My window to the world

Mainframes back then and now

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-May-2007 14:15

One of the comments on the story about Unisys launching a new series of Intel-based mainframes came from Juha, who asked "Intel-based?".

Yes, microprocessor based mainframes. This is what is all about now. The old CMOS-based technology has been out of production for years, if you don't know. Unisys has been using Intel-based mainframes, or "enterprise servers" for a generation. 

Those mainframes, are still alive and kicking, with both Unisys and IBM competing in the market for large processing - and many companies are still running on them.

As an example, Telecom New Zealand's current voice mail platform runs on a resilient, four-mainframe, fully failover capable system from Unisys (I am aware this system is being replaced in 2007 though).

To have an idea of numbers, I've contacted Telecom New Zealand and asked how many voice mail calls are processed by this platform (for other intelligent features run on this installation) and I was told that about 5.5 million calls to Telecom mobiles go through to the voice mail daily. This is for mobile phones only, not counting the fixed line voice mail which is processed in the same platform.

So what a modern mainframe looks like? Just check the picture of this new Unisys Dorado 400 Clearpath series:

Pretty much like any other rack, right? Now compare it with an old Burroughs B5900 about 30 years old), including (from left to right) line printer, tape unit, CPU, consoles, removable disc units:

Google Calendar moves to mobile

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 25-May-2007 10:51

Companies are realising that more mobile phones are in use today than computers. And we see many mobile handsets will full Internet access capabilities being underutilised. How many people you know are aware that it is possible to install a new application on their Symbian or Windows Mobile smartphone? Believe me, some people never knew it was possible.

The natural step is for companies to provide mobile services - and this is what Google is doing with its Google Calendar. If you are using Google Calendar simply point your mobile browser to (or if your device doesn't redirect automatically) and it will show something like this now:

Google has already "mobilised" its web-based e-mail service and now it's the time for the calendar to follow.

One thing though: developers need to be very creative because natural device restrictions (screen size, keypad) and software restrictions (limited javascript and plugin support) require lots of different solutions.

Music downloads make the New Zealand charts

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 23-May-2007 09:15

Just got the news that New Zealand’s RIANZ will start (from 29 May) to represent the full spectrum of New Zealand music sales, including digital downloads from New Zealand’s legal, digital music retailers.

According to the press release, until now, The Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ) has compiled The Charts each week on the basis of physical music sales and radio play. 

Next week’s Chart will be the first to reflect legal digital music downloads with digital sales being counted from Monday May 21.

Why is this important? Because we will have visibility of total music sales. When associations come out saying "CD sales have been impacted by piracy", we will be able to see also how much of CD sales have been impaced by legal soft sales.

This article on NZ Herald says:

Campbell Smith, who is also the Recording Industry Association chief executive, told Parliament's commerce select committee yesterday that the decline in CD sales had led many musicians to abandon the industry as a full-time career.

[Sony BMG managing director Micheal Bradshaw ] said CD sales in New Zealand dropped 35 per cent in the past two years, offset slightly by growth in the legal digital market.

Well, let's see if "legal" music downloads can also be blamed for declining CD sales.

RIANZ President Adam Holt says there was a sharp increase in the sales of digital tracks and singles over the past 12 months, therefore "Changes in the album chart will be less obvious as the physical album is the dominant format in New Zealand.”

Who are the market players in New Zealand? Now that Coketunes is out, we have Amplifier, RipIt and digiRAMA, and according to the RIANZ a strong music presence on the Telecom and Vodafone mobile platforms, plys the recent launch of iTunes New Zealand store.

Want to know if this can impact the numbers? According to the RIANZ more than 40,000 tracks are downloaded each week, while digital album sales are still in their infancy.

The only problem is that there will be no separate charts for physical and soft sales. This will make it harder for people to use it as an argument against the "piracy is killing the CD" cause...

What would you do with $80,000 of IT gear and services?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 22-May-2007 14:36

I just noticed (well, got an e-mail from IBM) that there's a competition going on now (until 30 Aug 2007) called "The IBM/Intel IT Makeover Challenge", with a $80,000 prize.

Basically you have to enter the competition by filling an on-line form, and explaining in 500 words (100 is ok, less is bad, more than 500 seems to be too much detail) how an IT makeover would help your company achieve its business objectives, overcome IT challenges, etc, etc.

Then sit back and wait for the results. But it seems this is open to Australian and New Zealand businesses, so it's a bigger competition...

Could Coketunes be an example why DRM is bad?

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 21-May-2007 21:39

I don't think coketunes will get Juha's money - not back when they launched in August 2005, not now when they have announced the end of their music service:

After almost two years of providing New Zealanders with access to a huge range of local and international digital downloads, is closing.

CokeTunes customers have three months (until 10 August 07) to use their existing credit. It's been a great couple of years, with profits going to the NZ local music industry through CokeTunes Music Fund grants. Recipients included Ladi6, who received $15,000 to help produce her debut album, My Life Story who opened the EdgeFest tour, and The Madison Press who took away $12,000 worth of gear from the Rock Shop.
Coca-Cola is changing its approach to supporting New Zealand music with a brand new project which will bring local music directly from the street to the Kiwi music lover.

Coketunes is a Coca-Cola branded digital music service for the New Zealand market, but it was also available in other countries.

I am currently looking for comments on this from anyone using coketunes. Their FAQ says the music download service offers "Windows Media Audio file (WMA) [is the format available in this shop]. Our tracks are encoded at 128kbps and are protected by Microsoft Windows Media Digital Rights Management."

So what does it mean? Are people who purchased their music through this service protected and will be able to play their DRM-protected tracks after the company closes the service? Or will the songs expire after a certain time, bringing more rage against services who chose to use DRM technologies to protect content?

Of course this does not happen if you buy a CD and rip it to have an easy to carry version on your poertable media player or laptop. But with DRM this is always a risk - buy a music today, it's gone tomorrow.

I have contacted coketunes for a comment on what happens now with content bought through the store, but I have not received a reply yet, even though their contact form says "an answer reply will be sent in 24 hours or by Monday if the query is submitted on a weekend".

Looking through the Coca-Cola website wasn't very helpful either. Their last press release is from 2004, three years ago and there's no contact information anywhere to be found.

Perhaps they have closed support already?

Kiwi Made Windows Vista Sidebar Gadget list updated

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 21-May-2007 20:02

I've just noticed that Microsoft New Zealand has updated their web page with "Kiwi Made" Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets, including our very own Geekzone Gadget for Windows Vista Sidebar.

The list now includes the following Gadgets:

- Trade Me
- Television New Zealand
- New Zealand Herald
- Geekzone
- DigiRAMA
- TrafficWatch
- PowerShell Gadget

They also have links to gadgets for Air New Zealand flight special, New Zealand radios and New Zealand weather.

Seybold's tell it like it is

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 20-May-2007 21:08

Andrew Seybold blog's tagline is "Tell it like it is", and this is what he's to say about his recent trip to New Zealand, when I had the opportunity to chat with him about some of the local capabilities:

There are two wireless operators in New Zealand: New Zealand Telecom and Vodafone NZ. Telecom runs a CDMA network with EV-DO Rev A, and Vodafone runs a GSM/UMTS network. The government is thinking about taking some of their spectrum away and re-auctioning it to encourage more competition, but I’m not sure that a country with a population of 4 million can sustain more wide-area voice and data networks. It is also getting ready to auction spectrum in the 2.3-GHz band, and while that spectrum is not being tied to a specific technology, the interest, as you might surmise, is mainly from companies that would like to roll out WiMAX. The usual misleading information about the capabilities of WiMAX preceded me to New Zealand and, of course, I had a few words to say about its true capabilities.

As I mentioned, the big discussion is how to get broadband to everyone in New Zealand, no small feat. They understand that simply building a network or combination of networks is not enough and that they have to educate the population about broadband access and why it is important to all of them

How true...

Live Search for RIM BlackBerry

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 20-May-2007 09:38

A quick note to our readers using RIM BlackBerry devices (and other J2ME mobile phones): you can now download a beta version of Live Search for mobile compatible with RIM BlackBerry devices!

The main page for Live Search for mobile contains information about the software, what it does and more. Originally developed for Windows Mobile devices, you can now use it with J2ME clients - which means almost any mobile phone these days.

Even if you don't have a compatible handset, it is still possible to search by sending a SMS (only in the U.S. though).

With the client on your handset you can get maps, traffic information, local information and search. Go check it out.

Download the updated Geekzone Gadget for Windows Vista Sidebar

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 19-May-2007 21:58

If you have downloaded our Geekzone Gadget for Windows Vista Sidebar on its first release, please download it again... That first version had a problem that would cause the gadget to reload the feed every 30 seconds if a disconnection occurred.

This gadget will keep an eye in all our forums and show the ones with most recent topics or replies on top of the list. You can then click on a forum name to see the most recent discussions with posts or replies. You will also see a colour coded "meter" showing how busy the forum is.

Also, I've noticed a few IP addresses hammering the XML feed, at rates of up to five times per second. Since this doesn't look like normal traffic we are now blocking these IP addresses. If you try to access Geekzone and see an error message, then please contact us.

IT and New Zealand Daylight Savings update

By Mauricio Freitas, in , posted: 18-May-2007 10:48

Prepare your IT department folks, we don't have much time now - and ask your friendly OS supplier to update their OS. New Zealand is changing its Daylight Saving Time period from 2007.

Like the U.S. did this year with its Energy Policy Act of 2005, New Zealand is also changing the DST, according to the Department of Internal Affairs:

New Zealanders will have three weeks more daylight saving from 30 September this year following the decision by the Labour-led Government to extend the period to 27 weeks, Internal Affairs Minister Rick Barker announced today.

Clocks will go forward an hour a week earlier than usual - on the last Sunday in September- and back an hour on the first Sunday in April, instead of the third Sunday in March. This is the first change in daylight saving since 1990.

“The earlier start will also avoid clashing with the start of the fourth school term, which has caused disruptions for schools and families in the past. However more broadly over the longer term we will also be monitoring the effects on other parts of the economy, such as the energy sector, to see if there are long term sustainable benefits.

“Part of this ongoing monitoring will include the Department of Internal Affairs actively engaging in research that identifies potential positive and sustainable impacts experienced by other territories that have extended their daylight saving regimes,” said Rick Barker.

Rick Barker directed the Department of Internal Affairs to review daylight saving following public debate generated by Nelson City Councillor Mark Holmes in March 2006. Mr Holmes and United Future leader Peter Dunne recently presented a petition to Parliament on this issue.

“The Department of Internal Affairs will now work with computer companies and industries to update operating systems incorporating the time changes before the start of daylight saving,” Rick Barker said.

Daylight saving for 2007-08 will start at 2am on 30 September 2007 and end at 3am on 6 April 2008.

Now, "include the Department of Internal Affairs actively engaging in research that identifies potential positive and sustainable impacts experienced by other territories that have extended their daylight saving regimes" should really include reading the conclusions that extending the U.S. DST did not provide any benefit in terms of energy savings (Ars Technica, Reuters):

As it turns out, the US Department of Energy (and almost everyone else except members of Congress) was correct when they predicted that there would be little energy savings. This echoed concerns voiced after a similar experiment was attempted in Australia. Critics pointed out a basic fact: the gains in the morning will be offset by the losses at night, and vice-versa, at both ends of the switch. That appears to be exactly what happened.

Reuters spoke with Jason Cuevas, spokesman for Southern Co. power, who said it plainly: "We haven't seen any measurable impact." New Jersey's Public Service Enterprise Group said the same thing: "no impact" on their business.

There's an economical impact though, and this comes from all those technology-based businesses and tools that need to have their processes, computers, instruments adapted with all the potential for trouble.

For example, is anyone from Microsoft on the ball working on this update for all their operating systems? Remember, as I posted before, ANZ still uses Windows 2000 Professional.

And what about people using Windows Mobile devices? They never got the New Zealand DST right anyway, and I received e-mails from people at Telecom who had CxO level people missing flights because the timezone on their Pocket PCs were not changing on time with their Exchange Servers (and no this is not a Telecom problem, it happens with any Windows Mobile when synchronising with Exchange Servers during the first and last week of New Zealand DST).

This problem was reported to Microsoft many times, but I've never seem a fix - impossible they said. But when the U.S. changed their DST a fix came for them. Very convenient, right?

Do you run Java applications in your infrastructure? Check out Sun's explanation on how Java applications can be affected byt DST:

The United States has planned a change to its DST observance beginning in 2007. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates that DST will start on the second Sunday in March and end on the first Sunday in November. In 2007, the start and stop dates will be March 11 and November 4, respectively. These dates are different from previous DST start and stop dates. In 2006, the dates were the first Sunday in April (April 2, 2006) and the last Sunday in October (October 29, 2006).

Some countries are still evaluating whether they will adopt the new rules for themselves. You should anticipate more changes in DST and time zone rules for countries that typically align with U.S. DST rules.

The Java Runtime Environment (JRE) stores rules about DST observance all around the globe. Older JREs will have outdated rules that will be superseded by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. As a result, applications running on an older JRE may report incorrect time from March 11, 2007 through April 2, 2007 and from October 29, 2007 through November 4, 2007.

So, did the New Zealand government take in consideration the monumental task IT departments have ahead of them now? Analysing, coding, testing, deploying, testing DST changes?

What sectors would be impacted? Tourism, telecommunications, broadcasting, distribution channels. Anything with a computer.

Let's just hope people have already started working on this, because September 2007 is just around the corner from now.

freitasm's profile

Mauricio Freitas
New Zealand

I live in New Zealand and my interests include mobile devices, good books, movies and food of course! 

I'm the Geekzone admin. On Geekzone we publish news, reviews and articles on technology topics. The site also has some busy forums.

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If you want to contact me, please use this page or email me Note this email is not for technical support. I don't give technical support. You can use our Geekzone Forums for community discussions on technical issues.

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