Safaricom's CEO explains Kenya's mobile magic

May 22, 2012

Iconic red telephone boxes, and old dial up landlines featured heavily in Bob Collymore’s work the first time he worked in London. Now he’s passing through on the way to a UN summit in New York with, amongst others, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, looking at ways to transform life for women and children in the developing world – and running an African telecoms company that he admits is a bigger, and more trusted, brand than the church.

“How does that make me feel?” he asks, laughing and rolling his eyes, “It makes me feel a bit like a crusty old man actually”.

Collymore took over the reins as CEO of Kenya’s Safaricom in November 2010 when he was 52. Not really so old, but he does have more than 30 years industry experience under his belt: “I can honestly say that this is the most exciting time for our business, and it has changed beyond recognition. When I started working… [more]


Susan Greenfield says mobiles will re-shape your brain

May 18, 2012

Susan Greenfield doesn’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon when she compares mobile technology to a Victorian family gathered around a piano in the parlour. What she means is that mobile technology should be considered in a wider context than how big the screen is, which processor it uses, and the number of available apps.

As an eminent neurologist at Oxford University, and the former Director of The Royal Institution of Great Britain, Greenfield is engaged with a debate about the consequences of technology – for our families and societies, and even for the functioning of our brain.

Her argument is that mobile technology, and what we do with it, is now at the center of our family and social life, like the piano was for the Victorians and the TV was for baby boomers. But it’s even bigger than that, because it’s mobile, of course; so we not only do it at home, we do it a… [more]


TV 'white spaces' technology for new indoor navigation

May 04, 2012

Scott Probasco is roaming the floor of the hanger at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford, with a Nokia N9 attached to a small box. He passes Concorde, turns right at a World War One bi-plane and pauses underneath a sea rescue helicopter suspended from the ceiling.

Strategically placed signs give detailed information about the history of the historic planes on display at the former airbase outside Cambridge, but Probasco, a Senior Manager at Nokia, doesn’t need to look at them. Using the N9 he is demonstrating a three year Nokia research project to develop indoor information delivery using TV white spaces.

TV white spaces are unused parts of the TV spectrum at a particular location. So, for example, part of the signal reserved for a London TV channel may not work in Cambridge – resulting in a ‘white space’ which can potentially be used for proving better and cheaper internet ac… [more]


How Dolby bring Hollywood technology to mobiles

May 04, 2012

Ray Dolby’s brilliant idea came to him in a jolt as he joggled across India on a series of clapped-out busses. It was 1963 and he was a UN adviser, lugging his old Ampex recorder and collection of classical music across the sub-continent from Bangalore to New Delhi.

What if you could eliminate the hiss on magnetic audio tape by separating sound into two channels, and then strip away the unwanted tape noise?

Eliminating ‘hiss’ had been vexing sound engineers for more than thirty years, and Dolby’s brainstorm changed the course of audio history. He believed it could have “as many applications as the diesel engine.”

Industry insiders describe the company he founded, Dolby Laboratories, as the ‘gold standard’ in audio recording, with hundreds of patents and billions of products sold in more than 40 years of operation.

That journey has taken Dolby from a prototype of the D… [more]


Stay super-dry with new nanotechnology

March 09, 2012

What happens when a drop of water falls on a lotus leaf? It’s not a philosophical question, but a natural phenomenon scientists have been studying, and trying to make sense of, for hundreds of years.

The drop of water falls, bounces, and rolls away without trace – leaving the leaf clean and water repellant.

Now scientists at the Nokia Research Center in Cambridge believe they may be able to replicate the same effect on your phone, using nanotechnology.

Chris Bower, the Principal Scientist at the NRC in Cambridge, sums it up:
“Like many scientists we are trying to copy what nature has been doing perfectly for thousands of years.”

To achieve the water-resistant, and stain-resistant, qualities of a lotus leaf the team at NRC is in the final stages of designing a Superhydrophobic coating which would be applied to the outside of a mobile phone.

If you’ve ever used a Teflon non-stic… [more]


Nokia 808 PureView: How to make the perfect Carl Zeiss lens

March 09, 2012

The size of the Carl Zeiss lens for the new Nokia 808 PureView is smaller than a sugar cube, and the lens for a Nokia Lumia 800 is only slightly bigger than a pin – but both produce images as sharp as a ZEISS lens used on a professional photographic camera.

Dr Hubert Nasse is the Senior Scientist at Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division, and tests lenses rigorously in the ZEISS labs. He loves lenses.

“I spend my working life testing lenses to the very highest scientific standards,” he says. “And of course that is how you accurately judge that a lens meets ZEISS specifications. But there is more to a lens than that – when you work with lenses every day, you appreciate their true craftsmanship. A ZEISS lens even has a certain smell – to me it smells professional.”

Nasse fits the lens from a Nokia Lumia in the Carl Zeiss K8 measuring machine – which takes up most of the … [more]


How Carl Zeiss Lens Changed the World

February 28, 2012

There are few places in the world where you can see the spectacles of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, a camera similar to the one Neil Armstrong took to the moon, three Academy Awards for Science and Engineering – and a model of an X-Ray telescope so powerful it has reached across the galaxies and recorded events in outer space that occurred long before we were born.

There may be only one place, in fact, where you can see all of those things, and it is tucked away in a nondescript modern industrial complex at the bottom of a snowy valley in southern Germany.

This quiet corner of the world is the headquarters of the Carl Zeiss Group, and there is a treasure-trove of artifacts stashed away that stretch back to the birth of optics, and reflects the company’s unique history.

“Without Zeiss we wouldn’t even know what the world looks like”.
Most of us now use a Carl Zeiss lens every ti… [more]


Africa needs mobiles as much as aid, says Microsoft’s South African MD

February 16, 2012

Africa needs enterprise and mobile technology as much as it needs aid, said South Africa’s Microsoft chief, Mteto Nyati.

Nyati, who has been Managing Director of the software giant for three years, spoke exclusively to Conversations in the run-up to the launch of the Nokia Lumia 800 in South Africa.

He is convinced the future of the continent depends upon technology that engages young people, and encourages enterprise and business, not charity.

That technology includes the new Nokia Lumia:
“The opportunities for young people to come up with solutions that address our challenges, using a platform like this phone, are huge. That’s what we need to be doing in Africa, instead of looking for aid.”

And he should know. Nyati was born in 1964 and grew up under apartheid, supporting his mother as she struggled to run a small business selling groceries beside… [more]


China calling: Inside Nokia’s Research Centre in Beijing

February 16, 2012

One of Nokia’s top researchers in Beijing explains how innovations in China are influencing the next generation of mobile technology around the world.

China has to be the largest, fastest growing, mobile market in the world – and perhaps the most challenging.

“It’s quite different,” says Ying Liu, who leads a research team of seven looking at developing local UI and user experiences at the Nokia Research Centre (NRC) in Beijing. In China local users want to get local services. It’s really difficult to sell any kind of mobile phone without local applications.”

Ying joined Nokia 11 years ago, and completed a PhD on interactive technologies in Finland. Now she’s based at NRC Beijing in one of the city’s south eastern suburbs.

“To begin we look at user experiences, getting an understanding of user problems and design in the local areas – and then we propose technical… [more]


The scientists getting truly smart with your phone

February 10, 2012

Could you build a bridge by setting some sliders on your smartphone and waiting two seconds for a highly complex calculation? This team working for an NGO in El Salvador did.

The Ranger supercomputer is the 17th fastest in the world. It’s a Texas computational mega-beast with 62,976 processor cores reaching a peak performance of 580 teraflops, memory of 123 terabytes and disk storage of 1.73 petabytes.

Computer speed is normally measured by researchers in the number of floating-point operations per second (flops). Ranger has a peak performance of equal to 5.8 × 10^14 flops.

By comparison, smartphones do about 100 megaflops = 10^8 flops. So, you could say that Ranger is 5.8 million times faster.

With power like that it’s hard to believe you could perform the same calculations on a smartphone – but researchers in the US have done just that.

A team from the Massachus… [more]


There’s something about Mary McDowell

January 10, 2012

Nokia’s head of Mobile Phones, Mary McDowell, talks about mobiles, murder mysteries and whether the company is ready for its first woman CEO

Mary McDowell has what might be quaintly called Midwestern values. That’s usually a mixture of what people like most about Americans, including friendliness, honesty, hard work – and not getting too big for your britches.

As Nokia’s Executive Vice President in charge of Mobile Phones she’s been responsible for transforming a core division of the company into a remarkable success story, and leading her team through some tough discussions and decisions:

“One of the tests of a leader is whether you can give enough space to give smart people to be creative and to drive things – and not have it be all about yourself.

I like to have diverse teams with different mindsets, and I like to have robust and challenging conversations because that’s how yo… [more]


App-aggedon – Should mobiles do God?

December 28, 2011

“I don’t connect to the wifi in Church so I can’t jump between the Bible, Twitter and Angry Birds……just so you know!”

If you’re religious, resisting temptation is important. Dustin Stout is a bearded Youth Pastor who looks more like Coldplay’s Chris Martin than a Sunday-school teacher. When his students file into his class before Church he tells them to get their Bibles out – then he pulls his smartphone out of his pocket and starts teaching.

“You might believe that by resorting to a smartphone instead of a physical Bible that I am in some way cheapening the lesson in an attempt to be cutting edge and hip. You’d be wrong,” he says.

Religion has never been afraid of making the most of modern technology. The printing press drove popular readings of the Bible and spread the Protestant Reformation across Europe, and, more recently, the US has become the home of TV evangelists. So it makes sens… [more]


Mobile hell for Afghan woman

December 21, 2011

Getting women in Afghanistan on to mobile phones has been a success story, but now they face more dangers than ever

Mobile phones are the new frontline in Afghanistan. Handsets, masts and networks have become key targets for insurgents who want to stop people connecting, communicating, and educating themselves.

“They want to stop people from talking, stop people coming together.”
They want to stop women, in particular, from developing.

Sweeta Noori is the Country Director for Afghanistan of the charity Women for Women. Her family were part the Afghan elite before they fled the Mujahideen. Sweeta returned, and has worked building women’s networks and capacity for more than ten years.

Since the US-led invasion in 2001 there have been three distinct phases of women’s development, she says. The current phase leaves women in a precarious position – the leap forward that was achieved in the first … [more]


Deadmau5 is in the Hau5

November 29, 2011

Deadmau5 would be mean and moody if only he wasn’t quite so Canadian. Instead he sits, pale and skinny, answering questions with only his left shoe shaking to reveal an impatient sense that he would rather be somewhere else. Like preparing for his Nokia Lumia Live gig which is just three hours away.

“Tonight we’re going to light up the Millbank tower,” he says.

He’s never played a skyscraper before, but he shrugs about what that involves in terms of technology: “I don’t even know.” Drive Productions deserves the credit for the animation and the show. He says, “I’ll turn up with my laptop, mixer and two instrument controllers.” Hopefully there should be a “few people around,” to listen.

Deadmau5 says he prepared for the event by submitting an eight minute track a month ago, but his ideas weren’t even “fully formed until about 30 minutes ago,” He knew what to expect but “it was just me running around… [more]


London Lights Up With Amazing 4D Illumination

November 29, 2011

When Ben Fender ran a circus he wanted to create the ‘greatest show on earth’. Twenty years ago he toured Europe using ten red fire engines to stage techno-spectaculars – each more daring, beautiful and exciting than the last.

“I’m a fireman,” Fender says, “Except we wanted to start fires, not put them out.”

Fender’s circus days ran their course, but now he’s combined big-top showmanship with an architect’s precision to create Britain’s biggest ever video-mapping 4D light show to launch the Nokia Lumia 800. A breathtaking four minute animation that splits open the Millbank Tower office block, and takes onlookers on a futuristic journey, will accompany the Nokia Lumia Live show with deadmau5 and TEED on the banks of the River Thames in London tonight.

Without giving too much away – it will look like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

“The Millbank Tower was very appropriate,” … [more]


It’s murder on your mobile, says The Killing’s Sarah Lund

November 07, 2011

Hit crime drama The Killing is back for a second series, and Karen Bartlett talks mobile phone forensics with actress Sofie Gråbøl

Detective Sarah Lund is a Luddite. The loner heroine of Denmark’s hit crime drama The Killing is as much of a 70s relic as her Faroe sweaters: She makes notes by hand and shuns modern communication. 

“Check out Sarah’s mobile,” says, Sofie Gråbøl the actress who plays her, “It’s an antique!”

In The Killing, only the bad guys have an iPad, says producer Piv Bernth, while Lund pursues her obsessive investigations with a vintage Scandinavian handset.

“Sofie thinks she makes too many phone calls,” Bernth says, “We’re actually a very low tech show.” 

Gråbøl took issue with the original ending of Series 1 where her character phoned in the identity of the murderer from a kitchen table. She wanted to hijack a car at gunpoint instead. And the… [more]


Angry Birds flee the nest...

October 27, 2011

It all would have been so different if it hadn’t been for Swine Flu. Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka lives in a parallel universe where Angry Birds rule the planet, and pigs are green.

“You might not believe this but there was a time back in ancient history when people thought pigs were pink.” Vesterbacka is feeling hot in a red Angry Birds top. But there’s a cool part, too: he’s the star of the show at Nokia World after announcing that his fantastically popular game is going to be available on the new Series 40 Nokia Asha range.

Now the population of China, India and most of Africa will know that pigs are, in fact, green. “The pigs are not actually evil you know,” Vesterbacka tells a Nokia audience, “They’re just hungry. And the green color was influenced by the Swine Flu outbreak.”

Before President Obama, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, announced that they switched off from war in Afghanis… [more]


Learning the language on your mobile...

October 25, 2011

Imagine you’re a young Maharaja arriving in a new land. You need to master one crucial thing to take control of your Kingdom – learn the language.

“It’s phataphati,” said Rahul Mittra whose planned Vijeta app was one of the recent finalists of Nokia’s Bhasha competition in Bangalore which invited students from four design schools to develop new ways for Indians to communicate on their phones in local languages.

Rahul studied design at the University of Leeds before returning to India to enroll in a master’s degree at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur. English is the language he feels most comfortable writing in, but there are words like ‘phataphati’ that only work in Bengali.

“If my Mum called and said, how was your exam? I’d say – it was phataphati,” Rahul explained. “It means it was awesome; I killed it. But it’s hard to translate exactly, and that’s why we need apps like V… [more]


Bruno Maag: The angry man of type...

October 25, 2011

Bruno Maag is the angry man of type. He hates Helvetica: “It’s vanilla ice cream,” horrendous, poorly crafted and American. A recent billboard for a chocolate bar made him lose the will to live: “This person should stop design and become a gardener, then he couldn’t inflict such terrible crimes on mankind.”

Maag is a hot metal man, starting his career as an apprentice typesetter back in Switzerland when newspaper offices were noisy, design involved putting pencil to paper and there was the smell of a hot press. Now his studio in Brixton, South London is a silent white temple to type where designers sit hunched over their computer screens with zen like concentration.

Working on type, day in and day out, can make you pedantic, and intolerant of imperfection:

“If you are really into type …well, we all suffer from a slight mental illness. Every single stroke has to be perfect.”

But may… [more]


The phone that can tell if you're a psycho...

October 25, 2011

Jim Fallon is a world-renowned neuroscientist. He’s also a potential psychopath, or so say the results of a brain scan and a series of genetic tests that he undertook to check if he was prone to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Luckily I took those tests at the end of my career, I was just at the point of retiring. I know that I’ve never hurt anyone, or gone to jail. But if I’d taken them and known that information when I was a wild young man it could all have been different.”

Jim spent his career studying the brain scans of psychopaths and serial killers at the University of California at Irvine. He was shocked when the scans showed he had the same abnormal, distinctive, reactions in his prefrontal lobe relating to empathy and human closeness. “I’m not a psychopath, but I do have those tendencies. You wouldn’t want to be married to me, or be my mother.”

His work in neuroscience has given … [more]



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