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c_boardsRegardless of your politics, the SNP’s stunning election victory may have one very beneficial side-effect: dragging Scotland out of the digital dark ages.

Quite how dark these are was demonstrated by Newsnight Scotland last week. Katie Grant and former Labour hackette Lorraine Davidson joined berouged Andrew Neil wannabe Gordon Brewer in declaring that new media had no impact on the Scottish general election campaign. The “new media” voice was provided by Gerry Hassan, who is a sound cove but a self-confessed late adopter. Quite why Grant and Davidson were inflicted on us, I have no idea. Perhaps they saw an interweb once.

At no point did Newsnicht define what they meant by “new media”: the web, social networks, mobile, email, Usenet or World of Warcraft? And at no point did they point out that far more Scots use Facebook, Twitter et al than watch their wee segment.

Where were the new media experts? Or the people who make a living from this stuff? This is not just me bleating because I didn’t get my fuzzy fizog on the goggle box: there are some very exciting projects in Scotland that could have corrected the programme’s erroneous conceit. How about speaking to someone from STV, who appear to be building a new media deathstar? Or Mashable? Or The Daily Mash? Or The Daily Dust? Or Newsnet Scotland? Or “Scotland’s digital guy” Craig McGill? Or social marketing genius Andrew Burnett? Or one of the many bloggers who add so much to the online debate?

There’s no excuse for this at the well-funded BBC, which has new media talent coming out of its ears. Except for viewers in Scotland, apparently.

We’re all used to the usual lazy, lazy, lazy Newsnicht approach of getting their old pals to jaw on and on, but this time their complacency was cruelly exposed. Because while Brewer and pals were parroting the mainstream media line that this web stuff is just a flash in the pan for geeks and perverts, the SNP were crafting a stunning, historic, landslide victory using … drum roll … new media.

The übersmart Kirk Torrance and digital guru Ewan McIntosh were using social media as it should be used – as a search engine for finding people’s sympathies. The party’s new media team used social networks to identify targets for their offline activity, marketing which made use of an iPhone app to record real-time intel from canvassers. Ewan has documented it all on his websbite and it is a thing of awe-inspiring beauty.

It’s not just BBC that causes despair, though. Before starting the Caley Merc, I worked as a consultant for the Scottish public sector.

Let me tell you, the will to live is a fragile thing indeed.

While working on a ludicrously ill-conceived project that cost a fortune but never came to fruition, I suggested publicising a website by creating a page for it on Wikipedia. This was shot down as “too risky”. It’s your money they’re spending…

I knew I had to get out when I was pitching to a marketing bod billed as an expert on new media. I suggested that the campaign website they wanted might benefit from the use of “tags” to aid navigation. They thought that was a great idea because they’d never heard of tags. This was in 2009. Tags have been commonplace since 2003. It’s your money they’re spending…

And it’s your money they’re wasting on lame website after lame website packed with dull content of interest only to the dreaded “stakeholders”. What’s needed is an immediate “vale for money” audit of all Scottish public sector digital activity to see what has been of use to real people.

In short, with the exception of a few NHS services, there’s only one website needed for the public sector: scotland.gov.uk, which has long been a centre of digital excellence. It’s the place the user expects to find this information, why waste money on building other sites? It’s the content and social connections that matter.

And don’t get me started on the Scottish Government’s digital advertising. We carry SG ads, but only bargain-bucket ones provided by an agency in, you guessed, London. Where’s the public sector support for start-up publications? Why don’t they advertise with Scottish new media outside the cosy arrangements with mainstream media? There’s a lot of hot air from self-appointed new media experts in the public sector about supporting online innovation.

But they don’t put their money where their mouths are. Again, this isn’t special pleading for the Caley Merc. There’s a large, vibrant online content community in Scotland – and it gets very little support from anyone except its large number of readers.

In short, there’s a big job to do to change Scotland’s approach to digital, starting with the Scottish Government’s huge marketing and advertising budgets.

Thankfully, we have a governing party swept to power by new media and who have access to the brightest possible digital talent.

Politics aside, I look forward to a brighter digital day dawning on Scotland.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Jeremy Vine <em>Picture: BBC Pictures</em>

Jeremy Vine Picture: BBC Pictures

Never let it be said that men can’t multi-task.

The midday news is being read on Britain’s most listened-to current affairs and music programme. Jeremy Vine is alone in a transparent booth with only three colleagues – his editor, producer and engineer – for company at the other side of the glass, along with this writer and Radio 2’s head of publicity.

He is firing off questions the way RAF squadrons fire off tomahawks. “Has he been jailed for 25 or 27 years?” “When’s Geoffrey coming in?” “Do we have someone outside the Apple Store? Is he first in the queue?”

Vine’s editor for the day, Tim Collins, and producer Chris Walsh-Heron, do their best to answer their questions – but once the news is finished and travel has been consulted in the next room, they have to bear in mind that the first record, Dexys Midnight Runners’ version of Jackie Wilson Said is seconds from finishing.

When it comes to a phone-in on a subject like Delroy Grant, you cannot phone that in. The so-called Night Stalker was responsible for largest ever rape investigation undertaken by the Met, taking in such sunny topics as gerontophilia, over 100 attacks and four life sentences.

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This programme has six million listeners, and is the place some of them get their only fix of current affairs. So Vine has to be on point, get his facts right, check who is calling in.

Collins, meanwhile, has to think 15 minutes ahead to the next item – a man who is outside the Apple store to buy the first iPad 2 in London after queuing since 7am the previous day – to check his sound levels, look at the playlist to make sure nothing is inappropriate (Rumer’s Goodbye Girl is cut), while Walsh-Heron has to print out callers, taking them to Collins for a quick appraisal before he runs them in to Vine.

All three check the Press Association for the latest news, as the story is unfolding.

Vine only has to speak to Fred West’s biographer Geoffrey Wansell and Glaswegian criminologist David Wilson, take calls from the general public and ask for other contributions.

The second discussion – about early adopters with Jewels Lewis, the man at the head of the iPad 2 queue, featuring a man in Ipswich who camped overnight to purchase the last Harry Potter book to read to his nieces in America, and a marketing expert – looks like it will be less intense than the earlier one.

There remain hidden speed bumps, however. A caller rings in to mention Sainsbury’s three times, which prompts nervous concerns about the sneakiest form of product placement.

In some ways, Vine’s biggest skill is to make the gear-changes seem imperceptible – as opposed to the way that GMTV, say, clodhopped from a rail crash to a holiday giveaway.

All around this, he fits a variety of records from Cee Lo Green, Chic and Abba, to T-Rex, Tori Amos and Elvis Costello & The Attractions.

This was only the first hour of the programme. Straight into the second hour was an absorbing interview with Chris Evans, talking about his two children, born 20 years apart.

During the first 60 minutes, Vine – who took over from Jimmy Young in 2004 – is at his most animated off-air when nodding his head to Costello’s No Action from This Year’s Model. “That has to be the first time that record has been played on daytime radio,” he said gleefully between air-drums.

Vine’s Wikipedia entry claims he has seen Elvis Costello 13 times in concert, although that may need to be updated.

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The new upper gate on the Lochay/Lyon road

The new upper gate on the Lochay/Lyon road

Word came in a couple of weeks ago of a possible access problem on the Lairig nan Lunn road that links Glen Lochay with Glen Lyon. Talk of a new gate being put in, which might at times be locked, plus there was rumoured to be no smaller side-gate for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Lairig nan Lunn road – sometimes called the Learg nan Lunn – is one of Scotland’s oddities. Built for hydroelectrical reasons in the late 1950s, it turns north at the western end of the “proper” Glen Lochay road, climbs by a series of zigzags and a longer, straighter stretch to a height of just over 500 metres at the lairig – or pass – itself, then drops more gently to the Loch Lyon dam.

It connects these two fine glens courtesy of under five miles of tarmac, and so – the winding, blind-summited nature of the Glen Lochay road notwithstanding – has long been seen as the fastest and easiest motoring route to upper Glen Lyon. It’s hard to say quite how much time is saved by someone heading for the Lyon dam from Killin, as compared with the “official” route via the Lochan na Lairige road that passes the former Ben Lawers visitor centre, but it could easily be upwards of 15 minutes.

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Things, however, are rarely that easy – and there is a take-a-chance element to this sneaky side-door approach to the upper reaches of Scotland’s longest glen. Writing in the 1979 edition of The Southern Highlands – the Scottish Mountaineering Club (SMC) guidebook to the area – Donald Bennet had this to say: “[A] private road from Kenknock crosses the Learg nan Lunn pass to Lubreoch in Glen Lyon, (the gate at the north end of this road is usually locked).”

So, in other words, no problem if fancying an ascent of bulky Beinn Heasgarnich or the easy Corbett, Meall nan Subh, from the high point of the pass. But trying to reach Glen Lyon itself – say to climb Stuchd an Lochain – risks having to beat a frustrating retreat.

Except that, for many a year, there hasn’t been a problem. Your correspondent must have driven over the pass a dozen times since the mid-1980s, with no recollection of any troublesome gate. Perhaps years ago one needed to be opened – and dutifully closed again – somewhere over the Lyon side of the pass, but where’s the problem with that? There are quite a few gated roads in Scotland, and scores of them in northern England. They slow the journey very slightly, but more importantly they let the local shepherds do their job. Gate-politics is one of the areas in which the underlying quiet accord in land-use – workers coexisting with recreationists – is most evident.

There appears to be no formal right of vehicular access across the pass, however. It’s been a combination of custom and convenience that has kept things this way for so long. The status of the road is distinctly uncertain: the current Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 mapping has it in yellow, which indicates official status. But not so long ago it was uncoloured – basically a glorified track.

By contrast, the Wikipedia page “List of the highest roads in Scotland” – yes, of course there is such a thing – included it until last November, when someone going by the name of Vclaw edited it out. It had been listed as the eighth-highest road in the country.

Overall, the consensus seems to be that it’s a private road with turn-a-blind-eye access – which meant that, if the locked-gate rumours were true, it would merely be a case of Oh well, that was good while it lasted.

A lack of foot and bicycle access would be another matter, however. Since the introduction of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act in 2003, such routes have been required, by law, to be kept open for walkers and cyclists.

Time for a site visit. Listening to rumour and speculation is only useful up to a point, especially as walkers often have a tendency to assume the worst about matters relating to access, wildlife mismanagement, track-bulldozing and the like. (Because, at times, the worst does actually happen.)

It didn’t take long to suss out the basics. The end of the formal Glen Lochay road – a messy place where Hielan coos grazed among the parked cars – had changed markedly. There is now no parking at the road-end itself, but in a neat new car park three-quarters of a mile back the way. It’s perhaps too far of an add-on than is ideal, but most people will be there for a walk, so the extra 15 minutes each way shouldn’t really be seen as a chore.

The reason for the change in parking arrangements is that Glenlochay Estate has embarked on a forestry project on the north side of the glen – and it is this that has led to the questions about gates. There are two: one almost immediately after the turning on to the Lairig nan Lunn road, the other a good bit further up, almost half a mile beyond the junction where the mid-level track branches off (the one routinely used by walkers heading for Creag Mhor).

Two weekends ago there wasn’t a walkers’ side-gate beside the lower gate, but this was open anyway. The upper gate was closed but unlocked, with a side-gate as required.

Richard Barron, senior access officer with Stirling Council – on whose desk such issues fall – paid his own a visit a few days later, cycling up from Glen Lochay in a rainy gale. Despite having also heard reports of problems, he too was pleased to see that there didn’t appear to be any real issue.

“The gates have ‘Close the gate’ signs on them,” Barron said. “I had hoped to meet the estate manager who was in the area, but the weather conspired to prevent that. Still, I have managed to speak to him now and also the Forestry Commission about the planting.

“The gates are part of the forestry works and the fences that are going up here and elsewhere on the estate are to keep sheep and deer out of the new planting areas. Once the trees have grown up, then these will be removed. All the plantations that cross paths/tracks will have crossing points, a requirement of the Forestry Commission support.

“The gates over the hydro road will both have kissing gates as per the one by the higher gate. The one at the bottom hasn’t been built yet. There is no intention to lock the gates across the hydro track [the Creag Mhor one] as long as the people that go through them remember to shut them afterwards. There are currently reminder signs on them that the estate have put up and I am going to send them some of our council ones. If the gates end up getting left open then they may need to get locked to prevent damage to the young trees.

“So nothing to worry about, but very nice to see that people are keeping an eye on things and letting us know.”

So all seems to be well – there’s no subterfuge or sneakiness, no Glenlochay Gategate. Straightforward pedestrian access will be maintained, as indeed it must, and for drivers the old situation looks likely to continue – if they fulfil the basic courtesy of re-closing any gates before driving on.

Only two questions remain. One: given the appalling state of the tarmac on the zigzags up from the Lochay side, is the Lairig nan Lunn still the useful short-cut it has been for many years? No, not really. Two consecutive severe winters have given rise (or, rather, given depth) to several chasm-like potholes. Until resurfacing takes place – and that’s not the responsibility of the council – it could well be both quicker and cheaper in terms of garage bills to go the longer way round by the Lochan na Lairige.

And two: the aforementioned Beinn Heasgarnich, which your correspondent and his compadre duly climbed in clag after making the site visit, is now shown as Beinn Sheasgarnaich on OS maps. More correct in Gaelic terms, no doubt – but will it catch on, and will the SMC officially change the name they use in Munro’s Tables? Time for another investigation…

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Photo by: Boris from Vienna

Photo by: Boris from Vienna

One of the many accusations thrown at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is that he’s not a journalist. This is important in America where hacks enjoy some protection under the constitution. In the UK being described as “not a journalist” would perhaps be regarded as a compliment.

The definition of journalist is confusing anyway and Assange doesn’t help. In a Guardian online chat he says that he co-authored his first book before he was 25, then worked in TV and newspapers. The implication is that “journalist” is synonymous with “writer”. It’s not. Although it’s an easy mistake to make. And why should anybody care?

Most readers are probably no more concerned with how their daily paper is created than they are about the production processes involved in making a tin of beans. In fact, behind every by-line there are many more unnamed editors, sub-editors and production staff. That’s just in editorial, excluding printers, ad sales, circulation, accountants and all the rest.

The process of deciding what goes into a newspaper, magazine, broadcast news bulletin or website is equally opaque, but important in terms of channelling consciousness. You can’t have an opinion on something unless you at least know it exists. So, what is news?

By at least one popular definition Assange is definitely a star. “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”

At first glance that seems a noble journalistic aspiration. But it comes from Lord Northcliffe, the founder of the Daily Mail. If you think about it, the papers with the highest proportion of “news” by this definition are the Sunday tabloids. There’s no shortage of minor so-called “celebrities” who’d want to suppress the salacious stories of sex and drug-taking that fill their pages.

This is certainly not to say that investigative, even muckraking, journalism is a bad thing. I’m sure there’s nobody at the Caledonian Mercury who wouldn’t want to see more of it, provided it’s exposing the powerful institutions and individuals that are abusing their positions. In fact we are looking at mechanisms such as OpenLeaks which will encourage whistle-blowers while protecting their identities.

But, really what’s been lost in the slow death of printed media is not so much the glamorous exposé, but the mundane. We feel we know more about Egypt or the US presidential campaign than we do about Holyrood. That’s because the economics of the supermarket are applied to information. It makes financial sense for news organisations to focus on what will attract the audience with the greatest spending power for the lowest cost.

The counter-argument is that an increasing amount of information is available online, undistorted by the bias of journalism. I just wonder how many people, for instance, actually read through the council committee minutes or lists of expenditure which are available online. Again, it’s the information supermarket situation, providing massive choice doesn’t necessarily mean people are better nourished.

In what some regard as a golden age of journalism there simply wasn’t the technology available to distribute this sort of information widely. For better or worse, the only source for most people was what had been chosen by the media. That process of selection was and is editing.

At its best editing is carried out as a team with individuals arguing about, for instance, the key points of a story and how important it is relative to what else is going on. Reporters, the visible face of journalism, provide the quotes and other raw material which then goes through a sausage machine of sub-editors and editors who will cut, rewrite and perhaps ask for more detail before a story is published. It’s a system that has worked for perhaps 200 years in print and, later, broadcast media. But its labour-intensive nature means it’s disappearing fast certainly from newspapers.

The transparency that technology can bring is, however, beginning to create alternatives to “traditional” editing. Most come under the heading “curation”, horrible word, but I didn’t choose it. In many cases it’s a reaction to the growing feeling that Google is broken as so-called “content farms” fill search results with spam. Even Google admits there’s a problem and has released an experimental tool to deal with it.

But the heart of the problem is that search engines are machines. To really create meaningful search, human intervention is required. Let Google do the sifting, then real people can edit the results. This isn’t new. It’s almost identical to the process carried out behind the closed doors of newspaper offices. Who knows, people might even read through those council minutes if they know they’re going to find something interesting to them.

There are similarities between curation and the way Wikipedia has developed into a surprisingly accurate work of reference. There is no reason that “news” shouldn’t be treated the same way with suggestions for alternative or additional sources, challenges to conclusions and so on. The idea that a news story has a beginning, a middle and an end is a convenient fiction created to fit the days when newspaper presses had to roll at a particular time.

I’m currenly testing a number of curation tools including Storify, Scoop.It and Qrait to see which one or ones would be most appropriate for the Caledonian Mercury. I’m not sure whether the rest of the contributors to this site would agree, but I’d love to see a greater socialisation of news making it accessibly bite-sized, but with an option to go deeper.

As for whether this will lead to the demise of the professional journalist, that’s partly a matter of definition. What remains true is that you don’t need to be able to write to be the source of a news story. Whether you’re Julian Assange being emailed thousands of secret diplomatic cables or a whisky-soaked hack mingling with gangsters or politicians, it’s the raw material that’s vital. The writing can be entirely separate.

<em>Picture: Andriusplatukis</em>

Picture: Andriusplatukis

For the old “Don’t judge a book by its cover” cliche, read the modern equivalent – “don’t judge a man by his Wikipedia entry.” Not in this case because of any factual errors but because of the danger of associating someone with the company he kept.

The entry for DJ AM appears at first glance like a precis of disposable supermarket magazine coverlines from the past seven years: engaged to Nicole Richie; DJed private parties for Jessica Simpson and Ashton Kutcher; had his own MTV reality show; hung out with Sam Ronson; died from drug overdose.

This Saturday, 28 August, marks the anniversary of his death at only 36.

DJ AM, or Adam Goldstein as his family and friends knew him, deserves better than to be remembered for the above summary of his colourful private life.

For all that he partied hard with Lindsay Lohan & co, DJ AM is best gauged not by his iffy band Crazytown or his celebrity lifestyle, but from what he did from a turntable. He made a mixtape for his mates – or rather the modern equivalent: distributed a link for his Twitter followers to download.

The five mixes, which he called Elton and sent to Twitter followers in his final months can be downloaded here but the playfulness marks Goldstein out as a special talent.

His signature scratch style helps ABC’s Poison Arrow segue into Daft Punk’s Digital Love, I Am The Walrus to emerge blinking from The Scissor Sisters’ Take Your Mama, and Leslie Feist count out 1,2,3,4 – and just for fun 3,2,1 – as Radiohead’s House of Cards fades.

Most DJs from David Guetta to Dave Pearce, Armin van Buuren to Paul van Dyk have a particular style. Modern music has been increasingly obsessed about categorising music into genres, from DJs to radio playlists to iTunes. It’s been a while since a record like The White Album was released.

With Elton, Goldstein crafted a six-hour mix incorporating music from the past five decades jumbled together as if it was the most natural thing in the world. To crash past the genres and play what he darn well pleases makes a cool DJ. On Elton, DJ AM took it one louder – he added the uncool and made it work.
That’s why MGMT here is preceded by Milli Vanilli, and Billy Ocean and Belinda Carlisle are on the same mix as Black Kids and Bloc Party. On one giddy section he scratches The Human League’s Human into Howard Jones’ Things Can Only Get Better into the Aeroplane mix of Friendly Fires’ Paris and it should sound horrible, but it’s a triumph.

Duke Ellington famously said “There are only two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

Adam Goldstein was daring enough to bung both those kinds (Joy Division and Wilson Phillips) on the one mix-tape and give it out to thousands of strangers. For that, rather than DJ-ing at Lindsay Lohan’s birthday party, is how we should remember him.

Wales: 'Angered contributors'

Wales: 'Angered contributors'

Wikipedia, the font of all online knowledge, defines the word “controversy” as “a state of prolonged public dispute or debate, usually concerning a matter of public opinion”.

This, as any student of the English language will confirm, is entirely accurate – which is more than can be said for some of the other three million entries on the web-based encyclopaedia. Stands to reason, of course. You don’t create a cyberspace monster like Wikipedia (every word written anonymously more or less by anyone with access to the internet) without making the odd faux pas along the way.

The Wiki (it’s Hawaiian for “quick”) world is this week mired in a controversy of its own making. And not for the first time.

The parent company, Wikimedia, has purged thousands of sexually explicit images from its websites following an expose by Fox News in America. The news channel’s investigation was launched after it had been alerted by Larry Sanger, Wikipedia’s co-founder and arch critic who is now running a rival service.

Mr Sanger has also reported the matter to the FBI, alleging that Wikipedia was “knowingly distributing child pornography”. It is not yet known what, if anything, the G-men are going to do.

According to the BBC, the immediate reaction from Wikipedia boss Jimmy Wales, who co-founded the business with Mr Sanger, was to urge a purge of porn from the user-generated Wiki site. But, according to reports today, Mr Wales unilateral action angered his contributing editors who declared that his decision was undemocratic and taken with undue haste.

So fierce was the backlash from the volunteers who maintain the service that the boss gave up some of his site privileges. Some of the deleted images have now been deemed “of educational merit” and re-instated to Wikimedia Commons, a file store widely used for Wikipedia entries.

Having voluntarily revoked some of his permissions to delete and edit content, Mr Wales has told the Wikimedia Foundation that he had done so “in the interests of encouraging this discussion to be about real philosophical/content issues rather than be about me and how quickly I reacted”.

Since Larry Sanger parted ways with Jimmy Wales in 2002 he has been at odds with Wikipedia, criticising its inaccuracies and lack of regard for expertise. He is now a direct competitor, running his own knowledge site, Citizendium.

Commenting on his decision to report his old site to the FBI, he said: “I wasn’t shocked that it [the explicit images] was online, but I was shocked that it was on a Wikimedia site that purports to be a reference site.”

Since the two former friends launched Wikipedia in 2001, the site has been plagued by controversy, usually centred on the accuracy and reliability of its content. The fact that entries can be edited by anyone, just so long as they have registered with the site, has left it open to abuse.

In an age when most news organisations rely as much on the internet as on a reporter’s talents to get information for stories, any self-respecting news editor will tell his staff to approach Wikipedia with a health warning attached. It is seldom wise to take it as gospel.

The most infamous example of inaccuracy was the so-called  Seigenthaler incident in 2005 when a hoax article was posted erroneously claiming that the respected American journalist John Seigenthaler had been a suspect in both assassinations of both John and Robert Kennedy. This was particularly upsetting to the elderly writer since he had been a close friend of both men.

The hoax, which was not discovered for several months, raised issues about Wikipedia’s reliability and lack of accountability.

The author of the offending entry was later identified as a hitherto unknown delivery service manager from Nashville who perpetrated the hoax as a prank. Mr Seigenthaler later described Wikipedia as “a flawed and irresponsible search tool”.

And flawed it remains. Just ask Shane Fitzgerald. Last year the Dublin sociology student decided to put the online encyclopaedia’s trustworthiness to the test. When news of the French film composer Maurice Jarre’s death broke he invented a quote from the great man and submitted it to Wikipedia for insertion in his obituary. “One could say my life itself has been one long  soundtrack,” it began.

To their credit, the site’s administrators eventually realised the quote was false and removed it but, by then, it had been lifted and used by a number of well-known British and American newspapers, who should have known better.

Clearly, like newspapers before it, you should never trust everything you read on the internet. As Churchill said: “There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.”

Or was it Churchill? Excuse me while I check with Wikipedia.

Acer's 3D laptopAvatar might have had a bad night at the Oscars, but it’s done nothing to slow the flow of 3D technology. Early adopters can even now pick up an Acer Aspire 5738DZG laptop complete with the requisite glasses from Amazon for £546.43 including delivery.

As with so many technologies there’s more than one way of achieving the same end. With 3D media that means tricking a user’s eyes by delivering a slightly different image to each one, a technique known as “stereoscopy”.

Acer, which claims to have created the world’s first 3D laptop, uses software to split the display into alternate horizontal lines. Using the polarising glasses included with the computer the viewer sees depth in games or movies. Or that’s the theory.

The advantage of Acer’s approach is that this technique isn’t restricted to specially created 3D material. That’s just as well given that there are only a couple of 3D movies slated for DVD release this year. And, as Acer’s opted to keep the price of the snappily titled Aspire 5738DZG low, it doesn’t include a Blu-ray player.

As far as the effectiveness of the software-created 3D effect is concerned reports are at best mixed. It seems to work best with games while with movies the results are generally fairly limited. Generally it’s seen as a bit of a gimmick, although the same criticism has been levelled against 3D visualisation since British scientist and inventor of the concertina Sir Charles Wheatstone started experimenting with a device for displaying 3D images in 1840.

But it’s not just the entertainment industry that’s currently developing uses for 3D visualisation. Aberdeen University is using a similar technique to Acer’s laptop for teaching medical students.] Its Medi-CAL Unit is creating stereoscopic images almost instantly from standard scans. It’s a technique which could be extended from teaching into more general medical use.

At the same time researchers at Germany’s Saarland University have developed a 3D version of the Firefox web browser which could be released by Easter. At the giant digital industry trade show CeBIT in Hannover at the beginning of March a demonstration showed a Wikipedia entry for Venice complete with a 3D tour of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. There’s a video of the demonstration on YouTube.

The German researchers are not alone in attempting to develop 3D for the web. Google is competing with its O3D project while Mozilla has WebGL. The difference is the Germans have created a system which is an extension of the HTML programming language used for all web pages rather than being a separate technology. This means it can used by web designers without them needing to learn a new programming language.

They weren’t the only ones demonstrating 3D at CeBIT with all the major television manufacturers offering 3D in one form or another. This Wednesday March 10 Panasonic will start selling 3D TVs at Best Buy in New York, although iPhone-style queues round the block aren’t expected.

Wait a bit longer and maybe you’ll be able to have the 3D experience without the silly glasses. Sunny Ocean Studios in Singapore has developed a system which creates the illusion minus the spectacles. That isn’t new. Existing methods create a focused 3D illusion for just one person. Sunny Ocean claims to have overcome the problem so an image will appear in 3D from many angles.