Weekend news roundup: another dot.com bubble, Iraq’s telecoms boost, HSE conspiracy case


16 Apr 2012

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A roundup of technology news coverage in some of the weekend’s newspapers, including the potential of another dot-com bubble with Facebook’s US$1bn acquisition of Instagram, Iraq’s emergence as a telecoms hub, and the HSE is at the centre of a conspiracy case.

Why we should beware of another dot.com bubble

The Observer, spurred on by Facebook’s whopping US$1bn acquisition of Instagram, has asked are we entering into another dot.com bubble?

Cataloguing acquisitions such as YouTube’s US$1.6bn acquisition by Google, AOL’s acquisition of Mirabilis and subsequent sell-off to DST, Skype’s acquisition by eBay and eventual acquisition by Microsoft, and MySpace’s acquisition by News Corp for US$580m and eventual sale to Specific Media for US$35m, columnist John Naughton asks: what is the moral of these stories? Answer: that internet valuations are like the Bible’s description of the peace of God: they "passeth all understanding". There’s no rational way of valuing companies like these.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that armies of high-priced accountants, consultants and lawyers toting massive Excel sheets and market "research" didn’t provide wodges of impressive documentation rationalising whatever number senior executives had plucked out of the ether.

But, in general, there’s no way of knowing in advance whether any of these purchases will turn out to be masterstrokes or follies.

At the moment it looks as though YouTube was the only really shrewd acquisition in the sense that one can at least envisage a way it might eventually turn into a serious money pump for Google. ICQ was a disastrous mistake for AOL, as was MySpace for Murdoch. And it’s hard to see how Microsoft will ever get its money back from Skype.

Iraq emerges from isolation as telecommunications hub

Iraq’s telecommunications system has been linked to a vast new undersea cable system serving the Gulf countries, the New York Times reported.

The country had been cut off from decades of technological progress because of dictatorship, sanctions and wars.

The engineers who designed and installed the cable that made shore in Al-Faw, near Basra, had to deal with challenges including shallow water, more than 100 oil and natural gas pipelines to cross, and unexploded ordnance from the Iraq war that had to be avoided.

The new cable will speed internet and telephone traffic to India in the east and Sicily in the west. From there, traffic moves onto other networks to connect to the rest of the world.

Any kind of Internet access remains a rarity in Iraq, where fewer than 3pc of households are online. The new capacity could help bring internet connections to 50pc within two years, said Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi, the Iraqi communications minister.

HSE at centre of computer conspiracy case

The Sunday Independent reported that the Health Service Executive (HSE) is at the centre of a major conspiracy case in London linked to a €54.3m computer system now in use in the Irish health service.

It is alleged that three company directors who were in senior positions in the computer firm iSoft falsely told investors in 2003 it had won a major contract in Ireland to supply computer software systems.

By making the false statements of winning the contract, which allegedly involved forging the signatures of senior executives of the Irish health service, it’s claimed the three men won lucrative personal bonuses and also misled investors by transforming what was in reality an £11m (€13.3m) loss on the company books into a profit.

Two years after the alleged deception took place, the firm actually signed the contract and supplied the HSE with computer systems.

Spanish giant Endesa to sell €450m Irish power stations at a loss

Spanish energy giant Endesa is looking to sell its Irish power stations at a discount of up to €100m to the €450m it paid for them to the ESB only three years ago, the Sunday Independent reported.

The owner of four power stations including Tarbert in Co Kerry and Great Island in Co Wexford has widely circulated sale documents in recent weeks to potential trade and private equity bidders in a move which may dampen demand for Irish state energy assets which are also expected to go on sale this year.

Approaches have been made by advisers to Endesa to Chinese state energy companies, Middle East funds as well as more obvious potential buyers such as Scottish & Southern Energy, the owner of Airtricity, and Centrica, the British utility giant.

Endesa controls about 16pc of the total Irish electricity market and the Government had hoped its arrival would introduce more competition to the Irish market, which is still led by the ESB.

US$35 Raspberry Pi minicomputers finally going public

The Raspberry Pi, a US$35 computer the size of a credit card, is finally heading into consumers’ hands, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Some 10,000 consumers pre-ordered the first run of the Raspberry Pi in March. They should now receive their minicomputers by 20 April .

The stripped-down Raspberry Pi computer is built around the ARM chip that is used in most mobile phones. There is no cover for the computer and it doesn’t come with a mouse, keyboard or screen.

However, it runs Linux and can be used for word processing, watching high-definition video and surfing the internet.

Scientists re-analyse soil samples from Seventies Viking Mars lander

In July 1976, the Viking 1 probe touched down on Mars and failed to find traces of life – but now, three decades later, scientists think the experiment was flawed, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Viking 1 did find evidence of extraterrestrial microbes in soil samples from the Red Planet.

Mathematical analysis of the samples concluded that salts in the soil on Mars ‘threw off’ initial estimates – and that the soil samples show strong evidence of microbial life.

The new analysis looked for ‘complexity’ in the samples – an indication of life – and they found it.

“This suggests a robust biological response,” say the researchers, from the University of Siena and California’s Keck Institute.

“These analyses support the interpretation that the Viking LR experiment did detect extant microbial life on Mars.”

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