Look up and smile for the camera please

They may block internet access and communication with the outside world by their own population but Burma is finding that they can't stop people outside the country seeing what is going on.

See this Discovery channel report on the information coming from satellite images.

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Offline people under-represented in online survey

Techdirect reminds me of the writing style on of the Lex column in the FT - punchy and incisive comment. More bizarre is that I find myself nodding in agreement with their commentary on many occasions.

This post noted with mock surprise that a much reported online survey into time spent online might have been unrepresentative.

The WSJ Numbers Guy makes an astute observation, that "people who answer online surveys aren't likely to be representative of Americans when it comes to online behavior." When he dug a bit deeper, he found that the survey was conducted with a panel of 1,011 online respondents, who responded to the survey during the week that it was open. Furthermore, the people surveyed were drawn from a pool of people that actually signed up to be surveyed. Obviously the results are skewed to users that actively use the Internet. When questioned, Ann Mack, JWT's director of trend spotting replied "The fact that the survey was conducted online may skew the results a bit."

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London is currency king

London’s market share in FX grew to 34.1% from 31.3% while the US share fell to 16.6% from 19.2%, over the last three years whilst daily turnover in traditional foreign exchange instruments increased by 71% to $3.2 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements ("BIS").

The same report also highlighted that average daily turnover of interest rate and non-traditional foreign exchange contracts increased by 71% to $2.1 trillion in April 2007. Whilst turnover of foreign exchange options and cross-currency swaps more than doubled to $0.3 trillion per day. Less brisk growth was recorded in the much larger interest rate products arena, where average daily turnover increased by 64% to $1.7 trillion.

The derivatives market shares of London and the US were virtually unchanged from 2004 at 42.5% and 23.8% respectively.

Note to Harvey Goldsmith, the famous promoter - Looks like the Government has no issue with secondary trading of pound notes, contrary to your comments at the Parliamentary Select Committee!

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Never let facts get in the way of myth about a Public Enemy

Research Recap today highlights the findings from the Ernst & Young study on the Private Equity industry.

Key notables
- the annual rate of growth in enterprise value (EV) achieved last year by the largest PE-backed firms was 33% in the US and 23% in Europe, compared to public company equivalents of 11% and 15% respectively.
- employment levels remained the same, or higher, at exit versus entry in 80% of US deals and 60% of European deals. In Europe employment in businesses owned by PE grew by an average of 5% per annum across the UK, France and Germany, where two-thirds of the deals took place, compared to 3% for equivalent public company benchmarks.
- Average EBITDA growth rates that were 17% higher than equivalent public companies.

You can get a copy of the E&Y report for free here

Certainly Private Equity firms will find the climate tougher in an environment of higher interest rates and fewer deals will pass the necessary tests to qualify as a potentially profitable opportunities. But don't write them off quite yet.


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Perhaps you should hold off buying that new property

For the UK mortgage market as a whole an estimated 2 million loans are due to reset by the end of 2008, equivalent to approximately 17% of all mortgages outstanding, S&P says in Payment Shock Approaching For Borrowers In U.K. Nonconforming RMBS.

Looking at the U.K. nonconforming loans backing the RMBS transactions that we rate, we estimate that around £9 billion of fixed-rate loans are scheduled to reset by the end of 2008, representing 23% of total balances outstanding. A particularly large volume of resets—nearly £5 billion—look set to occur during the first half of 2008.

As rate increases filter through, borrowers are going to face increased repayments, which for some people may be unaffordable and will therefore feed through to higher repossessions levels. This is most likely in the case of the buy-to-let property owners, who are usually highly leveraged and look to rental costs to cover their interest payments, whilst looking to enjoy capital gains.

So why does the post title suggest delay buying? Repossessed housing stock is almost always sold at a discount to normal prices, mainly because quick sale is sought by the mortgage lender. Moreover, buyer demand will be weakened through higher interest rates, especially from buy-to-let quarters, thus easing competition for properties. In such a climate, it is inevitable that sellars, in some instances, will be forced to accept lower prices.

This might take 6-9 months to become evident but it looks one of the more probable outcomes following the turbulent summer.

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The next iteration of RSS Readers

Like huge numbers of people, I switched to Google Reader and it'll have to be a killer app to get me to switch. That doesn't stop me from looking though, particularly if that app can both help with the prioritisation of posts; let me unhook from "dull" feeds easily; discover interesting new feeds or posts that it detects I may find interesting or which friends/colleagues use.

There are a few such apps around.

One recommended by Read/Write web is FeedEachOther covered here. They highlight some key features
Another option is AideRSS, which claims that it uses PostRank to score, filter and track performance of RSS feeds, thereby improving your efficiency.

I'm also trying out FeedHub at the moment albeit this may take some time before it evidences its worth, as it needs "learning time" to uncover what does and doesn't interest you. This one creates a feed that can be incorporate within Google Reader or any other RSS reader, only linking back when you want to give it a "thumbs down" on particular content it serves up.


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Fijians slay the Dragon

The incredible performance of the three South Sea Islands in the World Cup should please everyone (bar the Welsh who were dumped out of the Tournament yesterday).

They've always been a source a fabulous players, albeit most have found New Zealand passports readily available, as well as excellent Sevens teams. But until recently they've not done well at 15s.

The transformation has come from the increasing presence of players from these small nations amongst the ranks of top clubs, especially in Europe.

It remains to be seen whether the teams that have done so well will be given the opportunity to continue their development by being admitted to the North/South hemisphere tournaments.

Italy are a great example of a country that has improved greatly since their admission to the Six Nations. Argentina are surely worthy of a place given their World Cup performance.

Whether national administrators will be as open to these teams as the Welsh defence is more doubtful.

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Degrees of inflations

Its hard not to agree with the assertion that grade inflation is a reality when you learn that three fifths of university degree awards are now at least an upper second, with first class degrees rising from 9.7% to 11% since 2002.

Impressive results especially when, on average, students have only 14 taught hours per week, topped up by 12 hours independent study.

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Heck - oofabkce scrabble is top of the tiles

Scrabulous, The Facebook Scrabble game that I was introduced to by Helen Keegan has 256,705 daily active users comprising 33% of the game’s install base according to this report, which makes the Facebook app with the most active users and the highest retention rates.

I confess to being useless at the game - same as crosswords, but the app is incredibly well done and is fun to play in this way.

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Seatwave are riding the wave

Wow - Fred Destin reports here that Seatwave has already done 500,000 ticket trades on their site, spanning 40 countries. Given their 25% gross margin on the price, this will add up to a chunk of change.

Obviously there are costs associated with providing their insurance guarantee re genuine tickets, not to mention reputational risk. But what a success story.

Oddly, this success could play out two ways in the current campaign by promoters and ticketing companies to ban secondary trading of tickets. The increased profile/activity of such services will increase the vigour with which they are pursued by promoters etc as these numbers are hard to ignore. Conversely Governments may be even more unwilling to intercede in something that evidently is proving popular with the public.

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Paying for your mistakes the hard way

This interview with Travelocity CEO Michell Puloso is interesting - describing an event from a couple of years ago when a zero fare from LA to Fiji got posted on Travelocity accidently and got pounced upon by hundreds of sharp-eyed customers, the company was facing a bill for $2m+ if they honoured the fare.

It was evidently a mistake but how would that play out in the press and with customers. They had an "out" with their T&Cs and $2m is serious cash. But in the end they honoured it for brand reputations reasons. Interesting business dilemma.

Of note is the reaction of the technologist within Travelocity - they stood up and said we can fix this from happening again which they implemented in 24hours.

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Gmail is the social centre of the universe

I think gmail is an excellent online email app and I'd be happy to use it for all my email were it not for the fact that it insist on sending out emails that are tagged with my gmail account "on behalf of.." which ever email account I'm intending to send it from. Maybe there is a way to change this but I can't find it!

Anyway, I liked the ideas advanced here that enabled you to use gmail to orchestrate other social network accounts and tells you

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Skype Direct Hacker Attack

Wow - A Skype user with the id of "Security Monitor" pinged the following message at me


ATTENTION ! Security Center has detected
malware on your computer !

Affected Software:

Microsoft Windows NT Workstation
Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0
Microsoft Windows 2000
Microsoft Windows XP
Microsoft Windows Win98
Microsoft Windows Server 2003

Impact of Vulnerability: Remote Code Execution / Virus Infection / Unexpected shutdowns

Recommendation: Users running vulnerable version should install a repair utility immediately

Your system IS affected, download the patch from the address below ! Failure to do so may result in severe computer malfunction.


That is a scary new approach to infecting someone's computer - a direct Skype message. How many people could easily get caught by that one?

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ZoomIT - focus on the details

ZoomIT is a screen zoom and annotation tool which is great for application demos, web conference session and screensharing. It runs in the services tray and activates with hotkeys. It's a windows only tool that requires an install, but is incredibly useful and easy to use.

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Blooming marvellous - if only I could cook or care for a garden

I dropped into London Open Coffee on Thursday in between some meetings. Having stopped going for a few months (same people each week, venue I wasn't keen on), it was good to see that it still draws a crowd and that there were lots of faces I'd not seen before.

One of the people I met was the co-founder of a social network for gardeners. My initial scepticism eroded as we spoke and it became evident that "friending" on the sire was more an attribute of having similar gardening interests around plants/species than social relationships e.g. interest in roses. Hence, you were able to discover other gardeners and share in ideas/tips plus have an outlet to ask questions or provide advice to others. In this way, it struck me rather like a forum but with the added benefit of being able to learn a little more about the other members that you were hearing from.

Later the same day my wife mentioned Cookshow to me. This was staggering - she takes little/no interest in matters web-related so it usually means a site has been mentioned to her by a chum. But I always take that as an interesting sign, since it means that the site may have broken out into the mainstream, as opposed to the cloistered environment of early adopters on the web. Cookshow was really interesting in that it deployed lots of styles that would be familiar to a web2.0 devotee - it had video posts of people showing you how to follow particular recipes; recipes and suggestions for similar items; tags for ingredients/tastes etc.

In both instances, gardening and cooking, despite each covering only a portion of a person's activities, I believe that this focussed environment may be increasingly more appealing to individuals than more generalised social hangouts. This is not to say that Facebook will be abandoned, but it may be that people will rationalise the number of places they use down to a single general hangout accompanied by one/two specialist environments. Whilst Facebook and other such sites, do have the capacity to operate groups for like-minded folks, those environments lack the "feature and content richness" of dedicated sites.

If this sounds familiar, firstly it is a notion that Marc Cantor has banged on about for years, but which is probably starting to take root more, now that people are more familiar with the concept of social network and start to become more discerning. Secondly, it is a better reflection of how we live our physical lives - general social hangouts with friends and more niche environments for hobbies etc.

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Widgetbox accelerator for facebook

I've been assisting one of our ventures chatting to prospective partners and almost everyone asks "have you got a facebook application?". As it stands we haven't and that was a prioritisation decision. But when you press people about what their experience has been in launching a facbook application and the extent to which they think all applications can live inside facebook, then the supporting evidence of why it's a mandatory element then their cohesive argument simply fails to materialise, other than examples of iLike, Rockyou and a few others.

I remain of the view that Facebook is an excellent platform, but that a) not every offering is suited to it and b) just because everyone else is doing it, isn't a reason to divert resource - each business has to consider it on its' own benefits case, not to mention consider whether the user perception of "you" inside facebook will be enhanced or diminshed.

However, Widgetbox appear to have made the task somewhat easier if their claims are true, in their service which claims to make any widget into a facebook application. You still need to be approved by Facebook etc but from other posts I've read, it does appear that it can be relatively easy to employ. Worth a look.


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If you've got it FlauntR

FlauntR is a free online photo editor and effects software. It's got loads of photo effects that are easy to apply to photos - one click. I found it incredibly easy to use and you can easily get absorbed when you start playing with shots you've taken. It's still alpha but remarkably stable in my experience, with a stylish UI. Registration was simple and unintrusive - definitely one to bookmark.

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MediaMax - are they maxed out?

MediaMax, who absorbed Streamload, offer a staggering 25gb of online storage for free hence I was happy to sign up for their service some time back and use this as a backup location.

The service had a desktop application that enabled you to easily upload files etc. but I seem to recall the auto-backup didn't work too well. No matter - periodic uploads were fine.

So I was frustrated a couple of week ago when I couldnt log into the service, which claimed my account was locked/disabled. So I emailed the helpdesk as it suggested.

A reply finally arrived today with an standard response to say they were overwhelmed with helpdesk emails; had taken on more staff but that paid customers were getting priority (which is fair enough).

The annoying bit in the email was

If you have received a message saying that your account has been disabled and you have not used your account for an extended period of time, your account has been disabled due to inactivity. Free accounts that are not logged into for 6 months are automatically locked and deleted by the system. The username and email address used in creation of the account will not be available for re-use for approximately a month. This inactivity policy is necessary to ensure proper use of resources. Only paid account are immune from this policy.

I'm surprised if had been 6 months since I logged in but if so, might an alternative response have been to drop a reminder email to say something like "log in if you still want to use the service or it will be deleted". Grrrrr.

No matter I thought , I will simply open a new account and re-upload my files to the new account.

WHAT! The sign-up page requires a secure log in and then directs you to a page headed "You are not authorised to view this page? Doh. So you can't sign up.

Twenty tries later it finally lets me through and I sign up - I receive an verification email asking me to click to verify and guess what ..... straight back onto a secure signin that won't accept my logon credentials.

MEDIAMAX - are you just trying to fend off new (returning) customers or just me?

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India triumph at Twenty20 World Cup

I was fortunate enough to see the thrilling end of the Twenty20 final today whilst waiting for someone to show up. India set a doable total for Pakistan to chase but Pakistan made hard work of it and looked to have left it too late, especially when losing 2 quick wickets in the final 17 balls.

However, the game suddenly swung Pakistan's way when they hit a huge six, leaving them requiring six off four balls. It was their's for the taking. So what on earth possessed their batsman to move across the wicket and attempt to lob the wicket keeper only to leave an easy catch for long leg, only he knows.

So India won the final in thrilling style. And what an important win for Cricket.

After India and Pakistan exited the One Day World Cup in the qualifying rounds, viewing figures and related ad revenues plummeted. India is the world's biggest cricket market enjoyed by over 1 billion people, with a further 350 million across S E Asia. India v Pakistan games attract 400m viewers in India, transfixing the nation on a sport that generates $300m of ad revenues for the cricket authorities in India.

Twenty20 is a fast paced game with lots of excitement in an ideal TV format and which pulls in big live audiences. Unfortunately, things are going to get messy in India as two competing leagues battle out for supremacy. Worse, as one of those is the official Board of Control for Cricket, it means the players that join the rival commercial league look set to be banned from the game.

I hope they resolve this amicably and the finest teams can be assembled to compete in a domestic Indian league.

Meantime, JP will be one happy chappy tonight!


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Virgin Digital retreats from music downloads

According to Beta News

Virgin is calling it quits in the digital music business. The company has stopped selling tracks and accepting new customers as of Friday, and will shut down for good on October 19. New sales of music will end September 29, according to a message on the UK portion of the site. Those customers who have a payment due before the shut off date will lose access the day their next payment is due, according to the note.

Wow - this is one market you would have expected Virgin to do well in, given its' brand and usual demographic appeal.

posted by John Wilson @ 9:19 PM Permanent Link ,

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Dim Dim - Dumb Dumb

I don't know if this new web conferencing service works well for reasons that will be evident immeditely, so this is not a comment on the application, but the home page of DimDim, who are launching at DemoFall, has a prominent button saying "invite me", which does absolutely nothing as yet.

This may be a timing issue and perhaps they aren't accepting requests as yet but would it have hurt to accept requests early if I was willing to surrender my email address?

You can see more info about their service here

UPDATE : The home page has been updated and so now you can submit your email address address to join the beta.


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Pity the poor, tax the rich, protect the wealthy

In a sweet irony, the British Political Parties appear to be in a bidding war to be the most generous in their proposal to reform the deposit protection scheme following the Northern Rock crisis.

Prior to the run on Northern Rock, the deposit protection scheme provided for 100% compensation on the first £2,000 and 90% on the next £33, 000. The idea behind the structure was that the least wealthy i.e. those with less than £2k, would be completely protected; those with a little more took on some of the risk of bank failure and hence had to exercise more care in who they placed deposits with, a mechanism designed to avoid moral hazard creeping in; and above that you were an unsecured creditor without protection from the scheme.

However, as Northern Rock proved, people hate the idea of losing any money and so rushed to withdraw their savings, even if less than £2k since few believed they would be able to get access to their money (or compensation) quickly.

So, to stem the panic the Chancellor promised that deposits of up to £100k would be fully covered "during this crisis". However, in doing so, he has set a precedent i.e. panicked politicians will be quick to dole out taxpayer cash. Indeed, the Treasury Select Committee has already advanced that £250k in savings should be protected.

So, leaving aside whether having such sums would be considered immoral in some political quarters with a tangential topic, and the desire to increase income tax on the "wealthy", it looks like keeping large deposit in the bank will represent a "risk free" asset henceforth thanks to the taxpayer funded guarantee.

Meanwhile, the measures used by the Bank of England in 1720 to avert it's own run (get your own staff/friends at the front of the queue and slowly pay them out in small change, before getting them to join another queue to flamboyantly deposit funds as a sign of confidence and to slow other withdrawals down) evidently don't cut it anymore, even with the modern day version of partially closing your website.

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Microsoft updates stole my hard drive

I'm precious about my hard drives - I paid for them and I don't like them being swallowed up, especially when I'm not asked.

But as everyone knows, somehow the free space on their PC keeps shrinking even when you don't seem to do much. And when you go looking for what might have "eaten it", you either can't find it or when you do find something then you've absolutely no idea whether it's safe to delete the files.

Anyway, I did some PC housekeeping this weekend and managed to retrieve quite a chunk of hard drive space, the sources of which I thought I'd post in case it helped others

- Windows updates. All of the automatic updates from Microsoft create uninstall files in the windows directory. Over time this accumulates to a large chunky space, in my case several gb.
- Restore points. Whilst it's a good idea to keep restore points to enable you to roll back if problems arise, these too accumulate. Whilst you can set how much disk space this uses, it's worth checking how much is in use
- Windows temp directory. Stuff simply builds up in here.

After cleaning up, you should defragment your disk as this will have left much clutter behind.

Whilst disk space is cheap, it's not really an option on a laptop. Moreover, rather like renting space in those warehouses for your clutter because you are already overflowing in your home, it's just plain easier and cheaper to tidy up first.

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LondonTown looks slick.

I'm with Steve on this, who spotted it. It is an excellent map mashup from LondonTown.com with overlays of hotels, events, restaurants, tube lines and parking.

Great example to try is the hotel availability and rates on the map, with is visually great. It stands out by virtue of not using google maps but a map from a source I don't recognise. It certainly has been upgraded since I saw it last year.

It's just a shame it only covers central London.


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Streampad - Music from your pad to wherever you are

Whenever people rave to me about Slingbox, the hardware device that allows you to placeshift your home media (recorded media) and TV, I offer a knowing smile and point them in the direction of Orb which does pretty much the same thing via software and for free. Orb allows you to access your files, view photos, play your music and control your TV.

So I was interested to also be directed to Streampad which is an internet browser music player. It combines remote access to your entire digital music library (via Streampad desktop app which is in private beta) with some tools to find music on the web, including an archive of live concert performances, albeit not very many. It also has web search which provides easy access to MP3s spidered from blogs.

The site integrates with last.fm and also has a neat google map mashup to plot what other people are listening to around the world. Added elements include "Now Playing" info which pulls in album reviews, Flickr photos and related blog posts and also shows you who else is listening to the same track.


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Fiql - Your playlist in video

Fiql is a service that allows you to import your playlists from itunes, winamp, musicmatch, windows music player and rhapsody, then attempts to locate the accompanying music, lyrics and videos for the included tracks. You can do so many things on this site, including listen/watch the playlist of others. The site also provides blog facilities for users and "friending" options.

This a great service on so many levels.
- The site is very slick and the playlist/player is stylish
- Copyright issues appear to have been sidestepped since Fiql is finding content made available by others and playing that, in similar manner to Seeqpod
- Aside from friends, you can create/join groups of like minded folks
- Playlists can also be created on the fly as you peruse the choices of others
- You can comment on the music you hear throughout the site

Not sure what happens if the tunes in your playlist aren't available (other than they dont play!), but overall a really good site which I think I will be testing out in more depth.

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DemoFall 07 line up

Blognation has details of the companies presenting at the upcoming DemoFall show here. Not all the web sites are operational and clearly intend to launch at the event. Of those that are live, not many sparked my interest.

Of those that did
- Tubes is a services that allows you to synch your media files to multiple computers e.g. put your music files on all your computers. It also allows you to distribute such files to multiple computers and one of the suggested uses from Tubes is for bands to distribute podcasts, demos or tracks to fans with some in-built control features claimed. Clearly the company accepts no responsibility for people who choose to use the facilities to illegally distribute material

- Prolify claims that without introducing any new tools and simply by using email systems, it enables automated process management that makes assigning, coordinating and tracking planned and unplanned activities an efficient and headache-free endeavor. With visual mapping and the encapsulation of all related documentation, Prolify reveals the actual workflow in a fully contextual and structured way – something not available in email and IM. Sadly it isn't possible to see a demo of the service on the site, but it sounds interesting.

- Feedhub claims to be a service that creates individualized RSS feeds that automagically select the most relevant posts from a set of feed sources that you choose.By using your preferences and dynamically adapting to your reading habits, FeedHub gives you the content you care about in individualized feeds so you can stay informed without being overwhelmed!

- Live-documents caught my eye simply because of its landing page which claims it is "What Microsoft Live will look like when it grows up".

- Cornerworld has a visual impressive landing page which captured my interest, with similarities to Finetune. It appears to offer a mechanism for amateurs and professional alike to share media (music, videos, photos) as well as livecast. Sadly, clicking on the videos takes you off onto separate pages in which to view videos.

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Yugma - Great webconferencing but for the install!

I'm a regular user of web conferencing services but unlike the majority of people who tend to use them for internal meetings inside a corporation, most of my meetings will involve people from other companies.

This creates a tremendous challenge since most services demand that the participants install an application on their desktop. Less of an issue inside a small firm, but a nightmare in most corporations, where desktops tend to be locked-down for very sensible reasons.

As with other applications, I'm always on the lookout for better alternatives. So, I was really disappointed when I tried out Yugma to find it required an install on the PC of each participant. The application very looks slick and encompasses most of the features you'd find in high-end, well known and expensive services.

They have provided for conference calling services but it is not mandatory to use them, indeed it specifically acknowledges skype as an telephony option.

If this is adopted by corporates for internal use, then the obstacle to installation goes away. More significantly, the pricing model looks a steal at $900 dollars for sessions involving up to 500 participants. I suspect that one licence might well suffice for a corporate if one person is assigned to be the primary contact point and operator, albeit that clearly is not what Yugma hopes for.

There is a free version that allows up to 10 attendees to be in a meeting, albeit each participant has to register and there are other limitations.

But just like buses, a similar service is Yuuguu which even sounds similar. It too requires a desktop install but this one is presently FREE regardless of number of attendees at a meeting. Sam Seithi wrote about them here.

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Northern Rock fiasco de-mystified

I was recently introduced to the blog, The Park Paradigm, and hope to soon meet up with its' author courtesy of a mutual blogger chum, as we evidently have much in common.

If you want to read a great explanation of why the current situation is actual very simple to understand, you should check out this post, which also highlights how easy it is for hedge funds to lose a packet on even AAA bonds, all thanks to the use of leverage.


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Gruvr has hit the groove

Gruvr is a cool mashup of google maps and live event/show information.

You can specify a location and a radius to see details of upcoming shows, as well as looking for gigs involving specific bands. The app appears to make use of the Eventful API.

The map pans around the around highlighting events, with varying degrees of location accuracy and perhaps a little too fast, but fortunately there is a table of events.

There's also a hatful of widgets you can use and the integration with MySpace is a key element.

The only bizarre thing is that the site contains no details of who is behind the site and how to team up with them - if anyone knows please get in touch with me as I'd love to chat with them.

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Future of Web Apps free ticket

If you happen to be in London and want to go to the Future of Web Apps event, you can get a free pass to the Expo by simply submitting which is your favourite web app here. Whilst this doesn't get you access to the conference, it does allow you into the networking arena.


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Animoto - Brings life to your photo

I went to a Wedding at the weekend, and as has become custom, I trot round taking a large volume of pictures of the event and their guests, which I then give to the couple to supplement their official photos. Allowing for some polishing up time (cropping, light enhancing etc), they usually get to see their photos in 24hrs or so, via an online photo gallery service. It also means that other guests can have a look and if they wish, add their own photos to the collection.

The online service I use tends to vary based upon a few factors
- who has the easiest upload mechanism
- who provides unrestricted uploads
- best photo browsing features and download capabilities

Hence, over time I've used several services including Photobucket and this time I used Zooomr. I only use free services as I don't use them enough to warrant a premium service eg I may post 6 batches of photos a year, but when I do post I load several hundred pics. This is where Flickr proves to be of no use to me, despite its many excellent features, since it has a small monthly upload limit on the free accounts.

But, I am always on the lookout for better photo services and I was delighted with this one from Animoto - not because it was a photo hosting service but because of the excellent output in the form of a professional looking "music video", which took less than 5 minutes to create. See below.

It's free to use for short clips, and an option to pay for longer "movies exists". Brilliant way to pep up photos.

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posted by John Wilson @ 10:04 AM Permanent Link ,

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If Goldman won't invest, trouble may be ahead

You may recall that recently Goldman Sachs injected $1bn of funds into one of its' funds following a dramatic fall in value during the August downturn. In the couple of weeks thereafter the fund went up 20% - very nice too, thank you.

However, another Goldman fund appears to be less attractive to the firm

Report: No Goldman fund bailout
Wed, 19 Sep 2007, 12:18

Goldman Sachs Group won't bail out its embattled flagship Global Alpha hedge fund, but it won't close the fund either, according to a published report. The Wall Street Journal reports that the fund managers have sent a letter to investors with promises to better handle borrowing and volatility, to shrink the size of the fund and to "adjust our process." The letter did not say there would be any injecting of Goldman's own money into the fund, according to the report.

Never one to miss a money making opportunity (unless there is a bigger one elsewhere), what should we infer from this one? I had a brief conversation with a friend at a Swiss Private Bank and he advance the notion that the big banks are concerned about setting a precedent of bailing out their funds when they hit problems since this removes moral hazard from investors.

I disagreed with him since Goldman's "bail out" was at prevailing prices rather than pre-crash. Hence, investors had already lost money and weren't being refunded. Instead they were simply benefiting from the firm providing additional liquidity to snap up opportunities in the market, which all fund investors then benefited from.


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Please go away - we're shut for a year

Yet another story about a fund locking the door on investors that might have wished to redeem their investments

Hedge fund firm bars withdrawals by investors
Thu, 20 Sep 2007, 07:11
International Herald Tribune/Bloomberg

Absolute Capital Management Holdings, whose co-founder, Florian Homm, abruptly quit Tuesday, on Wednesday stopped investors from withdrawing money from eight hedge funds that managed USD2.1 billion. The firm told investors that they should not expect to be able to get at their money for a year while it restructures the funds. Seven of the funds hold over-the-counter US stocks that cannot be sold at the prices that the firm has on its books, affecting as much as USD530 million of assets.

Particularly entertaining is the comment that the firm has stock that cannot be sold at prices it is valuing them at - hmmm, perhaps they don't understand the concept of marking the fund to market, clearly prefering to mark to model, in this case THEIRS!


posted by John Wilson @ 9:44 AM Permanent Link ,

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Big Business & Web 2.0

Forrester Research have conducted a survey to better understand whether the fuss about web2.0 is being borne out inside corporate America.

When I saw this, several things struck me

Then again, large corporates aren't usually quick to embrace new tools and so perhaps the survey timing is premature.

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Cricket on Google

Many thanks to Mike Butcher (now re-installed in Techcrunch UK) for this spot.

Google is extending its intelligent searching with cricket scores for the Twenty20 world championship. All fans need to do is type “cricket” into a Google search box and they’ll get a brief score of all the current cricket matches. A single click will also give you access to a detailed cricket score card. “Cricket india” or “cricket score India England” will bring up results for Indian matches, or whatever country you put in.

I'm sure that JP and I will be big user of this.

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I only want a one night stand

Chatting with some traders today, everyone sees counterparty risk looming everywhere as limits are being cut. No one seems immune from rumour - even WestLB!

People are also unwilling to lend long prefering overnight or thereabouts given the uncertainty and rate volatility. "Nope, just one night and we'll talk tomorrow!"

Some institutions I know are chuffed with themselves having bought credit protection on CDOs before markets turned - the price for such protection having shot up with increased fears of payouts. Prior to their recent use of derivatives they would have missed out on such profits.

The wheels are beginning to slow down in the markets

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Being ignored works both ways

Recently Fred Wilson at Union Square wrote on his blog about VC etiquette and one gripe he opined on was the complaint that VCs can be slow responding to emals or not respond at all.

Having recently been involved in helping a portfolio company approach potential partners, including many web 2.0 styled firms, let me observe that being ignored works both ways.

A number of sites approached could only be contacted via email to unnamed persons. Over 60% provided no other means to get in touch. Worse, was that fewer than 10% had the courtesy to respond.

Of course, the invitation may have been unenticing or the timing bad. Nonetheless, I'd stake wads of cash that some of those same sites have bemoaned being ignored by VCs.

"Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone!"

posted by John Wilson @ 11:49 AM Permanent Link ,

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A big bite of Apple?

Vodafones new music subscription service to its 17m customers offering 1 million tracks for £1.99 per week is a massive upscale of the war in telecoms and almost certainly retaliation for not winning the bid for the iPhone, which has gone to O2.

Allegedly Apple wanted 30%+ of the revenues from each customer.

Can they make money at this level via their deal with Music Station? In the scheme of things they may not care, particularly if it disrupts the market and erodes customer churn or adds to subscriptions.

I've yet to establish if downloads will come out of the data allowances, or even if the music can be switched from the phone to other devices. Still its going to shake things up in the mobile market.

posted by John Wilson @ 10:48 PM Permanent Link ,

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All change at Victoria

When America sneezes....London based Victoria Mortgages, a sub_prime UK lender is the first British lender to fall victim to the credit crunch and has gone into administration.

Launched in 2005, the company couldn't refinance its book in the wholesale market on which it was dependent. It had 0.06% of the UK mortgage market.

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Smarter than the average bear

Some while ago, I commented to a number of people that the IPOs of Fortress and Blackstone probably signalled the top of the market, given that the people running it were smart enough to know when was a good time to sell.

Sure enough Fortress Investment Group’s share price has plunged more than 50% from its $37 high reached after listing in February,whilst shares of The Blackstone Group tumbled to a record-low $21.30 on Friday, 31% below their offering price.

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Video Highlights from the First Tuesday event

The above contains highlights on the recent event hosted by First Tuesday on the Music Industry - I even get to feature!

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An arresting experience by the The Police

I went to see The Police play in concert last night at Twickenham, on a warm evening. It was a fabulous gig and we were lucky enough to have tickets on the pitch, not far from the front. With 55,000 in the audience, mostly folks 30+, it made for an electric atmosphere.

The Police_IMG_6826
Originally uploaded by golden/skans

Sting said the last time they played a gig in London was 1983.


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Tablefinder - Odd, thought this was done years ago

Tablefinder is another Seedcamp "winner", but unless I am missing something, it appears to be a replica of toptable and 5pm, both of which match diners up with restaurants. Perhaps it's a geographical coverage play though, as maybe some countries don't have this type of service.


posted by John Wilson @ 8:11 AM Permanent Link ,

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Zemanta - we do your homework

Just looking at one of the "winners" from Seedcamp and I confess that my immediate reaction was "great, a tool for lazy people to write articles". If so, a sure fire winner.

The site is Zemanta which claims to enhance your content by adding smartlinks, images and related content. From their site though, spot the possible limiting factor

Paste any plain text content in the box below and hit the GO! button. Our engine will augment your content with relevant smartlinks, images, keywords and related content. (text should be written in slovenian)

Now, if only I could find a site that will successfully translate my blogpost from English to Slovenian, and perhaps even write it in the first place, I could relax.


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A Wall Street Trader Draws Some Subprime Lessons: Michael Lewis

This was so funny that I had to share it in full (after all your busy and probably haven't the time to click on a link)

A Wall Street Trader Draws Some Subprime Lessons: Michael Lewis

By Michael Lewis

Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- So right after the Bear Stearns funds blew up, I had a thought: This is what happens when you lend money to poor people.

Don't get me wrong: I have nothing personally against the poor. To my knowledge, I have nothing personally to do with the poor at all. It's not personal when a guy cuts your grass: that's business. He does what you say, you pay him. But you don't pay him in advance: That would be finance. And finance is one thing you should never engage in with the poor. (By poor, I mean anyone who the SEC wouldn't allow to invest in my hedge fund.)

That's the biggest lesson I've learned from the subprime crisis. Along the way, as these people have torpedoed my portfolio, I had some other thoughts about the poor. I'll share them with you.

1) They're masters of public relations.

I had no idea how my open-handedness could be made to look, after the fact. At the time I bought the subprime portfolio I thought: This is sort of like my way of giving something back. I didn't expect a profile in Philanthropy Today or anything like that. I mean, I bought at a discount. But I thought people would admire the Wall Street big shot who found a way to help the little guy. Sort of like a money doctor helping a sick person. Then the little guy wheels around and gives me this financial enema. And I'm the one who gets crap in the papers! Everyone feels sorry for the poor, and no one feels sorry for me. Even though it's my money! No good deed goes unpunished.

2) Poor people don't respect other people's money in the way money deserves to be respected.

Call me a romantic: I want everyone to have a shot at the American dream. Even people who haven't earned it. I did everything I could so that these schlubs could at least own their own place. The media is now making my generosity out to be some kind of scandal. Teaser rates weren't a scandal. Teaser rates were a sign of misplaced trust: I trusted these people to get their teams of lawyers to vet anything before they signed it. Turns out, if you're poor, you don't need to pay lawyers. You don't like the deal you just wave your hands in the air and moan about how poor you are. Then you default.

3) I've grown out of touch with ``poor culture.''

Hard to say when this happened; it might have been when I stopped flying commercial. Or maybe it was when I gave up the bleacher seats and got the suite. But the first rule in this business is to know the people you're in business with, and I broke it. People complain about the rich getting richer and the poor being left behind. Is it any wonder? Look at them! Did it ever occur to even one of them that they might pay me back by WORKING HARDER? I don't think so.

But as I say, it was my fault, for not studying the poor more closely before I lent them the money. When the only time you've ever seen a lion is in his cage in the zoo, you start thinking of him as a pet cat. You forget that he wants to eat you.

4) Our society is really, really hostile to success. At the same time it's shockingly indulgent of poor people.

A Republican president now wants to bail them out! I have a different solution. Debtors' prison is obviously a little too retro, and besides that it would just use more taxpayers' money. But the poor could work off their debts. All over Greenwich I see lawns to be mowed, houses to be painted, sports cars to be tuned up. Some of these poor people must have skills. The ones that don't could be trained to do some of the less skilled labor -- say, working as clowns at rich kids' birthday parties. They could even have an act: put them in clown suits and see how many can be stuffed into a Maybach. It'd be like the circus, only better.

Transporting entire neighborhoods of poor people to upper Manhattan and lower Connecticut might seem impractical. It's not: Mexico does this sort of thing routinely. And in the long run it might be for the good of poor people. If the consequences were more serious, maybe they wouldn't stay poor.

5) I think it's time we all become more realistic about letting the poor anywhere near Wall Street.

Lending money to poor countries was a bad idea: Does it make any more sense to lend money to poor people? They don't even have mineral rights!

There's a reason the rich aren't getting richer as fast as they should: they keep getting tangled up with the poor. It's unrealistic to say that Wall Street should cut itself off entirely from poor -- or, if you will, ``mainstream'' -- culture. As I say, I'll still do business with the masses. But I'll only engage in their finances if they can clump themselves together into a semblance of a rich person. I'll still accept pension fund money, for example. (Nothing under $50 million, please.) And I'm willing to finance the purchase of entire companies staffed basically with poor people. I did deals with Milken, before they broke him. I own some Blackstone. (Hang tough, Steve!)

But never again will I go one-on-one again with poor people. They're sharks.

(Michael Lewis is the author, most recently of ``The Blind Side,'' and is a columnist for Bloomberg News. The views he expresses are his own.)

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It's all bull

A survey I read of today left me despairing of some so called investment professionals.

130/30: Fad or new investing paradigm?
Thu, 06 Sep 2007, 11:15
Seeking Alpha

How would you complete the following statement? I consider 130/30 strategies to be: a) A marketing fad; b) A new investment paradigm with long-term potential. In a recent survey of 135 institutional investors, asset managers, consultants, and service providers, 62% chose "b) a new investment paradigm with long-term potential". The survey was conducted jointly by Terrapinn, a producer of conferences on this sort of topic and AllAboutAlpha.com

For the clarity of some readers, let me explain what is meant by 130/30. Let assume you've £100 cash in a portfolio and you use it to buy shares. By using such a "long" only strategy means you can only profit if your stocks rise in value. Yet, most people hold views that some stocks are over-valued or that they are likely to fall in the future. It is possible to profit from such falls by holding "short" positions, which effectively means selling stocks you don't own (there are many ways to achieve the same effect through derivatives too). So, you now take out "short" positions with a value equivalent to £30. As well as giving you exposure to falls in prices for those stocks, they also generate funds from the sales proceeds that allow you to buy more stocks which you think will rise.

Hence you can end up owning "long positions" with an equivalent value of £130 and short positions of £30 (minus value in the portfolio), which brings us back to £100. People holding stocks anticipating them to rise are normally termed "bullish", whilst expecting prices to fall is termed "bearish".

So, returning to the survey, assuming 100% of those surveyed answered the question [irrespective of whether they understood it ;-) ], then 38% considered a long/short strategy to be a marketing fad, or more specifically they thought that using a short strategy was a fad.

Huh? Do these people ever read their own material - "Stocks can go down, as well as up". Do they think it makes sense to trawl through stocks only looking for those which they think will go up and ignoring those which they clearly believe will not. By definition, they must be forming a view on which ones are the "likely losers".

Of course, operating a "short" strategy can expose you to new risks, notably that the prices of your short positions could dramatically increase and you would have to pay out the uncapped losses. But then, your long positions could fall in value to zero wiping out the portfolio. More importantly, most fund managers would employ mechanism to cap such losses or simply trade out of their positions.

This isn't racy or rocket science, just common sense investment. Some folks are just too full of bull.

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Secondary market for concert tickets - is it a sting?

I'm a bit haphazard at keeping an eye out for "gigs" of artists I'd like to see live. Whilst there are lots of things I could subscribe to, even when I do spot them, I seem to become sloth-like and not act on it.

So when tickets for The Police tour went I sale earlier in the year, it completely passed me by. Moreover, it was only in the last few weeks I even became aware of the tour by virtue of it being covered in a few magazine articles. So, 3 days before they play at Twickenham, 4 miles from my home, I've done nothing to get tickets.

Where to get tickets at this late stage? Well, at this point I did some digging around and was astonished by the results.

- Ticketmaster still had tickets at £90 face value plus booking fee of over £10.
- Seatwave and Viagago, as well as similar ticket trading exchanges had an abundance of tickets. These were trading at an average price of £112 on top of which had to be added Seatwave charge on the buyer of £15 or so. This was for tickets and not hospitality packages
- ebay also had lots of ticket on buy it now and auction. All were evidently looking for a premium.
- Gumtree also had an abundance of tickets, but these were mostly at a discount to face value eg £90 tickets for £45

Why such a wide variety of prices for a relatively homogeneous item? Moreover, if there were still tickets in the primary market (Ticketmaster), why would anyone pay a premium in the secondary market?

Well, there are several factors to consider
- I bothered to search; some people don't bother to scan the many "trading venues"
- trust; I trust that Ticketmaster has the genuine article. Seatwave & Co have refund policies (assuming you believe that they can honour them) and assurance re delivery. ebay has a ratings system. Gumtree is dealing in the wild west with persons unknown as is the case with other websites advertising tickets.
- time to "expiry". As the event approach, people become more desperate to sell which can quickly drive down prices if there is an abundance of tickets evident. But even if scarce, you still want rid of them in time. Some people "blink" sooner than others.
- booking fees can add a considerable premium onto the price, so some tickets advertised above "face value" simply reflect attempts to recoup booking fees.

Much to the ticket industry's annoyance, there is clearly an active secondary market, but despite their lobbying efforts, the UK Govt is loathe to outlaw such markets, questioning why live entertainment should receive special concessions and how is the consumer harmed by the current situation.

By comparison, there are many hedge fund investors who'd love to have recourse to a secondary market!

The market for live entertainment is booming - but alongside others, I believe that the current market mechanism for uniting audiences and artists could be dramatically improved. Hence our recent investment in a business that is proposing a new approach that supplement existing practices, where the audience, artists and venues should all be winners. I'll disclose more about this over the course of the next few weeks, but I'm really excited about it on many levels.

In the meantime, the good news for me is that I have my tickets for Sunday at Twickenham to see The Police in concert - that's one sting I don't mind experiencing.

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First Tuesday is back with a band

Is it dot com mania all over again - oooh errr? Well after the domain Boo.com was bought, perhaps it was inevitable that First Tuesday should reappear.

Tonight was the resumption of First Tuesday in London and I was one of the 75 guests at its inaugural event held at the Soho Hotel. "Music to my Ears" was an event proclaiming it would reveal the next music website hits.

True to its reputation, it drew a big name to open the event in the form of Patrick Vien, Chairman and CEO of Warner Music International. Sadly he read a prepared statement explaining why Warner Music was hip and with it (my summary). Partnerships would be the key to future success and he outlined 4 tests that any potential partner had to be pass. One venture he did loiter upon was Rhino TV which draw revenue from ads, sponsorships, downloads and merchandising. It was an important section in one respect -Patrick made a point of saying this was their first direct to consumer play.

Pandora Music was represented in the form of Paul Brown, the Internation MD, and he gave a great insight into their operations. Each track is subject to 20 minutes of analysis by one of 48 trained musician analysts, who score it against 400 attributes which is the basis of the recommendation engine. I confess to some scepticism to Paul's point that the analysts would score statistical consistently between them, but when you adding 15,000 tracks a months to an existing database of 500,000 I guess a few shortcuts are necessary. Recapping on their business which generates revenues from ads, commerce and most recently through subscriptions, he may almost no mention of their current struggle with the US royalty regime. He did however mention that Pandora will be introducing classical music into their repertoire in October.

But then onto the 4 firms they choose to spotlight which were
Not presenting, but one company I spoke to and worth looking at is Chilirec which is a personal internet recording facility that records thousands of radio stations simultaneously. The service offers the user and endless directory of personal music and media files to download. In essence, you start the service recording, come back later and after one day it has recorded 50,000 songs; 300,000 songs after a week and 1 million songs after a month. They insist this is legal because it is a personal radio recording. Tracks may be downloaded and are all indexed using the music meta data from the radio stations. Tracks will have some DJs talking over them, but if that affects your listening, there are up to 2 other version of the same song stored for you. I'm going to check it out - it seems to good to be true.

First Tuesday have 7 more events planned for the next 12 months. Keep it real kids!

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Anywhere FM is a slick online music player

As a consequence of involvement with one of our ventures, I have been exposed to lots of music sites lately. One with a really slick and stylish player is Anywhere FM. Funded by Y-Combinator, and headquartered in San Francisco you can upload your music collection to their site and then play it anywhere through their online player.

Similar to other services, you can also discover new music via friends or site recommendations. They also offer free music to registered users. To date they have over 3million tracks stored on their service.

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Never any liquidity when you need it

Things are still tetchy in the London inter-bank market as evidenced by current rates, with lenders demanding higher rates because of concerns about "skeletons in cupboards". For firms dependent on short term credit to finance their business, this is getting more painful.

Three-month sterling Libor rates at new 8-1/2 yr high
Mon, 03 Sep 2007, 11:55

The London interbank offered rate for three-month sterling deposits hit a fresh 8-1/2 year high, while euro rates for the same period set a 6-year peak on Monday, buoyed by strong cash demand from financial institutions. The three-month sterling Libor fixing rate rose to 6.7400 percent, its highest level since December 1998 in the aftermath of the financial market crisis following the collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management.

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So much for long term investing

Hedge fund and fund of fund managers regularly "explain" to me that their investors understand that they are making a long term investment and hence aren't that concerned about short-term liquidity.

Odd then that the FT had this report

Funds of hedge funds selling adds to volatility
Mon, 03 Sep 2007, 21:33

Deleveraging by funds of hedge funds as they faced redemptions from investors may have contributed significantly to the stock market turmoil in the summer, according to research by BarclayHedge and TrimTabs. Their data suggest that investors in funds of hedge funds, the most popular vehicles for investing in alternative assets, may have redeemed as much as USD55bn in July, equivalent to almost 5 per cent of their assets.

Some of those redemptions may have been covered by inflows (new investment) or by cash on hand, but a significant chunk will have had to flow through to underlying funds. Given that notice periods on funds tends to be linked to the types of instruments they use and their liquidity, you'll often find that funds that operate using equities or futures offer the shortest notice periods. Hence, redemptions may have been covered by withdrawals from funds that may have been least affected by credit crunch.

Being 5% of assets this won't materially hit the skew of the fund of fund portfolios but chances are some fund of funds will already be planning for further withdrawals and thus kicking of the process of giving notice on some of their more illiquid fund holdings - which in itself puts even more pressure on the underlying funds.


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Get an RSS feed for any web page you visit

I've become accustomed to using RSS as an efficient way of keeping up with changes on web sites, but some sites simply don't offer RSS (for whatever reason). So I was delighted to find Feedity, a free service which claims to be able to create RSS for any web page.

You visit the Feedity site, enter the web address of the site you want to create a feed for and it generates a feed that you can incorporate into an RSS reader. And if you want to, Feedity also provides for a quick and simple way to build a data mashup "pipeline" using Yahoo Pipes.

Overall, it works well - few minor hitches with some web pages but worth trying nonetheless.

However, you obviously shouldn't use this in a mission critical environment - there are no guarantees re timeliness, uptime or the like.


posted by John Wilson @ 9:26 AM Permanent Link ,

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Could this make even me look good?

Well I may be pushing the limits of this online photo editor, but it certainly is one of the best ones I've seen, especially online. FotoFlexer has some interesting body improvement features (enlarge, shrink) which should obviously be used with care i.e. careful what you alter!

It's as simple as uploading a photo and then modifying it within the browser session.

It caters for the usual stuff like red eye removal, but can also
  • Remove blemishes
  • Change skin and hair color
  • Morph photos
  • Change backgrounds
And of course, it's free. Of well, beauty is only a pixel deep.

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You look for ages and then loads of music search engines turn up

Yep, there's another music search engine - Skreemr finds mp3 tracks on the web which you can play on the site or download. It's not as slick as some others such as Seeqpod, but the advanced search features are good, as are the links off to other services.

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Heavy lifting of big files

I've been a regular user of the YouSendIt free service that allows you to send large files to others without fear of busting their email inbox limits - you upload the file to YouSendIt via your browser and the recipient receives a link to the file which enables them to download the file via their browser.

There are many of these services about nowadays, and similar to email services, seem to be engaged in an escalating war to offer even bigger file sizes. The latest to catch my eye was Transfer Big Files which offers a staggering 2gb limit. The upload/download times must be enormous but always handy to have something like this in the kit bag.


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