Archive for April, 2007

BlackBerry NOC Down

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Chuck Scarborough used to live down the street from me in Bronxville years ago. Last night I watched him tell me my BlackBerry‘s not working. Neither is anybody’s in North America, according to Computerworld:

The BlackBerry wireless e-mail service from Research In Motion Ltd. appears to have suffered a widespread outage that started last night in the U.S.

Customers on the BlackBerry Forums discussion board complained of having no service starting at about 5.15 p.m. PDT yesterday.

Callers to the BlackBerry U.S. technical support line were still greeted with the following message early this morning: "We are currently experiencing a service interruption that is causing delays in sending or receiving messages. We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide updates as soon as they become available."

New York television news channel NewsChannel4 reported last night that the problem affected "all users in the Western hemisphere."

However, comments from operators in Asia and Europe, as well as postings to the BlackBerry Forums, suggested that the problem may be limited to North America.

"Officials with RIM said they are trying to reset the system and told NewsChannel4 that they are concerned that the backlog of data, which will rush through when it comes back on line, could cause a bigger problem," the news channel reported on its Web site.

RIM officials advised people who use Blackberry as a major way of communications to make back-up plans, the channel reported.

A RIM official contacted in France was unaware of the problems, and said she had received messages sent to her BlackBerry as normal. Other RIM officials did not return calls seeking comment.

The outage may have been cause by one of RIM’s Network Operating Centers (NOC) going down, according to Emma Mohr-McClune, principal analyst with Current Analysis Inc. "This has happened before," she said.

RIM operates two NOCs, both located in Canada, according to Mohr-McClune. The company has considered locating additional NOCs outside of Canada, she said.

Companies that provide BlackBerry service connect their mail servers to a BlackBerry Enterprise Solution (BES) server located on their premises, which in turn is linked to one of RIM’s NOCs, according to Mohr-McClune. "All data slides to Canada and back," she said.

RIM may have been fortunate that the outage began at about 5 p.m. Pacific Time, because it would have been after the busiest part of the U.S. work day. Engineers were likely scrambling through the night to bring the service back online before the start of the U.S. workday today.

Other parts of the world appeared to have been unaffected. A representative for Taiwan Mobile Ltd., RIM’s BlackBerry partner for the island, said the problem is limited to North America, and that users would not be affected unless they are sending or receiving e-mail through a BlackBerry server there.

"RIM has not communicated with Taiwan Mobile about when this problem might be fixed," said the representative, April Hong.

NTT DoCoMo Inc. in Tokyo said its BlackBerry users in Japan were also unaffected. And In Europe, a spokesman for T-Mobile Deutschland GmbH was unaware of any problems, and Blackberry users in Germany and France reported no interruption of service.

The problems come at a time of continued rapid growth for the company, based in Waterloo, Ontario. It added 1.02 million subscribers in the quarter ended March 3, for a total of approximately 8 million BlackBerry subscribers worldwide. Revenue for the quarter was $930.4 million, up 66% from a year earlier. Net income for the quarter before adjustments was $187,928, the company said.

Wish they had built-in satellite connectivity. Thuraya phones have it.

Contextual Search Using Phonetics

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

We knew this was coming last summer when we wrote about how Google will soon be selling ads against audio and video content. We didn’t think so much was going to happen so quickly. They buy YouTube, become ad reps for Dish Network, are about to sign DirecTV, and now we hear about Google selling ads for Clear Channel and other radio stations (up to 1,600 so far).

How do you target audio video content? Will this system use sophisticated algorithms for "mass personalization?" Will phonetics work? They might: came across this Scoble interview with an executive from Nexidia, a company that’s using phonetics to enhance contextual searches. Very interesting. Here’s the short demo version:


Add localization and you’ve got a pretty interesting propostion for advertisers. I recently downloaded Google apps for my mobile and I’ve gotta tell you, they work great. Need a Chinese restaurant where you are? Google it using Maps. It worked for me.

The Great Turtle Race!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

Here’s a great story about how the combination of satellite tracking technology and the Internet can be used to raise awareness about conservation efforts around the world.

The Leatherback Sea Turtle is the biggest of all living turtles and the world’s fourth-largest reptile, reaching more than 6 feet in length and weighing up to 2000 lbs. It is also listed as endangered worldwide by the U.S. government, with the global population of female leatherbacks plunging from an estimated 115,000 in 1980 to fewer than 43,000 today.

Ranging throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, leatherbacks worldwide are threatened not only by coastal development and loss of habitat, but by ocean pollution and "floating plastic bags or sheets which they mistake for jellyfish — a staple of their diet." 90 percent of the leatherbacks have vanished and the species may disappear within 10 years due to illegal poaching of their eggs, according to conservationists.

To draw attention to the plight of the leatherbacks, conservationists yesterday launched the Great Turtle Race.

The AP reports:

Biologists will switch on satellite trackers strapped to the backs of 11 female leatherback turtles on Monday, starting what conservationists have dubbed the "Great Turtle Race" to raise awareness of a species threatened with extinction.

Sponsored by U.S. and Costa Rican environmental groups and businesses, the race will track the turtles on their annual 1,200 mile journey from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to the Galapagos Islands….

Most of the competing turtles are expected to be in the water by Monday after laying their eggs on the beach at Playa Grande in Costa Rica.

The Web site features virtual trading cards with caricatures of the turtles with names like Freedom, Windy and Stephanie Colburtle after U.S. comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central fame. It also has stats on their egg-laying history…

Ten race sponsors — including Yahoo Inc., Plantronics Inc., Philadelphia’s Drexel University and Dreyer’s Ice Cream — donated $25,000 each to purchase the tracking equipment and protect nesting areas from development.

Leatherbacks aren’t the only sea creatures that are getting tagged with satellite trackers to raise awareness and scientific knowledge about  the world’s oceans. The Census of Marine Life has a great site, Tagging of Pacific Pelagics, where users can track tracking projects of a variety of species and view real time data of the movement of sharks and other animals in the Pacific. And NASA is tracking sea lions to gain a better understanding of the world’s oceans.

For ease of use and entertaining presentation — especially for a younger audience — it’s hard to beat the Great Turtle Race website. Check it  out, because those turtles are, um, making some quick tracks.

I Love You, C-band

Monday, April 16th, 2007

This may not be the same love as the backyard-dish people were feeling 20 years ago, but these folks are digging IP-PRIME, which is carried nationally via AMC-9’s C-band payload in the U.S.:

“We have an extraordinary partnership with SES AMERICOM and with the launch of IP-PRIME we can now reach out securely and effectively to IPTV viewers across the country who will be able to access their favorite NBCU programs,” commented Henry Ahn, executive vice president, NBC Universal TV Networks Distribution.

“Showtime Networks is excited about the ability of SES AMERICOM to securely and reliably deliver all of our networks to the telcos with video initiatives, using enabling technologies such as MPEG4,” said Michael Tas, Senior Vice President, Distribution and Sales Strategy for Showtime Networks. “SES AMERICOM has been a proven partner of Showtime Networks for decades now and we look forward to extending the relationship well into the future.”

“We are sensitive to the costs of getting into the distribution business and are happy IP-PRIME is in place to fill the technology gap for small operators,” said Karen Byko, executive vice president of operations for Turner Network Sales.

“Consumers want alternatives in how they spend their entertainment dollars,” said Mike Biard, Senior Vice President, Affiliate Sales, Fox Cable Networks. “IP-PRIME will deliver Fox’s networks securely to a new generation of distributors, and we are delighted to be working with SES AMERICOM to do so.”

"We’re excited to be a part of SES AMERICOM’s new IP-PRIME programming lineup," said Mark Cuban, chairman and co-founder, HDNet. "By including HDNet and HDNet Movies, SES AMERICOM is making sure IPTV viewers receive the highest quality HD programming, including our acclaimed movies, original programming, investigative news, popular series and sports.”

Multichannel News followed up with a question on ESPN, of course.

Will this revive the backyard dish market? I can almost imagine a DTH service using C-band. I want my IPTV!

Space Tether Experiment Launches Today

Monday, April 16th, 2007

If you were up with the sun (or the clouds, if you’re in the eastern portion of the US) this morning, you might have caught the report on NPR on Space Tethers and Tethers Unlimited efforts to change the way satellites are transported.

While science fiction, Victoria’s Secret, and long-woven ropes are rarely mentioned in the same breath (unless of course you’re in some bizarre John Waters movie), the work of Dr. Robert P. Hoyt and Dr. Robert L. Forward have brought the two strangely together to solve a real problems posed by simply moving obejcts around space.


"For 50 years, people have relied on rockets to move things around in space. But rocket fuel is expensive and heavy. [Hoyt with the help of Forward realized how] much easier it would be to just fling things around using orbiting tethers.

‘It’s sort of like using the techniques of Tarzan to move around in space,’ explains Hoyt. ‘You’re basically grabbing onto a long, high-strength rope and using it to swing you from one place to another.’"

The problem, of course, was how you got those ropes to last in an environment where they were being constantly pounded by the debris that litters our orbit. And that’s where the underwear comes into Tethers Unlimited business plan…

"The company makes tethers by starting with light but strong fibers, like Kevlar. Then the strands are woven together using a computerized machine.

‘[That machine is] normally used for fabricating things like lacy edgings on Victoria’s Secret undergarments," says Hoyt. "We’ve developed ways to use that to braid the multi-line tether structure that we’re testing in space.’"

That testing begins imminently, a Dnepr rocket blasting off from Baikonur Cosmodrome today contains, within its payload, three mini-satellites that will deploy a half-mile tether, two of the satellites anchoring either end. The third, dubbed, according to a recent Engadget report, Inspector Gadget (Ted and Ralph make up the other two members of the trio), will move up and down the tether taking pictures that will allow those on the ground to learn how many cuts or tears the rope takes on over the next few months.

While it might be awhile until we see tether’s in action, propelling satellites in space, this initial experiment is an important first step in a lot of new space technology, possibly including space elevators.

DIY Friday: Using a Basic Stamp (Video Podcast)

Friday, April 13th, 2007


Click To Play

If you’ve been around here long enough, you probably already know how much we love MAKE Magazine. Well now they’re featuring Video Podcasts to buttress they’re already damn awesome audio offerings.

This week we wanted to direct you towards a video on using a BASIC Stamp that might be useful to anyone (like myself) just becoming an electronics hobbist. In the video, Bre Pettis and Joe Grand explain the basics of the Basic Stamp and a little on how to use it, ultimately directing you back to the MAKE website to get more information about the technology, which, by the way, would work really well if you’re still trying to make that LED T-Shirt we talked abut a few weeks ago.

Canadian Condo Dish Discrimination Case Dismissed

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

A Halifax man who asserted that his condo board’s ordering him to take down his satellite dish amounted to discrimination has had his case dismissed by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the CBC reports.

A report from the hearing in August gives us the background information on Ahmed Assal’s case:

Assal, a condo owner in Clayton Park, is a Muslim originally from Egypt. Through his satellite dish, he gets 18 channels of religious and cultural programming in Arabic.

Without it, he says his children could not get the programs essential to their education.

"I have a family, I have children, and the serious matter is that it is for culture, religion, language," he told reporters after the hearing.

Assal acknowledges he knew about the condominium board’s bylaw that prohibits satellite dishes before he bought the condo.

The dismissal came down last week: 

Board chairman Royden Trainor said he wasn’t satisfied that Assal met the necessary burden of proof to show he was discriminated against.

Trainor concluded that the absence of satellite service would not have the same impact on the family’s faith and cultural identity as being denied traditional ethnic food, for example.

"The [Assal] family’s ongoing devotion to the practices and tenets of their faith and cultural identity will continue unimpeded, uninterrupted and undiminished with or without access to a particular satellite dish and service," he wrote in his April 3 decision.

We’re not familiar enough with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to say definitively what sort of presidence this would set for other condo owners in Canada. Other cases have gone the other way when condo boards and dish owners have locked horns; this case, for example, is a good reminder of the need for specific language when HOAs try to control exterior modifications to condos. We will suggest, however, Canada’s most famous condo lawyer as counsel if you find yourself in a legal snafu, trapped between your desire for satellite TV and a pesky HOA constraint.

Here in the United States, the FCC has declared that Federal law supercedes any local or HOA zoning constraint. But you can avoid many of these legal hassles simply by following our DIY Friday guide to disguising your dish (especially this one for condos). As the photo above illustrates (yes, that’s a satellite dish acting all incognito), all you need is a patio and some patio furniture, and the next thing you know you’re surreptiously watching your favorite satellite shows and keeping the neighbors happy.

Next: Google Selling Ads for DirecTV

Wednesday, April 11th, 2007

Another scoop via VentureBeat:

VentureBeat is hearing that Google is negotiating an advertising deal with  DirecTV, the nation’s largest satellite broadcast service with 16 million subscribers.

Dish, the nation’s second largest satellite TV company, announced a deal with Google last week. (VentureBeat was first to report the Dish deal a month ago).

This is just the latest move by Google to sew up the entire advertising world. Google is pushing into newspapers, magazines, radio, cable and now satellite.

The DirecTV deal is taking more time than Dish’s to close because DirectTV is managing the ownership change announced last last year (when News Corp said it would sell its ownership stake to Liberty). More details on DirecTV here. The deal with Google will go through eventually, says a source who wants to remain anonymous. [Update: Google says “no comment,” and DirecTV says: “We are always looking for ways to increase our ad sales revenue but we have nothing to comment regarding any new partnerships.”]

Here’s our blog post + comments on the Google deal with Dish Network.


If you think about it, a Google deal with DirecTV would give advertisers reach into more than 25% of U.S. TV households. Honk the horn on Madison Avenue like some truck is double-parked and you can’t get through: Google is a player in TV advertising. Yes, the household count is greater than Comcast on paper, but how effective will it be? Here’s a clue: interactivity. EchoStar and DirecTV have national interactive TV advertising capabilities in place and are actively working with advertisers to deploy them — especially automotive and financials. Stay tuned.

High-Speed Internet for Movin’ Military

Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Is this the future of acquisition procedures for the U.S. government’s satcom needs?

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) reports that the U.S. Defense Department has formed an unusual partnership with Intelsat Ltd., Cisco Systems Inc., and private investors to bring high speed internet connections to military units on the go:

 The demonstration project requires private investors led by a fledgling private-equity fund to shoulder the entire cost of a networking system for directing messages, a sort of Internet router in the sky for soldiers and intelligence gatherers…..

Private investors are gambling that the U.S. military will make long-term commitments to support technical breakthroughs and new acquisition procedures….

Claire Fairfield, managing director of venture fund Concerto Advisors Inc., said his group is looking to raise as much as $200 million to fund four total satellites involving Intelsat or other commercial operators.

Cisco top executive for the program, Rick Sanford, says the project is "really a business approach, not a government program." By acting like a consumer, the DoD hopes to overcome the delays and cost overruns that have frustrated their more traditional attempts to meet the military’s soaring demand for satellite IP connections. (Cisco is providing software integration for the project.)

By developing and deploying such technology in about two years — dramatically faster than traditional military-satellite programs — such shared commercial-government payloads could pave the way for providing lower-cost, more flexible digital-communications links to fighting forces and intelligence operatives in the field. If successful, the model also will help the military, along with users of navigation, homeland-security and other civilian applications better coordinate future satellite needs.

In this case, "We get to test something for a fraction of what it would cost" if the Air Force funded it, said Mike Florio, the military’s lead manager for the program. "And we’ve got some stars of industry trying to make this work." 

The deal marks another milestone in Intelsat’s history. Intelsat was established in 1964 by 11 countries as an international intergovernmental agency to provide satellite services to member countries; by 1973, more than 80 countries had joined the consortium. In 2001, Intelsat became a private company, opening up new avenues of business — including deals like this one with the DoD. Still, vestigal problems remain from its days as the satcom provider to a broad spectrum of political organizations (see here and here,  as well as this odd entanglement between Sri Lanka, Amnesty International, and the International Cricket Council (whose Cricket World Cup is taking place now.)


As in the civilian world, the U.S. military’s need for faster and more reliable IP communications has grown exponentially as the convergence between IP technology and two-way and broadcast communications accelerates. AMERICOM Government Services’ C2OTM (Comms-on-the-Move, pictured above) for example,  provides "real time support for a full range of IP applications including VOIP, two way video surveillance, warfighter coordination tools such as common operational perspective and force tracking, and a full range of logistics and training applications" by integrating with ArcLight(r) modem technology from ViaSat

Anik F3 Launch Update

Monday, April 9th, 2007



As you probably know those of us here at Really Rocket Science love a good launch, especially that of a big GEO satellite.

The Anik F3 will be launching tonight (04:54 April 10 Baikonur, 22:54 April 9 GMT, 18:54 April 9 EDT) this from launch pad 39 of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. You can, of course, catch the launch live via streaming, although hopefully we’ll be able to find on YouTube sometime tomorrow for those looking to beat a wicked case of the Mondays by heading to Happy Hour early.

Those nerdier than us might want to catch a live feed of the launch via satellite or over the phone at the following locations.

Live Broadcast
North America: Telstar 6 @ 93° West, transponder C11, downlink 3920 MHz (vertical), analog NTSC. Test signals start at 18:00 EDT.

Live Broadcast
Europe: NSS-7 @ 338° East, transponder WHL4/EUH3 CH1, Ku-band, 338 degrees West downlink 11098.9 MHz (horizontal), digital PAL symbol rate 6.1113, fec: 3/4. Test signals start at 22:00 GMT.

U.S. domestic Launch Hotline at 1-800-852-4980.

What does Anik F3 do? Basically its a comm sat for Telsat Canada, but since you asked:

"Multipurpose communications satellite with payloadsin Ku-, C- and Ka-band. The Ku- and C-bands will carry a wide range of broadcasting, telecommunications, business and Internet-based services throughout North America"

See you at the launch!