that invented that somewhat annoying practice of sticking years on the end of products (such as COBOL 60...). Wikipedia has more.
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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Patently daft? 

The Guardian today has an article on the use of patents for software. The issue here is that this can boil down to patenting an idea, which historically has not been possible. The article uses Amazon's patent of the process by which they send an e-mail to the recipient of a gift when the sender does not know their postal address as an example. I took a look at Amazon's conditions to see what other patents they've filed. You can see the list under section 12.

The full list is as follows:

  • 5,715,399 Secure method and system for communicating a list of credit card numbers over a non-secure network

  • 5,960,411 Method and system for placing a purchase order via a communications network

  • 6,006,225 Refining search queries by the suggestion of correlated terms from prior searches

  • 6,029,141 Internet-based customer referral system

  • 6,064,980 System and methods for collaborative recommendations

  • 6,144,958 System and method for correcting spelling errors in search queries

  • 6,169,986 System and method for refining search queries

  • 6,185,558 Identifying the items most relevant to a current query based on items selected in connection with similar queries

  • 6,266,649 Collaborative recommendations using item-to-item similarity mappings

  • 6,317,722 Use of electronic shopping carts to generate personal recommendations

  • 6,360,254 System and method for providing secure URL-based access to private resources

  • 6,366,910 Method and system for generation of hierarchical search results

  • 6,401,084 System and method for correcting spelling errors in search queries using both matching and non-matching search terms

  • The one referred to in the Guardian is 6,360,254 and the problem arises because this idea is probably in use on hundreds of sites around the world. I know that we use something very similar on Economist.com to allow customers to unsubscribe from newsletters, for example. Many sites, too, use a systen that looks remarkably similar to that described in patent 5,715,399 where a customer is asked to identify which credit card stored by the site should be used for a transaction. I could go on, but you see the point.

    The argument that these kinds of patents could be used as a kind of currency to trade with others is, franky, a scary scenario. Aside from the big names, such as Microsoft, Amazon and Barry Diller's empire, developers are unlikely to have the time or resources to file patents for every idea that they have used in any kind of software development.

    As the UK legislation is being discussed now, I suggest that you lobby your MP or start filing (you should know, however, that anything that is developed whilst you are employed by The Economist is probably owned by The Economist).
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    Wednesday, July 07, 2004

    Mike Seery on MSN

    Spoke too soon - the other Mike Seery has bumped me...
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    Thursday, July 01, 2004

    Oh and I now bump that other guy who visists Disneyland off the top spot.
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    Microsoft Search

    Microsoft's search beta can be tried here. "Economist" brings back just one result!
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