Is it grim up north? It’s too expensive to go and find out

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My flight to Italy a couple of weeks back was held on the runway for a while because of some altercation back at the departure gate. After a while the pilot appeared at the front of the cabin and, full of self-righteous anger, explained that ‘two Italians’ had been rude to the gate staff. He would not be allowing them onto ‘his’ plane, he said, and then began to lecture the rest of us as to how he wouldn’t tolerate any form of rudeness on any of ‘his’ flights, certainly not to ‘his’ staff, it was something up with which he most certainly would not put, he barked, puffed up to the size of a small planet. Just get behind the joystick, or whatever it is, and head for Naples, you pompous glorified bus-driver, I expect most of us were thinking; certainly this is what flashed through my mind. Along with: why are you lecturing us? We weren’t rude to those half-wits. I had planned to be rude, as it happens, because I was still smarting from the usual rip-off over a normal-sized suitcase filled with normal stuff but which had been deemed too heavy, and I’d have to pay another forty quid. But as I came up to the desk the notion somehow deserted me and I just trudged through obediently, head down, minding my p’s and q’s, strapping myself into a seat seemingly designed for Karen Carpenter in her last weeks, and preparing for the usual barrage of instructions about what I could and couldn’t do.

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I made a promise to myself last year that I would travel by plane much less frequently henceforth, so unpleasant has the experience become these days. It is encapsulated in that pilot’s tirade: MY flight, and you bastards always try to spoil it. Passengers as a loathsome impingement. But here I was again.

Why? I needed a small place, away from the world, to concentrate on writing for a couple of weeks. I really wanted to go to Middlesbrough, my old hometown, and work during the day and maybe go out for agreeable drinks with local friends at night. But remarkably, the cheapest apartment I could find anywhere in the Teesside area turned out to be exactly three times more expensive than a flat in Positano, on the Amalfi coast, that supposed haunt of the louche, the mega-rich, of playboys and the jet-set. Doesn’t that strike you as absurd? Admittedly, in the Boro I wouldn’t be distracted by exquisite architecture, or that astonishing vertiginous meeting of land and sea, or the profusion of cheap and excellent restaurants, or tempted outside by extremely clement weather. But hell, that was a sacrifice I felt I ought to make in the cause of economy.

And getting there? Three hundred or so miles to Middlesbrough and thirteen hundred to Positano? No contest: even with the excess baggage con it was still much cheaper to fly to Naples than get the train to Middlesbrough. Even for someone who hates flying and loves trains, and adores the northeast of England and has never been hugely convinced by southern Europe–this was a step too far. Why would anyone go there? Why would anyone take a break in Britain when it is so much, so much more expensive here?

I was mulling this over back in Britain when I chanced across an article by the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, about how he was sick of his hard-earned dosh going to useless, indolent northerners. He seems intent on starting his own party, a sort of geographically reverse equivalent of the Liga Lombarda: southernparty.co.uk. He wants the North to ‘pay its way’ at long last, etc, start forking out money from their own pockets for tins of food for their whippets. Much as I like Kelvin, his article struck me as being little more than the whining of an over-remunerated spoiled brat. The taxes he carps about leave us in the South all a hell of a lot better off than the people living north of Derby, who struggle by on the minimum wage–and more usually sub-minimum wage, with restricted hours–which is the reward for 95 per cent of employment up there. His notion that they should all come down here and see what it’s like to pay large amounts of taxes struck me as fatuous and petulant. Our economy struggles along by paying northerners next to nothing to do economically vital work; it always has done. A bit of a subsidy seems a small price to pay; personally, I would double it, or triple it, if it meant greater investment in industry and skills in the north of the country. In any case, there already is a southernparty.co.uk, even if it has been negligent in claiming the domain name. It’s called the Conservative party.

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But, still. I do wonder if the North–and the West, for that matter–is pricing itself out of one of the most potentially lucrative growth markets we have; tourism, with all its knock-on benefits. I wonder how many others have been put off visiting the place because of the weirdly astronomical cost? Holiday cottages and the like quote tariffs which could appeal only to the most well-heeled Kelvins of the South; they seem to bear no relation at all to the local economy. If you were a foreigner you would not choose to visit the North, because of the price, and if you are from the north of Britain you would far rather hop on a flight to somewhere warm. Even if the pilot is a sententious ass.

Join Tech Times blog discussion

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For tech news throughout the week, join Times technology editor Dave Gussow at the Tech Times blog (www.sptimes.com/ blogs/tech). We invite you to join the discussion by posting your comments and questions. Also, for more on the video game scene, check out Josh Korr’s video game blog (www.sptimes.com/blogs /videogames).

Nintendo DS adds

wireless features

Nintendo Co. has announced new wireless features for its DS portable video game player, including a free service that will let consumers beam game demos and other content directly to the device.

Starting in late March, the company plans to deploy electronic kiosks at thousands of U.S. retailers including Best Buy Co. Inc. and GameStop Corp.

Owners of the dual-screen DS who go near the kiosks will automatically receive a notice on their devices offering game demos, movie trailers and other content for temporary download. The information will be erased from the DS once it’s turned off.

The service uses the device’s local-area wireless networking capabilities, which until now had been used just to facilitate head-to-head play by gamers near one another.

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Net surfing often

its own destination

Some people go online just for the sake of it: A new study finds that on any given day, nearly a third of U.S. Internet users log on just for fun or to pass the time.

Compared with other online tasks, recreational surfing ranks behind only e-mail and search, and it’s about even with getting news online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

“What it says about the Internet is that it is becoming a full-blown destination in itself,” said Deb Fallows, the Pew senior research fellow who led the study released Wednesday. “They are just led there just to see what is going on.”

Pew credits the growth in broadband connections at home and the increase in the number and variety of Web sites available.

The 30 percent of Internet users who went online for fun on a given day represents an increase from 21 percent a year earlier.

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Microsoft Office

to offer online tools

Microsoft Corp. is targeting small-business users of its Office software with the launch of an additional package of services online, including free Web-page development tools, free domain names, Web hosting and e-mail. Eventually, most of the services in Office Live will be included in a $29.95-a-month subscription package, according to a Web log published by MSN executives at www.liveside.net. Live’s online tools also allow companies to share and manage information among employees.

>>> Click here: More Websites, More Problems

More Websites, More Problems

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Byline: Issa Sikiti Da Silva

Mar 09, 2010 (Biz-Community/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) — While the growth in number of websites officially registered worldwide is a tangible proof that the Internet is cruising ahead, it has been established that more problems and challenges are likely to emerge, whether in terms of safety, fraud, ‘squatting’, logistics or disputes.

.ZA Domain Name Authority (ZADNA) GM Vika Mpisane told Bizcommunity.com yesterday, 8 March 2010, “By its nature, the Internet has been as good as it is bad because of e-crime and other security threats. A radical increase in the number of new domain name registrations is less of a challenge when registration is automated.

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“It is only a challenge when registration systems are manual and therefore slow, and that is the problem with some of the lesser known .za domains.

“Yet with the .za central registry set to assume management of most .za domains, registration will be as much automated as possible. However, the problem of trademark and brand abuse will remain a challenge still, not only for .za, but everybody: .com, .net, .de… everybody.”

Seeking redress can be slow, costly

ZADNA is the agency that manages South Africa’s Internet space. The institution is funded by the Department of Communications (DOC) at the tune of a mere R1.5 million annually.

As squatters’ business flourish because of an increase in domain names registration, many people and organisations complain of name tampering, leaving them with no choice but to seek redress from ZADNA through its Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) process.

However, some aggrieved people and organisations continue to shun the ADR process, saying that it is slow, costly and time-consuming, opting instead to negotiate directly with squatters.

Others, however, are not even aware that an ADR process exists in SA.

ADR is ‘effective’, but …

Mpisane said, “The .za ADR process is very effective and as ZADNA we are confident about that. What may be a serious factor are the ADR fees involved.

“While the ADR fee is much cheaper, at R10 000, than normal court fees, some people feel that even that R10 000 is still expensive because some cyber-squatters may simply sell you back your name at less than R5000.

“If then you can get your name back at less than R5000, why then bother lodge an ADR dispute? So, the fee issue has been somewhat thorny, but we cannot simply lower it as it is the minimum that could be charged to have disputes resolved by the most experienced lawyers.

“So the current fees are trying to strike a balance between affordability and superior expertise.”

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A need to raise awareness

Nevertheless, he conceded that ZADNA would look at ways of enhancing the ADR process, including possibly revising the current fees.

“Yet, the ADR regulations are promulgated by the Minister of Communications, and any changes should be approved by the Minister.

“As for awareness, yes, we realise we need to make our businesses and people more aware of the ADR process. In fact, ZADNA has commenced talking to business and other organisations to create awareness in this area.”

As for the increase in domain names, he said, “We are excited about this. Of course, our primary joy is to see an increase, albeit not so strong, in the number of co.za and org.za domain names.

“We believe that once we improve and standardise the operation of all .za domains, we will see an improved increase in new .za domain names and websites.”

Copyright Biz-Community. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

Calendar: what to watch for in the weeks ahead

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DECEMBER 1

Mexican Standoff

After a bitterly contested election, Mexico gets not one but two new presidents today–though not officially. The recognized victor, conservative Felipe Calderon, is expected to advocate U.S.-friendly immigration and trade policies. His leftist opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has refused to acknowledge defeat and has vowed to establish his own parallel government.

DECEMBER 2

A Very Happy Unbirthday

Fidel Castro gets a proper party today, the fiftieth anniversary of his landing in Cuba to lead the revolution. Bedridden by intestinal bleeding on his actual birthday, in August, Castro “celebrated” then by sharing yogurt, good times, and matching red shirts with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

DECEMBER 2-8

Tangled Web

ICANN, the nonprofit group that controls Internet domain names, meets this week in Sao Paolo to debate policy options for the host of dot-com and dot-org alternatives seeking places on the Web. Overseen by the prim United States, the organization miffed other countries in May when it voted not to allow the “adults-only” .xxx suffix.

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DECEMBER 3

Damned If You Don’t

With unchecked power, majority approval, and all the airtime be wants, President Hugo Chavez is widely favored to win today’s Venezuelan election. The opposition party has considered a boycott, a prospect that Chavez parried by threatening to call a referendum that would allow him to rule until 2031.

DECEMBER 5

Little Dress, Big Number

Holly Golightly’s iconic little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is on the block at today’s entertainment auction at Christie’s, where it’s expected to fetch somewhere between $90,000 and $130,000 (brown sack of pastry not included).

DECEMBER 15

Show Me the Money

After a raft of corporate scandals, publicly traded companies today must begin disclosing, in “plain English,” all compensation paid to their top executives, including the multifarious perks and options that have obscured such figures in the past. (A proposed “Couric clause”–as in Katie–would also have meant divulging salaries of top-earning nonexecutives, such as pro athletes, movie stars, and, yes, news anchors. It was ultimately dropped.)

DECEMBER 26

Mad for Mao

China’s Mao Zedong museum will be completed by the end of the month, in time to commemorate the chairman’s birthday. Located in his hometown of Shaoshan, the museum features over 6,500 of his personal effects (including his washbasin).

DECEMBER 30

Virtual Verdi

In an effort to breathe new life into a fusty art form, the Metropolitan Opera tonight kicks off an ambitious digital distribution program that will use special satellites and projectors to beam its operas to movie theaters in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

DECEMBER 31

The Morning After

Three years after it first roiled the FDA and intensified the abortion debate, the Plan B emergency contraceptive will go on sale without a prescription no later than today–though only to adults. Studies suggest it will have minimal impact on rates of abortion and sexually transmitted disease.

DECEMBER 31

Putting It All Back Together

Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the master plan for rebuilding is due by today. By taking a hands-off approach that leaves most planning to the city’s seventy-three neighborhoods, state and national politicians have dodged the tough question of which, if any, neighborhoods should be abandoned.

DECEMBER 31

Electric Ticker

Coming soon to a chest near you! Doctors will be equipped to implant the first fully self-contained and self-sufficient artificial heart, the AbioCor, newly approved by the FDA. In clinical trials, none of its recipients survived for more than eighteen months.

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ALSO THIS MONTH:

Free at Last

SpiralFrog, a digital music service aimed at challenging Apple’s pay model with free (but ad-supported) downloads, launches this month. The small print: SpiralFrog tunes aren’t iPod-compatible, and regular site visits are required to keep them playing.

Baby Steps

Iraq’s leaders have promised that the growing (though dubiously qualified) Iraqi army will handle security in most, even all, of the country by year’s end. Iraqi troops may still depend on coalition forces for command, support, and logistics.

Containing Kim

Following North Korea’s missile launches this summer, and its recent nuclear test, Japan will begin operations of new Patriot antimissile batteries in Okinawa by the end of the year, part of the U.S. attempt to contain Kim Jong II’s rogue state.