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Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Social media etiquette

I just received an invitation to a press briefing. Via a Facebook message. I wouldn’t have a problem with this if I used my Facebook account for professional purposes. But I don’t. I don’t connect to any clients on Facebook. I was a member of the UK tech journos and PRs group (although I have today left it). Someone (not me) did create a group to promote Net Records, one of the start-ups I’m involved in, but it wasn’t me. Of all the many ways on offer through which people can contact me, I have never told someone to reach me on Facebook in a professional capacity.

So why would they choose to contact me that way?

Say someone lists a range of phone numbers in their email footer — usually an office number, maybe a direct dial, and increasingly a mobile number. You wouldn’t ignore all of those and call them at home. The same rules apply to social media. I have a dedicated email address for my blog that I list publicly. I use LinkedIn for business networking. People can even just leave comments on the blog. So why bypass all that and contact me on Facebook, which I reserve for personal relationships?

The fact is that the woman who contacted me clearly uses social media differently. Her rules are different. She is almost a decade younger than me and from a different country. The web may be global but the etiquette for us both is very different and there is no fixed standard yet.

Etiquette is important. It defines the little details about how we behave towards each other and how we act in the presence of others. The little rules that if breached can feel like an insult, or an invasion of privacy, however small. It will take time for a broad standard to be adopted across the web, and they may never translate well across international and cultural boundaries. For now, I think we all should be a little cautious about how we use social and communications media, and ensure we don’t assume that our rules apply to everyone else.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Do geeks need help with dating?

My second slot of the day on the beeb, talking about whether geeks need help with dating. My answer? Geeks are fine, nerds need help.

The difference? Geeks are just people with a love of, and the aptitude for, technology. Nerds are better talking to machines than human beings. Militant Geek lays out the difference — along with a definition of dorks — very neatly.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Protect your PC from Conficker and other viruses   BBC Radio Manchester

A follow up from (or prelude to, if you’re reading this late Wednesday night) a little slot on the BBC Radio Manchester breakfast show to talk about the Conficker worm that is currently decimating corporate IT systems around the globe. Here’s my top three tips if you want to keep your home computer protected.

1. Enable automatic updates. The Conficker worm takes advantage of a flaw in Windows that Microsoft fixed back in October. It is only spreading because people — and particularly companies — have not applied this ‘patch’ to their computers. Ensuring this is never a problem for you again couldn’t be simpler. You just need to enable automatic updates. On Windows Vista, click the ‘Start button, then select ‘Control Panel’. At the bottom you will find ‘Windows Update’. Run this and select ‘Change Settings’ at the top left hand side. Make sure the top option is ticked.

2. Make sure you have a good anti-virus system in place. There are all manner of different types of security software, but the only one you really need is a good anti-virus system. These days most of the other requirements are met by Windows (and if you use an alternative operating system such as Linux or Apple OS X, you probably don’t need them). You really don’t need to pay for a good anti-virus system. If you don’t have one, or if the licence on yours has run out and you no longer receive the crucial updates, click here to download the free and powerful AVG (private use only).

3. Be careful! Viruses spread through emails, websites, shared networks, memory sticks and disks. Don’t open emails from people you don’t trust, don’t click on anything you don’t trust, don’t join networks you don’t trust, and be cautious about using other people’s memory sticks.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Wishlist: mobile social networking on a wearable computer

Continuing a (very) occasional series on gadgets I would like but that don’t yet seem to exist. This idea started when carving (falling) down the snowy slopes in Verbier over new year. Posh, I know.

We were a big group, all of different skill levels and hence all travelling at different speeds. Navigating the less-than-well mapped slopes was tough. Managing to join up at chosen meeting points even harder without multiple costly and confusing mobile calls. At the same time I was trialling a helmet-mounted (or in my case, head-mounted) camera and listening to music on my iPhone.

As we rode the lifts up to the top for another run we regularly discussed our respective playlists, and I found myself thinking: “ Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all listen to the same playlist?” Clearly all plugging in to the same iPod was never going to work, so the tunes would have to be streamed wirelessly (humour me and ignore the PRS/digital rights implication for a moment).

That got me thinking about a wireless mesh network that would stop us sending high volumes of data over the expensive and less-than-reliable cellular network. Then I figured, wouldn’t it be cool if the network could identify people against their devices (like a Nintendo DS) and allow us to access various social networking features: automatically discovering people in your Facebook friends list when they come in to range (if you have chosen to be discoverable); sharing photos, images and videos (perhaps streamed live from a helmet/lapel mounted camera). Add in a mapping and navigation system and you have an incredibly useful tool.

The wearable bit comes in when you begin to think about the interface for all this. You certainly don’t want a screen and keyboard when you’re hurtling down the slopes, but you will need some sort of button-based affair and a display. Lots of companies have been making iPod and mobile-phone compatible clothing with such arrangements for a while now. Maybe a more sophisticated version of these items could contain a small screen.

Hardware-wise, the ideal is obviously something compact and robust, like a mobile phone. All of the features above could easily be added to a Gphone or iPhone, and probably some already have (BrightKite being a good example). But for something with a little more raw power, easy development and cheap peripherals, a Netbook would be a great start. You could probably assemble the hardware to do everything I list above for under £300 (maybe slightly more with uprated battery and storage).

The techy elements could be incorporated very discretely — certainly into ski-wear — so you wouldn’t look like a total dork. And I think the market for something like this is actually pretty huge. There’s the sports angle (cheap tactical gear for paintballing is one idea a colleague suggested), but also just the kid on the street angle. Revenues could come from all sorts of places — hardware sales; location-based advertising; data backhaul etc. Given that the mesh network would never be the total solution for connectivity, it may even appeal to the mobile operators.

Be interested in any comments. I’m quite tempted to look into funding to see if someone could begin to develop the idea, or at least look at its feasibility.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Flashback: The top tech stories of 1994 on BBC Radio Manchester

Joining Becky Want for Flashback again this afternoon looking at two years as usual, 1980 and 1994. Here’s the detail on the hit technology stories of 1994.

This was a pivotal year in the shift from old computing to the new Internet era…

— First of all, Commodore, stalwart of the home computer market filed for bankruptcy.

— US Vice President Al Gore coined the term “Information Superhighway” in a speech.

— The World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee moved to MIT and started the World Wide Web Consortium with backing from IBM, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. The group’s mission is prevent one company dominating the web and to ensure that all of its standards remain open.

— The first online banner adverts appeared.

— A mathematical flaw caused the Intel Pentium processor to get some calculations wrong. Intel offered to recall the offending chips but most people didn’t bother since the errors were sufficiently small.

— Netscape began life this year as the provider of the first widely-successful web browser, Netscape Navigator. Within a year it has 200 employees and has helped to convince Bill Gates that money can be made from the Internet — something he had doubted. The following year Microsoft launched Explorer 1.0 following the acquisition of browser company SpyGlass and the rest is history. Microsoft now has 68% market share — a significant fall thanks to the success of alternatives like Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

— Yahoo! Inc. was founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo, 26 and 27. Having recognised the power of the internet and Netscape’s web browser, they launched the company to offer advertising-supported ‘gateways’ to online content.

— The search engine Lycos Inc. was founded by a team from Carnegie Mellon University. Amongst the first engines, and one of many to be overtaken by Google, it nonetheless generated millions of dollars of revenue for the University.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Flashback: The top tech stories of 1980 on BBC Radio Manchester

Joining Becky Want for Flashback again this afternoon looking at two years as usual, 1980 and 1994. Here’s the detail on the hit technology stories of 1980.

— In computing, 1980 was the year that IBM made its biggest ever blunder. It hired Paul Allen and Bill Gates to create an operating system for its new PC — the first PC. The pair bought the rights to a simple operating system manufactured by Seattle Computer Products and tweaked it in to what became IBM PC DOS. The masterstroke? Telling IBM that they would licence it to them on a per-PC basis rather than selling to them outright. IBM’s PC team thought they were only going to sell a few PCs so were delighted that they could cut their up front costs. Instead the PC became the global success we all know, making Microsoft the enormous, and enormously profitable, company that it is today.

— At the same time Clive Sinclair and Jim Westwood were developing another world-changing device — at least for the young people of the UK. His ‘minimalist and cheap’ computer, the ZX80 introduced thousands of young people to computers — and computer games — for the first time. Its successors the ZX81 and the Spectrum sold more than 1,000,000 units, making the UK the world leaders in home computer ownership for a long time.

— 1980 was also a huge year in gaming. Atari became the first company to register copyright for games, with ‘Asteroids’ and ‘Lunar Landar’. It also launched the Battlezone tank simulator. But biggest of all was the release of PacMan. Amazing to think this little yellow character, still familiar today, was launched over a quarter of a century ago.

— In a bid to get the country more technologically up to speed, the French Post Office put aside 50 million pounds to develop the teléatique or Minitel — like Britain’s Prestel it gave you information from a central computer via a TV screen with a keyboard. The French system was designed to replace telephone directories and people were incentivised to used the system by a 500% increase in the price of paper directories. The Minitel units were free but you had to pay to use the service. Following an initial trial in Brittany in 1980, the system went nationwide and helped to dramatically increase French phone usage.

— Also in 1980, Casio introduced the Casiotone series of keyboards. Cheap and cheerful, they didn’t produce very accurate representations of real instruments, but their unique sound has been the basis of a recent renaissance. Musicians who grew up with their strange sound — including bands like Hot Chip — are now using them on records.

— Finally in 1980, Rollerblade Inc. was founded near by Canadian hockey player Scott Olsen, who had perfected the design for an in-line skate with the help of his 16 year-old brother Brennan. They were a massive success with skateboarders and Lycra-clad fitness freaks alike.

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Back in the saddle

I’ve had a bit of a break from blogging. I’m sure most amateur bloggers hit the same wall sometimes, a writer’s block brought on by a lack of time and a lack of inspiration. But now feeling mentally rested after a few weeks away from the keyboard, the urge to write is returning…

Posted by Tom Cheesewright on

Increasing the UK’s crunch immunity

Why are we so susceptible to the effects of a ‘credit crunch’? Why should a loss of access to borrowing have such a devastating effect? It seems the modern economy is fueled not by wealth earned but by cash borrowed.

There seems to me to be a parallel with our reliance on fossil fuels. Both approaches leave us borrowing from the future and both have a finite limit. Having seen what happens when we reach a form of finite borrowing limit — a limit defined more by confidence than cash — should we not be looking at what will happen when we run out of oil?

The Liberal Democrats propose to tackle both problems at the same time
. Rather than spend £12.5bn on cutting VAT, they would spend that money on insulating schools, homes and hospitals, building new zero-carbon homes, and expanding and improving the rail network. This would create jobs in the short term, and reduce people’s (and the government’s) energy and travel costs in the long term, making us more immune to future financial challenges. It would also leave us with a long-term green legacy that would benefit the country for years to come.

This is not a political blog and I don’t intend it to become one, but I find it hard to argue with the merits of this suggestion.

Tom Cheesewright