How cool is that

chapleau_jan%20072.jpg Does your job involve you being given an Xbox 360 Premium, two controllers and a game and instructed to take it all home and play the living daylights out of it?

Apparently mine does.

Admittedly, there are others with cooler jobs in engineering. Check out IEEE Spectrum’s Dream Jobs 2006 Special Report. They interview one of the lab technicians from Discovery Channel’s __Mythbusters__, and the guy who maintains the water fountain system at Las Vegas’s Bellagio Hotel (Each fountain can fire water 160 feet into the air with the force and sound of a shotgun blast). In the end, the Xbox 360 is only a loaner.

Quickie 360 review: I love the integrated content delivery system that is the Dashboard that lets me download game demos, trailers, and access music and photos from networked PCs. I really hate the noisy fans, which sound like a hairdryer on medium.

In the 360: __Project Gotham Racing 3__.

Words on OpenText

Our university held a gala event at the Royal York Hotel featuring Tom Jenkins, the CEO of Open Text Corporation. They’re into enterprise content management systems (ECMs), and with $100 million in the bank and $100 million spent on R&D last year, are doing very well to boot. Jenkins has a background in Engineering Physics, plus a Masters in Engineering and an MBA. He spoke to us on a variety of topics:

On Sarbanes-Oxley
Spitzer may be the McCarthy of our era. “We live in litigious times.” He feels that the strictness of the rules dissuades companies from taking risks and innovating.

On being good ol’ Hamilton boy
He thanks RedHat/ co-founder Bob Young for buying the Hamilton Tiger Cats football team, or else he would have had to. “My wife wouldn’t have been too happy.” He loves what Young has done to revive the Ti-Cats, but disagrees on Young’s mandate to drop the “Argos suck!” fan diss toward the Toronto Argonauts.

Bad bets
Open Text built a 3D Yahoo! in VRML in 1996. It was very slow and VRML never reached mass acceptance.

The future of information
Despite the lukewarm adoption to VRML, we will soon communicate as avatars on a “virtual Internet” similar to the Metaverse of Snow Crash.

Good bets
Open Text achieved fame in the mid-1990’s as the search engine of Yahoo! However, in late 1996, Digital approached Yahoo! with an offer it couldn’t refuse: a search function and content system for free. The only thing they wanted in return was a link back to their new search engine, Altavista. Open Text decided to not match this offer, and abandoned the consumer sector for the slower but safer journey into the enterprise content management market.

The rest is history: Digital is no more, and the Open Text is a $400 million company.

All conferenced out

Went to both the McMaster World Congress and CUTC 2005 this week. Who knew that personal development could be so fun?


  1. Richard Camilleri, President of CanWest, talked about the “20-step rule”; you can tell a great deal about a company’s creative potential by walking twenty steps into its headquarters and seeing if anyone is having fun.
  2. Exceptional people are often masters of more than one trade. That we learned when corporate raider Eric Rosenfeld launched into his own renditions of timeworthy Broadway showtunes, including Chicago‘s “Mr. Cellophane” (aka “Institutional Investor”).
  3. Joel Spolsky likes Lynyrd Skynyrd. Oh, and he’s a very entertaining speaker. He artfully discussed the creating of positive, user-friendly product experiences in a positive and user-friendly manner.
  4. A strange little computer game I saw at the CUTC TechExpo was the engrish-o-rrificly named Journey of Wild Divine by a UK company called MagiTam. It’s a Myst-like game where you solve puzzles through a biofeedback device that measures your pulse. For example, you need to exude calmness to open a large door. The graphics are so-so, but if it works, it could be neat to play.

An academic look at innovation law

I had the pleasure of attending a Bell University Labs lecture entitled, “Intellectual Property, Innovation and Efficiency in Information Economies” hosted by the Professor William Melody. Melody is, among other things, a former FCC member in the late 1960s and a visiting law professor at the University of Toronto. The seminar was specifically hosted by the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy. And yes, I’ve been slacking, this lecture was on October 20th.

He started off by telling the audience that eventually, the only economy left will be the “e-economy”, driven by market liberalization and intellectual property laws. Regulation has not always lagged behind technology; the introduction of deregulation policies has been the driving force behind many of the market’s innovations. Several decisive laws put in place since the US Reform Act in the 1960s has, in addition to breaking up AT&T, have broken down barriers to entry and unbundled services. The result was that the layers of infrastructure, hardware, protocol, software, and content has been peeled apart, stimulated competition at each layer.

Today, regulation has been brought back to table, as the various information technologies begin to converge. Monopolies, such as the ILECs, IBM, Microsoft and others have manifested themselves. Meanwhile, intellectual property rights have become more restrictive than ever. Meanwhile, the ITU and WSIS have been slow to turn any matching policies into actual rules to abide by. Melody urges a reassessment of current laws and policies to address these issues.

While Melody does not have a technical background (he didn’t distinguish between infrastructured-based VoIP solutions with VoIP Internet applications). Intellectual property issues were not discussed in detail either. However, this lecture provided an interesting insight from a law academia point of view.

Searching for research

Re$earch Infosource’s annual list of Top 100 Canadian Corporate R&D Spenders is out, and here’s the shortlist for fiscal 2003:

  1. Nortel Networks ($2.8 billion)
  2. Bell Canada ($1 billion)
  3. Magna International ($630 million)
  4. Pratt and Whitney ($423 million)
  5. ATI Technologies ($328 million)

Nortel is the champ for the third year in a row, and most of the others have been in the top ten. The unusual guy in the lineup is Bell Canada, who in FY2000 was ranked 95 on the same list. They’ve rocketed up the list since then, and now no other telecommunications company comes close: Telus sits at #41 with $47 million, and Rogers Wireless is #82 with only $20 million on research. Are they more adverse to research and development, or are they having a hard time tracking it?

The Toronto Star remarked that Canadian R&D seems to be down 1.5% overall, although some of it can be explained away by lab outsourcing. Regardless, if you’re not competing on innovative features then you have to be content in competing with price, which tends to be not as much fun.

Laming up

The NYT asks the near-rhetorical question, “Does the patent system need an overhaul?” Professors Josh Lerner and Adam B. Jaffe seem to think so, and have written a book about it called “Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What To Do About It”.

“We see people set out to do reforms with one thing in mind, but that have quite an unintended effect…The easier it became to get patents, the more people wanted to apply for them, and that led to a situation where examiners grappled with more patents to review, which led to them being pressed to do quicker reviews and a degradation in quality of patents issued.”

Lerner and Jaffe accuses the clique-like patent bar for encouraging a “patent system that is complicated, and one that involves protracted, costly litigation.”

Their tricks for the fix? Scrutinize and apply more resources to patent applications in relation to their order of importance, encourage information contribution by third parties via incentives, and trial patent lawsuits before judges, not potentially technically-illiterate juries.

Down doggie

Telus Mobility tried buying Microcell Communications, aka Fido, for $1.1 million. Now Rogers Wireless is trying to buy Fido for $1.6 million. Fido does not seem to be as good as making much money as it is in running cute canine-themed ads as of late. And while it’s well-loved as the plucky underdog of the Canadian cellular marketplace, love don’t pay the rent.

There has been half-joking speculation that it’s now that other Canadian cellular company Bell Mobility’s turn at courtship. But it appears that Bell feels that the fastest way to Fido’s heart is by plunging straight into its chest.

Bell Mobility has just announced its Fido Conversion Plan: hand in your Fido phone and a recent bill at a Bell World store, switch to Bell Mobility and receive a 700 minute plan with unlimited weekends and weeknights all free for one year. Then they’ll throw in a free Sanyo or Nokia camera phone. Some customers have even received free accessories to boot. You have to sign a 3-year contract and you still must pay the SAF, but that’s still a free $400 phone.

It’s very atypical for Bell to shoot a cannonball across its competitor’s port bow. It’s very atypical for Bell to mention its competitors in advertising, period. But this is a very clever strategy.

Fido’s generous but money-losing plans, such as their $45 CityFido plan that features unlimited local calling, can be seen as an attempt to fatten them up for prospective buyers, such as Telus and Rogers.

Its GSM 1900 network is not worth anything; Rogers already has one itself and Fido’s net barely covers Canada’s capital cities. (It is ironic that Fido phones, which run on the worldwide GSM and SIM card standard, can be freely used in 150 countries but will lose signal the moment you leave the city limits of an Canadian urban area.)

Therefore, Bell Mobility is going after the truly valuable part of Fido – its customers. And as long as it costs less than $1.6 million to outfit Fido’s defectors with free phones and free plans, they’re laughing.

IP World Canada 2004

Bell VoIP nextgeneration.jpgIf anyone ever asks me, “Hey, how was that IP World conference on October 4-6?”, I can ecstatically raise my head and crow, “The food rocked.” And how! The VIP luncheon speech was a canned marketing pitch devoid of information or personal conviction, but I dined on risotto and filet mignon.

The exhibit floor was decent, but lacked major brand names, such as Cisco. Alas fear not, gentle stomachs, as we were provided with sushi, steak sandwiches, and the ne plus ultra in convention cuisine, a 3 foot tall chocolate fondue.

I think that it was appropriate that Cisco Systems was not there in the flesh, but in spirit as the official sponsor of the cappucino stand.

Seriously, for a first outing, IP World Canada did a good job getting some of the big names in IP applications out to present, advise, and exhibit: Bell Canada, Telus, Allstream, Juniper, Primus, Toronto Hydro Telecom, Sprint Canada, and others. I even got to shake the hand of IDC analyst Lawrence Surtees. If you ever get to see him talk about regulatory landscapes in telecommunications, run, don’t walk to the seminar.

One thing the conference lacked were actual enterprise clients, which it was initially geared for. So, the exhibitees consisted of just the usual suspects milling about – salespeople from your competitors and industry investors.

Check out the gallery to see the cool VoIP applications and gear from the show.

Wireless innovation

The big buzzword at Bell these days is “innovation”, mostly because future livelihood depends on it. I went down to see Bell Mobility’s new Centre for Wireless Innovation in Mississauga two weeks ago. This is the fourth of such state-of-the-art skunkwork facilities designed for innovation.

The 5,000 square foot centre has these interesting features:

  • a TieRack-like track where Mobility’s latest gadgets are paraded around a large display case
  • all tables are on rolling wheels so they can be configured and moved
  • Samsung 21″ flatscreens at every workstation
  • Floor to ceiling whiteboards in every room
  • Large plasma TVs for status monitoring
  • A low-power wireless cell for performing RF experiments within the centre
  • a presentation room complete with electro-frosted glass windows, a smartboard plasma TV, and a 24 foot wide projector screen that can be selectively switched opaque and transparent to show wireless devices in a showcase behind it. One of the ladies there said they watched “Planet of the Apes” on it and it was awesome. I bet it was!

Some technologies they had on display were:

  • Location-based services (LBSs) that utilize the GPS capability in most of Mobility’s latest phones. MapMe allows one to pinpoint their location on a map on their phone, with hotlinks to the Yellow Pages. Family Finder is a MapPoint Server application for keeping tabs on the locations of fellow cellphone users.
  • Telematics is roughly the same, but with fleet services. Truck dispatchers can track the speed, location and fuel consumption of their vehicles.
  • VoIP clients that allow one to have your PC, cellphone and telephone share the same phone number, and ring simultaneously. You can also send instant messages to your cellphone and computer simultaneously, and engage in webcam conversations.
  • Biometric scanners, including an iris scanner and fingerprint scanner. The iris scanner is more accurate, but much more expensive.

On display were also three new Mobility devices: the Samsung a680 (a videocameraphone that’s just as small and light as the a660), the PalmOne Treo 600 (it can play video!), and the Audiovox PPC-5050 (WiFi-enabled PocketPC).

We had a fun team meeting at Donatello’s afterwards, where we probably could have used this phone technology.