Technology May 2007

Tom Rowe on the latest snippets of news from the world of technology


Is this advertising?

You may have noticed the giant billboards around the country asking a simple question – “Is this living?” No, it's not another grammatically questionable attempt by the Labour Party to get you to notice them. If you make the effort to look up the website address at the bottom of the billboard, you will eventually figure out that Sony are trying to sell you something. A significant amount of time on their website may not bring you any closer to discovering what this is, but Village can reveal that the billboards are part of a Europe wide campaign for the Playstation 3. In conjunction with their mystifying TV commercials, brings you on a journey through the faded grandeur of a hotel (reception pictured above) with guests who act like they are on holidays from a David Lynch movie. In a form of viral advertising, these characters can also be found in other locations on the internet, such as photo-sharing site Flickr or as avatars on the virtual world Second Life. The hotel is shown in attractively rendered graphics, but as you are brought into more and more rooms where nothing much happens, it can feel like a wild goosechase. At a certain stage you come to an area that allows the public to post videos, the distinct lack of which would indicate that everything is not going according to plan.

The Sony Corporation hired the SCREE PR company for their advertising blitz, a firm that believes audiences “no longer want to be advertised at”. This high-minded attitude may require a lot from the average game player, but this does not seem to have hurt Playstation 3 sales yet. The price tag of €629 did not deter Irish Playstation fans when the console was launched here in March – some of them queued till midnight to be among the first to buy it. Ireland has the second highest per capita ownership for the previous two Playstation generations, with a console in an estimated 47 per cent of Irish households. Latest worldwide figures available show sales of over 3.5 million.


‘Tatai': fuelling the future

In the search for the fuel of the future, a Hungarian professor has succeeded in cultivating an energy-efficient Chinese reed grass that can be used to produce bio-energy. Bela Marosvolgyi of the Western Hungarian University has created a strain of the reed that is resistant to frost and dry weather, an achievement other scientists in Austria and Germany had failed to make for many years. The crop, Miscanthus sinensis “Tatai”, can be used as fuel for power plants, alone or mixed with conventional fuel. A Budapest-based firm, Reed Micro Propagation System Hungary, now plans to invest €8m in developing a new facility to create energy from Tatai. The plant will employ 480 staff and will become Europe's largest bio-energy power plant. It is expected to produce 20 to 40 tons of fuel per hectare of reed grass using micro-multiplication technology, where the seeds are multiplied in a laboratory before they are sown.

In a similar development, construction of the Green Biofuels plant in New Ross, Co Wexford has recently begun. The first commercial facility of its kind in Ireland will use recycled vegetable oil, animal fats and rapeseed oil to produce bio-diesel. The plant will have the capacity to produce 30,000 tons of bio-fuel a year.


Boys, girls and the internet divide

Research on internet users in the United States challenges the common perception of the internet as the home of geeky boys by showing that the percentage of women using the internet is higher than that of men.

A survey by American market research group eMarketer found that an estimated 97.2 million females aged three and older will be online in 2007, or 51.7 per cent of the total US online population. According to the group, female usage of the internet in the US has risen by 12.4 per cent since 2000, compared to 3.25 per cent for males. Projections for the future show female usage increasing, up to 51.9 per cent by 2011. Not only do females make up the majority of internet users, but more of the female population goes online, with an estimated 66.2 per cent of US females over the age of three using the internet at least once a month, compared with 64.2 per cent of males.

Several research companies have come to similar conclusions, with eMarketer's figures being around the average estimations. The age brackets are important in this type of research, as those who only look at adult internet users still find that males outnumber females. MORI Research reported that in 2006 73 per cent of adult females went online, compared to 79 per cent of adult males. One element that was closely examined was the propensity of females to watch online video. It was found that only 66 per cent of females online had heard about YouTube, one of the world's most popular video-sharing websites, which apparently remains the preserve of the male.

The author of the report believes that it has important implications for the future of the internet. Senior Analyst Debra Aho Williamson believes that “for girls who have grown up with technology there is no significant gender gap in internet usage, and the rise of activities that are particularly appealing to young females, such as social networking, will result in even greater usage”.