Eric Lindsay's Blog 2007 April

Sunday 1 April 2007

Don McLean's American Pie

Widely requested on radio, perhaps because it actually has some meaning. American Pie (released November 1971) is a history of rock and roll from the day the music died, 3 February 1959, when a plane (called American Pie in the song) crash killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and Jiles P Richardson (the Big Bopper). Was the king Elvis, and since his songs mention jesters, the jester Bob Dylan?

Lori Lieberman is known for writing a poem Killing Me Softly with his blues, detailing Lieberman's 1970's experience of sitting in the back of a nightclub, transfixed by the musician onstage who seemed to sing right through her. The musician was Don MacLean, playing at LA's Troubadour Club, and the song Singing Empty Chairs, not American Pie. Her producers were Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox, who turned the poem into the song that Lori Lieberman sang on the Capitol label in 1972. The song made the number one spot later as the Grammy winning Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack first released in either January or August 1973. At least 28 other artists used the song.

Solar Systems

Solar Systems technical director John Lasich likes concentrator based solar power systems, as long as he doesn't melt them. Plus they have those neat triple effect photovoltaic cells that recently set a world record for efficiency at Hermansberg. Canberra are popping A$75 million, Victoria A$50 million. I would really like to see a 138MW solar plant at Mildura. Tracking? I thought they had tracking at Hermansberg.

The economics still defeat me. Best I can do on PV is $10 per watt, so the 5 KVA plant on your roof costs A$50,000. Doesn't even store power. Oh yes, and my air conditioner is 7.5 KVA (although it doesn't often get used). Opps. Houston, we have a problem. One is in year 2000 less than a third of homes even had an air conditioner. Half do now. 70% will in another few years. Someone rush out and order another coal fired power plant.

Hydrogen Fuel

I also don't understand hydrogen as a clean fuel. Sure, a car burning hydrogen (or using a fuel cell) produces water. However we usually produce hydrogen from methane (from coal) and steam at over 800 degrees. Plus using that method produces around 9 kilograms of carbon dixoide for every kilogram of hydrogen produced. Takes a lot of energy as well, around 2/3 of a megawatt-hour to drive 1000 kilometres. A coal fired power plant would produce almost a tonne of carbon dioxide to produce the hydrogen. However a reasonably efficient petrol car over that distance would produce around a third of a tonne of carbon dioxide.

Many of the arguments against hydrogen are actually arguments against coal and oil fired power plants. Many of the other arguments against hydrogen are about storage and transportation problems.

Solar or wind powered hydrogen generation plants would solve that, but they don't exist. Nor is there any incentive for most energy companies to produce them, as yet.

Bush Fart Jokes

I missed this Animal House in the West Wing item by Paul Bedard saying Bush likes to cuss, laughs at mountain bikers wiping out, and loves flatulence jokes. I knew there was good reason to like Bush, even more than him having a greener house than Al Gore does.

Monday 2 April 2007


Around 7 a.m. the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia issued a tsunami possible threat warning after an earthquake of magnitude 8.1 was detected near the Solomon Islands at 6:40 a.m. AEST. Although there is no way as yet to measure nor predict effects, a warning was appropriate. Also, after the Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia, not giving a warning would have been considered irresponsible or negligent, even if their opinion was the effects here would be low. Subsequent reports expected any effects to reach Willis Island around 8:30 a.m. and Cooktown around 9:30 a.m.

As you would expect, the unfortunate people of the Solomon Islands were most at risk, with subsequent reports of deaths and widespread destruction. Rescue efforts and aid was able to be sent quickly, however the effectiveness isn't known. It is also unfortunate that the initial detection happened on 1 April by Hawaii time, as some people thought third party reports of the initial Tsunami report a bad April Fool joke.

Although unlikely, tsunamis may be serious in Australia, with much of the population in low lying areas close to the coast. Given the last East Coast tsunami came from Chile in May 1960, who expects anything to happen here?

Local responses were limited, with some businesses being more active than others. Fantasea ceased ferry operations, stopped customers from checking in at Shute Harbour, and sent a helicopter to collect their six staff from the Reefworld pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef. Some people kept their children home from school.

Since I don't watch morning TV shows, nor listen to the radio, I hadn't realised anything was happening when I wandered down to the beach and the main street around 9 a.m. A chance conversation with a motel owner was my first notice. She had heard the radio. However she was unable to reassure guests who planned to leave. I was at least able to point her to the Bureau of Meteorology web site, where the likelihood of tsunami was by then being downgraded. She certainly didn't know how to reach the Geosciences Australia site, nor any other means of getting updated information. Given the original Hawaii warning included estimated wave arrival times (which were probably wrong), the information available seemed to me inadequate. This despite detailed Whitsunday Shire Disaster Risk Management Plans.

FBI Gag Orders

The FBI has issued 140,000 National Security gag orders which have a chilling effects on free speech. You would be required to lie to avoid revealing you had received such a gag order. Being ordered to become an informer is not acceptable in a free society.

Tuesday 3 April 2007

EMI frees DRM Music

Chief Executive Eric Nicoli announced EMI have released digital downloads free from the hated DRM restrictions. EMI are the smallest (just under 10%) of the big four music distributors. The Apple iTunes Store is to provide a May release of the DRM free EMI music. EMI are expected to offer their music via multiple other online music stores. The Apple iTunes Premium version will cost more (US$1.29 vs US0.99c) than DRM music, but will be encoded at twice the bit rate, 256 kbps AAC instead of the original iTunes 128 kbps AAC. Wonder how many iPod buyers will need a larger capacity, higher cost model?

Music buyers should have a choice between CD, AAC from iTunes in DRM or in not DRM form, and possibly other formats such as MP3 from say eMusic. I certainly hope that EMI see greatly increased sales from their bold move into the 21st century (and only 6 years late).

I expect Apple iTunes Store will take the opportunity to offer much of their independent music range in DRM free form, probably at the same US$1.29 price. For one thing, independent music is close to 20% of the market. Just having EMI's 10% as DRM free isn't enough to move the remaining three majors, but EMI plus most of the independents may be. It will also be interesting to see whether customers are willing to pay more for a higher bit rate and no DRM restrictions.

After some European authorities criticised the iTunes environment, Apple published Steve Jobs' Thoughts on Music which blamed DRM on the music publishers. It was an effective piece of strategic propaganda, but not accepted by all. Apple were criticised for not unilaterally releasing much of the indy music catalogue DRM free. I trust a few critics are choking on their crow feathers. Suspicions abounded that Apple didn't really want DRM free music (not sure why - Apple make their money on hardware sales), or that their deal with the big four music distributors precluded such a release. I think it much more likely that Jobs didn't want a complicated array of different types of music in the store. Apple have always sacrificed a wide range of options for ease of use - keeping things simple for the customer would fit with the Apple philosophy.

Having a Premium price brand may be something Apple see as a worthwhile complication. Customers are familiar with Premium brands (and paying more for them). It holds out the hope of even greater profits to the big music distributors, which may push some of them to come onboard. It should certainly be attractive to the independent music producers. An independent musician at present gets 63 cents from the 70 cents a packager like CD Baby gets from iTunes Store for each 99 cent sale. Apple have 29 cents to cover credit card costs, running iTunes Music store, bandwidth costs, and staff costs. No CD store can compete on that sort of margin. However Apple make their margins from sales of iPods, not from iTunes Store. iTunes just needs to break even (although profits are good too).

This rift in the big four music distributors could signal the end of their experiment with DRM. It is true that CDs never had DRM, but for many years, consumers could not easily copy a CD. So there was a de facto copy protection. Large scale stealing of CD contents was always possible. The fear seemed to be consumer to consumer copies. Of course it will happen. Music distributors will miss sales due to it. But music you hear is more likely to prompt purchases than is music you never hear.

That EMI download albums will be DRM free but retain the original US$9.99 price will encourage album sales (which the music distributors prefer over singles sales). Also sort of explains the recent Apple Complete Your Album feature, which makes that album upgrade easy.

I also suspect there are a large number of people who like me now refuse to buy music. The only music I have bought in the past decade has been CDs and MP3s from bands, where it was locally produced and sold by the band. It is bloody inconvenient buying that way. Music from an online store is an impulse buy from beer money. If I were not pissed off at the big music distributors, and their DRM, I'd probably buy more. Now my big question is does EMI have any artists whose music I might want?

This is also a great swipe at Microsoft from Apple. Apple really don't need their Fairplay DRM for iTunes Store or the iPod. Whereas Microsoft's PlaysForSure DRM and to a lesser extent their Zune are helping lock consumers into Microsoft for music. If everyone simply uses MP3 and AAC, there is no lock-in except on the basis of doing a better job at integrating store, music and player. Apple are very good at that sort of lock-in.

Apple Cash

Interesting article about excess cash being Apple's strategic tool. Discusses what Apple may do with its cash, and what risks Apple needs to take into account. In particular, the high tech industry is volatile. I personally see the iPod has having reached close to its peak sales value (although I am sure sales number will continue to increase). Apple runs lean, and I suspect it will need to continue to do so.

Wednesday 4 April 2007

Hydro Power Fails

Hydro Tasmania supplies the National Electricity Market with peak power capacity for Victoria and South Australia via the 600 MW HVDC Basslink interconnect, owned by National Grid Australia. At 290 kilometre, the A$780 million Basslink is the longest submarine electricity cable. Each of its three 98 kilometre sections weighs 6000 tonne. Basslink enables Tasmania to sell electricity at peak rates (hydro power can be started very quickly). Basslink also allows Tasmania to buy mainland power in times of drought or water shortages. The Basslink interconnect started in 2002, and went into operation on 29 April 2006. The business case for BassLink was based on Hydro Tasmania using its highly flexible hydro-power capacity to sell into price spikes in Victoria, while importing cheap Victorian base-load power off-peak.

The best Tasmanian water catchment areas rely upon the wet west, rather than the dry east. To take advantage of a tiny fraction of the 90 billion tonnes of snow and water that fall on Tasmania each year, there are around 50 dams, and 29 hydro power stations. The long term average electricity output is around 1180 MW. Unfortunately, hydro storage (currently 3000 GWh) at present is around 20% of capacity and falling. Droughts struck in 2005, 2006 and this year, so Tasmania has imported 1000 GWh of electricity since Basslink started. Without it, Tasmania would almost certainly have experienced power rationing.

Thursday 5 April 2007

Solar Billy

I really liked Rick Roger's Solar Billy when it appeared on ABC's New Inventors back on 20 September 2006. So I was delighted to see you could buy the Solar Billy online. Although since I don't have a PayPal account (political disagreement with PayPal), I will have to buy one for Jean indirectly.

Why don't I need a Solar Billy for myself? Well, the main reason is that I don't drink tea. But I still think a solar billy is a great idea.

WEP LAN Security

Don't use WEP to secure a wireless LAN. The security has been broken for ages, but new techniques need less time and far fewer packets intercepted to crack WEP. Use WPA. If paranoid, use wired Ethernet.

Mac Pro dual Quad Core

Apple released without fanfare a dual 3 GHz quad core Xeon version of their Mac Pro system at US$3997, an extra US$1498 over the dual 2.6 GHz dual core base model. I believe Intel have a quad-core and a Core2Duo price drop scheduled for 22 April. The quad cores came out at a high price, so I expect Apple waited for the Intel price drop to retain their margins. This change seems basically just taking advantage of dropping a faster chip in the sockets. Nice speed bump, which probably could have just been added as a BTO, except for a need to ensure potential buyers noticed it.

Apple also dropped US$100 off their LCD displays ($200 from the 30 inch). The 20 inch display is US$599, 23 inch is US$899, and the 30 inch now US$1799. Still not exactly competitive these days, unless you are into colour matched print production, where S-IPS TFT LCDs work better than PVA. On the other hand, 23 inch S-IPS panels may be approaching end of life, and Dell have a new panel in their 30 inch model. I wonder whether Apple will announce new monitors soon?

Friday 6 April 2007

Bush vs Gore

Seems it is easier to talk the talk like Gore than walk the eco-friendly walk like Bush on energy use.

Saturday 7 April 2007

Snap Preview

Annoying little snap previews keep turning up on a few sites I visit. These put up a little graphic representation of the site at the end of a link. Despite the list of benefits to me, I hate these damn popups. I have popups switched off permanently. If I wanted a bloody popup, I would turn popups on. So if your site annoys me with a snap preview, the first thing I do is close your page. With only a little luck, I will never return to your site.

These annoying snap previews sometimes pop up without me being anywhere near a link, and block my view of the text. They seem to slow down clicking on a link while they go off wasting my browsers time. Even turning off these snap previews is difficult, since if you lose the cookie saying no, these nasty snap anywhere popups return. I think I will simply block everything from instead. This piece of shit is as bad as the blink tag.

Sunday 8 April 2007

Oil Depletion and Hubert's Peak

The Commonwealth Senate held an Inquiry into Australia's future oil supply and alternative transport fuels. The Senate report on oil supply can be viewed.

Another interesting book is online, The Report on Oil Depletion, by Ronald R. Cooke, which attempts to provide a simple account of the background to the decline in oil production.

Teaching Machines

Whatever happened to B F Skinner's Teaching Machines or programmed instruction, depicted in the November 1961 Scientific American and in Science in 1958?

Teaching machines enable students to learn in small but rigorous steps. The machine then tests the learning and rewards good results, before moving to the next step. They were developed from animal teaching machines used for operant conditioning. The program requires the student compose a response, not select it from a set of alternatives. The student must pass through an extended sequence of steps.

Efficiency was claimed to be 15 hours of machine teaching was equal to a 200 page textbook. For example, to learn 1000 words a year requires 4000 to 5000 frames, or about 15 minutes a day. The immediate marking by machine reinforces progress by conditioning.

Different techniques for different subjects, but it is claimed even reading can be taught. Vanishing technique is to show the entire item to be learnt. Parts are removed in stages, until all is gone. At each stage the student needs to fill in the parts removed. As an example, a 12-14 line poem can be learn by a child in about 4-5 readings.

Motor skills and rhythm were also able to be taught.

Monday 9 April 2007

Exxon and Global Warming

Nice account from Union of Concerned Scientists on how Exxon attempt to discredit global warning. Exxon use much the same methods as the tobacco companies used to try to discredit smoking health warnings. Isn't it time we acknowledged that corporations generally function as sociopaths, and regulate them more closely?

Charles in Space

Hungarian born Microsoft billionaire programmer of MS Word and much else, Charles Simonyi, became the fifth tourist in space. Charles Simonyi is credited with first discussing Hungarian Notation, a commenting technique for C++ as an OO language. Microsoft say do not use Hungarian notation, after the dark side took over Hungarian notation.

I saw Simonyi listed by a news site as first nerd in space (site has disappeared), but believe Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu Linux would take that honour. But it is great to see computer folks show their interest in space tourism this way. He's not the first Hungarian in space either. Bertalan Farkas was up in 1980

I was amused to note that Charles in Space displays a totally black screen. Hint, switch helper applications on so you can watch a Flash presentation (IE might be different - lots of browser detecting going on). Hmm, transitional XHTML served as text/html. I wonder why they did that? You need a faster internet connection than most Australians have available. It took forever to load.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Roberta Ramme Wave Chaise

Couch potato wet dream, to keep the teens in their room, instead of outside playing sports (or being juvenile delinquents). Brazilian designer Roberta Ramme came up with the wave chaise idea of furniture to wear. Wide screen display, sound system, storage space, lounging space, desk built in. Concept only for a media cabinet you can sit in. The ultimate laz-y-boy.

Criticisms include lack of bars (to keep teens inside it). Space for CDs and DVDs, which are unlikely to be saved in future.

WinDVD HD playback disabled

Corel's InterVideo WinDVD 8 playback for HD-DVD or Blu-Ray is disabled as the licensing keys have been broken. AACS protected content issued in future will not work with that product unless you install a security update. Bad luck if you own a HD hardware playback system that can not be updated. I trust everyone reading this understands why DRM can never be trusted? The only solution is never to buy HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, at all, for any reason, at any price.

DRM doesn't work. Pick one lock, open every door. All the media distributors can do then is to change every lock ... again and again and again. Doesn't take long for the customers to find buying the legal stuff just too much trouble.

Another article note to content owners: DRM doesn't work by Mark Shuttleworth.

Wednesday 11 April 2007

Steve Jobs on DRM and Music

Steve Jobs interview by Rolling Stone about Apple and the music industry, late 2003. Good view of where he is coming from in several areas. Especially good on DRM, and whether it works. Also mentions TV as the most corrosive technology, which might help explain why AppleTV doesn't include a TV recorder (for what little it is worth, I agree).

Starbucks Chantico Hot Chocolate Drink

Starbucks Chantico (shan-TEE-ko) chocolate drink named for the Aztec goddess of the hearth. I believe it appeared around January 2005. Starbucks dropped Chantico in January 2006. I checked it up on the internet because some friends introduced me to Chantico while I was in San Francisco, and I liked this drinkable dessert a heap. Since we were travelling to Townsville, I thought I would check whether they had a Starbucks. Not sure why I bothered. Last few times I visited Melbourne or Sydney I stuck my head into Starbucks to see if Chantico was listed, and it wasn't. Without Chantico, I have no reason to ever visit a Starbucks, as I don't like anything else Starbucks serve.

Unlike hot chocolate, which is made from cocoa powder, Chantico is steamed with cocoa butter and whole milk. It's no diet drink: A 6-ounce cup has 390 calories, 21 grams of fat and 51 carbs. No variations of size or contents. I gather Chantico was a pain for the barista to make. Guess I will have to make my own French chocolat chaud.

Thursday 12 April 2007

New Altair 8800 computer kit

Anyone with an interest in the history of home computers will like this New Altair 8800 computer kit. Yes, you can again build yourself the first kit home computer, circa 1974. Cool stuff.

Friday 13 April 2007

OS X Leopard delayed

Apple made a low key announcement that the release of the next version of their OS X operating system Leopard would be delayed until October. Apple had planned to release it in early June at their Worldwide Developers Conference. Apple blame borrowing OS X staff to complete iPhone, which like AppleTV uses elements of OS X.

The usual complaints were heard on enthusiast web sites. Can't see this as a real problem myself. To replace Tiger on my existing Apple computers I would be buying a family pack anyhow. So whether a new model has that upgrade is not critical. More important to me is whether a new model appears that is sufficiently attractive to buy. Maybe another update of the Intel CPU? A quad processor in an iMac (well, maybe not, memory would be bandwidth limited I suspect). However a 27 inch iMac without a chin would be very attractive to me. Or a lightweight touch screen tablet computer.

Phone Rage

Korean man returns broken cell phone to carrier without leaving his borrowed car. Crashing a Mercedes through the front door of the phone company is one way to make a statement, after 16 calls and two visits to the store to try to get the phone working. Kim is a hero.

Road Too Far For Truck

A Ballina Freighters articulated furniture van tried to come up our road. Like a previous road freighter truck , it could not get around the turn on the steep corner of the one way road. In his attempt to get out of the spot, the driver damaged the fence that had been replaced just months before, had his cab steamlining ripped by the tree that jammed the previous truck, knocked over a lamp post. As with the previous truck, we thought this could end in tragedy, with the truck going over the side of the Endeavour car park.

Luckily the driver was very good, and managed to back the truck all the way down the hill without further damage.


Snap road closure at APEC summit including Sydney's Eastern Distributor and M5 motorway on 7 and 9 September. This total disruption of the already abysmal Sydney transport system so 300 motorcades of world leaders can swan around the city.

Maybe the world leaders should think about not disrupting the lives of millions of workers? Why don't they have their meetings in a bomb shelter in some uninhabited area?

Saturday 14 April 2007

Rainsaver Storage Gutters

What does an apartment dweller do when water is in short supply, and there is no land available for water tanks. Rainsaver water storage gutters may be the answer. Retrofit to existing buildings is possible, with storage capacity of 15 litres per metre. Enough to use rainwater to flush some loos, maybe water garden, and reduce the amount of waste water at least. The gutters are made of BlueScope Colourbond steel, with an internal polymer lining. It also means you can gravity feed the water. Rainsaver is an Australian company, and Rainsaver was invented by Frank Smith. It costs about $300 per length more than normal gutter and leafguard, or around $4000 a house extra. See the pdf of the Brite case study of water storage gutters.

Extending Daylight Saving Doesn't Work

The USA tried extending Daylight Savings this year (from March 11), and the electricity companies didn't notice. Daylight Savings a bust in power savings said Reuters. The Energy Department predicted only modest energy savings.

I came across an interesting paper from January 2007 by Ryan Kellogg and Hendrik Wolff titled Does Extending Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence From an Australian Experiment. This is from the Center for the Study of Energy Markets at University of California Energy Institute. It is detailed, well referenced, and the math seems sound.

Thanks to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, and the extended daylight saving time in NSW and Victoria at that time, it was possible to compare Victoria and SA energy use both before and after the Olympics. Essentially in SE Australia, extending daylight saving will increase electricity use. It will especially provoke an excessive morning peak. Peaks are a problem, not a solution.

Sunday 15 April 2007


It seems many TV sets now have that tiny, insane, fragile HDMI connectors digital video can be crippled on them via HDCP. So trying to use these fancy TVs as a computer monitor can be blocked. A HD TV that doesn't display HD. New concepts in stupid design, so that someone can charge extra for a stupid cable. Don't buy them.

Don't accept the VESA Display Port either, the computer equivalent of HDMI (except there isn't a charge for using it). DVI works just fine to 1920 x 1200 (and Dual Link DVI ups that to at least 2560 x 1600). DVI doesn't include nasty, feature killing HDCP.

If any product includes HDCP, refuse to buy it. Tell the retailer and manufacturer you don't want copy protection. This means no HD-DVD and no Blu-Ray either, unless or until HDCP is totally removed. If you need HD content, that is what bit torrent is for (if you have that much download capacity or speed - I don't). Or put it on four regular DVDs. But don't buy anything that is copy protected.

Monday 16 April 2007

HD copy protection fix broken again

DRM protection on HD-DVD and Blu-ray falls over again. The Volume ID has been exposed for XBox 360. Any disc will play without authorisation, even those revoked by AACS. DRM is a useless idea. If it doesn't work, why include it? If it does work, I won't buy the product.

Next on the queue is advertising. If it is my computer, I should be able to block all advertising. If you want me to watch advertising, it had better be really relevant, and bloody entertaining.

Home water tanks

There are some idiotic schemes promoting the idea of giving people water tanks for their homes. I certainly hope someone does the maths for this. Water tanks cost substantially more per litre saved than do dams. Check it out for yourself. Water tanks in urban areas (most Australians live in cities) do not provide safe drinking water. They are fine for toilet flushing and watering gardens but they do not replace a potable water supply.

Unless you have regular rain, the quantity of water a tank can supply is insufficient for household use. The average household uses about 250 litres per person. So a two person household would use an entire 5000 litre tank in 10 days if it was for all household uses. Fine when rain is regular, not so fine if it is seasonal.

If the average house roof is 200 square metres, and you capture all water from it (you don't), then you get 200 litres per millimetre of rain, so something over 25 mm will fill a 5000 litre tank. You need to check your averages to see whether this makes any sense. I live where rainfall is seasonal.

Water tanks require people to look after them. Water diverters for the first flush, and in particular the filters. Mosquito populations will skyrocket. Has anyone asked any health department about this tank scheme? It is one thing in rural areas, where tanks are more than 200 metres apart. In urban and city areas it is a potential health nightmare.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

Dead Television

High definition television (HDTV) is a mess in Australia. Free to air channels Seven, ABC and SBS all broadcast their HD(?) in 576P (852 x 576 pixels), which outside Australia is not considered HDTV. Only channels Nine and Ten routinely use 1080i (but not Progressive scan). Government regulations require a Standard Definition (576i) signal to be provided by all TV stations, even if they are also broadcasting High Definition. Unfortunately, the 7 MHz bandwidth of an existing analogue TV signal is insufficient to allow both 576i and true HD signals. Hence use of 576p and other limited bandwidth signals.

The XBox 360 can provide 1080i. PlayStation 3 can provide 1080p, as can Blu-ray and HD-DVD, however these are limited by HDCP.

High definition television sets in Australia often are neither high definition, nor television. Some are hardly better than the older, cheaper regular analogue TV, which is good for around 640 x 480 (not that analogue CRT TV has pixels as such). Many cheap models have resolutions like 852 x 480, which won't even handle a DVD or standard definition broadcasts correctly. Others have 1024 x 768, or 1024 x 1024, or 1280 x 768. Only when you reach 1920 x 1080 could you display 1080i HDTV. Many screens are just a display without a TV tuner. These are unable to present anything without a set top box. However if you need a tuner, and have poor resolution, then you might just as well watch a computer monitor, which is much more likely to have good definition and multiple inputs.

On demand content is what you get when you add a VCR or a DVR. Who wants to watch only when a TV executive decides to show content? The shelves of BigW are full of TV series on DVD, and they are flowing out the door. Plus you have the familiar story of ever more TV channels, and nothing on worth viewing.

Personal content is getting bigger. Your own photos, your own videos, your own home movies. All are easier and easier to produce. Each takes some of the time that TV might have owned.

Alternative content isn't commercial, and is often amateur, but isn't distinctly for home consumption. Look at YouTube and all the other video sites. Look at blogs and personal web pages. Distribution is a problem. Video bandwidth still isn't cheap, and making this content pay still isn't working. However eventually someone will find a way. Tv has greatest home videos. All that provides is selecting content. Amazon and SlashDot and Digg worked out how to let items be self selecting, the TV programmers are not needed here. Podcasts are thriving, and cost the central sites only the cost of RSS feeds, not the cost of hosting voice or video.

Commercial TV presents mass audiences. However more channels mean fewer viewers per channel. The internet is the ultimate in massive numbers of producers (most of whom you wouldn't want to view). Highly directed advertising works (think Google) but mass advertising is a waste of time. Remember Push, before the tech bubble burst?

DVD is a terrible format. No provision for making a backup copy, and annoying DRM to complicate converting it to other formats for reuse. Patent protection limiting who can make DVD players, and enforcing DRM rules. Taking control of the forward and back controls so you can't ignore legal warnings and other unwanted contents. Region encoding into zones. It is as bad as the thankfully dead minidisk and SACD. Luckily, the makers didn't allow a Linux version, so DVD got thoroughly cracked open. When you buy a DVD, you know you can use it however you like. I wouldn't buy a DVD were that not the case.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

New Apple Hardware

It seems a long time since Apple have updated some of their computers. The Mac Pro with dual quad cores and a high clock has fixed that, although Leopard and new programs will probably be needed to really make it shine. Maybe there is a box change coming, but I can't really see the point. Can't see a mid tower appearing, when the notebooks are the big sellers. The Mac mini upgraded in September 2006 could obviously go to Core2 Duo, once some of the other models are upgraded.

The iMac also hasn't been upgraded since September 2006. With new Intel chips due next month, I could see a small speed boost, a replaced chip that draws slightly less power, and perhaps a more compact design. Personally I'd really like a 27 inch model, but a top end Core2 Duo 24 inch without a chin would also work for me. At least, with the upgraded video card. Hardware support for H264 would be nice. I like the iMac. Suits my working style, and the space I have available.

MacBook Pro was updated in October 2006, and has the convenient 15 inch and large 17 inch displays. However the regular MacBook is really close to it in many respects, and is a more convenient size. I'd love a miniature Mac of some sort, if the iPhone can't handle that. Something really easy to travel with. You can always use a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard when at home.

The touch screen technology of the iPhone might make a tablet computer possible, although they haven't really worked for Microsoft. Or maybe eventually a iPod with some of the iPhone technology (full screen, touch keyboard, WiFi, mail and browser) could work for overnight trips. I keep looking at the small Nokia N770 and N800 internet tablets. Niche market however, and PDA are dying out.

If something I like turns up (27 inch iMac, 24 inch chinless, or tablet portable), I wouldn't wait for October and Leopard. I would need to buy a Universal family pack of Leopard regardless of what I buy.

Thursday 19 April 2007

Which Audio Connects to What?

Obviously I don't need to allow for phono (LP records are obsolete), or new failed formats like DVD-A or SACD. AM/FM radio reception here is so poor that there is no point having an AV receiver. Radio content here is not worth listening to. CDs content is all held on my computer.

Most analogue audio sources (AirPort Express, computers, iPods, radio) are 3.5 mm stereo. DVD or VCR are RCA.

I have several stereo and monoblock amplifiers, even a 5.1 amplifier, all of which accept RCA inputs, so standard RCA to RCA or 3.5 stereo to RCA cables are all that is needed. I have a couple of active speakers that accept 3.5 mm stereo.

Digital sources from computers and Airport Express are all mini optical Toslink S/PDIF. DVD is a regular optical Toslink S/PDIF. While I have no stand alone amplifiers that accept Toslink S/PDIF, two of my active speakers accept optical input.

Future trends. More sources involving computers, internet, iPods, Ethernet, 802.11 connections. All the music stored on computer drives. Traditional sources like radio, CD rapidly disappearing. Convenient active loudspeakers increasingly standard. No need for AV receivers, stereo amplifiers.

Friday 20 April 2007

Which Video Connects to What?

The Whitsunday Terraces apartment has an F type video distribution jack, which provides analogue free to air TV and analogue cable. The distribution amplifier and wiring probably can not handle digital, and an outside antenna is not permitted. There is a mountain between the building and the transmission tower, so getting a signal would be difficult even with a decent antenna. Individual cable isn't available, and the existing cabling is why the cable feed is converted to analogue before distribution (not that satellite cable is going to provide high definition).

I dumped my TV in 2006, but still wanted to catch news at times. An old VCR worked as a tuner, feeding the composite video input of my computer monitor. The computer monitor was larger than the TV, so the TV was no loss. To save some space, I replaced the old VCR with a VCR and DVD combination. TV and cable still connected to composite. DVD output connected via component connections, which gives much nicer results from DVDs.

Computers use the DVI and VGA connections of computer monitor. I imagine eventually all the DVD contents will be converted into computer files, and I won't need the DVD player.

Saturday 21 April 2007

Canon PowerShot S3 IS long zoom camera

Canon PowerShot S3 IS. I rather like Canon's long zoom digital cameras, and you don't need top end for the sort of web site photos I want. So even six megapixel (2816 x 2112) is overkill, and in the small sensor may push up the noise. However having a decent zoom is something I need for some shots. Canon has 12 times optical zoom (I ignore digital zoom). Plus it has the other essential for large zoom cameras, optical image stabilising. My Kodak Z740 has nearly as much zoom, but lacks stabilisation.

It uses 4 AA batteries, something I regard as essential, and can take 500 shots using 2500 mA NiMH. All glass lens is a feature. I hate the electronic viewfinders, but these days seem to have little choice. The LCD display is unusable in the tropics, just like every other one I have encountered. However the articulated LCD can be positioned in a remarkable number of ways. ISO rating can be set as high as 800, although I doubt I would push that high. It is a heavy camera (410 g) , and not something to fit in a pocket. However it does start up quickly (1.4 seconds).

If you want RAW mode, tough luck (I don't). Video mode is Motion JPEG (AVI with WAV sound), which means large video files (8 minutes take the 1 GB maximum), but better quality. You can compress it to MPG-4 later. You can zoom while filming, and take a still photo in the middle of a movie sequence. Optical image stabilisation works during filming. It would make an acceptable substitute for a camcorder sequence. There is even a stereo microphone, and a separate record button for movies.

There is a time lapse mode, for between 2 and 100 photos at intervals of 1 to 60 minutes.

Canon software includes ImageBrowser, MovieEdit, and RemoteCapture (from Mac or PC over USB). An old version of ArcSoft PhotoStudio is also included for the Macintosh.

The most detailed Digital Photography Review Canon PowerShot S3 IS is at DP review. There are also good reviews at DCRP review Canon PowerShot S3 IS, Imaging Resource Canon PowerShot S3 IS review and at Steve's Digicams review of Canon PowerShot S3 IS.

Sunday 22 April 2007

Australian Bull

McDonalds' 100% Australian bull

Macintosh Security Exploit

Fully patched OS X hacked via Safari by Shane Macauley, using code from Dino Di Zovi, at CanSecWest during the hack a Mac contest. Trigger was a web page overflowing Safari and forcing it to exec the shell. Hacker got a remote shell with user level access. A second Macintosh is still being attacked, but root access is needed on that one. The initial contest was for an attack when the Macintosh wasn't running a program.

I am reasonably paranoid, and have changed security defaults so this may not be a vulnerability on my own system. Hope it isn't a vulnerability. Be interesting to read the details of the attack. Said not to be a variation of the open safe files vulnerability, which was the thing I first thought of. Maybe we will eventually have heap protection?

Later addition: Dino Dai Zovi says the security flaw is in how QuickTime handles Java. Thus both Safari and Firefox are vulnerable, and Windows may be also vulnerable. I keep Java switched off when surfing, so I may not be vulnerable.

Dish Washer

The plastic door hinges of our 15 year old dishwasher broke a few days ago. No replacement dishwasher available locally that will fit the small space occupied by an apartment tabletop dishwasher. I did eventually find that Thor still existed, and still offered equivalent size dishwashers. However they are in a different state.

Tried Araldite two tube glue. Hadn't realised how fast 5 minute araldite set in our hot climate. The reaction was hot enough to burn my fingers, and the glue was setting even as I applied it. The pack says it softens at 60C, so I have my doubts about this temporary repair.

Later addition: The araldite wouldn't stick to whatever plastic dishwasher doors are made of.

Monday 23 April 2007

Blowing in the Wind

Alas, the answer to green power is not blowing in the wind. Some figures for home wind power systems.

Wind maps for Australia additional selected wind roses around Australia

Townsville Trip

We were on the road from the Whitsunday Terraces around 8 a.m. Usual stop at Inkerman for an early lunch. Townsville around noon. We dropped photocopying at Office Works, checked Dick Smith, Harvey Norman, and Curtain Wonderland. They were able to identify the curtain sample Jean had. No longer in stock, but they found it at another store (2000 km away), and Jean was able to organise for a couple of sets to be sent here. That is intended to hide the Ikea in Jean's office, just like in the bedroom. I collected a bunch of gel cell and NiMH batteries at Jaycar for my hobbies. Also a Digitech QM7225 close up pocket infrared thermometer. This covers -35 to 230C, with a 0.1 resolution, and 2% or 2C accuracy. Medical checkup, and for once it went on time and very quickly. Collected the printing from Office Works (I also got an Imation 1 GB USB memory for $15, which shows how cheap memory is these days). Left the car at the mediocre motel, and walked to Sizzler for dinner. I could even get a seniors discount there, which covered the bottle of wine (thanks Sizzler).

Tuesday 24 April 2007

The Australian on Record Labels

Classical music nice earner for record labels writes Norman Lebrecht in The Australian.

Never mind the disc count, writes George Megalogenis profits are falling, not sales. An excellent piece of the problems of the record labels with CD sales not being the end of music. Although it may be the end of the record labels, who seem to think they create the music.

Townsville Trip 2

Tradelink had a couple of shower stalls with doors that might fit in Jean's bathroom. Better than we had managed around home, so she collected some brochures. We couldn't face the tiles stores again. Bunnings also had shower stalls, but the size of the place defeated us for most other things we sought. Harvey Norman next, where I got the Jason LazyBoy Charleston recliner I had checked in December. Disassembled, it just fitted in the back of the Subaru. Continuing shopping at Harvey Norman, next were a pair of Western Digital 500 GB external hard drives. I hadn't seen any 60 cents per GB drives before, so we were happy with our backup drives. Back to the motel to pack. Maps and tour guides at RACQ. Stocklands shopping centre for Medicare and Medibank paperwork, a few fiction books, and early lunch. Probably managed to find half what we were seeking this trip. However since the car was full of a chair, perhaps it is as well we didn't find more. We managed to get home to the Whitsunday Terraces by 4 p.m. Took about 8 trips up the stairs to empty the car.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Global Cooling

A generation ago, back in 1975, Newsweek was warning of global cooling. Now we are warned of global warming, although anyone funded by Exxon Mobil will be calling it climate change. No wonder the Prime Minister set up a task group on emissions trading which was announced on 10 December 2006. John Howard is declining further comment on emissions trading until he receives its report on 31 May. Who wants to wreck the economy because of a threat that may not even exist. Especially when nothing we do will make much of a difference.

Cheap Cars

At present, the cheapest car on the US market is the US$10560 Chevrolet Aveo, made in Korea. There are about 240 million cars in the USA, around 8 for every 10 people. China has around 30 million cars, and 1.3 billion people. Per capita income in China is US$1740, around that of the USA in 1910. Lots more people in China and India would like a car, and who can blame them?

Chery-Chrysler Chery A1 subcompact car should be exhibited soon. An update of the Chery QQ (the Chinese beetle), the 1.3 litre car will sell for between US$5000 and US$8000. Chery is the seventh largest car maker in the world, and produces its own models, not brands under licence. A Chinese joint venture company was producing Daihatsu Charades for sale at US$4200 in 2005, after production exceeded demand.

Tata Motors of India plan to produce a US$2500 car, as part of its plan to become competitive in world markets.

Anyone want to guess how well oil supplies will hold up in a world with a billion automobiles?

Robot Vacuum Cleaners

We haven't had a cleaner in the Whitsunday Terraces apartment for months and months, since our wonderful cleaner of about nine years left town. We really miss her, and so do our floors. So we are plotting to replace her with a robot.

Electrolux has their ZA2 Trilobite robotic vacuum cleaner but it costs a fancy A$2999. It would want to work real well.

Thursday 26 April 2007

Telstra Big Lie Broadband Campaign

Talk about the big lie technique. Telstra could give Joseph Goebbels (who used it as propaganda minister) and Adolf Hitler (who blamed it on the Jews in Mein Kampf) tips on the big lie.

The reason Australia was so late getting ADSL broadband was that it threatened the profits from ISDN, which the PMG and Telecom had sunk much money into. The reason Telstra won't connect broadband is they will have to share their last mile copper connection at fixed prices.

As a commercial company, Telstra is right to resist sharing. As a monopoly supplier, Telstra should have been broken apart before it was sold off by the Liberal government. While it is true as a government phone service they were overfunded overstaffed shockers, as a commercial concern they are monopoly gougers. This problem is the fault of the Liberal government. If the government wants equal cost phone services throughout Australia (the Universal Service Obligation is a political decision that makes no commercial sense) then the only reasonable solution is to again nationalise the optical backbone, and the last mile copper cable, and sell access to any company at the same prices.

In terms of broadband, Australia is a third world country. No-one I know runs their web servers here - they all use offshore sites. The speeds of backhaul broadband is hardly above dial-up, and would not be considered broadband in most countries. Download speeds are also low, except in those few areas where independent ISPs have installed their own DSLAM. There (and only there) Telstra enable ADSL2+.

Telstra want around a 40% return, according to Morgan Stanley analysts Sachin Gupta and Andrew Hines, who say Telstra must get $56 a month for their fixed line. I am paying them around $19 (I don't make phone calls, and share a different line for ADSL). Customers tend to want to pay around 10%. However wiring is a commodity, no matter what Telstra would like. If they continue to block development, Telstra will be bypassed on broadband. Most of us are not interested in anything from Telstra except a big fat dumb pipe.

The Australian government have failed to address broadband infrastructure, as Robert Gottliebsen points out in a dramatically titled article. With true fast internet, education and medicine are only a few service industries that will become partly global.

Friday 27 April 2007

Apple Tablet Sub-Notebook

I still rather like the idea of a sub-notebook tablet like Apple portable for travel, maybe using something like the Fingerworks iGesture Pad for input. With Bluetooth you could always use Bluetooth mouse and keyboard at home. More power than the iPhone, but perhaps not the graphic card capability of a regular size Apple. Need the resolution independent graphics of the yet unreleased Leopard. Probably also the lower power of the 45nm Penryn chips, so that probably means next year.

Something like that would have to be a niche product, but I can't help notice Apple notebook sales leap each year, while desktop sales are static. However there are only two notebook lines, with only two size variations in the Pro line. The desktops have the Pro, mini and iMac lines. Seems a surplus of desktops to me. I know certain people want a mini tower, dirt cheap mini tower models are really common commodity items.

Saturday 28 April 2007

Diesel Trees

Mike Jubow from Nunyara Wholesale Forestry Nursery and Finch Hatton forestry nurseryman Ross Muggleton are importing seeds of the tropical South American diesel tree (copaifera langsdorfii). Although the fuel can not be stored for more than a few months (If left longer, the fuel thickens into copaiba oil), it requires essentially no processing before being used. The first fuel can be tapped after seven to nine years, but it would take 15 to 20 years for the trees to reach maturity. Nobel award wining chemist Melvin Calvin looks in the 1980's at extending the growing range of this tree.

I was interested to learn one of my friends at the markets had been digging 40 holes to plant some of these trees. Nothing like looking ahead.

iRobot Vacuum Cleaner

We were very surprised to find Peters of Kensington had the iRobot Roomba Discovery robotic vacuum cleaner. Also it was at a pretty reasonable price relative to the US price, and what the distributors asked. Luckily when I tried to order on Friday, our network connection was terrible, and I couldn't complete the order. On Saturday, we were reading The Australian, and found them advertising the Scooba Robotic Floor Cleaner. This is the model that washes floors, which our kitchen needs (and we fail to do regularly).

So I ordered one of each.

Sunday 29 April 2007

Geodynamics Hot Rock Project Drill

Geodynamics' Cooper basin hot rocks project was stalled when their hired drill went off to its next job. However Geodynamics have bought a $32 million, 3000 horsepower, 42 metre high Lightning Rig drill of their own, which should arrive in Australia in June. It can operate to 6,000 metres, with full torque down to zero RPM. It only needs 32 trucks to move it, and can be moved in 24 hours, despite the top drive unit weighing 500 tonnes. The rig is built by Le Tourneau in Houston, Texas. The new drill will be used on the Haberno-3 hole, about a half kilometres from the first well.

I certainly they (and similar companies) are commercially successful.

Monday 30 April 2007

The Sun King

I read an interesting brief biography of Shi Zhengrong by Rowan Callick in The Weekend Australian Magazine back on 17 March. Claims Australian citizen Shi Zhengrong may be the richest man in China. This thanks to his renewable energy company Suntech, headquartered at Wuxi in Jiangsu province, a few hours drive from Shanghai. Suntech combines his scientific knowledge of solar technology with low cost and high efficiency Chinese production. Sounds a great combination to me.

Shi Zhengrong and his wife Zhang Wei still have homes in Australia, from the fourteen years he worked, saved and studied in Sydney. After starting studies at Jilin University, he majored in laser optics at Shanghai Institute of Optics and Mechanics. He worked with Martin Green, who supervised his PhD, at the University of NSW, and then as Deputy Research Director at Pacific Solar, a spinoff from the university. Suntech started production in 2002, and obviously expanded at a tremendous rate.

This sort of person is exactly what solar (and the environment) need.