Eric Lindsay's Blog 2006 September

Friday 1 September 2006

Compact Cassette Player

I found I still had a few dozen cassettes with music on them, so I thought I would look into converting them to CD. No cassette player handy. Jean had unearthed a portable cassette player from her Russian lesson days. Doesn't seem to work.

Went shopping in the main street of Airlie Beach. The local music store doesn't have cassette players these days. Even the pawn shop doesn't have them. One CD and internet store did have them as part of a boom box style CD player. I am a bit dubious about that. Finally drove to the BigW at Centro, where I could get a cheap cassette player. However it didn't appear to have a Line Out port. Back to square one.

Then I remembered Jean had a dusty old Philips CD cassette radio. Light, action, wheels turn, it even hums. It just didn't actually play anything.

Chainsaw a piano

The Flux-Us show in Brisbane included performance artist Rebecca Cunningham chainsawing through a piano as part of a $3000 act paid for by the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts. Artists can do what they like, and call it a performance. However I can not see any reason for public funds being used for the destruction of something Ms Cunningham is probably incapable of building. I believe Arts Queensland fund the Judith Wright Centre. Perhaps destruction shouldn't get taxpayer funding?

If you really want to fund uncomfortable comment via the arts, maybe money should go to Brisbane based Aboriginal artist Richard Bell, who uses his love of art as propaganda. He is clever, and confronting, and he makes people uncomfortable with his messages. Isn't that something that is a reasonable result of art? Some of his award winning art includes messages like Aboriginal art, it's a white thing, and other much more direct and sharp messages. Plus his work looks great.

Saturday 2 September 2006

Target Crime

Will increasing welfare reduce crime? Some welfare lobbyists seem to believe so. Is there a link between being poor and crime? If the link were total, most white collar crime would never occur. However most people who are poor do not turn to crime. An exception seems to be in societies where law and order are seen to have broken down or be ineffective. To me this suggests a society should work hard at analysis of crime figures. Then it should target problem areas.

Rudolph Giuliani's targeted responses in New York city apparently reduced the overall crime rate 57%, and murder by 65%. Sure sounds like something worked.

Fun Race

Today was the Whitsunday Fun Race, a sail around the Whitsunday Islands. Lots of very pretty sail boats.

Sunday 3 September 2006

Church of Google

At last, a realistic religion, the Church of Google. Covers all pages for me. Get out and support something you can believe in, because it actually does produce results. Nothing rank about this religion.

Dead Parrot Sketch

Sorry, it is probably Environment Minister Ian Campbell who is dead, not the endangered Orange-bellied parrot so threatened by the cancelled (and revived again) 52 turbine Bald Hill wind farm in South Gippsland. I thought he was doing it on behalf of the uranium lobby. More cynical people thought he was trying to wedge climate change greens against species protection green against the state renewable energy crowd. Except continuing with brown coal means Victoria hasn't got much of a green energy push. Plus it looked like the minister did it for the good of his sitting mate in the electorate - a sort of reversal of the whiteboard listing projects you will fund.

Now Greenpeace want the minister sacked. For not supporting a wind power industry that is probably unsustainable without heavy subsidy via the renewable energy credit of $43 a megawatt hour. Also, wind power will never replace coal power, because wind power isn't sufficiently reliable for base load. If wind replaces anything, it will replace gas, which can ramp power output up and down more quickly than can coal plants. But natural gas (CH4) is already more greenhouse efficient than coal, brown or black.

Speaking of the minister, I noticed a while ago he commented on the Top Ten Tipping Points on Climate Change, from the Climate Institute, and said they got it wrong. Ian says Australia is spending a whole A$32 million on research. We are also doing a lot of talking about climate in meetings. Plus we are one of four countries on track to meet its Kyoto targets. Meeting a target of an 8% increase using a one off trick of not destroying trees is a bit of a cop out. We are said to be investing a billion dollars to develop other energy sources, and they do cover a range. We are monitoring how much greenhouse gas we emit, which I guess beats not counting any of it. We do have a Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, and that has delivered some investment in renewable energy.

Monday 4 September 2006


I kept hearing a low but fairly constant noise, around 50dB but at an annoying note for machinery. This was from my balcony at the Whitsunday Terraces resort. Trouble is, when you searched for it, it faded when you walked on the path behind buildings. I thought it was perhaps an air conditioner gone bad in this Whitsunday Terraces building. Eventually I thought I had tracked it down to The Veranda, a newly built restaurant on the corner of Coconut Grove. The thing was, the restaurant was about 200 metres away, plus you couldn't really hear the noise when inside the place!

Since various people were washing their cars or preparing to head for work, I asked them. To my relief, they all heard the noise too, although none found it as troubling as I did (I am home most days). So I wandered down the twelve flights of stairs at the Whitsunday Terraces, past six building, across the parking lot and the main street, to the restaurant, and put my complaint to the assistant manager. I think she thought I was some sort of nut case. If I kept hearing the noise for much longer I would have been. She kindly agreed to get the kitchen extractor fan installers to check the thing.

Power Out

Power outage at 9:56 a.m. at the Whitsunday Terraces resort. Only for a moment. I love having a UPS. Now, if only I could get a solar power supply that could give me up to 200 watts for my computer. At night!

Tuesday 5 September 2006

Vitamin C (again)

Linus Pauling thought it could cure all manner of stuff, and went overboard promoting it. Mark Levine wants to find out whether it can cure some cancers. Vitamin C at high concentrations is toxic to some cancers in lab dishes. However your body automatically removes it via urine, so you can't get high concentrations of it. Unless instead of taking it orally (as in most trials), you take it intravenously. Side effects are probably rare, especially if you screen out patients with kidney or blood disorders.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, leading to suspicions that it may protect cancer against oxidant damage. However in high concentrations, Vitamin C appears to be an oxidant promoter, which produces its toxic effect by generating the oxidant hydrogen peroxide. However injecting hydrogen peroxide can be fatal! So is Vitamin C somehow not generating hydrogen peroxide while in the blood, only when it seeps into fluid filled body cavities? It sort of looks that way in test tubes with simulated body cavity fluid. Hugh Riordan thinks normal cells can neutralise peroxide, but cancer cells don't have much of the enzyme that does this. Some interesting speculation out there, so I sure hope decent tests get done soon.

Wednesday 6 September 2006

Noise (2)

The noise in my head is gone! I thought it was not present yesterday, but ascribed it to the prevailing wind direction. I listened carefully this morning from the Whitsunday Terraces balcony, when it was too early for a breeze, and the noise was indeed mostly gone. So when I walked down to collect the mail, I mentioned this to John (one of my noise witnesses of previous days), who told me the restaurant had discovered the fan motor was connected in reverse. This also rather explained why the kitchen exhaust extraction wasn't working real well. I went to the thank the owner of The Veranda for their prompt attention, and successful and timely removal of the noise.

Compact Cassette Player (2)

It seems weird, but Jean's Philips CD cassette radio is in two parts, with a ribbon cable. Either the cable wasn't seated right (I reseated it) or else the bottom half (with the amplifier) needed to be reset despite being powered up. However I finally persuaded the thing to play some of my cassettes.

Of course, it doesn't have a line out ... but it does have a headphone out ... with a sticking 3.5 mm socket, so the speakers don't always come back on. I think I am partway to capturing my cassettes.

Tropical Seaside Sex

Relax, it was just two turtles drifting in on the tide in Muddy Bay. Still, at least it probably means another generation of turtles. I was starting to think that most of the sea life around Airlie Beach was ready to die out. I guess the marine die off can wait until they build the Port of Airlie marina.

Thursday 7 September 2006

24 inch iMac

Apple announced an even larger iMac. A 1920 by 1200 display 24 inches on the diagonal, and the Vesa wall mounting option is back! Price drop too, at least at the low end and probably high end as well. I am not sure the 24 inch video card can handle screen rotation in an external monitor the way the 20 inch model can. Despite that, and the potential 220 watt power drain, this big iMac is starting to sound seriously attractive. I can't really justify replacing my 20 inch imac G5 ALS this instant, but I can sure think about it once the initial reviews are in. I was looking for a Big Mac, but didn't realise they would Supersize it.

The price difference between the lowest 17 inch model and the standard 24 inch model is about 2 to 1. The low model iMac (like the educational version) has shared graphics rather than a separate video card. Seems a reasonable compromise to hit that price point.

Superannuation Grab

The unlamented Labor reform leader and borderline fruitcase Mark Latham persuaded the party a few years ago to reduce superannuation entitlements for future federal politicians to similar to most of the rest of the public. Considering the public is funding all this largess, this policy was well received outside Parliament. The Liberals woke in fright, and the change went through. Now both major parties have silently grabbed back their generous treat. Snouts back in the trough for both of them. No wonder politicians are not trusted.

Friday 8 September 2006

AWA iPod Speaker clock radio

BigW sell an AWA iPod MP3 Speaker Clock radio with USB TC-656 (5797110), which comes with a set of 5 universal dock adaptors for iPod. The iPod Nano adaptor appeared to me to have been moulded incorrectly and would not fit into the device. This appeared to me to be a design error, not a moulding problem (that adaptor needs an offset that is not needed on the other adaptors, all of which appear correct). I compared the Nano adaptor with the official Apple nano adaptor, which is sort of weirdly offset in itself. Naturally the Apple one fitted, so I figured somehow the one included with the radio had been built wrong.

I complained to BigW, and got a call back an hour or so later from their audio video buyer. The entire iPod connector can be slid back and forth between a normal and a Nano position! Cool design trick (provided it doesn't mean a flexible connector or sliding switch fails sometime). They even had it in the concise manual. I had RTFM, but somehow managed to miss that illustration. The BigW audio visual buyer was really on the ball on that.

The external plug pack (10v 1.4 amp) for this radio also gets way too hot (in my opinion). Plus you can hear a 50 Hz (well probably 2nd harmonic at 100 Hz actually) hum from the speakers, which I guess means not enough supply bypassing. Other than that, for an under A$80 gadget with an iPod dock, USB charger, and 3.5 mm auxiliary input plug, it isn't bad at all. The controls for function and mode are a little confusing (I don't believe consumer gadgets should have dozens of buttons), but are perfectly workable, since the selected function is shown on the vacuum fluorescent display. It even has a small remote control!

The small manual is well written, in English, and actually customised to Australia! I am astonished. Well done.

I was pleased to see the once well regarded name AWA return to the Australian marketplace, even if it is all produced in China via BigW.

Obsolete technologies

Beta video. Carbon paper. Cassette players. Daisy Wheel printers. Digital Compact Cassette from Philips. Ditto duplication. Floppy disks - 8 inch, 5.25 inch, 3.5 inch, 3 inch (Amstrad), 1.8 inch. Kodak drops film cameras. Mimeo duplicators. MiniDisc from Sony. PCMCIA cards and PC cards (replaced by Express Card). Selectric typewriters. Typewriter ribbons, especially the red and black cloth ones. VHS video.

Saturday 9 September 2006


Voting in the state election. I did my rounds of the Airlie Beach markets and collected the papers and got breakfast first. No strawberries at the markets, so I guess the unseasonable rain last week destroyed the crop. Rats. At least I got a bit of a walk from the Whitsunday Terraces to the voting booth.

Beattie got back in, as expected, with about 60 seats. Despite three incompetent terms. On the other hand, it is a moot point as to whether the opposition isn't far worse. It certainly is more fragmented. What a wonderful set of choices.

Sunday 10 September 2006

Hogs Breath

Had a great dinner at Hogs Breath with old friend John and his boss Paul, who were here on computer business. I'd been looking for an excuse for another Hogs Breath meal (although other places would also be fine). I sure hope I will see them again over the rest of the week. I also hope that John gets his sailing trip.

Amazon Movies

Let me see, copy protected, won't work on Macintosh, Linux, old versions of Windows, new versions of Windows (Vista beta), a TV or a DVD player, downloads slowly, but available only in the USA, and no better resolution than a DVD. Plus it is exploding media - if your hard drive dies, so does your download. I don't think this is a keeper.

I guess I will just keep buying DVDs while they are cheaper than a paperback novel ... but only as long as I can crack the copy protection and leave a copy on my computer so I can play a movie while I am travelling (I usually don't have time to watch a movie at home).

Monday 11 September 2006

Closing Cities for VIPs

Many years ago I was thoroughly pissed off about some Sydney streets being closed to traffic because the Popemobile was trundling through. I wouldn't give a rats arse about some voodoo high priest wishing to spread their superstitious claptrap to their deluded believers. If they wish to visit, fine. But closing streets for their carcade goes way too far.

Now I gather Sydney is being favoured with a public holiday because of the arrival of various heads of state for a meeting. Security precaution, I gather. Public streets belong to the public. If some individual fears for their safety when travelling along a public street, maybe they should not travel along that street, or visit that city.

Tuesday 12 September 2006

Digital Audio

Digital audio was used by Sinclair ages ago, but badly. Various types of digital audio amplifiers have had bad press among audiophiles since they first appeared. But lots of audiophiles think we should go back to vinyl records and valve amplifiers (possibly they like soft clipping and even order harmonics). However some digital amplifiers are finally getting good reports from some audiophiles. Like the Sonic Impact Super T and Class T digital amplifier, which uses a low power Tripath TA2024 chip, which some audio people raved about. Tripath digital sound amplifier chips have been used by Apple since around 2002 at least. Also in the Sony Playstation 2. The great thing about that chip is it is so underpowered it can run from batteries. Tripath continue to release better portable chips, such as the TAA2009.

Bang and Olufsen ICEpower digital amplifier modules appear in most recent Bang and Olufsen amplifiers and active loudspeakers. Karsten Nielsen's ICEpower amplifier devices have been sold to other major audio companies such as Sanyo and Sonicweld active loudspeakers, which also include the DEQX digital processor which helps compensate for room problems. Alas, the ICEpower modules are not available to experimenters.

Hypex do class D amplifiers from 180 to 700 watts, and have suitable linear power supplies. They are DIY friendly.

D2Audio smart digital audio ics are in products from Harmon Kadron, Sonance, Marantz, BenQ and others. They have DSP facilities to adapt to the room. Mostly aimed at OEMs. Their amplifier modules are tiny, and they do have evaluation kits.

Chairs and Furniture

Why don't easy chairs have reading stands built in? Plus a shadow free reading light that flips out of the way. A magazine and book holder. A notepad, and pen so you are not scrabbling to take a quick note. Built in phone (although I guess a wireless phone would work, if there were a place to store it). Storage for snacks, and the ability to keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks warm. Plus swivel and wheels so it is easy to move.

More caffeine than coffee

South American holly, Ilex guayusa, contains five times the caffeine by dry weight of any other plant. The Achuar Jivaro tribe in the Amazon use this as a herbal tea each morning. Then to avoid caffeine overdose, they vomit it up again. Now that is a proper jolt from a proper bad habit.

Spam civil offence

Spam not criminal seems to be getting some legal support in New Zealand. Personally I think killing spammers should be considered self defence.

Wednesday 13 September 2006

Apple Showtime

As expected, mostly about iPod upgrades, all in much smaller boxes. Plus a fairly pedestrian USA only movie download on offer. The iTunes Store has been renamed, dropping the word music. The big news is that it looked like Steve Jobs wore something brown instead of a black turtle neck.

An even more miniature 1GB iPod Shuffle, with a welcome clothing clip, and easier to access controls. Plus a good US$79 price. Apple claim it is the smallest music player on the market, and it sure looks like something you could easily lose. They had to sacrifice the USB port to do it, so connection and charging are via the headphone connector. Given the iPod Video accepts a three output (plus earth) headphone connection, in retrospect using the headphone connector is an obvious move. Comes with a miniature dock. I am not in the target buying group, but it keeps Apple in play against low cost music players.

Sacrificing the USB port in the iPod Shuffle means there isn't the temptation to buy one so you can use it as an emergency USB drive. If you have to carry a cable or dock around, the portability aspect is gone. However I am sure relatively few people used a Shuffle as a regular alternative to a memory card.

Second generation iPod Nano, I think with a price drop (or capacity doubling). As expected, there is now an 8GB model, but available only in black. The 2GB model is silver. The 4GB is available in silver, Pink, Green and Blue. Yes, they are no longer made of scratch prone plastic. Looks like anodised aluminium. Battery life is claimed to have increased, up to 24 hours, which is impressive if true. Display is 40% brighter. Back to the mini model, but in a size I can hardly believe. I am certain this will be popular, although there will be the usual complaints about premium prices for black. Get used to it. Black is the new white.

No hold switch? Maybe Apple will lock it if the earphones are out, as they are good at details like that. However I use my Nano as a shopping list and store location list, so having it locked when the earphones are out would be awkward. Store photos show a hold switch, so I guess it was just prototype photos that lacked it. (My error, the hold switch is still there.)

The video capable fifth generation iPod was improved with a 60% brighter display, but no increase in display size, and a US$50 price drop. Battery life while playing videos has almost doubled, but music battery life is probably unchanged. Prices have dropped slightly, and the models are now 30GB and 80GB (an increase from the previous 60GB, at US$349). Both are available in white and black. Not many surprises there, but the changes are welcome.

No sign of a full screen video iPod model, but we can now predict it will be VGA 640x480 when and if it appears. I can see power consumption and pricing problems holding it back a while longer.

The iPod software has been improved, with gapless playback available. A better search method is available, using the wheel to select letters. If the search improvement is general that would be very nice - it takes too long to search long playlists. Plus a variety of $5 games will be able to be downloaded.

Apple mention a new earphone design they have been working on for some time. They do look smaller than my current earphones. It will be very interesting to hear how good they are. I find the existing Apple earphones close to useless.

The existing video downloads move from a paltry 320x240 to plain VGA at 640x480, which is four times the iPod resolution. DVD in Pal format is 720x576, which is 35% more area, although still 4:3 rather than 16:9. Calling it near DVD is a bit of a reach, in my opinion. Disney movies will be available for download in the USA, and perhaps later elsewhere. Prices (US$15) competitive with full price DVD, but not with DVD on sale. Video and movies are pretty much a non-event for me, and I expect to continue to buy DVDs when they are cheap. At least, I will buy DVD until some copy protection prevents me copying them, and then I will stop buying movies.

On the other hand, what resolution is Google Video and YouTube? I have a feeling this could do good things for default video resolutions. I note VGA is what iSight and ChatAV can use.

New version of iTunes, with separate libraries available for different sorts of content. That makes sense, if video and movies take off.

Apple iTV

A technology preview of a video capable equivalent to the Airport Express and AirTunes package, iTV is due in early 2007. Intended to connect to your large screen TV, yet keep your computer out of the lounge room. I use Airport Express to connect my Apple to my stereo, so I can play music using my computer hard drive as storage. I think AirTunes is a great technology, and displaces a whole swag of conventional audio gear.

The US$299 iTV (name will change) is a Mac mini sized half height 802.11 wireless box with a built in power supply (figure 8 power lead) plus Ethernet and USB2. It would connect to your TV via HDMI or component video, and has stereo RCA and optical audio. It works with an Apple remote.

Not sufficient information to know what capabilities it will have. Is it limited to 640x480 or 4:3 video? If so, it sucks. Will it accept 1080p or HD formats, as is inferred by component and HDMI? Great. Can you hook extra hard drives via the USB2 port? Probably, else why put it there, but who knows?

It is unusual (not unknown - see Leopard) for Apple to talk about products not yet released. On the other hand, Microsoft Media Center has been out for years, complete with computer in the living room. Plus you can probably use an XBox 360 as a media centre extender. I don't think Media Center has really appealed to anyone much, but it certainly is available. This seems to be saying keep your computer in the office, put this tidy little gadget in the lounge room, and stream your video from a Mac or a Windows box to your TV. So it is a media center TV extender, like the cheaper DLink DSM-520. A Mac mini lookalike without optical or hard drive seems an interesting approach to the media centre problems like heat and noisy fans. Less like a computer, more like a featureless box that can be easily hidden out of the way. The most important feature will be ease of use. If it isn't something your grandmother could use, why bother?

Since my office is my living room, I have my iMac pretty visible. I gave away the TV (the free to air programming is no use here anyway), and use a 24 inch Dell computer monitor for all media stuff. Composite from the VCR (my only analogue tuner), component from the DVD player. I can't see the iTV being much use to me. I can just connect my computer direct with DVI in any case. On the other hand, with cable here being just as useless as TV, from my viewpoint iTV looks aimed more at the TV and cable networks than at Microsoft. View only content you have selected, not the pap the networks want you to view.

Online Music

I wonder why emusic make it so hard to browse their selection? They have a great selection, all in unprotected MP3, so it is potentially a wonderful site. Fine if you are a member, and login. However if you simply want to check them out, and look to see what they have, you can't easily find how. From their home page, select login, then at the login page, select browse. People leave pages that cause this sort of problem. I did.

Thursday 14 September 2006

Power supplies

Seems microphones don't produce nearly as much output as I thought. At least, dynamic ones don't. Shows how long it is since I used a microphone. I sort of thought I had enough gain on the inputs of a Macintosh to get away with it, but looks like I need a microphone amplifier. The more common electret condensor microphones have an amplifier built in.

Jaycar had a couple of different kits, so I got the universal preamplifier kit. If I ever happen to need a phono or even a tape preamplifier I can convert it from a microphone amplifier. Just some capacitor and resistor changes. But first, I needed a power supply. Jaycar had a Silicon Chip universal supply kit, and I could power that from a 12 volt wall wart rather than being forced to use less common (in my junk box) 30 volt centre tap transformer. I usually build my own supplies from parts in my junk box, but I didn't have any -15 volt regulators on hand. I also got a much lower noise power supply kit for a headphone pre-amplifier. Plenty of board packing and soldering for me.

Apple iMac G5 and Network Time Protocol

I have noticed that the time on my iMac G5 running Tiger OSX 10.4.6 is a few minutes slow. I don't actually have an accurate clock at home, so it took me a while to notice. This error surprised me, as in System Preferences I had set the iMac to automatically set its clock from Apple's Asian Network Time Protocol server, and this was still enabled. When I changed time server for a few seconds the time updated as I expected. I wonder whether the time is checked by default only when you reboot? My Mac has not been rebooted for about 33 days at the moment.

Friday 15 September 2006

Can't Hear Difference

Music psychologists Klaus-Ernst Behne and Johannes Barkowsky from Hannover Conservatory were reporting around 1993 on playing identical classic and jazz recordings from a CD player and a record player to 160 listeners with the sequence repeated six times. Sources were alternated several times, so the same recording was heard as A,B,A,B,A or B,A,B,A,B with signals blended from one to the other. The listeners included hifi sales staff, music students and professional musicians, frequent concert attendees. The only English report I've noticed of this was a brief mention by Claus-Peter Sesin in New Scientist, 31 July 1993 p18, but there is a fair amount available in German.

Only 4 out of 160 listeners distinguished between CD and record every time, only 17 managed 5 out of 6 correct. This is only a little better than guessing. 23% of listeners said CD was warmer than record, and 22% said the record was more brilliant than CD, which does indicate people hearing some difference (chance would expect 50%).

In another test, a CD was played with level changes to suggest an A-B swap that didn't actually occur. Laymen in the test audience tended to hear no change, while many audio enthusiasts did hear differences.


40% of babies born to women aged over 40 (or under 17) have Downs syndrome or mongoloidism. The children have an extra 21st chromosome. When chromosomes line up for cell division they are held together at points called chiasmata, which travel the length of the chromosome when it splits. The 21st chromosome is short, has only one chiasma, so it is very easy to lose. A divided cell without it will die. But if the cell has three, it can be fertilised. Estrogen controls the rate of miosis, so as it decreases with age, the transcription errors increase.

Hemoglobin S genes inherited from both parents mean you develop sickle cell anemia. From one, you have sickle cell trait. Oxygen deprivation forces red blood cells with hemoglobin S to become sickle shaped. US army studies showed recruits with the gene 40 times more likely to die suddenly. If you have an African background, might be a good idea to check before getting into athletics as a career.

Treating pregnant rats with a drug called MAM produces offspring with greatly reduced cortex tissue. These rats fail to cope well in complex environments. The rats were curious, but failed to settle into an environment. Would not have survived in the wild (and only 10% survived to weaning in the lab).

Cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) codes for production of a tunnel like protein through which cells excrete salty chloride ions. Cystic fibrosis patients with the damaged gene have abnormally salty sweat, and rarely survive past 30. It is the most common fatal genetic disorder known in the USA, with about 30,000 victims, and about 1/25 people are symptomless carriers of the gene. The gene can be tested for, and if both parents are carriers there is a 1/4 chance of a child having the condition. Prenatal testing can be done around week 11 (placenta) or week 16 (amniocentesis).

Saturday 16 September 2006

National Transmission Agency

The Australian Broadcasting Commission Act 1932 specified the Postmaster General would do transmission of programs via the National Broadcasting Service. After 1975 Telecom provided the service under contract to the Department of Communications.

The National Transmission Agency (NTA) took over in 1992. In December 1998 Parliament decided to sell NTA. In March 1999 NTL (a UK based telecoms and media company) won the bid to own and operate the National Transmission Network. This includes 578 antenna sites and 1700 transmitters across metropolitan, regional and rural Australia.

There is also a Regional Communications Partnership - Subsidy Scheme for Self-help Retransmission Group Related Access to the National Transmission Network, which councils may use to provide TV or radio access in remote areas. Under this scheme, the Government and ntl Australia Pty Ltd jointly subsidise self-help group access to National Transmission Network sites in regional and remote Australia.


How can you have a clash of civilisations when one side no longer seems civilised?

Sunday 17 September 2006

Computer Audio

When originally mentioning the Airport Express review in Stereophile, I neglected to provide links to the Stereophile comments on similar but more full featured devices, such as the SlimServer Squeezebox, originally mentioned in Stereophile magazine and using a Bluetooth phone as a remote control for the Macintosh.

The Squeezebox digital output review appeared in Stereophile in September at with measurements including jitter. Seemed good value for money. It will be interesting to see full reviews of the upmarket Transporter model which appears to address many design concerns about the Squeezebox. Stereophile commented on Transporter.

There is also a review of the Sonos ZonePlayer, which is well suited to distributing music from a computer to multiple rooms.

Airlie Beach Triathlon

Way to energetic for me. 750 swim, 20km cycle, 5km run. I did take a walk around Waterson Road in the morning, timed so I could watch the cyclists go by.

Monday 18 September 2006

Weet-bix Boxes

Why haven't Decor or some other kitchen box maker done a box just the right size to accept a Weet-Bix cereal container. The Decor 4.75L 004760 oblong tall plastic box I got in Woolworths only fails to accept a 750 gram Weet-bix package by a tiny margin. Weet-bix must be close to the largest selling cereal in Australia. Surely I am not the only person who wants to easily store my Weet-bix in an ant proof, top opening storage container without decanting them from the original cardboard container?

RCA Leads

Every RCA lead I see is made in China. If the quality were consistent, that would be fine. However some companies in China are better at building down to a price than up to a specification. The companies that order these products are to blame. They are the ones that need to do quality control on what they accept from their contractors.

Despite what the audio shops tell you about spending lots of money on cable, pretty much any cheap RCA cable will do for audio interconnects for most people on most stereos. Most people, most of the time, can't even tell whether they are listening to a CD or a record player, high price equipment or lower price, fancy cable or not (see Behne and Barkowsky from Hannover Conservatory). Audio shops get a real good markup on cable, and I suspect that gives them a bias towards expensive cables. OK, to be fair, one person in forty could tell the difference between CD and LP (although 1 out of 64 people would have guessed right just by chance in the trial). If you are that person, you may want to check cables more carefully.

I like gold plated connectors. Because gold conducts better? Silver conducts even better than copper. No. It is simply that corrosion isn't a problem with gold, and I live by the seaside where everything corrodes.

Cables do make a difference on video. For short connections, say under a metre, pretty much anything works. However analogue video signals are intended to go via 75 ohm impedance coaxial cables, whether those cables are three lead component (good) or a single composite cable (generally pathetic). Cables generally skimp on the coax shield. If there isn't much wire in the braid, interference can leak through. A foil shield gives total coverage, but not as good a connection. So I like to see a combination of foil and dense braid. Plenty of cables are not 75 ohm, so it probably doesn't matter that no RCA connector is correct for 75 ohm. If making your own cables, you could look for the (scarce) RCA plugs that let you spread the braid all over the outside of the RCA plug when you solder it, so the cable has end to end shield coverage.

Mitre10 hardware stores sometimes have Magnavox brand imported by Prosignal Pty Ltd. For some reason they were selling the 3x3 RCA 1.5M stereo lead for A$6.95 instead of A$12.95, so I grabbed the three on hand. You can rip the leads apart to get the thicker composite video lead by itself.

BigW sell Alvin Home Theatre audio video leads. I thought the HPL330P three metre audio video lead was pretty good value at A$11.84. Marked for either left and right audio plus yellow composite video, or red, blue and green for component. Plus it is easy to separate the leads if you need only one or two.

Quick and dirty test for any RCA lead. Connect from a composite video source (I use my old VCR as a tuner) to an LCD panel with composite input. The difference between reasonable and horrible cables shows up as horizontal banding. This is more noticeable the longer the cable, and you may not see a difference on short cables. I like testing very long cables, and then get the same brand for my shorter cables. Label the bad cables for emergency use only.

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Cinema Sound

I am having trouble trying to get home cinema 5.1 style surround sound from my computer. My cheap DVD player has 6 RCA audio line outputs, for left and right front and rear, centre and sub-woofer. Powered or active speakers are fine with that. So are the cheap 5.1 speaker packages that I want to upgrade. However some DVDs refuse to work with the DVD player, so I play these recalcitrant DVDs using my computer, but stereo sound is all I have available.

My computer however has an optical output for 5.1 sound. I can easily convert optical digital Toslink to coax wire. However I can't see an easy way to convert the S/PDIF digital on these cables to something an amplifier can use. I need a digital decoder (that handles DTS and Dolby), plus a six channel digital to analogue converter. Plus a six channel pre-amplifier so I could feed that to active loudspeakers.

These stand alone DAC gadgets are called processor preamplifiers. The audiophile folks had a range of them, mostly two channel only, which didn't help. Plus the asking prices were more than faintly unrealistic for the likely improvement.

Listen to believe audio AC3 Amp 5.1 Headphone Amplifier System seems to have the right inputs and outputs. Trying to find anything on their site seemed impossible. Home Theatre magazine reviewed the AC3 Amp 5.1 Headphone Amplifier System which is why I think it might work. I know X-Box enthusiasts use the AC3 headphones. Doesn't seem available in Australia.

Griffin Firewave handles Firewire to line out however it was only released in August. Maybe getting it working was harder than they thought. Price is right at US$100, and I imagine Apple dealers will import them to Australia. Streetwise list Firewave already. I am not sure I would get any advantage in taking my audio via IEE1394a when I have a perfectly reasonable optical digital output available on the computer. Plus so far there isn't much in the way of favourable reviews.

Wednesday 20 September 2006

Cinema Sound (2)

Not one store in the area had an AV Receiver on hand, which seemed a little surprising. An AV Receiver was an obvious alternative according to several people. The thing was that I didn't want a radio receiver (I get lousy reception here). I didn't want yet another bunch of amplifiers, not when I already have several reasonably well built stereo amplifiers. Especially when a cheap AV Receiver would probably have to cut costs on its amplifiers and power supply. Also, I didn't have much luck finding any AV Receiver on the internet that also provided the six preamplifier line outputs. That seems a top end product.

One of the AV Receivers suggested was a Yamaha RX-V3595.1-Channel Digital Home Theatre Receiver. Nice specifications for a budget price, actually astonishingly complete for a budget model. But still no line outputs. I get the feeling that pre-amp outputs are simply not one the options anymore.

Another option (also without the desired pre-amp out) would be an home cinema in a box, complete with six loudspeakers. The digital input is on the sub woofer module, along with the amplifiers. Very common now, very cheap. No way to guess how well each works, but there is less money to be spread around a lot of amplifiers and speakers. I had an earlier cheap version of one of these from Diamond, but like most cheaper and earlier models, it has line input only, no optical input.

Thursday 21 September 2006

Local ABC radio and TV

How to check ABC broadcast frequencies

Transmitter	Service	Name	Frequency
Airlie Beach	Classic	4ABCFM	95.5 FM
Airlie Beach	ABC DTV	ABQ50	683.625 MHz
Airlie Beach	Local 	4ABCRR	89.9 FM
Airlie Beach	ABC Nat	4ABCRN	93.1 FM
Airlie Beach	ABC TV	ABQ49	674.25 MHz
Bowen		ABC Nat	4ABCRN	92.7 FM
Bowen		ABC TV	ABTQ5A	138.26 MHz
Dingo Beach	ABC TV	ABQ57	730.224 MHz
Flame Tree and
Jubilee Pocket	ABC TV	ABQ54	709.25 MHz
Mackay	ABC Classic FM 	4ABCFM	97.9 FM
Mackay	ABC DTV	QLD	ABMQ10	212.5 MHz
Mackay	ABC JJJ	QLD	4JJJ	99.5 FM
Mackay	ABC Local Radio	4QAA	101.1 FM
Mackay	ABC Radio Nat	4ABCRN	102.7 FM
Mackay	ABC TV	QLD	ABMQ8	189.25 MHz
Proserpine	ABC DTV	ABMQ52	697.5 MHz
Proserpine	ABC TV	ABMQ56	723.224 MHz
Shute Harbour	ABC DTV	ABQ56	725.625 MHz
Shute Harbour	ABC TV	ABQ2	64.26 MHz
Townsville	Local	4QN	630 AM

Friday 22 September 2006

Digital TV channels

Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Proserpine Digital TV Channels

Shute Harbour	56	53	65	62	59
Airlie Beach	50	28	44	41	47
Proserpine	52	55	64	61	58

Saturday 23 September 2006

Digital TV Channel details

Digital Terrestrial TV Reception, Airlie Beach and Whitsunday area (all use horizontal polarisation and are directional).

Airlie Beach NTA GSM Site Shingley Hill (150 watts)
ABC	UHF 50 	683.625MHz 
7Qld	UHF 47 	662.5 MHz
WIN	UHF 44 	641.5 MHz
SC10	UHF 41 	620.5 MHz
SBS	UHF 28 	529.5 MHz
Proserpine Seven Qld Translator Site MT LUCAS (500 watts)
ABC	UHF 52 	697.5 MHz
7Qld	UHF 58 	739.5 MHz
WIN	UHF 64 	781.5 MHz
SC10	UHF 61 	760.5 MHz
SBS	UHF 55	718.5 MHz

Additional ABC digital TV broadcast sites include:

Shute Harbour on 56 (725.625 MHz) at 200 watts from NTA Mt Rooper

Flame Tree plus Jubilee Pocket on 54 at 709.25 MHz with vertical polarisation instead of horizontal from Whitsunday Shire Council Mandalay Hill (Self-help Broadcasting Reception Scheme)

Sunday 24 September 2006

Local analogue TV channels

Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Proserpine Analog Channels

Shute Harbour	2	55	64	61	58
Airlie beach	49	34	43	40	46
Proserpine	56	53	65	62	59

Run the Whitsunday Great Walk

I think walking it can be split into three days. 28 kilometers through Conway State Forest, from Brandy Creek to the Airlie Beach Lagoon. A bunch a substantial hills. Despite this, there were lots of runners around the lagoon preparing to make the attempt in the event.

Monday 25 September 2006

Cinema Sound (3)

I have been looking at the Yamaha YSP-800 Digital Sound Projector, which uses sound projection technology from 1limited. 1 Ltd say no more boxes and wires - just one slim unit that, by itself, can generate full, physical surround sound for a group of listeners. It can control and steer multiple channels of sound, completely eliminating the need for five or more satellite loudspeakers and cabling. The YSP-800 is designed to work with flat displays in smaller rooms, especially where equipment space is limited. It basically bounces sound off walls to fake up the missing loudspeakers. At best, the effect is startling, as reported in this Audioholics review of the earlier Yamaha YSP-1 digital sound projector.

Tuesday 26 September 2006

NME High Definition Versatile Multilayer Disc

A British company has found a way to get around the low yields of doing multiple layers on a single DVD disc. New Media Enterprises HD VMD disc can be produced and read with existing red DVD lasers, and at around the same cost. The cost of disc production is estimated to only be 50% higher than a regular single layer DVD. It is cheaper than current dual layer DVD discs, which have low yields. HD VMD is far cheaper than the newly released HD-DVD and Blu-ray discs. HD VMD drives can use older laser technology, and cost only a little more than existing products even when first released. Capacity can be 20 GB to 100 GB. It will host all standard formats. HD VMD is a low cost high definition media solution. NME have produced a player, and will license the technology.

Dutch media production company ODMS expects production of the HD VMD discs to commence in 2007.

Time Warner have patented the idea of discs with multiple formats on them. This would allow HD and standard DVD on the same disc. I would have thought that was bleeding obvious, but I am not a patent attorney.

As David Silverberg says Looks like Toshiba and Sony now have a new public NME. Couldn't happen to a more deserving bunch!

If Bollywood take up this product for their back catalogue, as Eros Entertainment company has, maybe we will end up watching Indian films instead of Hollywood films.

Meanwhile, maybe both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray will die an early death. Suits me just fine.

Prodisc is Australian agent for NME and HD VMD.

Wednesday 27 September 2006

Advanced Access Content System

I can't believe the lies about AACS on their web site. Benefits for the consumer my arse! The consumers of this product are the media studios who want to make sure you buy their product again and again and again when every new format appears. Consumers are a victim of AACS, not a consumer of it. Boycott any product that uses copy protection. Write to the companies supporting it and tell them why you are not buying.

This AACS shit is brought to you by the usual suspects. IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Panasonic, Sony, Toshiba, Walt Disney, Warner Bros. Consider not dealing with them for any of their products.

Thursday 28 September 2006

Bikers in Airlie Beach

There must have been a thousand motor bikes around town. I hadn't realised how noisy they were until I found I couldn't configure my loudspeakers at the Whitsunday Terraces because of the background noise.

Friday 29 September 2006

2006 National Harley Owners Group Rally

Even more bikes arrived. Many riders seem around our age, but seem totally in denial. Rock music on the foreshore or maybe the sailing club until after midnight.

I noticed my neighbour at the Whitsunday Terraces headed off well before evening to go sailing someplace well away from the noise in town for the weekend.

Saturday 30 September 2006

Intel Classmate

A low cost computer for third world countries. I guess Intel and Microsoft are worried the Linux version of the hundred dollar computer from MIT may eat their lunch. No hard drive, embedded Windows XP, flash memory as disc. Small colour display. It doesn't seem that bad a design, on a superficial look.