Saturday, 20 December 2014

Samsung's Holiday Advert Is Heart Warming

Samsung got together a number of its tablets and smartphones, and a rig to move them in concert, to create a beautiful animated story called Holiday Dreams.

It's very far from being a hard sell, but it's also not vomit-inducingly sloppy like some others I could mention.

Sony Releases CES 2015 Teaser: Welcome To The New World

Away from the dramas currently engulfing Sony Pictures, Sony Electronics has started the process of building hype for its CES 2015 unveilings with a teaser video, titled 'Welcome to the New World'. Hints of a smartphone and camera at the in here I'd say.

Not a long wait until the unveiling, with Sony scheduled to reveal all on January 5th.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Sony Pictures Cancels The Interview Release

After yesterday's cancellation of the premiere of The Interview, comes the news that Sony has killed the cinema release of the movie as well. All things considered that's a good move, although whether it will prompt the Guardians of Peace to take their foot off the company's throat remains to be seen.

The whole episode will serve as an important lesson to businesses everywhere and will no doubt be used as an educational exercise in boardrooms the world over in future.

First of all the bare facts: Sony Pictures has caved to blackmail. It's clear that the company could not reasonably proceed with the release of the movie given the threats of violence against movie-goers, employees and management at Sony Pictures. There is also the underlying suspicion that the information released thus far does not contain the bombshell whose release Sony Pictures fear.

Secondly there is the back story. The movie was a terrible decision. A storyline that makes its central joke about the murder of a current head of state seems in bad taste. When the country on the receiving end of that joke has a notoriously poor reputation for humour that adds further heaps of terrible onto the decision. Perhaps as recently as a decade ago the North Koreans would have had little opportunity to prevent the movie going forward, limited diplomatic relations and limited credibility for legal proceedings. Hollywood felt that it could do as it liked.

Now that The Interview has been prevented from release, it's time for the movie industry to reconsider how it portrays real-life characters. Planning and releasing a movie which could prompt a similar reaction on any scale becomes a much more difficult choice. What becomes more worrying is that the same tools could potentially be used to censor the release of any movie considered to be unacceptable to any sufficiently technical group. I'd imagine that movies like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911 would have been ripe for exactly this sort of blackmail.

Security experts are saying that upwards of 75% of businesses would be vulnerable to the sort of attack which penetrated the Sony Pictures network. So this begins to go beyond the realms of the movie business and into things like the world of finance and government, where this sort of hack becomes infinitely more worrying than the bringing of a film company to its knees.

Pandora's box is open, and the effects of the GOP hack could prove to be as world changing as those of 9/11.

iPod Competitor Lockout Was Legitimate Business Move For Apple

It's not like Apple tried to hide the relationship between
software or hardware is it?
A US jury has unanimously found that Apple did not harm consumers by disabling access to third party music store tracks when releasing updates to its iTunes software.

This was always going to be a difficult case to prove, primarily because Apple never offered access to tracks using DRM from other stores as a feature of its iPod.

Lawyers in the case sought to show that Apple had used its lock-in the maintain the high price of the iPod, however it seems to me that the opposite was true and the iPod was able to maintain its high price specifically because of the way that it integrated so tightly with iTunes.

To claim that Apple had harmed consumers by blocking tracks bought from the Real Networks store seems a bit of a stretch. You might as well try to sue Microsoft for preventing games bought in Playstation format from running on the Xbox.

The closed ecosystem sales model isn't unique to Apple, nor is it difficult to understand. Even though music tracks are now sold in DRM-free versions which can be installed anywhere, Apple still uses this model for the App Store - as do Microsoft and Sony with Xbox and PlayStation respectively.

Of course the legal team that brought the case rather screwed their pitch right from the beginning by failing to even check if their plaintiffs had purchased the iPods they were complaining about in the first place.

It seems like the desire to try and railroad some money out of Apple via the US legal system was so great they didn't even consider whether they had a case, or even a valid complaint. The fact that they're going to appeal the result seems like an act of desperate greed.

These class action suits only make real money for the lawyers - who rake in a top dollar payday, whilst the members of the class action usually come out with an insignificant payment. And the worst thing is that these group action suits are becoming more popular outside of litigation-happy America.

Sony Cancels 'The Interview' Premiere, Stars Cancel Media Appearences

The North Korean leadership has denied
involvement in the GOP attack, but
timing and details suggest otherwise.
The alleged threat of a '9/11' style attack on a movie theatre showing Sony's controversial movie The Interview has put the wind up several movie theatres in the US, some of whom have already decided to give the release a miss.

Now Sony Pictures has cancelled its planned New York Premiere and stars Seth Rogen and James Franco have pulled out of all media appearances promoting the movie in the run up to its release.

Seth Rogen is among those who have called on the media to stop reporting on the information released in the attack, however given the insight that it gives into the way that Sony Pictures and its fellow MPAA members go about there business, this is never going to happen.

The bigger question that Rogen should be asking himself (amongst others who gave a green light to the project) is: Should we have made a movie that was deeply offensive to a head of state of a foreign power, no matter how much we dislike him?

If we replace Kim Jong-Un with Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin would the reaction have been any different?

Many have called this an act of war by North Korea against the United States. That's very wrong. It's an act of war against a group of self-indulgent people who sought to make millions of dollars by making a faux-controversial movie and picked what they thought was an easy target. When that easy target turned out to have teeth, they found they didn't like their position much.

F1: Gutierrez To Ferrari

Another young driver with limited future
opportunities, at least Gutierrez will
be able to say that he led a Grand Prix
Mexican racer Esteban Gutierrez, dropped by Sauber after four seasons with the team, two as reserve driver and two in a race seat, will be Ferrari's test and reserve driver for the 2015 season. Whilst it seems like a positive move for the 23 year old, that position is notable for being the final resting place for aborted promising careers.

Despite shining in the lower formulae - winning both Formula BMW and GP3 titles - it's probably fair to say the Gutierrez demonstrated little in the way of star quality when measured up against either of his team mates at Sauber, generally the best indicator of a driver's performance.

With former team mate Nico Hulkenberg allegedly on Ferrari's wanted list, presumably to replace a retiring Kimi Raikkonen in 2016, there's little chance that Gutierrez will end up with a race seat for the team. And with little in the way of testing opportunities due to the restrictive rulings currently in place, the best that Esteban can probably hope for is to watch a pair of World Champions at work at close quarters.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Sony Pictures Goes After Media Outlets To Prevent Spread Of Hacking Information

The release of information obtained from Sony Pictures via the Guardians of Peace hack gets worse and worse for the company. Revelations that it has been working with other members of the MPAA to combat Goliath (AKA Google) and change the way the internet works (in the USA at least) have been damaging for both Sony and its peers in the MPAA. There have been embarrassing emails about actors, budgets and salaries; not to mention employees personal data.

It also appears that Sony was attempting to use DDoS attacks to suppress the spread of the leaked information - in itself probably an illegal activity.

However its latest attempt to stop that leaked information spreading smacks of desperation and is likely to cost it any sympathy it may have had over the attack.

As GigaOm reports, the company has been threatening media outlets with legal action if they fail to destroy any information originating from the leak. As the article points out, the First Amendment protects the publication of this information as free speech, as long as the publisher had no hand in obtaining the information.

Sony attempt to muzzle the press smacks of desperation and suggests that the coming 'Christmas Present' promised by the hackers is going to contain a bombshell which the company absolutely has to contain.

Monday, 15 December 2014

F1: Jean-Eric Vergne Stars On Formula E Debut

Quick and popular too. JEV won the fan vote for
an additional in-race power boost.
Just a few weeks after being dumped by Toro Rosso (for the second time in one season, no less) Jean-Eric Vergne arrived in Formula E, with a star turn in the Uruguayan leg of the electric formula's debut season.

Having never turned a wheel in the Renault-powered electric car, and with a whole new style of driving to contend with, as well as running in the first qualifying session (the slowest because of the 'green' track surface) JEV set down something of a marker, with a time that earned him pole position.

An unfortunately timed safety car cost him the lead of the race, and then a suspension failure ended his race as he was about to retake it, but even without finishing, his point was made.

Where the amiable Frenchman ends up next is anyone's guess. His drive in Formula E was with the Andretti team and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that JEV could end up driving one of that teams Indycars in America next season.

It seems untenable though that his F1 career is over at the age of 24, yet this is likely to be the position whilst so few teams have race seats available.

Also starring in yesterday's race were Sebastien Buemi (eventual race winner) and Jamie Alguersuari. Better known as the last young talents dumped by Toro Rosso...

Uber In The News Today - But Not In A Good Way

A couple of breaking stories about Uber reflect both the company's relationship with entrenched taxi services and the way that it manages to continue hitting the self destruct button.

First of all the news that Parisien taxi drivers are planning a mass protest this Friday morning, driving in convoy from both CDG and Orly airports to the city centre ina slow rolling protest that will bring absolute chaos to one of Europe's busiest road systems.

The protest is being driven by a court's decision to block new legislation restricting how and where Uber can acquire new users. With 160,000 users already registered across France incumbent taxi services see this legislation as allowing them to prepare their services to compete on a flat playing field. The legislation will now have to return to the French parliament for further clarification before it can be enforced.

Across the world and Australia became the latest target for terrorist activity, when armed gunmen took up to fifty hostages in a Lindt Coffee Shop this morning. Whilst emergency services were racing to contain the episode and looking to obtain the best possible outcome for the hostages, Uber Australia was price gouging Sydneysiders desperate to leave the CBD and head home. The minimum price for a Uber ride shot up to $100 - four times the normal rate.

When the news broke Uber Australia began a damage limitation exercise, promising free rides for all Uber riders leaving the CBD and refunds for any who had been charged. The inflated price remains in place "in order to encourage more riders onto the streets".

The explanation sounds decidedly dodgy and Uber would have been better to explain that its automated systems ran out of control and that all rider would ride at the normal fare. Certainly it seems in Uber's interest to cap the minimum fare to something more reasonable.

With questions being asked about how much vetting the company does of its drivers and with the service being sued in several jurisdictions, and outright banned in others, Uber has a lot of trouble on its plate.

An on-demand car service is clearly something that should be available and has value for riders. One that is so clearly driven by profit above all else may not be so desirable.

Taxi services are part of an integrated transport system, so perhaps ownership and delivery of the service should sit with the local transport authority, and not a startup of highly questionable ethics.

F1: 2014's Driver Of The Year Is...

Bottas looked the real deal this year, and surely he'll deliver a
third driver's title for Finland before too long.
Valtteri Bottas. The Finn had a magnificent season in the Williams, finishing on the podium six times and would have thoroughly deserved his first victory had fortune looked on him favourably when the opportunity arose. His fourth place in the championship was well deserved and over the course of the season he always impressed.

His speed relative to Felipe Massa was an excellent barometer of the 2011 GP3 Champion's progress. He was regularly faster even though the Brazilian looked to have regained his sparkle after a demoralizing few years at Ferrari. The pair carried Williams to a well deserved third place in the constructor's championship and delivered a complete rejuvenation of a team that looked to be on the ropes this time last year.

Other contenders for the prize were Daniel Ricciardo and Danii Kvyat. The Australian's performances were flattered by the woes suffered by Sebastian Vettel, who endured a torrid season of mechanical difficulties and bad luck, whereas Ricciardo had the sort of season where everything fell in place for him. His victories in Canada and Belgium were mostly about being in the right place at the right time as the Mercedes self-destructed, and even in Canada it's possible that Felipe Massa would have stolen the victory from him, but for an untimely intervention from Sergio Perez. In Hungary, he was the first driver able to pit when the safety car was introduced, effectively removing the four cars ahead of him from the race (including Vettel ironically). None of this changes the fact that Ricciardo was in the right place to deliver when the cards fell his way, although I'm not convinced he's the world champion in making that others see.

Kvyat, on the other hand, looks like he could be the real deal. Head to head with Jean-Eric Vergne, Kvyat was quicker and looked more composed than any twenty-year old had a right to be having made the jump straight from F3. That the gap between him and Vergne looked bigger than that between Vergne and Ricciardo ever did, which suggests that there might be fireworks at Red Bull next season where they will be team mates.

And what of Rosberg and Hamilton? In the best car they delivered both championsips. We know from past experience that Rosberg is something of a journeyman driver and this was possibly his one shot at glory. Having failed to grasp it could he seriously be considered as this season's best? By reference then, Hamilton was poor this season. He was outgunned in qualifying by Rosberg and came within a race of losing the title in the end. Given Rosberg's reputation this wasn't a season to reinforce Hamilton's claim to greatness.

Fernando Alonso had the best of Kimi Raikkonen, and it's a toss-up between the Finn and his close friend and future team-mate Vettel as to who disappointed most this year. Ultimately it has to be Kimi, as Vettel woes were more than compounded by the problems with his car's reliability and poor luck.

Raikkonen, on the other hand, didn't look remotely interested once he realised that the Ferrari didn't suit his driving style. After his epic seasons at Lotus that was something of a disappointment.