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Edition 2.2, November 2000

 

Greetings once again from PCB Technologies,

Yes, the TechnoBeat drum is rolling again: it's been a while we know. With the editor back on full time PCB duty, you can expect to see this newsletter more frequently, with a full edition quarterly and a shorter monthly update. We hope you enjoy this bumper Summer 2000 edition.

+ WiseNet Internet services expanded
We have broadened our WiseNet Internet Service to bring even a more complete and integrated IT solution to our clients

+ Staff news
News and moves

+ PCB PC's take on a new look
Nothing like a facelift, and some new nifty features too!

+ Palmtops & Handhelds: Gadget City or a useful investment?
Will your plamtop join the pile of the great unused? Exactly how useful is a palmtop? And when you decide you could use one, we got a great price on the latest Palm Pilot.

+ HP CD Writer on special
Despite the falling Rand, we are able to offer an internal IDE CD Writer at an unbeatable cost.

+ Internet in the Sky(Net)
Satellite communication technology is well established in terms of broadcasting and high level data communication. But when are we users going to be able to jack into some decent extraterrestrial bandwidth?

+ New York City 2k
Manhattan has been cleaned up since the author last visited, when cyberpunks hung out on the streets late at night trading hacked software on floppy disks, the BBS was the theatre of cyberspace and the Internet as we know it was but a glint in Mondo 2000's eye. Also a report on a visit to Internet World 2000.

 

+++ WiseNet Internet services expanded

The Internet, as a communication medium, has reached many aspects of our lives. Email address are swopped more frequently than phone numbers. Web sites of all shapes and sizes are as common place as fax machines. Despite the relentless onslaught of buzzwords and acronyms, followed by incessant waves of marketing hyperbole of the latest newest state-of-the-art, the Internet is generally indispensable for most people and organisations, and even the 21st century Luddite must concede that it's here to stay. PCB has been there since the first days of the Internet, when it became commercially available in South Africa. We pioneered low-cost Internet email routing for organisations by means of cost-effective gateways, for popular LAN applications such as GroupWise and Exchange. PCB's Internet services are marketed under the WiseNet banner.

That was last century. PCB has now increased the range of WiseNet Internet services. PCB's Director and manager of the Internet Services, Paul Boulle elaborates: "We have partnered with a leading Service Provider to provide permanent leased line services to our clients. The advantage in going with us is that we ensure a quality service, and thus are able to provide a quality turnkey solution with one point of contact for service and billing for the client. We can also bundle in many other services, such as web site development and hosting. A permanent leased line is not always necessary: we can offer more economical dial-up on demand options for smaller clients as well. Of course we assess clients needs thoroughly before making any recommendation, and whatever we implement, we always leave the door open to scale the solution according to needs."

Paul then added how PCB is using this technology to improve customer service: "We are able to monitor the network and server status of our service contract clients who have leased lines. Remote management of servers and networks are another advantage: we can instantaneously get right into the clients server from our support centre via remote control software. This lets us perform many maintenance task almost as soon as they are requested. And everyone is happy."

 

+++ Staff news

Tasneem Docrat has joined PCB on the Support Desk. She is working closely with Vanessa Davies in providing Customer Support. Tasneem enjoys helping people and looks forward to contributing to the top quality customer service that PCB has become known for. Tasneem is a key member of the support team: liaison with on-site and highly mobile Support Technicians is an important part of the job, as is the co-ordination service with customers.


Support Desk assistant Tasneem Docrat

Support Technicians Ian Quin and Ian Creswell have recently completed their Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE). Congratulations!

PCB Director and stalwart Bruce Gillespie has returned to South Africa after a year-long (or year-short as he says) sabbatical where he read for a Master of Science in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the Imperial College, University of London. When asked why he chose to do this humanities course instead of the tradition excutive MBA, he explained: "It's important to know from where technology & science has come from in order to understand where it (and we) are going." Course work spaned the history of science back to Copernicus in the 16th century, right up modern times. "Doing this graduate study in London was fantastic, since it is a repository of so much knowledge" he added. Bruce covered the early history of computing extensively. He later focussed on becoming conversant with the many theories of technological development, as well as understanding the relationship between science and technology. The last lap of the course was a dissertation on some of the factors that led to the success of the Internet. In this work he shows that the phenomenal success of the Internet has much to do with the open and collaborative ethos that developers shared, as well as the freedom that these systems offered users to socially construct the technology to suit their needs. He did this by looking not only at the early development of the Internet and the issue of technological lock-in, but also at some of the precursors such as Prestel in the UK, Minitel in France and Usenet in North America. He explains how these systems paved the way for the public acceptance of the Internet and what has become popularly known as cyberspace. Interested readers can access a copy at www.entopia.org.za/msc2000/dissertation/complete.pdf

Asked how he felt about returning to South Africa after a year in one of the world's capitals, he said "we have a great team at PCB, and I am excited about moving forward. We are building on our past strengths, that is turn-key IT services but will be expanding our Internet-based products and services in the short term. Expect to see many more of those innovative and cost-effective solutions and services that we have been known to deliver. It's a challenging time for South Africa, but we at PCB like to rise to any challenge. Our society is undergoing such a fundamental change, and we wish to participate in this in the in a positive way. We are proud to have amongst our customers many organisations that are really making that positive difference right now."

 

+++ PCB PC's take on a new look

PCB PC's have taken on a fresh new look - besides looking good, the new PCB System Unit case offers some useful features such as an Infrared port on the front of the case. This makes connectivity with devices such as cell phones and palmtops a breeze. An easily replaceable 200W power supply and a snap-in hard disk cage are other features that will make servicing easier.

The PCB PC is available with a wide range of options to suit customers needs and budgets. CPU options include the Intel Pentium III and Celeron up to 933MHz from R7200, as well as the more economical AMD systems. Hard disk options range from 10GB up to 30GB. Customers can choose from a wide range of graphics cards to suit their needs, with a full range of Samsung SyncMaster VDU options. The operating system of choice is pre-loaded, and once assembled to the customers specification, the system is give a 24-hour burn. A final and thorough quality assurance check is done before delivery, ensuring a top quality PC that will last. The full range of PCB PC price lists can be found on the web at http://hal.pcb.co.zahttp://www.pcb.co.za/price_lists/pc.htm

Anusha & new PC
Sales Manager Anusha Naicker and the new PCB pc.

 

+++ Palmtops & Handhelds: Gadget City or a useful investment?

Although we have seen handheld devices on the market for a number of years, it seems that this technology has reached a point of popular acceptance. The palm PC is becoming a standard accessory, no longer confined to yuppie road warriors. Although it is available in many different flavours, the Palm Pilot holds a whopping +80% of the handheld device market. This sports a full range of features, and perhaps it success is due to a synergistic combination of these: display size, processing power, ease of use and of course, battery life. Another breed of similar devices use Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, a very scaled down version of the familiar desktop version. There is the Psion series as well, although these are in the more familiar flip-open screen/keyboard format.

So what makes these devices useful? Do they rapidly loose their must-have gadget novelty and thereafter join that pile of the great unused? Perhaps not for the average 21st century PC-based worker, who is organising their contacts, tasks, calenders and appointment scheduling through some desktop application, typically Outlook, Exchange or GroupWise. Besides many other utilities, many of these handheld devices offer similar functionality. Of course, such information is only of use if it's current and the apparent problem is having to duplicate and synchronise information between the office and the handbag/briefcase/back pocket. However, this has come a long way since the first utilities, to the point where you simply drop your Palm Pilot into it's docking cradle and fire up the ‘Synchronise" button. The software takes care of updating and reconciling both sides of the link. With some of the others, it's as easy as lining up the infrared ports and doing the same.

Together with the range of Psion palmtops, PCB offers the full range of the 3Com Palm Pilots. These very popular and versatile personal organisers that are operated by a nifty pen-like stylus. There are a wide variety models and a bewildering array accessories to choose from, including modems, GPS modules, digital cameras and many more. A particularly handy accessory is a collapsable full size keyboard, which makes it very useful for mobile writing and minute taking. As a year-end special, PCB is offering the top of the range Palm Vx. This is the smallest and the lightest of the range and has 8MB of storage and the latest Palm V3.5 operating system for only R3500. This is well below the list price of even the biggest of those computer superstores. See http://www.palm.com/products/palmvx for more details of this excellent product.

 

+++ HP CD Writer on special

Another limited period offer is the HP x CD Writer for only R1595 (excluding installation). This internal IDE device has all the features of the latest generation CD-Writer and is on offer at an unbeatable price. CD-writers can be used for a variety of purposes: backup of hard disks, large data dumps and archiving, audio CD images, MP3 files and more. It is supplied complete with a suite of software that makes all these operations as easy as drag and drop. A CD disk volume can also be accessed like a standard disk drive, making saving files to the CD from applications as easy as saving to C:. See the PCB Specials page on http://hal.pcb.co.zahttp://www.pcb.co.za/price_lists/specials.htm for more details.

 

+++ Internet in the Sky(Net)

You might have seen the classic science fiction thrillers Terminator and Terminator II, and if you followed the plot you will know what SkyNet was. It took the notion of computer-controlled space-based nuclear defence system conceived by Reagan's America in the long lasting climax of the Cold War to the ultimate conclusion: an autonomous computer system that would decide if and when to launch counter attacks against enemy ballistic missles. Problem was that the computer became ‘too clever and turned to eliminate the entire human race to establish dominance. As we know, clever computers are certainly confined to science fiction, but satellite technology has been with us since the Soviet Union's Sputnik in 1957. Space-based telecommunications was one of the most apparent uses of satellite technology, and the last decade has seen some interesting developments. However, these haven't all been a success. Although the technology has long existed for an ‘Internet-in-the-sky', which users can plug into anywhere, market forces are dictating where and when. The dream of a village wired into cyberspace via a small antenna dish mounted on the upper reaches of acacia tree will be confined to the pages of glossy advertising material of the telecommunication multinationals for the time being. But lets review what's happening in the field of personal space-based telecommunications.

Iridium (http://www.motorola.com/satellite/info/) is a system of 66 low-orbit earth satellites which once promised ‘One World, One Number' in it's glossies, offering global personal communications through a handheld pocket handset. However, when it became operation in late 1998, things had changed since the market plan was formulated. The land-based digital GSM cell phone, or mobile, had become a global phenomena with subscribers enjoying national and international roaming. Iridium, although a technological success, was a market failure, and had to file for bankruptcy in late 1999. At present, the satellites have been spared ‘de-orbiting' but the Iridium service has ceased to operated. The Globalstar network (www.globalstar.com) of 48 satellites provides a similar service, however utilise more ground based-resources. This became operational in 1999 and is too facing difficulties in meeting projected market targets. Both of these services are orientated towards voice services, although Globalstar can offer a limited 9600 bps data service, which is only useful for pagers and short message services.

This up-there technology does not cater for the consumer Internet data communications, which has become the de-facto method of communication in so many spheres in the global village today. That's what Teledesic (www.teledesic.com) hoped to address. The specifications look very promising, with substantial bandwidth available to used via modest earth station equipment. Specifications offered 64Mbps download speed and up to 512Kbps uplink. With that kind of bandwidth available to the consumer, many possibilities could be opened up for the Internet, including realistic on-demand multimedia streaming. Of particular interest was that the Teledesic system proposed that it's satellites would communicate in between each other via high speed optical links. This would have been the closest to a SkyNet we probably might ever have seen. That was all sounding great until Motorola pulled out of building the satellites. One reason offered is that they have lost heart due to the failure of Iridium, in which it was a major partner. Teledesic are now reconsidering their plans, which have oscillated rather wildly. It was first conceived that there would be a constellation of 840 satellites, which was later scaled down to 288. Currently the specifications are being reconsidered, and it's will probably end up much like a traditional satellite data communication system.

That's not to say that can't be useful to the Internet consumer. In the USA, Starband (www.starband.com), a two way satellite system aimed at home users has been just been launched. It offers 500 Kbps downstream from the satellite and 150 Kbps upstream. Although limited to the mainland North America, it is the first system to offer consumers two-way satellite communications. Previously satellite systems have offered one-way traffic, with requests for data being sent out via the traditional modem link. This system is different to the above since it operates over one satellite system. And perhaps it's not such a big deal for the wired nation, after all high-speed Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and Cable Modem links are already very popular, and cheap in the USA

So it's back to digital dreaming for us land lubbers here in Africa, where we all wait for de-regulation (if it will ever come). Right now, and even in the immediate future, there aren't many, if any. alternatives for ubiquitous, cheap, high speed and reliable bandwidth. The consequence of this means that existing social and economic divides will continue to exist, if not be exaggerated. TechnoBeat will keep you posted on new developments in this field.

 

+++ New York City 2k

The last time the author visited New York City, cyber punks used to hang loose late at night trading hacked software on floppy disks. Cyberspace was blossoming out on dial-up bulletin boards (BBS's) and the notion of a global public Internet was glowing like the first hues of the early morning dawn. That was back in 1993 when the commercialisation of the Internet was just beginning to take hold since the Internet was previously the exclusive domain of academic and research organisations. The Personal Computing revolution had climaxed and the most of the world was ready for the network of networks. So it was that many computing and communication technologies converged to bring universal connectivity in the form of the Internet.

The East Village back then was buzzing with alternative culture. Alphabet city was a no-go area. Night time after 11pm saw the night people emerging, the crazies, the junkies and those that just didn't like daylight. The streets became buzzing markets of a startling array of more than likely illicitly obtained merchandise, including hacked and cracked software and computer paraphernalia. The magazine Mondo 2000 was the cyperpunk glossy and fashion statement. In Issue #10, Captain Crunch (who created blue boxes back in the ‘60's) talks about a partner-in-crime who is collaborating with him in developing a public PGP encryption program in defiance of the patent holder:

"I'm... working closely with someone on the East Coast. I don't know where he is located, I don't care. After all, this is just one global village with no distances, borders, or other real-world obstacles. That is why I like the Internet."

Dial-up bulletin board sevices (BBS) catering for a bewildering range of underground sub-cultures are reviewed in an article from the same publication. Lunatic Labs, Demon Roach Underground, the Edge of Perception and many more are gathering places for alter-egos, ordinary subversives and plain-vanilla voyeurs. Jacking in meant phone call charges to where ever that BBS was located, though that's never meant much to Americans who have always had cheap long distance calling, not too mention free local calls. BBS's were one of the spawning ground for virtual communities, once the Internet proliferated, the sysops and associated communities simply migrated to that more convenient technology.

Now it's Fall 2000, where technology still has not connected with the consciousness, despite all projections. The instant wealth of .com culture has meant new life for upper Chelsea warehouses in the form of arrays of esoteric art galleries. Some exhibitions are more accessible than others - a full screen 4-channel DVD ‘Star City' retrospect explores the remnants of the Soviet space program: rusting Proton launch towers creaking open for the occasion and the flaking and abandoned Buran, the Red giants answer to the space shuttle. The monumental scientific achievements of the Soviet space program has become a relic. With the 100th USA Space Shuttle landing the day before, maybe the Cold War did have a winner. Or so it seems.

Back to the business. Mid town, west side Manhattan was the scene for Internet World 2000. When visiting such trade shows, a healthy dose of cynicism is always handy. One has to see through the maze of ‘new' and ‘state-of-the-art' technologies and products being marketed, and find the interesting stuff. On the borderline was Wireless Internet. This is a broader concept to the much-publicised WAP that has been (incorrectly) marketed as the Internet on your cell phone. It brings Internet access to hand held devices such as the Palm Pilot. Most of the computing and communications technology is fairly mature, what brings this convergence of age is an application environment that provides such universal access, known as the ... The Mobile Application Environment. See www.hand.com for more details of an implementation of this.

Voice over IP (VoIP) is a technology that is reaching the market in a bewildering array of products. This is the use of the packet switching technology (that is so unique to the ancestors of the Internet) for the transmission of real-time voice communications, more commonly known as the telephone call. Of course, the traditional telecommunication companies who derive their revenues from the connection-orientated world of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) are far from charmed. Although VoIP is all perfectly feasible, the reverse salient is undoubtably bandwidth beyond the LAN. What makes this technology so attractive is that Internet communications are not metered on the distance between two conversing IP nodes, so an Internet packet containing a digitised voice data faces the same toll wether it's off across town or intercontinental. This VoIP technology has now moved into the office, where it is broadly known as Internet Telephony. A number of products provide a full IP-based PABX. Some of these are in the form of a plug-in card for a PC like the Brooktrout TRxStream series (www.brooktrout.com) while others such as the 3Com NBX 25 and 100, are standalone boxes looking much like a large box of networking tricks. The telephone hand set now has an RJ45 Ethernet port, and the system is tied closely to desktop PC software in terms of voice messaging and email integration. Wether this is an appropriate and cost effective alternative to the tried-and-tested analog technology in this part of the world remains to be seen.

Is it conceivable that every consumer device will have an Internet port and be controlled via a web browser? The answer is beyond the glint of a geeks eye. Introducing the e-device, "The Internet enabler". This is everything a device could want to become a part of the Internet world. Their SmartStack technology is a complete Digital Signal Processor (DSP) chip that implements the complete Internet TCP/IP stack, upper Internet protocols such as FTP and HTTP. But that's not all, it has a full modem built in as well. See www.edevice.com for more specs. Once again, all this technology is nothing new, it's all just been shrunk down onto one chip for the benefit of the consumer nation.

Will this mean better brew for the coffee drinking nation? A break for tired feet at a traditional American diner down 2nd Avenue where $3 bought a bottomless cup of fresh Columbian provided a moment of clarity: if it ain't bust, don't fix it. However, across the street a .com advert painted on the side of building reminded one how de-facto the Internet is now in our lives. No coffee machine is safe from an IP address. And when SkyNet takes over the world, what will we do for coffee then?


An all-american diner and Go Deep, about.com

Just then a rollerblader decked out in a fluoro-pink body suit with angel wings flies across the intersection, dodging honking yellow cabs, then disappears down the wrong direction of a one-way. Maybe not all is lost to the suits.

 

 

Please note: All prices quoted include VAT but are subject to confirmation.

 

References:

Wired News http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,39949,00.html?tw=wn20001106

Interactive, Vol.1, No.15 (Coremedia, 2000), p.6

Mondo 2000, Issue No. 10 (Fun City MegaMedia, 1993), pp. 39-43.

Steve Hall, "Handheld Devices in the Enterprise", PSINet Consulting, 2000

 

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TechnoBeat is the newsletter of PCB Technologies (Pty) Ltd and its divisions, including WiseNet Internet Services and The MilkyWay Internet Cafe. Opinions expressed by authors and contributors do not necessarily reflect PCB company policy.

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est. 1985