Zalora Opens ‘Offline’ Shop in Singapore, and Bhutan Gets Google’s Street View Treatment

Those are the subjects of a couple of stories I wrote last week.

The first:

Amazon may be planning to open a brick and mortar shop in New York City, but Southeast Asia fashion e-commerce startup Zalora has beaten them to the punch in Singapore.

Zalora, which launched in 2012 and says it has served more than 2 million customers throughout the region, late last week unveiled its first physical store, a 4,000-square-foot shop in an upscale Singapore shopping mall.

It’s the first such physical store for an online retailer in the region, according to Zalora’s regional managing director, Tito Costa, who cited clothier Bonobos and subscription beauty-products service Birchbox as having used brick and mortar stores to good effect in the U.S. In China, meanwhile, Internet giant Alibaba has invested in a local department store operator.

And the second:

You can now take in dramatic vistas from the tiny, isolated Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — via Google.

The tech giant Thursday unveiled Street View images — the Google Maps feature providing 360-degree panoramic images — for some 1,900 miles of roads in the remote country, which sits between India and China and is home to about 700,000 people.

That includes images of the Punakha Dzong administrative headquarters, which is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. There are also images from the capital, Thimpu, and the towns of Paro and Trongsa, as well as panoramas from a highway and photos of the country’s National Museum.

Google says the effort, which was undertaken with the cooperation of Bhutan’s Ministry of Information and Communications, required snapping more than 200,000 panoramic shots with one of its camera-equipped cars.

Belatedly, my story on Singapore startups

I’ve been remiss in sharing some of my recent stories here.

In case you you missed it last month, I wrote an in-depth piece on Singapore’s increasingly lively startup scene.

Click through for an interactive feature on some Singapore-specific apps and a rundown of some local tech companies — and some potential challenges to the industry.

2014 03 26singaporestartups

(The story is for WSJ subscribers only — if you don’t already, subscribe! — but here’s a non-paywalled blog post introducing the piece.)

Next up: How I’ve helped out with Malaysia Flight 370 coverage. Stay tuned…

Bangkok Post — in 3D

Given my previous dispatches pointing out interesting tidbits from the Bangkok Post, I would be remiss if I failed to note that yesterday’s edition featured 3D images. E&P explains here.1

Yesterday was the Post‘s 64th anniversary, and the paper was delivered with accompanying 3D glasses affixed to a special outer advertising supplement. 3D photos were used in the supplement as well as throughout the paper itself.

Here’s a cell phone pic:

Bangkok Post in 3D

So how did the 3D effect work? It seemed, well, fine to me — though I must say that I have never seen a newspaper in 3D, so I have nothing to which I can compare the experience.

  1. Related (kind of): On the Media‘s excellent episode, from July 16, about the future of newspapers. []

Some thoughts on audio recorders

I’ve been meaning, for some time, to write a post about audio recorders. Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to play with use several recorders for casual and professional purposes. And I thought it would be helpful to compile a few tips and suggestions in one place. So here goes:

olympus_WS-321M.jpg

For interviews and non-broadcast use

For everyday recording I suggest a simple, relatively inexpensive Olympus unit, like the Olympus WS-500, similar to the unit pictured here. This device costs about $70 at Amazon.com. I have a slightly older version of this recorder. Some features:

  • These devices work well for interviews, as the recorders are easy to use, non-obtrusive, and lightweight.
  • They have copious amounts of internal memory, so you can record hours and hours at a time. The WS-500, for example, has 2GB of internal memory, which according to Olympus is enough for 545 hours of recording time.
  • The single AAA battery lasts for a very long time — I use my Olympus several times a month and have only had to change the battery a handful of times in three years.1
  • For transcribing interviews, the internal speaker on units like these are fine for playback, though the device also has a jack for headphones. If you want to transfer the audio files to your computer for storage or editing, the unit has a convenient built-in USB port. For playback directly from the unit, a button allows you to listen to recordings at a slower or faster speed. This is especially helpful when transcribing interviews you’ve conducted with fast talkers.2
  • Note that the Olympus units record in Windows Media Audio (WMA) format. That means that if you’re on a Mac, you’ll need to use a special application to covert the WMA audio files to mp3s. I recommend the easy-to-use EasyWMA audio converter.

So how good does the audio sound? The quality you’ll get with a unit like this is fine for casual use, but the quality isn’t high enough for radio or Web broadcast. That said, you can plug an internal mic and grab some decent sound.

For example, here’s a 21-second mp3 I recorded of traffic in Hanoi a couple of years back with my trusty Olympus:

hanoi_traffic.mp3

For Web or broadcast use

pcm_d50_2.gif

If you want to record audio for professional broadcast, you’ll have to spend a bit more money. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using — and really love — the Sony PCM D50.

This unit typically costs about $600. But the relatively high price tag is justified by its top-notch recordings. This model is particularly popular with radio journalists, as it’s a less expensive version of the Sony PCM D1
, which costs upward of $2000.

The PCM D50 has been out for a few years, and you can now find it on Amazon.com for $440.

Here are some of the PCM D50’s features:

  • The audio quality is excellent: 96 kHz/24-bit.
  • The unit has built-in dual condenser microphones that can be angled for various purposes.
  • The device is rugged, with an aluminum — not plastic — shell, and though I don’t recommend treating it roughly, it can withstand some serious jostling.
  • The PCM D50 has 4GB of internal memory, so there’s plenty of room for recording many hours of audio.
  • The unit has an easy to use recording level dial, so that you can ensure that what you’re recording isn’t too loud.
  • The unit has a divide track button, so that you can create a new track on the fly. That is, you don’t have to press stop, and then press record again. Just press divide track, and you’ll continue recording in a new track.
  • The PCM D50 takes four AA batteries and records in the uncompressed WAV format, which works on PCs and Macs.

You can find reviews of the PCM D-50 here [O'Reilly], and here [Transom.org], and here [BradLinder.net]. And here’s a video review of the PCM D50 and D1.

One thing: I suggest purchasing the optional windscreen, since the mics are so sensitive that they pick up wind noise very easily, even from simply walking across a room. This windscreen is a bit pricey, at over $40, so if you don’t want to spring for the official Sony version, you can always fashion your own out of an old sock (preferably a clean one) or some other sound-absorbing material.

How does the audio sound?

For a sample of the PCM D50 in action, you can check out an audio slide show I created called scenes from Calcutta. I also used the device to create a CNNGo.cm audio slide show about chef David Thompson.

In the last few months, a new Sony model has caught my eye: the Sony PCM M10. It’s currently under $400 at Amazon.com.

Two notable features: The unit can record in mp3 format (so format conversions aren’t necessary), and it has built-in speaker, which makes for easier playback. (In order to play back audio from the PCM D50, you have to listen with headphones.) Here’s a video review of the PCM M10 on Youtube.

Perhaps, in a future post, I’ll discuss external mics and audio editing software. But I’ll leave it at this for now.

Happy recording.

  1. One more note on batteries: Many small audio recorders, as well as larger, more sophisticated ones, use AA or AAA batteries. Environmental concerns aside, disposable batteries are preferable to rechargeable ones because you can replace disposable batteries in the field. If you’re off in the wilderness, let’s say, and your rechargeable batteries run out of juice, far from an electrical outlet, you’re out of luck. []
  2. Also, a note about evolving technologies: In my experience, few people use mini disc recorders these days. It’s all digital, all the time. That said, I think there’s a place for older technologies. Take the simple, cheap cassette recorder. For documenting interviews, these work just fine. Cassette recorders are actually better than digital voice recorders in one way: You can look at cassette recorders and see that their wheels turning, so you know they’re functioning. Yes, digital recorders have lights that illuminate when they’re running, but sometimes — especially in hectic situations — these lights can lead to confusion. As in, is that the power light, or is the unit actually recording? []

Self-promotion: a roundup of some recent stories

think_piece.tiff

I have devoted numerous posts to Thailand’s ongoing political instability of late, often linking to various media reports. But I realized that I have neglected, in recent months, to point to some of my own stories. So here’s a re-cap:

In addition to filing pieces about breaking news in Thailand for ABC News Radio in New York,1 I am now covering business and economics issues in the region for BNA, in Washington, DC.

I cannot link to my BNA stories here since they’re subscriber-only, but some recent topics I have covered include:

  • Thailand’s Map Ta Phut industrial estate issue2
  • Labor issues and economic governance in Vietnam
  • Asia’s economic recovery
  • How exporting firms in Thailand are using the country’s various free trade agreements

I also recent wrote a recent story for AFP about Thai rice farmers and free trade. You can see the piece on the Jakarta Globe site here. It ran on March 7.

And, finally, I have written a number of fun travel/lifestyle stories for CNNGo.com of late. Here are a few:

(Cartoon via.)

  1. I’ll try to give you a heads up next time a story is due to run. I’ll most likely mention it quickly on Twitter. []
  2. Hence my interest and subsequent posts on the topic here at Newley.com []
  3. You’ll recall that I blogged about the Siam Sunray here a while back. []

Around the Web: improving college rankings, Federer’s footwork, inventors killed by their own inventions, and more

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

Around the web: August 25th to August 30th

Some links that have caught my eye of late:

Jakarta Globe takes on the Jakarta Post

The newspaper industry in the US is suffering, as we know. But an Indonesian billionaire thinks there’s room for another English-language paper in Jakarta. In November, James Riady launched the Jakarta Globe to compete head-to-head with the well-established Jakarta Post.

Today’s IHT has the story: “Indonesian billionaire takes on the Jakarta Post

That it is probably the worst time in history to start a daily newspaper is not, at least for the moment, on the minds of the people behind The Jakarta Globe.

The Globe, an English-language paper that hit the newsstands in November, is an unusual sight in this era of the shrinking – or disappearing – newspaper: It is a 48-page broadsheet, big enough to cover your desk when unfolded and painted head to toe in color.

The paper is backed by the billionaire James Riady, deputy chairman of the powerful Lippo Group and one of the wealthiest people in Indonesia, with interests including real estate, banking and retail.

Riady is also a budding media mogul. He owns the Indonesian business magazine Globe and is developing a Web portal and a cable television news channel.

“I think they are serious about creating a media empire, becoming the Rupert Murdoch of South East Asia,” said Lin Neumann, The Globe’s chief editor.

This snippet caught my eye, as well:

Neither The Post nor The Globe would discuss advertising revenue or circulation figures. Bayuni said The Globe had not yet cut into The Post’s circulation.

The papers’ editors, however, both pointed to Bangkok as an example of a market that has been able to sustain two English-language broadsheets, although Bangkok is a much bigger market than Jakarta. Both said they would aim at the growing Indonesian middle class – a group that is increasingly learning, working and reading in English. More than half of The Post’s readers are Indonesian, as opposed to expatriate, and The Globe, recognizing this trend, is betting on the local population to increase its market share.

And there’s this, about competition for journalists in Jakarta:

The two papers are fighting over journalists as well as readers. Finding experienced, English-speaking local journalists is not always easy here and the competition for them is high. The papers, however, are taking different approaches.

The Globe has put together a team of about 60 Indonesian reporters, recruiting from wire services like Agence France-Presse and Reuters. One of its deputy editors is Bhimanto Suwastoyo, who worked for AFP for more than 20 years and is widely considered one of the best local journalists.

The Post, on the other hand, has long been a training ground for local reporters looking to get their start in the industry. The paper offers a training program in exchange for service of as long as two years.

Often, Bayuni said, those reporters move on to more prestigious or lucrative positions. Bloomberg News employs six former Post reporters.