BitDepth#953 - September 09

Another laptop story
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Is the future of education in our children’s laptops? Photo by BigStock.

Last week, the Ministry of Education scampered to respond to a claim by parent Julien Dedier that his daughter’s Government-issued laptop had been infected with spyware.
Education Minister, Dr Tim Gopeesingh then issued a statement that noted the “alleged discovery of this spyware,” as well as the “non-reporting of this incident to the Ministry of Education.”

The issue prompted Dr Gopeesingh to dive into a spiral of counter claims, claiming “strong administrative policies governing the laptops.”
“We have firewalling, we have anti-theft and anti-virus devices,” the Minister said, noting that unauthorised installation of software to the State’s property was undertaken.

Information Security expert Shiva Bissessar of Pinaka Technologies had questions of his own on the matter.
He wondered what Dedier had found and what tools he used in the discovery process.
“If there was a report from a reputable firm describing a methodology for scanning several freshly delivered laptops direct from the manufacturer or the ministry, which then revealed malware, this would be a source of concern,” he said.

Bissessar also warned against taking the Ministry’s assurances at face value.
To discover more about the real world experience of school laptop use; I turned to a tech savvy user with a child who has used one for the last few years.
That user, who asked for anonymity and identity obfuscation because of the prestige school her child attends, answered questions about her experience with the system.

The computer, a Lenovo e425, was one of the 75,000 laptops issued by the Government to students entering secondary school over the last four years at a cost so far of more than a quarter of a billion dollars.
“It’s a basic Wintel laptop, with a low end processor, 2GB ram and a 300+GB hard disk. Nothing that you would buy for yourself, but adequate,” she explained.

The school’s librarian runs an information technology literacy programme for incoming form one students.
She’s had to do maintenance on the computer over the years. The school has one part-time technician who oversees 600 Government-issued computers, a number that will jump to 750 in October.
Her child’s machine is one of the few from her cohort that still works.

“If there is a problem, I assume you can take it to him but there is nothing preventive.”
“I do maintenance from time to time so the machine is in good shape. However, I had to (ahem) subvert certain security controls, in order to do it.”
“Most parents could not do this, and the other laptops I have seen, those that can still boot, are in a mess.”

The child uses the system regularly, mostly for research and typing, but also for viewing and drawing manga, a Japanese comics artform.
One major failing of the laptop programme appears to be a lack of continuity in the anti-virus software precaution. Most AV software is offered on a subscription model and expires after a year.
“Because I had taken control of the system I was able to replace the AV after the one-year subscription expired,” my source explained.

“I actually called the Ministry and spoke with the programme manager. He told me to speak with the school technician, but he said that he did not have the software. I got the impression that extending the AV for the life of the system had not been thought through.”

At least one major bit of surgery was undertaken on this system during its lifespan.
“The hard disk died after two years so I called the agent, and they said that they would charge $250 to look at the system and that charge would be applied to any repairs.”
“However, I did not like the idea of paying to fix a machine that does not belong to me. I had a spare drive and a Windows 7 license hanging about, so, with the permission of the principal, I fixed the machine.”

This rental arrangement sets up an issue for parents overseeing these laptops.
“The GoRTT [contract] explicitly states that maintenance is the parents’responsibility after the first year. What I think happens is that many parents prefer to spend the money on a new laptop of their own, and the eCAL laptop is left to rot once it develops problems.”

Over the years, my source has no sense that teachers have been incorporating IT in the classroom.
“A one or two-week programme is not sufficient to change your teaching practice if you have taught in a particular way for many years,” she notes.

She has seen a Master’s thesis on the eCal programme that has found teachers struggling with the project and many, for the most part have given up, some even before getting started.
The issue raised by Julien Dedier sparks larger questions about the laptop distribution programme which appear to run counter to Government supplied information.

How exactly are parents supposed to perform maintenance on a system that they cannot access as it is given to them?
Why claim anti-virus protection when it expires after a year with no simple option to renew?
Has the government reviewed the technician to computer deployment ratios in schools?
How many government supplied laptops are still functioning and in use from that first deployment?
Is the honest opinion of teachers tasked to work with these systems being sought in order to improve the pedagogy?

I have only one source to rely on for my information and while that report isn’t as sensational as the one that made news last week, I suspect it merits even greater attention from the Education Ministry.

There has been a lot of positive interest and hope for the widespread introduction of computers to schools in T&T, but these are questions that have been muttered in school hallways and in tech circles from the start.

It’s time that they were answered.
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BitDepth#952 - September 02

Ultra High Def TV and you
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Samsung’s U9000 UHD series curved television displays on show at the company’s T&T launch at Queen’s Hall on Thursday evening. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

On August 28, Samsung introduced its newest line of curved televisions to Trinidad and Tobago, the U9000 UHD series, available in two sizes, 65 inch and 55 inch.
These are undeniably handsome video display devices, with crisp rendition and brilliant colour.

They aren’t Samsung’s first curved televisions or their first large screen UHDTV devices either.
A year ago at IFA in Berlin, the company revealed their first curved televisions and a line of large screen televisions.
The show stealers at that event were the company’s 85 inch and 105 inch UHDTV screens, which ran 4K content designed to make them look not just good, but commanding.

In addition, Samsung has loaded the displays with a range of software tricks that are designed to make the picture look even more impressive.
Enhancements like Auto Depth Enhancer which, according to
the company’s press release, " automatically adjusts the contrast for greater depth perception,” and PurColor™, are designed to make the screens vivid and more lifelike.

In reality, the screen images are hyper-real; a bit too saturated, too sharp and too startling to be mistaken for reality, but that only makes them more clearly suited for the latest cinematic masterpiece from Michael Bay.
Samsung might save us all a bit of trouble by creating three simpler settings for these displays, “Action Movie,” “Nature Special” and “Sports,” because those are the genres that will absolutely sing on these screens.

But customers of UHDTV displays are going to run into another problem long before those enhancements come along, and that’s finding content that’s capable of filling these curvy displays with the pixels they hunger for.
Standard definition TV, better known as “the stuff we’ve been watching for years,” tops out at around 704 pixels per inch on the longest side.

Translating that into something you might be more familiar with, that’s roughly .4 of a megapixel in camera parlance.
DVD’s improve on that negligibly, though the compression applied to the signal is far less aggressive, so picture quality improves.

Blu-Ray at its best bumps that to 1920 pixels, giving us an image equivalent to two megapixels.
That isn’t something to underestimate. Most video is encoded at 30 frames per second, so every minute of Blu-Ray video pushes 124 megapixels worth of data to a high-definition screen.

Now the film industry, which already is struggling to upgrade the typical user from DVDs to Blu-Ray, is being confronted with a format capable of delivering 8 megapixels per frame, with its successor, 8K on the horizon, which delivers 33 megapixels per frame, within shouting distance of IMAX quality.

These are big numbers, particularly when multiplied by the video standard of 30 frames per second and it’s unlikely that a new disc format will emerge in time to capitalise on the demand for UHDTV displays.
Nor are television manufacturers hesitating to push the new technology. They need a selling point to get owners to upgrade, and 3D television turned out to be a humiliating bust.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective and/or religious beliefs, there is an online video market sector that has pounced aggressively on the potential of UHDTV.
The purveyors of naughty movies have been adding 4K options to their downloadable files since the end of last year. Expect mainstream video sites like iTunes and NetFlix to begin gearing up to follow suit soon.

Until then, UHDTV users will have to depend on the upscaling capabilities built into these sets. Samsung introduced its Quadmatic Picture Engine at IFA in 2013, but upscaling from a traditional television signal or a DVD isn’t going to feed these pixel hungry beasts.

And the curved screen? You need to be within 13 feet of the screen for that to make a difference
as this video explains, so if that doesn’t make sense for your room setup, you’ll probably be happier with a flatscreen.
UHDTV is still a bleeding edge, content starved technology and the value of curved displays is yet to be tested in the market, but there’s no denying that the screens, particularly with high definition content, are just plain awesome.
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BitDepth#951 - August 26

Talking Net Neutrality
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Part of the audience at the start of last week’s discussion on Net Neutrality. 
Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The Room 101 at UWI’s Engineering Building was surprisingly full for the discussion on Network Neutrality hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS), the Internet Society Trinidad and Tobago Chapter (ISOC-TT) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Trinidad and Tobago Section (IEEE-TT).

The room number was also ironically appropriate for an event that set out to explore the importance of net neutrality by first creating a platform for understanding the concept. Disclosure: I was invited to moderate this panel discussion.


At it’s core, net neutrality posits that the underpinning of an open Internet should be the principle that service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication.


It was this idea that drove the explosion of the modern Internet after 1990 when steady increases in technology and most importantly, bandwidth, allowed the creation of ever more adventurous software and technology platforms.

The problem is that any commons is always going to be overgrazed, regardless of how idyllic it seems.

The conversation last Wednesday constantly hovered around the decision by Digicel to block access to selected Voice over IP (VOIP) software last month.

In announcing the block, Digicel accused the services of “bypass activity,” noting that, “Unlicenced VOIP operators like Viber and Nimbuzz use telecoms networks to deliver their services, but do not pay the requisite money for the privilege.”

The company blocked access to Tango, Viber, Nimbuzz and Fring, but never responded to questions regarding the status of Skype and MagicJack, which were not blocked.

Four days later, in the face of a growing negative reaction and the prospect of formal involvement by the Telecommunications Authority of T&T, DigicelTT reversed its ban on the services, though the ban remains in force in Haiti and Jamaica, the first countries to experience the communications blockade.

That very day, the TTCS
issued a statement on the matter in which it countered that the company’s arguments for instituting the block were technically “unsound.”
Specifically, “VoIP services do not present a significant load on the mobile data network and their current network does not allow them to prioritise data packets by content.”

The discussion emerging from that sequence of events followed the kind of arc you might expect. Digicel was out of sync with modern times. Blocking or attempting to prioritise data streams would destroy an open Internet.


What emerged most clearly was a disconnect between the Internet as a business and the Internet as a commons, both of which are necessary aspects of maintaining the most remarkable technological network ever built.


Freedom and openness encourage innovation and enterprise, the type of thinking that builds businesses like cunning VOIP systems as well as the deeply complicated code that expands and enhances our experiences on the web.


But business decisions drive the expansion of the hardware and infrastructure that’s needed to support an ever expanding and apparently insatiable need for bigger pipe for data streams and faster data packet responses to enable interactions that drift ever more inexorably toward real time.


It’s notable to remember that the single largest jump forward taken by Internet backbone technology was funded by the Dot Com Bubble, a time of wild and unsustainable spending on anything Internet that resulted in a massive buildout of backhaul architecture.


One contributor from the floor at the net neutrality discussion suggested that it might be best to “let the market decide.”

But this is one situation in which the market may not be sufficiently informed about the issues as it needs to be in order to arrive at the right decision.

The issue of net neutrality isn’t as simple as whether Digicel should be excoriated for taking drastic action to preserve revenue from its long distance calls or sneered at for not being more digitally enterprising in its approach to solving the problem.

It certainly isn’t going to be solved if service providers can’t engineer a business model that allows them to attract returns on their investments.

It is, in short, a
tragedy of the commons, with both service providers and customers seeking their own interests in a technology that was designed to facilitate the free transfer of information and which has proven resistant to efforts at monetizing old business models when they are transferred into bits.

Last Wednesday’s civil society discussion on net neutrality produced no answers, but raised a lot of questions that demand clarification. That kind of understanding won’t come if businesses cloud the discussions with PR driven obfuscations and users respond with perspectives inflamed by emotion.


A growing, thriving Internet must be paid for, but that coin is no longer denominated only in cash. Attention, access, reliability and excitement are growing currencies being traded in bitspace and everyone has to become both more familiar and more courageous about leveraging them to advantage.
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BitDepth#950 - August 19

The Pagliacci syndrome
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Anthony Seyjagat photographed in costume, 1990. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Robin Williams is dead. There. It's said.
I did not know the man, and even though he gave of himself in an abundance of riches in every medium he touched, I never confused those pleasures with any sense that I understood who he was.
At least part of that is because of Anthony Seyjagat, a talented physical actor, mime (of all things), and an awesomely effervescent personality.

Anthony did traditional mime performances, but then he took it to another level in a seriously disturbing suite of pieces performed with Penelope Spencer at Raymond Choo Kong’s The Space at Bretton Hall.
Even after I’d begun wandering away from my ten-year flirtation with the local theatrical community, he kept in touch, constantly trying to get me involved with one project or another.

During that time, he also tried hard to mend a rift I'd managed to engineer with Raymond some years before.
After Anthony abruptly committed suicide, it became clear that he had spent weeks calling and visiting people having, what we all realised in retrospect at his wake, were not pleasant, out-of-the-blue chats but final conversations.
I was angry after I’d heard the news of his passing and when I was asked to speak at his funeral, I said so. Ultimately, we didn’t know Anthony Seyjagat at all.

When I heard that Robin Williams was dead, most likely by his own hand, I didn't think of Mrs Doubtfire or the Genie.
I thought of Anthony perched on a thin ledge, braced against a second story wall, for a promotional photo for the Baggasse Company’s Children's Storyworld.

I also thought of the unkempt bush around the rectangular mound in an Arima cemetery the last time I visited his grave two decades ago.
Creating is hard. It's so much easier to do work that passes muster than it is to do something that challenges or even defies expectations.

Being funny is hard. You can't really be funny without being a bit wicked and the best humour is downright nasty. Every joke has a butt and it’s often roundly kicked.
In the early 1980’s I wrote my first produced play, after a fashion. I wrote a play called Sno Kone and the Seven Douens as a possible sequel to the smash Christmas production that Helen Camps’ All Theatre Productions had staged the previous year, Cinderama.

It wasn’t really a sequel. It was a black comedy and very little of my original script made it to the stage after it had been workshopped with the cast and Roger Israel had written the music, just the general outline, a couple of songs I wrote lyrics for at the last minute and a few bits of dialogue here and there.

It was a dismal failure. People walked out halfway through, deeply offended at its bleakness. The ones who stuck it out to the end got a fake newspaper celebrating the death of all the heroes complete with a very Randy Burroughs kind of photo of dead bodies lying at the feet of the law.

It's impossible to create anything of any value without leaving some skin behind, and good comedy demands a regular pound of flesh from its author.
In a country with a distinctly immature funny bone, satire gets treated like gospel truth and bawdy fun rules.

Happiness isn't a default for most of humanity. It's something precious that must be continuously earned. I experience it as a frisson of pleasure on occasion, like a cool breeze aberrantly wafting through a stifling and damp mineshaft.
There is a price for seeing the world as it is, and the fee rises as you choose to share that understanding with increasing honesty.
People who do so tend to self-medicate, either to blunt their perceptions or worse, the consequences of expressing them.

There’s an old joke told about the protagonist of the opera I, Pagliacci that’s retold with brusque irony in
Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a bit of harsh wit that hearkens to the final line of the opera, “La commedia è finita!”
Of all those who dare to return with dispatches from the front lines of reality, funny people are the ones most at risk, because the reality they mine ruthlessly is often their own.

If art is truth reinterpreted, then the best comedy is the most dangerous of fun house mirrors, the reflection that is both honest and surreal, the guffaw that catches in the throat sourly.
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BitDepth#949 - August 12

Android phones ship with with a wide range of software, but some of it is hardly best of breed. These five apps are. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#948 - August 05

Jeffrey Alleyne's successful film about ghetto life in T&T gets widely pirated. This is the story of the making of the film and its widespread theft. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#947 - July 29

TSTT's acting CEO George Hill explains the company's status and strategy for its five year recovery plan. Click here to read more...
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Two days of copyright talks later…

Reporting for the Trinidad Guardian on two days of copyright discussions related to Carnival. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#946 - July 22

Two days of deliberations on matters related to copyright in Carnival prompt strong responses from its stakeholders, including this author. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#945 - July 15

Facebook quietly allows a University research team to influence the feeds of the social media website. Here's why that shouldn't surprise you. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#944 - July 05

DigicelTT announces a ban on Voice over IP software, prompting a national discussion on net neutrality. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#943 - June 30

The National Carnival Commision reveals the results of their analysis of Carnival's traffic and parade flows and preliminary proposals for the parade route. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#942 - June 24

An explanation of BitCoin and its likely applications to e-commerce. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#941 - June 17

Accvent introduces a line of mobile and computer accessories to the Trinidad and Tobago market. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#940 - June 10

Apple previews a new version of its flagship operating system, Mac OS Yosemite. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#939 - June 03

For today's web publishers, Wordpress is the overwhelming choice. My experiences with the content management system in creating a new website. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#938 - May 27

Steelcase introduces a new chair for the tablet and laptop user. Click here to read more...
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T&T a key market for Microsoft

Microsoft's Vice-president of the Sales, Marketing and Services Group, Barry Ridgway explains his strategy for the region. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#937 - May 20

Nokia disappears into the portfolio of Microsoft and a bold and innovative company that once ruled the business of cell phones pays a heavy price for not keeping pace with the changes in the market. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#936 - May 13

Three hard drive crashes in two weeks prompt a review of my backup regime and the hardware supporting it. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#935 - May 06

A team of young developers from the University of the Southern Caribbean win a Microsoft software development challenge. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#934 - April 29

A shockingly violent video of corporal punishment sets the Internet on fire in Trinidad and Tobago. Some thoughts on the debate. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#933 - April 22

More impressions of the Samsung Gear Fit and all the ways it both succeeds and falls short of its potential. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#932 - April 15

First experiences with a smart watch, the Samsung Gear Fit. Click here to read more...
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One. Then five to fifteen.

Talking to Carnival students at UWI on a new media panel, I offer some perspectives on the status of the festival in this talk and explore the issues that are likely to shape its future. Click here to read more...
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Carnival conversation

Carnival always seems to be on the verge of Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#931 - April 08

Samsung's announcement of not just a new smart watch but also a new OS for one of its new devices points to some new strategy from the Android market leader. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#930 - April 01

Microsoft announces a version of Office for the iPad. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#929 - March 25

As Carnival comes to an end, a national conversation about the festival still looks back at the event's past. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#928 - March 18

Putting an Android powered camera, Samsung's EK-GC100, to the test on Carnival Tuesday. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#927 - March 11

What a day at the Socadrome taught me about the future of Carnival. Click here to read more...
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More transparency in Carnival

My editorial for the Guardian for March 10 calls for more transparency in the operations of the state agency responsible for convening Carnival and its most senior stakeholders. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#926 - March 04

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago should be much further along than it is today. Some thoughts about why that's the case. Click here to read more...
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The Geography of Carnival

Editorial for the T&T Guardian written on March 02 on the controversies surrounding the routes taken and planned for Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#925 - February 25

Leslie-Ann Boiselle, BC Pires, Dean Ackin, David Rudder and Kenwyn Murray all have a stake and interest in Carnival. These are their thoughts on how Carnival might be improved. Click here to read more...
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Elitism or entrepreneurship?

Editorial written for the T&T Guardian for February 26 considering the implications of the Socadrome and its potential impact on Carnival 2014. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#924 - February 18

Copyright issues arise again during Carnival 2014 with no apparent solutions or common sense evaluations of the actual law in sight. Click here to read more...
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What the NCC should do

On January 23, I responded to a request from the NCC asking for suggestions on media accreditation and handling. This is the document I supplied to them and later in the season, to the management of the Socadrome. Click here to read more...
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Zorce on accreditation

A letter from Zorce boss Narend Sooknarine about his experiences applying for Click here to read more...
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Yooz seeks more for its users

Reporting for the Business Guardian on Yooz, an electronic payment system that works on all phones. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#923 - February 11

Facebook's new post distribution algorithm creates problems for publishers and marketers. Nicole Phillip Greene of WhenDidIBecomeMyMom.com offers some solutions and approaches to handling the issue. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#922 - February 04

TSTT introduces its first Gigabit Community to a gated housing project in Chaguanas. Click here to read more...
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The Gigabit Community

Business Guardian news reporting on TSTT's Gigabit Community project. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#921 - January 28

Apple's Macintosh, 30 years later. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#920 - January 21

Microsoft introduces CityNext, which marries the social engagement of Facebook and Twitter with the power of Open Data's ability to improve governance. Click here to read more...
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BitDepth#919 - January 07

A few words of respect about Therese Mills on her passing. Click here to read more...
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