Eric Lindsay's Blog 2005 October

Saturday 1 October 2005

Drinking Water by the Bottle

In Australia we buy 150 million litres a year of bottled water at a cost of $123 million, according to Choice. In less than a generation, bottled water has become a $600 million-a-year industry, according to Kerry O'Brien on the 7:30 report on 19 September, quoting Coca Cola Amatil. Globally, bottled water is now a $46 billion industry, according to the New York Times 05.08.01

The summary by Choice Magazine is Buy bottled water if you like the taste, but don't kid yourself it's healthier than water from the tap. Bottled water summary by Choice Magazine. You will have to search for it yourself, as it uses an invalid URL I refuse to include.

Most water comes in PET bottles, which at least don't have plasticisers. They also mostly don't have the fluorine added to the water supply.

Great article on the Perth water supply.

Sunday 2 October 2005

Inquiry into technological protection measures (TPM) exceptions

Notes for a submission to the AG inquiry.

I note pressure from the USA towards the establishment in Australia of a DMCA style legal situation with regard to individuals defeating TPM on copyright material, where this is done so the individual can use media content they have purchased.

This arises at present when an Australian while overseas purchases a DVD and attempts to use it in a DVD player set to Zone 4 when they return to Australia. Naturally anyone in that situation will either defeat or remove Macrovision copy protection so they can avoid the Zone 4 restriction. After being caught by Zone restrictions a few times, most people in Australia refuse to buy DVD players with zone restrictions. Luckily many Chinese manufactured DVD players can easily have zone restrictions removed.

I believe this is a reasonable area for TPM exceptions for personal use.

I gather the present copyright law in Australia does not allow transfer of copyright material to a different format. For example, LP record to cassette, CD to MP3 or similar player. If so, the millions of people in Australia with an MP3 player or an iPod must all be listening to Bible lessons or material recorded by their own band. In the case of the iPod, there basically is no legal source of media for it at all, since iTunes Music Store does not exist in Australia and the available legal download sources are not compatible with the largest selling music player. Adding a TPM law to an unenforceable and widely ignored copyright law seems unlikely to change the situation, and will almost certainly further annoy users. This also seems a reasonable area for TPM exceptions for personal use.

The failure of Digital TV in Australia, even in SD (let us not pretend HDTV actually exists in any meaningful numbers), with analogue sets still outselling digital 10 to 1, is almost certainly not entirely a matter of public suspicion about TPM as incorporated in interfaces like HDMI. However most interested people are well aware that modern computers include three fast, flawless and unprotected methods of transferring digital material, including any video media. DVI, used by upmarket computer monitors. IEEE1394 (also known as Firewire), used by video cameras (including HD) to transfer video to computer. Ethernet, used as a network connection.

When new TVs, set top boxes, and so on are instead offered with HDMI (physically identical to DVI except for an audio feed), it is obviously just another attempt to lock down content. If brand name manufacturers do insist on restricting their products to HDMI, the first Chinese manufacturer to offer a full line of video products with IEEE1394 will take the entire consumer home cinema market. Legal or not. However until ways to bypass HDMI and the associated HDCP protection go on sale, the only advice for potential purchasers of HDTV is not to bother to buy while TPM exists.

In essence, digital media supplies a unique pattern of binary digits as the copyrighted goods. The copyright holders wish to prevent the purchaser from ever moving that pattern to a different device. The copyright user wishes to use the purchased digital pattern on any future device. I see no way to reconcile these two opposite views. Under your terms of reference, I suspect no compromise is possible, and we will end up with a US style DMCA law. However a lot of Australians will be ignoring laws like this.

The current efforts of media cartels to bully the US public with DMCA (15,000 legal cases against individuals) is unacceptable to me. Technology, in the form of the Edison phonogram, started the rise of media empires. Now a better technology is about to destroy those empires. The Australian government should not be trying to pick winners. It would be like banning people from driving to preserve the profits of buggy whip manufacturers.

Monday 3 October 2005

Schneier on Spammers

Bruce Schneier neatly listed spammers in his security blog: VoIP spam joins the ranks of e-mail spam, Usenet newsgroup spam, instant message spam, cell phone text message spam, and blog comment spam. And, if you think broadly enough, these computer-network spam delivery mechanisms join the ranks of computer telemarketing (phone spam), junk mail (paper spam), billboards (visual space spam), and cars driving through town with megaphones (audio spam). It's all basically the same thing -- unsolicited marketing messages -- and only by understanding the problem at this level of generality can we discuss solutions.

Killing spammers seems to me a satisfactory solution. Bringing back the custom of duelling probably the easiest way, but assassination would also be acceptable.

Tuesday 4 October 2005

Proposed amendments to the Liquor Act 1992 in Queensland

Specific noise limits for music venues are prescribed in the venue's liquor license. A venue can create 10 decibels above the background noise level when measured at the closest affected residence (or business) before 10pm and eight decibels (in each octave frequency band) after 10pm.

Changes to the Liquor Act exempt venues located within a special entertainment precinct from the noise level requirements of the Liquor Act. Councils will have responsibility for regulating music noise for venues within the special entertainment precinct.

People proposing to move to areas infested by bars and music venues should be aware of this handover of noise control powers.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Tracking Printing by Job on a Macintosh

In System Preferences, Print and Fax, Printing. Double-click the printer in the Printer List to open the Jobs window, and click the Completed button. Remember to name the printed file after the project. Doesn't keep count of multiple pages.

Print Dialog's Cover Page pane allows you to set Billing Details, even without a cover page. It will appear in /var/log/cups/page_log with the name of the printer, the user, date and time, number of pages and number of copies.

Accounting facilities are built into CUPS. See http://localhost:631/documentation.html. You need root logic to access the logs.

Thursday 6 October 2005

HTML Mail on a Macintosh

Personally I wouldn't use it except for specialised mail such as an email newsletter. If wanting to do that sort of thing, I would probably seek a specialist program. Using Mail is a bit tedious.

If you make and save a style in (say) TextEdit, that should be available in the Favourites Style list in Mail. You should note however Apple support warning 25606 advising that not every recipient can see what you have produced. For example, I suspect using shadowed text wouldn't work for many recipients. You can cut and paste a TextEdit page into a Mail message compose window. It gets converted from RTF to HTML if you are running the Tiger version of OSX.

You can also make a web page (use an absolute path for the CSS file if external, and external image sources), view it in Safari. Then use the File, Mail Contents of this Page option. Not all CSS properties work.

Copying a received and correctly formatted HTML email into the Drafts compose window for editing just plain doesn't work. The compose window is unable to view the HTML. I checked that in the hope I could sneak HTML composing into Mail.

Since the Mac email uses the Safari rendering engine, it handles standards based html fairly cleanly. This is not the case for many email agents. This discussion of HTML email may be helpful in working out just how your html email should be formatted to maximise the chance that recipients can read it.

The case of readers using web based mail clients is particularly difficult, since any html email you send must by definition be rewritten by the web based mail service. Here is a discussion of web email HTML problem.

Friday 7 October 2005

Image Processing on the Cheap

Tiger includes sips, the scriptable image processing system. Use sips -h and sips -H for help (they are different). To make an icon, try $ sips --addIcon imagefile(s) but remember by default sips eats the original file, so do it on a copy. See Apple's page on Image Events. sips -i will do a directory of images. Use find to go through multiple subdirectories. Use find . -iname "*.jpg" -print0 | xargs -0 sips -i if your file names are likely to include spaces.

Interesting note I found. First, create a copy of your image file yourself. Run the sips command over that COPY. Then view the info for the modified image (cmd-i). At the top of the info window is the tiny icon. Click on the icon so that it's surrounded by a blue line (look carefully! It's not very obvious.) Do a Copy command to put the icon image in the clipboard. Now view the info for your original image, click on the icon and Paste.

Saturday 8 October 2005

What Am I Doing On The Web? (3)

I was reading Home Page Usability, and noting the analysis of the area used by each aspect of 50 or so commercial home pages.

One pointless part of the analysis was OS and browser controls, which of course was a constant figure. You can only change that by either changing browsers, or by removing control areas from the browser. For example, in Safari you can remove the address bar, status bar and bookmark bar. This gets the browser controls down to nothing on the left or bottom, a scroll bar on the right, and a single bar at the top with the close window buttons and web page title. The OS control on a Macintosh is a single line at the top of the display, which changes according to the application that currently has focus.

The identified visual items on the home pages consisted of

Welcome and site identity
Content of Interest
Advertising and sponsorship
Self promotion

Alas, since I was wanting to identify page regions in terms of what markup code was appropriate, this wasn't exactly what I needed. Although site identity in perhaps a header was a good candidate for its own identity, as was navigation. Actually perhaps two or three navigation identities, one for a topbar, one for a sidebar, and one for breadcrumbs. A main body identify, obviously, for content of interest. Perhaps one for address, although the address block element might as well be used. If using advertising, and restricting it to a specific area of the page, an advertising identity.

Sunday 9 October 2005

What Am I Doing On The Web? (4)

I basically needed to identify these markup elements so that I could incorporate them into my script for generating web pages. The idea of using a script, rather than a freeform web page editor, was to force a correct structure on the outline of the web page. Had I been able to find a suitable web page editor, I would have much preferred to use that. However most of the web page editors were completely freeform. If not freeform, then they usually generated table or frame based pages based on a GUI interface. Or they used templates. I actually think templates are a good idea, provided that you can easily change the template underneath the text. I just haven't as yet spotted a program that does it the way I want.

So the script asks you to include relatively sensible material for the page name, the title, keywords, description, and other meta material in the head. It tries to constrain the visible web page elements into a sensible flow. For example, you don't get the option of including more than a single level one header. Of course, any of this can be changed later, since I assume that I will use a text based html editor for any changes after the page is generated.

Now I need to incorporate the div id structure of the page. I am specifically using id rather than class because each id must be unique if the code is to validate. The idea all along has been that I would use the usual printer lorem ipsum dolor content to develop cascading styles sheets that control the appearance of the web pages. The real web page text content would be developed independent of the appearance.

Monday 10 October 2005

What Am I Doing On The Web? (5) RSS

The other reason to work on a good structure for generating a web page is so my script can also generate an RSS feed. Maybe I have missed them, but I haven't seen much that helps with doing an RSS feed. Well, except for blog software. Just about all the blog creators seem to have RSS feeds.

Tuesday 11 October 2005

What Am I Doing On The Web? (6) RSS (2)

I figure I'd better add an RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed to my blog. But first, I have to understand what RSS was. Then I have to write a script to generate my blog pages, and generate my RSS feed.

RSS is an XML file. XML (eXtensible Markup Language) provides data structure and meta information, almost a meta-markup language. XML files reference a DTD (Document Type Definition), which describes the tags used in a specific XML file. You can create your own tags, unlike in HTML where the fixed range of tags follow the W3C DTD definitions.

RSS 0.91 and 0.92 are DTD based, so they point to something like !DOCTYPE rss PUBLIC -//Netscape Communications//DTD RSS 0.91//EN at least until someone takes the DTD away, which apparently happened.

Then things get complicated. RSS 1.0 is an RDF application. Resource Description Framework is an extensible (natch) way to describe metadata about properties and relationships of items that have web addresses or URI (Uniform Resource Identifier), the most common of which is a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Independent developers may produce vocabularies called XML Schemas. Where a DTD defines the tags, but not the range of a tag attribute, XML Schemas add data typing. So a tag like color may be constrained to a range of the seven colors of the rainbow (or may be three two digit hexadecimal numbers).

A document has a single DTD, but may use XML namespaces, identified by a URI, as elements, thus avoiding ambiguity between elements with the same name from different RDF.

I don't think I want to try to cope with adding Dublin Core metadata at this stage. Nor Adobe's Extensible Metadata Platform XMP.

I think I'll retire with a headache, and look for something that is a lot easier.

Wednesday 12 October 2005

Apple iPod Video released today, but who cares?

I still can't see any particular reason to get an iPod music player, although I like the tiny cool looking technology. Well, I don't like the non-replaceable battery which is absolutely guaranteed to break after a few years.

I don't do commuting, so iPod portability is mostly wasted on me. I can sort of see using it while taking a walk for exercise, but Jean and I usually talk then. She keeps saying she should take a CD player and some of the CDs she hasn't had time to listen to, but has never done so. Wrong age group, wrong audience, I guess.

The big feature of iPod, the easy iTunes Music Store integration, is a total waste. How can that be a waste? There is no iTunes Music Store in Australia. Videos of TV shows are restricted to USA sales only.

Plus Telstra's idea of broadband here is an utterly sick joke. Basically you can have an always on ADSL connection that is somewhat faster than dial-up, but broadband is not something you get on it. Well, not unless you live in one of the few city areas where innovative ISPs like iiNet or Internode have installed their own DSLAMs in Telstra phone exchanges. But what is the likelihood of that happening in remote country areas? I recall when we moved here seven years ago the total internet connectivity of the entire town consisted of a small stack of 32k modems sitting on the desk of the owner of the local one room ISP. Of course now all the ISPs are virtual via Telstra so the whole industry is stagnated.

The iPod item that most impressed me wasn't new, in that Griffin has one much earlier. It was the little Apple remote control. Apple did the same sensible thing Bose did with their remote control, made it simple and made it white. I can't express how annoyed I am with remote controls with 40 buttons, all labelled with black on black lettering.

Thursday 13 October 2005

Apple iMac G5 released with camera

The all in one iMac had some changes. Slimmer body, and I admit to being surprised they could manage that. Top clock speed went from 2GHz to 2.1GHz, a 5% increase. Drive sizes unchanged, but the largest optional drive went up from 400GB to 500GB. Video card has been upgraded from the Radeon 9600 to the X600 Pro or XT on PCI Express, although video memory remains 128MB. Maximum main memory rises from 2GB to 2.5GB, and may be easier to install. The 17 inch display has changed to have a much better viewing angle, although the 20 inch is probably unaltered. The big new item seems to be a built in iSight camera, neatly front and centre in the case above the display. I think they dropped the built in modem (so how do you send a fax?) Comes with the Apple remote control, for iTunes, DVD player, iPhoto.

Am I sorry I bought the previous iMac G5 ALS model earlier this year? Not really. I got pretty much all the things I wanted in the ALS model. Most of the camera model changes where predictable, and don't make much difference to me. I don't do games nor do I push video, so the video upgrade will have limited impact. I have the 20 inch model with 400GB drive, so change to the 17 inch display don't impact on me. The speed increase was 5%. I actually thought Apple would go for 15% before the Intel models. I have a gigabyte of memory, and could upgrade to 2GB, so the potential 2.5GB isn't a big factor.

You give up the ability to use a Vesa mount, as the stand is not removable.

I think this model is designed to be cheaper to manufacture. It is also not designed for customer upgrades, something that seemed to me basically a failed experiment with the original iMac G5. The single memory slot is upgradable via a hatch, without opening the case.

The iSight camera built in was a surprise. But I've never used iChat, so it wasn't a factor for me. See my discussion the previous day about broadband access here and you will understand why. I have noted that my standard Canon video camera connected via Firewire seems to act just fine as a web cam, so I can always use iChat if connection speeds improve.

I still think the remote control is the nicest part of the new release. Alas, the new Apple remote control is unlikely to work with any other Macintosh. It seems that the new universal iPod docking station has an infra red receiver, which is how some older iPods can be controlled by the remote control. While the new iMac case plastic may simply be infra red transparent, it seems likely that the built in iSight camera is reading the remote control output. So a retrofit to my older iMac seems unlikely.

Well, at least until someone like Delicious Library decide they make the remote control work with a Firewire iSight, just like they use it for a bar code reader.

Friday 14 October 2005

Internet Dependent Applications (1)

A month of so ago I was asked my view of applications running from the internet, like the Ajax type Google is doing. I didn't like the idea. To me, the internet is not something that is out there, it is something you connect to sometimes when you are at home.

However I am changing my mind, very slowly. The difference over the past month is that I have been at home, using our DSL connection constantly. This isn't something I have done before. I expect not to have internet access while travelling, often for weeks at a time.

So I started to look at what I might do with full time internet access. In the past, I validated my web pages using the W3C HTML validator. If my web browser couldn't connect, I didn't validate, but that was no great problem. So what would be handy, but not a productivity killer if it failed?

This time I looked at CSS validation. John Gruber at Daring Fireball had written an online CSS checker in Perl and Applescript. It calls the W3C CSS validator to do the dirty work. It acts as a script in Barebones Software's free Text Wrangler editor.

As I was looking fairly seriously at Text Wrangler for general purpose text editing, this seems a happy situation for a test. Reports on long time results later, but it certainly seems to work. It even works with my styles still in my html page as I was developing the page.

Saturday 15 October 2005

Internet Appliance

Adam C. Engst wrote an interesting article in the 800th issue of TidBITS newsletter about the continued trend to make tech gadgets into appliances. It has been noted before, as Adam points out. It is likely Steve Jobs (amongst others) wanted the Macintosh to be an appliance very early. Games computers from Sony and Microsoft, and Smart Phones with Symbian are specifically designed not to be open to change. Adam points out that no-one hacks washing machines or dishwashers (not entirely true - some people I know take great delight in doing so).

Industrial Relations

I can't believe the federal government can get away with spending millions of our money advertising and promoting its new industrial relations laws. This is especially the case when the laws have not yet been through Parliament, and haven't even been released to the public to read. How can you advertise the merit of something that is still a secret?

You make a law, it goes in the government gazette. End of story. If the Liberal Party wants to do electioneering, it should pay for it out of party funds, not by thieving the money from taxes. Especially not when it wants to promote a policy that the majority of voters are against (according to surveys).

Sunday 16 October 2005

Digital Radio - Past its use by date?

Approval of digital radio yesterday seems yet another federal government initiative too little, too late, and too stupid, just like almost every other government decision about media. So, in two or three years some people in Sydney and other major cities may be able to listen to digital radio based on Eureka 147 technology instead of the cheaper analogue AM and FM. Well, they may if the radio stations (or someone) spend A$400 million on infrastructure. The government is considering capital grants in regional areas, probably because it is obvious it isn't economically viable in regional areas.

The existing commercial radio stations get a six year no new competition run at digital radio, they get broadcasting spectrum free, and there is no deadline for ending analogue broadcasting. Why would a commercial radio station bother to put any money into changing? I don't understand this one at all.

If in the next two to five years a listener wants to spend the A$200 (basic model) to A$2000 for a new digital radio, the advantages being promoted are:

CD quality sound
Right! With pop music in 2000 averaging 3dB of headroom (down from 6dB in 1995, 14dB in 1990 and 20dB in 1980) just what point is there in having CD quality sound? What good is a 24-bit/96 kHz digital audio system if the programs we create only have 1 bit dynamic range?
Easier tuning
Never encountered push button tuners, I guess, despite every car radio having them.
Small screen for scrolling text, graphics and pictures
Not in car radios I hope! Think of the accident rate! At home, TV has teletext, graphics and pictures, and a TV set is cheap compared to these new digital radios.
Latest news, traffic, weather and sports scores
Isn't this what radio does now? Every city taxi I catch seems to have this, to excess (in between the shock jocks).
Rewind to hear something you missed, or pause reception
If a must have feature, radio cassettes would be used more often at present to do it. You can after all get endless loop cassettes (they were made for old answering machine outward messages).

Alpine Electronics had digital radio receivers available at 25 spots around NSW but withdrew them after 12-18 months due to lack of interest from the buying public. Well let me see, it costs 100 to 1000 times what a throwaway transistor radio does, no-one is broadcasting anything, and it is a surprise that no-one is interested? Do'h!

You can find here details of self serving digital radio broadcaster submissions to the Australian government.

The broadcaster submission to the inquiry claimed commercial radio industry profit growing by just 0.2% between 1999 and 2003. If it doesn't commence its migration to a digital platform in the very near future, the services it provides will be fragmented by other providers and the great medium of radio will be seriously marginalised, said Tony Bell of Southern Cross Broadcasting. This digital radio choice may have made sense in 1999 when a previous government report said to rush ahead. It makes absolutely no sense today, with the internet and absolute customer choice rolling over everything else. Why don't we just wait and see whether these buggy whip manufacturers can survive, before we throw them money, spectrum and freedom from competition?

At least Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan (who generally seems a smart cookie being badly advised) acknowledged competition existed from MP3 players and other internet connected digital audio devices. I think the government is once again trying to pick winners, and it hasn't much track record at being good at that. It is again trying to support a bunch of antiquated losers whose business model has started evaporating.

I fart in the general direction of the government, who have their heads so far up their arses they will never notice anyhow.

Monday 17 October 2005

Browsing your own way

I've been organising a web site for someone else, and it has become obvious how little many people know about using their browser. Stephen Poley's Web Matters - what every browser user should know is something I will point them to. Stephen covers the major browsers, Opera (his favourite, and now free), Firefox and Mozilla (the basis for many other browsers), and Internet Explorer (the most used, but hardest to adjust to your own settings). Stephen doesn't include Safari, the default browser for Macintosh OSX, so here are the matters Stephen covers.

Safari 2

Moving around a page
Same keys as other browsers
Changing text size
Command + and Command - Or Menu - View - Make Text Bigger
Finding text
Command F for dialogue box for the search, Command G to repeat with the same text and no dialogue box. (Command is the Apple key, or it may have a cloverleaf sort of design on it)
Full size display
I couldn't find a full screen or kiosk mode. If you have Debug enabled in Safari, use Menu - Debug, Open with, and select Opera, which has a great full screen mode.
Command P just like any other application. Well designed sites print correctly, many sites do not.
Reloading a page
Command R, or Menu - View - Reload page.
Back button
Left hand top of the page, next to the address bar, with back and forward arrows (these produce a dropdown list so you can select which page to go back to). Or use Command [ or Command ] to move back or forward through previous pages in that window or tab. The curved Snapback arrow with orange circle around it that appears at the right of the address bar will usually take you back to the page at which you opened that window. Use Option Command K to mark a page as the Snapback page, Option Command P to go to the snapback page. Only one Snapback per window. If you want more pages, use Menu - History (usually covers about a week of browsing).
Command D (similar to Mozilla). Or Menu - Bookmarks.
New Window
Command N for a new window, Command T for a new tab in an existing window, Command O to open a file on your drive.
Supressing pop-ups
Command , (comma) to reach Preferences or Menu - Safari - Preferences - Security and enable Block pop-up windows
Javascript off
Command , (comma) to reach Preferences or Menu - Safari - Preferences - Security and turn off Enable JavaScript (the same place lets you turn off Java, and plug-ins such as music and videos).
Images off
Command , (comma) to reach Preferences or Menu - Safari - Preferences - Appearances and untick Display images when the page opens.
Styling off
Command , (comma) to reach Preferences or Menu - Safari - Preferences - Advanced, and then select your own preferred style sheet. You can also select the minimum text size here (mine is set to 14 point). Your own style sheet adds to the cascade from the web site, so it will not override the site. For real control of obnoxious sites, use Opera.

Tuesday 18 October 2005

Apple PowerBook upgrades

It looks to me as if the Powerbook has reached the end of its potential. These are highly similar to the old top of line models, without a price increase. Nothing to push me to upgrade from the top of line early 2004 model that was my first Macintosh. These new Macintosh models were all released 19 October, which was the following day in this time zone.

A little fiddling with the specification to give incremental advances. Apple either couldn't get a G4 CPU any faster than the 1.67GHz of their previous one, or are waiting until supplies of faster CPUs firm up. There may have been some increase in memory access speed.

Battery life is up by a claimed one hour, which is very welcome (but the battery life claims always had to be discounted considerably). This may be a consequence of Apple finally being able to get the long awaited Freescale 7448 CPU.

Standard hard drives sizes are up to 100GB, with an optional 120GB. That increase in capacity is slower than I expected from hard drives, however the drives are now 5400 rpm instead of 4200 rpm, so drive speed should be a little better. You have a dual layer SuperDrive now for the optical drive. Unless you are ripping films, that probably isn't a big issue.

The big improvement in the 15 inch and 17 inch models were displays with more pixels. As well as a welcome brighter display, the 15 inch now has 1440 x 960 resolution. The previous 15 inch model had a 1280x854 display. The 17 inch now has a 1680 x 1050 resolution. The previous 17 inch model had a 1440x900 display.

My opinion is that these displays will make text way too small to read. Until the next version of the operating system appears with size independent display support, I can't see the new display resolution as being a great advantage unless you have a large external display. Given the 17 inch especially fits well as a desktop replacement, that may be how it will be used. I see this as something Apple needed to keep in the specifications race, rather than making any particular technical sense. I'd expect the first generation Intel based models to have the same displays.

The neglected 12 inch model basically says get an iBook, or wait and see what we can do with an Intel chip. I can't decide which way Apple are going. However I am really hoping for an ultra lightweight model eventually.

Wednesday 19 October 2005

Trying CSS shelter sheds yet again

I wanted to work on a web page for one of the locals for his portable relocatable shelter shed business called SheltersRUs. However a lot of items apart from shelter sheds and garages get called shelters. You were more likely to find homeless and women's refuges than garages and sheds. I told him shelters wouldn't work, and that sheltersrus only helped a little in Australia. Still, no worse than an infinite size business card.

Power Outages

Two momentary power outages of the electricity at 9:59 p.m. I must admit these were the first in a fair while. I like having a UPS. Actually, I am not sure using a desktop computer without a UOS is viable unless it recovers well from file system problems.

Thursday 20 October 2005

iMac G5 iSight plus iPod with video - instant porn

I suspect I am late coming to this conclusion. An iMac with a built in camera, a portable one handed viewer, plus easy video podcasts using built in programs. Talk about targeting a niche market! Lots more people will become porn purveyors. And to think I believed a iPod with video wouldn't be popular! Who needs Hollywood to provide content?

Friday 21 October 2005

Shelters R Us

The web page for the local portable relocatable shelters called SheltersRUs has now expanded to about eight pages with aircraft hangers and boat shelters. However a lot of items apart from shelter sheds and garages still get called shelters.

Nuclear dump on Aboriginal land

The Northern Land Council have offered to find a waste dump site provided traditional owners agree, and sacred sites and environmental protection continues. Now that is one long term view of how to keep others from taking your land.

Saturday 22 October 2005

Democracy drowning in distrust

Labor factional power must be cut. Labor party rank and file should elect branch officials, says NSW left wing Labor powerbroker Senator John Faulkner, during the annual Henry Parkes Oration. He rejected former leader Mark Latham's argument that politics is no longer a viable vehicle for social change.

Apathy and anger towards politicians has left democracy in Australia drowning in distrust, although some commentators prefer to see Faulkner's remarks as being a bit of a biff for his own faction.

Sunday 23 October 2005

Foxtel Cable TV

I long ago predicted cable TV would die in Australia. Galaxy did die. Optus basically onsells Foxtel. Foxtel, with the deep pockets of Telstra, Murdock's News Corporation, and Parker's Publishing and Broadcasting, may after ten years be about to emerge from seas of red ink from the billions pent on establishment costs. It has 22% of viewers (against pay TV rates of 88% in the USA, 50% in UK), and just signed its millionth direct customer.

Foxtel claim anti-siphoning laws to stop cable bidding for exclusive rights to sports events have been a show stopper. Plus the arrival of DVD movies in 1996 killed the old Sunday night movie treat.

Foxtel launched a A$600 million 130 channel interactive service in March 2004, and half its customers are converted. However if advertising is split over so many channels, Foxtel can't deliver a broad based audience, whatever its merit for niche markets. Plus many people figure if they pay for cable TV, the trade off is that it not be interrupted by advertising. Especially when Foxtel want around A$100 a month for cable, plus another $400 for a Foxtel IQ set top box with a hard drive for delayed playback of content, plus another A$100 to A$170 to install it. You can't record saved content elsewhere from these very limited set top box, plus you are only renting it, you don't own the box. I also can't see any indication that Foxtel are broadcasting in high definition, so I imagine cable is merely standard definition.

Hard drive based personal video recorders (PVR) have been less than well received in Australia partly due to the lack of any onscreen electronic program guide (EPG).

Sales of wide screen 16:9 ratio TVs (which are not the same as high definition) in Australia started around March 2001 with obsolete CRT models. Sales increased until Sept 2004 with a peak of nearly 140,000 units, with plasma gradually getting more of the market, followed by LCD. CRT sales started plunging after Sept 2004, and plasma started a small decline. LCDs are staying steady, but by March 2005 sales were down to nearly 100,000 a quarter. Plus people are gradually realising that these TVs are mostly not capable of displaying high definition.

Monday 24 October 2005

Cyclone Studios

Modern tropical architectural style is what James Riddell and the other architects at his Whitsunday architecture practice office strive to produce with their building plans and designs. James has talked to me about a web site for his architect firm a few times previously, generally over a bottle of wine, so I am favourably disposed about building on his plans.

Tuesday 25 October 2005

Apple iTunes Music Store Opens in Australia

After a two and a half year wait, I gather, from those who care. I'm not in the demographic, so my opinion doesn't count. Plus I still can't see any advantage in buying 128kbps lossy versions of stuff I can get on a Compact Disk at around the same price.

Hmm, let me think about this. Apple sell music in Australia at A$1.69 (and videos at A$3.39), with these prices including our 10% GST. US prices are quoted without sales tax, so as well as exchange rates, you have to allow for the different price figures. So, US 99 cents times 1.1 to make the tax the same, and if you apply an exchange rate of .7 you get A$1.55, and if you use the more realistic .75 you get A$1.45 (but the exchange rates really do jump around a lot). So there is more of a profit margin for someone in Australia.

I have no idea what a CD costs in a music store these days. About A$30, I guess. If there are 12 to 15 tracks per CD, iTunes is cheaper. Plus the big advantage of iTunes is you buy only the tracks you want. CD Singles seem to cost A$3 to A$5, which does seem excessive, but the music store probably needs half that to survive. Hmm, investing in music stores seems a bad move.

Wednesday 26 October 2005

Finding a Web Site Construction Tool

I looked briefly at Nvu, one of a list of about 30 html editors I've downloaded and been trying to find time to evaluate over the past month. It looks pretty good, although like all of them, it has things I'd prefer otherwise. It didn't grab me straight off, but was good enough to go in the "try again later" bin rather than the "discard now" bin.

The problem is that Nvu is sufficiently heavy duty that I thought the time occupied learning to use it effectively (especially for infrequent use) would be greater than my light use could justify. If you are writing web pages most days, it certainly could be worth checking. It has a lot of stuff in it, and being cross platform is a major advantage if you are collaborating or in a mixed platform office (you don't have to argue about whether your Mac is suitable).

My major html editor is still TextEdit, which I think indicates my expectations are not high, since it basically doesn't have html support. More recently I've been leaning to the free TextWrangler from the nice BBEdit people, after adding the Daring Fireball Applescript to do CSS validation. TextWrangler also doesn't really support html, except for showing color coding.

The reason I use a simple text editor is that my markup is also very simple. There are hundreds of html tags that I never use, and probably never will use. Most of the html editors carefully present you with this wonderful range of tools you can grab and use, but as a person who rarely writes new web pages from scratch (I've done about 400 over say 10 years) I'm more interested in having really clean web pages I can easily make alterations to.

Also, number of pages is not very relevant to web design experience. If I decide to make my blog pages on a page per day basis rather than on a month by month, then I'll have done 300+ web pages a year, rather than 12. However in each case these are simply the same page design repeated. I have no more experience. Despite the number of pages, I've only done a half dozen CSS designs, and most are variations on each other. It seems to me that a CSS design tool would be far more use to me than a HTML design tool, if I may make that distinction.

Plus html editors don't really do all that much to help me generate a web page that does the sort of things I want. The first thing I want is that the website design software prompt me to do the right thing by search engines. If I make a new page for some reason, I want search engines to like it. So being pushed by the software to consider stuff like the title, keywords and description, and having the h1 and the first paragraph really focused on search terms and content seems to me the important thing. Then you can worry about content. After that you can add appearance and navigation. Finally come things like link checking, html and css validation, usability, and site management. Although the software should get most of that right from a standing start. So far the closest to this I've seen is probably Rapid Weaver, but your themes are limited and it doesn't seem to be into the search engine side that I consider totally essential, so I almost certainly won't use it.

I don't know that I'm ever likely to find a web site designer that I really like. I've started writing a shell script to generate web pages, prompting me in some of the areas I mentioned. Plus I've taken to designing web sites for a few local small businesses, so I can get a better idea of the questions that I need to ask (don't ask how bad that is!) Prototyping a tool is telling me a lot about what I should be seeking in web site design software.

Thursday 27 October 2005

Other Web Site Design Tools

Later newsgroup post by Thomas Armagost lists some interesting ones.

The most promising is Rapidweaver 3. The author of Rapidweaver is a Brit who is thinking about manning a small booth at MacWorld San Francisco in January 2006.

iBlog best known. Most obscure is Blog.Mac 1.1.1 by Largemouth Software

Bunch of web editors

.Mac blog using SoftPress Freeway. It's powerful but not particularly easy to use.

Friday 28 October 2005

Internet Dependent Applications (2)

37 Signals web applications

Good Experience event email website

Saturday 29 October 2005

Illegal Music instead of iTunes

So my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see what iTunes Music Store had available in Australia. Apple Australia brought up iTunes with the USA store (which I can't buy from) - that is a bug folks! If someone is browsing the Australian web site for Apple iTunes, they probably want the Australian iTunes store, not the USA store. Don't you have any referrer logging working?

I'm not into music at all, so I have no idea who is popular. School memories surfaced, ice skating to scratchy records at the converted cinema (another dead technology at that time). Beatles seems a suitable name to search for, and the business pages said they still raked in money. 304 hits on iTunes Music store, pretty much all of them (bar possibly three) were tribute bands and X plays the Beatles. Right. Genuine original music, just different singers, different players, different interpretation.

At the local markets that morning, some guy in a tent full of face care products or something had The Complete Beatles MP3s for A$20. Thirteen albums, which may well be all there were for all I know. I just bet that isn't an official product.

Sunday 30 October 2005

Open Document the way forward for data

David Wheeler responds on Groklaw to Microsoft on Open Documents to point out flaws in the Microsoft response to the move to OASIS Open Document format by the state of Massachusetts. In essence, documents must be in an open version of XML, not in a proprietary format such as the XML based formats used by Office 2003 or Office 12. Any organisation or company can produce documents in an open format, if they so choose.

Monday 31 October 2005

Trying CSS for shelter sheds yet again (2)

I did about eight web pages for SheltersRUs sheds in Australia, mostly to get pointers to doing more of my web maker shell script. Mainly what I can get my hands on so far are photos of shelters sheds, and photos of planes in shelter sheds, helicopters in shelter sheds, boats under shelters, ships under shelters. I even found a hovercraft! Actually some of the floating boat sheds looked kind of neat. But what I want is some text about them. I have some photos of waste material being processed under cover of a shelter, for environmental protection. However photos of rock piles and industrial waste are not great for a web site.

Sony copy protection installing a rootkit on Windows?

I've given up buying anything from Sony, and given up using Windows, but this Sony Windows rootkit and digital rights article gives yet another reason to avoid copy protected media from anyone. At the very least, anyone who has autorun enabled on a Windows system just isn't paying attention. In any case, something that looks like a CD but installs Windows software should not be labelled as a music CD anyway. Time to bring out the pitchforks and burning torches, I think.

Modern tropical architectural style web site

Architect James Riddell talked to me somewhat more seriously about a web site for his Queensland architectural office specialising in modern tropical architectural style. It went past the casual to how much a web site actually costs. Luckily one of his Whitsunday architects is well and truly into computers, especially Linux. Erik is already collecting plans and architectural drawings of buildings they have designed in North East coastal Queensland over the past few years. Some of their buildings that you see around Cannonvale and Airlie Beach show great tropical architectural style. OK, I wouldn't know style if I tripped over it, but they look great buildings to me.

USB SD Memory Card

Sandisk's cool SD memory card with USB built in. Now, if only they did a CF version! Somehow the thing never seemed to reach Australia, so lusting after gadgets did not work.