Eric Lindsay's Blog 2007 May

Tuesday 1 May 2007

Disk Drive Reliability

An interesting study of disk drive failures from Google. Looks like once you get a scan error, your chance of the drive failing within a few months is way higher. SMART parameters alone are not such a good indicator.

Wednesday 2 May 2007

iPhone Disrupts Phone Operators

If you want an Apple iPhone, then you probably consider the phone company as a big fat dumb bitpipe. You are unlikely to have any brand loyalty to the phone company. Whoever provides cheap data is it. You won't care about the phone company web site or content portals. You can expect many phone companies to claim the iPhone is junk.

Locking phones to a single carrier is illegal in some European companies, unlike in the USA. Using data from the phone network is not all that attractive when you have a WiFi link at every Starbucks. The phone company will need to make their data links more attractive. This is the first step to data being as much of a commodity as is voice.

Thursday 3 May 2007

A Greener Apple

Steve Jobs, in a news release for shareholders and customers, A Greener Apple reports removal of toxic chemicals from computers, and also recycling old computers. This follows criticism by environmental organisations such as the greenmailing sanctimonious media-whore wankers at Greenpeace, who appear to have achieved a press release but nothing else that wasn't already happening.

Apple normally do not tell much about forthcoming products, however in reporting on chemicals they hope to remove, they did acknowledge future use of LEDs to replace CFCs in LCD backlights.

I imagine A Greener Apple was a term Apple Inc could not use until they had rights from Apple Corp (Beatles) to use Apple terms for all purposes (the singing Apple Corp use a green apple).

A Bad Apple?

A Wired blog report that PC World editor in chief Harry McCracken resigned after new CEO Colin Crawford killed an Apple story However why did the CEO kill the story? Until you know that, blaming Apple or some cabal seems less than accurate.

Some comments make it appear this story for the PC World web site was intended to drag traffic to the site. Not unlike a lot of blogs that are increasingly seen as mere traffic traps.

Friday 4 May 2007

National ID Card a Disaster

USA National ID card a disaster say Richard Forno and Bruce Schneier. Buried in a military bill, without public debate. States decide what shows identity, and proposed documents are weak. Plus 23 states are challenging or rejecting it. Way to go.

iRobot Roomba

The Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner and the Scooba robotic floor washer I ordered arrived today in a giant box. Unfortunately, the battery for each needed to be charged overnight, so we couldn't try them straight away.

Saturday 5 May 2007

iRobot Roomba

Tried the Roomba robotic vacuum in Jean's office, since that had less junk on the floor than my office. Jean grabbed the remote control, and pressed buttons that did things other than that she thought they should do. The charging base station may have confused issues, as the manual suggests. The Roomba collected dirt from the tile floor, but couldn't clean stuff stuck on the floor. It did find its charging base station and started recharging.

We tried the Roomba in the bedroom. We figured it could at least keep the dust bunnies herded under the bed or under the Ikea unit. The Roomba dived right under the bed and the Ikea and collected stuff. Given how long it had been since we had dusted there, we managed to overflow its dust box. We were very happy with the result. We could do a better job with a regular vacuum, but since we don't do so, the Roomba worked well for us.

iBook G4 fault

Interesting fault in October 2003 to April 2004 Apple iBook revealed in a Dannish court case. Intersil ISL6225 dual PWN controller soldering fails on repeated power cycling, with the damage showing grain growth. It is the power and Vcc pins that fail, so you have to suspect a lot of current being handled. The failures occurred in the second year of use. I note the report says it is regular lead tin solder, not the new unleaded type I suspected.


An open access workshop full of tools, founded by Jim Newton. You pay for monthly or yearly passes. Very few individuals would have near the range of cool tools, and apartment dwellers may not be able to use any at home. It is like a health club with tools and equipment instead of exercise equipment...or a Kinko's for geeks. I really wish there were one here.

Sunday 6 May 2007

Melanine in Petfood

Interesting article by David Brown in The Washington Post attempting to explain how melanine kills pets. Melanine (some plastic dishes are made of it) and cyanuric acid (used to stabilise chlorine in outdoor swimming pools) was found in Chinese wheat gluten sold as a pet food thickener. These contain lots of nitrogen, needed to make protein. However to measure protein content in food, we generally actually measure nitrogen content. So anything high in nitrogen makes low protein food look like it is higher quality.

We can't actually use the small molecules of melanine, it is water soluble, and is mostly excreted in urine rather than ending up in flesh. However if the concentration of melanine is sufficiently high, it can exceed the ability of water to hold it, and it forms crystals. Of rats that ate about 2/3% of their body weight of melanine, about half died. Hard to cause major problems with the stuff.

However cyanuric acid and melanine in water create a cloudy solution. Maybe in the kidneys of pets, the reaction of the two relatively harmless substances is deadly. Naturally, no-one knows who used industrial chemicals to make wheat gluten seem to be more protein rich.

Microsoft Profits

Interesting take on Microsoft profits not being as impressive as first looks indicated. Claims the earnings came from drawing down the balance sheet. Xbox 360 losses to blame says another page. Most people expected Microoft and Sony to be selling razors rather blades on these games systems. Of course some people just don't like Microsoft.

Food, Wine and Fireworks

The Food and Wine festival on The Esplanade started around 5 p.m. I visited around 6:30, but as usual the crowds were so dense and the music so loud that I left very soon. There were said to be 15 food and wine stalls, where I had hoped to get a snack for dinner. The crowd was so dense I couldn't even identify which stall was which, and only found the coupon stall as I was leaving. Didn't even find the stall to make a donation to the Whitsunday PCYC, which was at least part of my reason for visiting.

Had a great view of the fireworks from my balcony at the Whitsunday Terraces later in the evening.

The Whitsunday Terraces resort was pretty much full. We had a bunch of noisy party people who sounded like they were around the pool after midnight. The 5 mm or so of light rain we had overnight didn't seem to shut them up any.

Monday 7 May 2007

Popcorn Workers Lung

Over the past few years, US food-flavoring workers were diagnosed with the deadly bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn workers lung). This is thought to be caused by exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial butter flavour. There are no USA Federal laws regulating use of the chemical, and no OSHA standards for handling it.

The rest of us need only worry about the effects of microwaved popcorn, breathing the fumes from the bags, and actually eating the stuff.

Cruise Ship

A cruise ship had sneaked into Pioneer Bay either in the morning or last evening. Rain during the day made it impossible to see the ship at times, so it is unlikely passengers were impressed by the Queensland weather (unless they came from areas with water restrictions). Despite the rain, only 5 mm had shown up in my rain gauge overnight. Proserpine Dam was showing 9.95 metres below the spillway.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

iRobot Roomba Name

One obvious name was to start with Isaac Asimov's book I, Robot. However Asimov was not first to use that title (and indeed objected to his 1950 publisher doing so). Eando Binder's story I Robot came first, in the January 1939 Amazing Stories, and eventually became a series about Adam Link, Robot.

Flu Shots

I had noticed pharmacists had influenza vaccine for this season, so Jean organised our flu injections today. Took around an hour and three quarters to walk to the doctors, wait, and then organise replacement vaccine at the chemist. No wonder we get nothing done. We did stop at the local store to collect a chicken for lunch. Returned home and had lunch just before the rain got heavier just after midday. There goes my plans for doing a little woodwork project.

Budget Night

Treasurer Peter Costello's 12th budget for the Australian coalition parties.

However one of the neighbours knocked on the door around 5:30 with a bottle of wine, so I cooked up some more pasta and we had dinner (and lots of wine) and talked rather than bother with the budget. Jean demonstrated the robotic vacuum cleaner, which impressed.

Budget, fuggit.

Wednesday 9 May 2007

EarthHour a flop

Single column article in The Australian by David Solomon points out EarthHour was a flop. This is a summary of a longer and more detailed paper on Measuring the Impact of Earth Hour, which asks How Effective are Individual Lifestyle Changes in Reducing Electricity Consumption? Answer, not much, at least for stunts like EarthHour. That seems much like the the failure of Extended Daylight Savings.

Thursday 10 May 2007


The resort has about a dozen water leaks, only some of them in the multiple roof spaces. We thought after about a year of attempts by multiple plumbers (roofing specialists simply refuse to attend, or visit only once and disappear) that a persistent one in our building was finally fixed (but we thought that before the most recent attempt also). Well, one leak was stopped. But not the main leak. We still don't know how the water is even getting in. The plumber dismissed our suggestion to replace the stepped flashing next morning, but further attempts can't be made until the rain stops and the walls dry out. I do have a nice set of photos of wet areas.

Checked Bag Screening

Commonwealth Government has extended checked bag screening to all destinations serviced by regular jet service without consultation with the 26 regional airports involved. These airports now require explosive trace detection by December this year, and full X-ray by December 2008. There is four years of government funding totalling $15.4 million, but this would not even meet installation costs estimated at $1 million per airport. Licensed and certified operators are also unlikely to be available in remote areas which already have problems retaining staff. The eleven major airports in Australia already do this screening.

Friday 11 May 2007

Leaky Pipes

Kevin Rudd says Labor will spend A$250 million fixing leaky water pipes. Says we have 175,000 km of water mains, leaking 155,000 megalitres in the capital cities each year. National Water Commission says some rural areas lose 30% of water through leaks.

Hmm, $1600 per kilometre won't pay for a lot of plumbers (not that you can usually find one). But wait, Labor say trades equipment for schools. Maybe all the senior students will have practical lessons, repairing leaks in water mains?

Excommunicate for abortions

If the Pope manages to excommunicate all the women, the doctors, the nurses, and the politicians who don't block abortion laws, soon there will be hardly any Catholics left in Brazil. Popes have been wrong about astronomy, and they are wrong about abortion. Maybe sometime their sick, futile religious superstitions will die out. At least President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva is sensible enough to allow the free distribution of condoms (to help prevent AIDS). Good to hear 86% of Brazilians favour condom use, and more than half disagree with the Catholic church on abortion.

Saturday 12 May 2007

Electricity runs dry

Wholesale electricity prices are up 50% to 100% over the past six weeks, from $40 MWh to $70 MWh, and 2008 futures continue high. The Energy Users Association are complaining inflation could increase 0.5% to 1.5%, especially if state electricity regulators pass increased costs on to householders. Some electricity generators are probably working the system to increase prices.

Snowy Hydro and Tasmanian hydro power are out of action due to low dam levels, so peak power capacity is lower. South East Queensland power stations have insufficient cooling water supplies to continue peak production. Tarong for instance has dumped 850 MW, about 5% of the grid base load. Two Victorian power stations have used their bulk water allocations, and would need to buy commercial bulk water. In NSW Mt Piper and Wallerawang power station water reserves are down to 20%. About 4500 MW of stations are planning major maintenance during autumn and spring, since these are not peak periods. However returns on power plants are such that no investment has been made in base load capacity since 1998, except by the Queensland government (pity about the water cooling). Private sector investment has been for small gas turbines for peak load (where you can charge more).

I wonder when the first power retailer without a vertical generating capacity will start declining to supply the regulated home market? Or as an alternate, regulated retailers refuse to accept customers bailing out of (usually cheaper) unregulated suppliers?

NSW was considering 5% a year over 3 years, but is reconsidering now. Queensland is recommending 10% increase. The Productivity Commission says dump all the price caps, and let the market set prices.

Sunday 13 May 2007

Climate Change

Climate change is out of the world. Jupiter's Red Spot Jr seems to be growing, and is thought to be associated with warming. Neptune's largest moon Triton is warming. Pluto is warming, which is really odd as it swings further away from the sun. The Martian polar caps are melting, leading some to suspect changes in the sun.

Monday 14 May 2007


When the 2001 Nobel prize for Economics was given to George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz, it was for their work on the theory of markets with asymmetric information. Borrowers know more about their prospects than do lenders, sellers know more about the quality of a used car than do buyers. The board and CEO know more about the prospects of a company than do the shareholders. This imperfect information means adverse selection in markets. Poor quality second hard cars, borrowers with weak prospects.

George Akelof's 1970 paper The Market for Lemons shows that agents with information have strong incentives to give information signals. It was interesting to note the market for lemons was rejected by several journals, before the Quarterly Journal of Economics accepted it.

Security advisor Bruce Schneier points out in Wired there is a a security market for lemons, deeper than mere snake oil.

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Accommodation Ratings

Finally found an official Accommodation Star Ratings guide for the auto club's widely used star rating scheme that AAA Tourism run on behalf of the automobile clubs in Australia.

In particular, it explains the ten different categories of accommodation, each of which include different factors in their rating. The types are hotel or pub, motel, apartment hotel (which means self-catering facilities), resort, self-catering, bed and breakfast, guest house, tourist or caravan park, backpackers, houseboat.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

Apple MacBook Update

Minor update to the Apple MacBook consumer notebook computers, which I gather are selling better than ever without an upgrade. Faster clock for the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, one gigabyte of ram as standard, and larger hard drives. No change in the Intel GMA 950 graphics, no Santa Rosa upgrade. This makes a top of line MacBook in some ways better than the low end of the MacBook Pro range, which also hasn't been updated recently. Equal clock and memory, larger drive, much lower price. If you want a MacBook before the end of year, it seems a very reasonable upgrade for anyone except 3D gamers.

While the Santa Rosa chipset upgrade would not have made much CPU performance difference, the newer GMA X3100 integrated graphics from Intel probably would have. Seems likely that Apple don't want to have to produce a driver for the new graphics in Tiger, so I wouldn't expect upgraded graphics for a new model MacBook until after Leopard is released. Maybe an October release?

The specifications of the MacBook make it seem likely that a major MacBook Pro upgrade is on the way on 11 June at WWDC. I am also rather hoping for an upgrade to the iMac. Personally I'd like a 27 inch model, but a second generation 24 inch iMac with Santa Rosa and a nice video card would make a fine replacement for my 20 inch iMac G5. The Mac mini could probably go Core 2 Duo if most of the rest of the line was Santa Rosa.

Sydney and APEC

Why in the hell should the population of a city be inconvenienced because a bunch of political wankers want to have a conference there? I hear Sydney will have St James, Museum and Circular Quay railway stations closed on 7 to 9 September for the APEC meeting. If politicians are unhappy about security, hold the stupid conference someplace else! I am sick and tired of these arsehole politicians disrupting the lives of ordinary people. Piss off arseholes. Take your stupid conference someplace else. NSW Transport Minister and Deputy Premier John Wright was right. If you want to run political shit, do it in Canberra. You might also consider that if politicians were so loveable, why would you need such security?

We had this shit when the pope was in Sydney ages ago. We had it again recently when the mental midget war criminal and friend shooter Dick Cheney was here. I have a message for you political folks. Go to hell! And get better bloody shirts for your photo opportunity as well.

Thursday 17 May 2007

Tax Reform to Make Work Pay

Although a few years old, Peter Saunders and Barry Maley's paper Tax Reform to Make Work Pay remains an interesting take on the need for tax reform.

They claim marginal tax rates are too high, and this combined with means tested benefits means dependency on government handouts, and a disincentive to work. Amongst their solutions are indexed taxation and the option of joint taxation resulting in a higher person tax threshold. While abolishing existing means tested family payments, provide a child tax credit for each child.

Friday 18 May 2007


Coking and steaming coal are our largest export, and at 28.9% of world coal exports of 635 million tonnes of thermal coal, Australia is the largest exporter of coal (followed by Indonesia, China, South Africa and Russia). Total Australian production last year was 376 million tonnes. World coal consumption last year was 5,800 million tonnes, about 75% used for electricity. The largest buyer is Japan, followed by Korea, Taiwan and India. China is an increasing buyer, as despite high prices, it is cheaper to buy internationally than to move domestic coal through its own rail network. China's power generation grew in 2006 by 105,000 megawatt to 622,000 megawatt, an increase of more than double the total power plant infrastructure in Australia. China has built 361 coal fired power stations since 2002.

Around 70 million tonnes of brown coal (lignite) are mined each year in Victoria. Brown coal produces around 95% of Victorian electricity. Brown coal seams between 60 to 140 metres thick covered by soil and clay. Removal is easy, and there are an estimated 112,000 million tonnes of brown coal. Brown coal requires special power stations, as it is 60% water, and produces only a fifth the power of black coal. It produces 15% of Australian carbon dioxide emissions.

Saturday 19 May 2007

Prisoner arrives, prisoner leaves

With all the fuss about David Hicks returning from a USA jail in Cuba, I wonder how many people have noticed 44 year old Hew (Bandido) Raymond Griffiths, a computer copyright thief from Berkley Vale on the NSW central coast, was extradited to the USA in February. Giffiths has never been to the USA, which makes his extradition more than a little remarkable. Griffiths uploaded pirated games, but did not sell them commercially.

Griffiths was a part of the DrinkOrDie group. Griffiths was convicted in the USA and sentenced by a Virginia District Court to a four year prison term for intellectual property infringement.

Sunday 20 May 2007

No right to know

No right to know in Australia claim major news sources, including News Limited, Fairfax, ABC, SBS, Commercian Radio Australia, Sky News and AAP. Reporters Without Borders say Australia has dropped to 35th place for press freedom and free speech.

Holden Airship

What is a glowing oval shape doing floating overhead in the early night? Holden airship. I knew it was to pass through Proserpine, but had no idea it would divert to the Whitsundays.

Monday 21 May 2007

Holden Airship

The Holden airship cruised out to the Whitsunday Islands, and made several passes over Airlie Beach as it headed out to the shopping centre. I really should upload some of the many photos I took. This time I could read the gigantic TV display on the side, advertising the local car dealer.

The Holden Airship is actually gigantic, at 54.3 metres long, 14 metres wide, and 17 metres tall. The billboard display uses 396,600 ultra bright LEDs. The half tonne display is a massive 21.3 metres by 9.1 metres, a 914 inch diagonal, which is about the largest display you are likely to see moving. (Mitsubishi have a 109 by 12 metre Diamond Vision fixed display at Hong Kong racecourse). The flying display does a great job at a distance, but is too pixelated up real close. The day display is red on black (and still hard to see in the brightness of the tropics). At dark, a full colour display is used, and that does a great job.

The Holden lightship is a specially modified American Blimp model A-170, built by ILC Dover, with a USA FAA registration number N156LG. The ballonet encloses around 5 million litres of helium, with a maximum lift of around 5.5 tonnes. Maximum speed is 84 kph, cruising speed 74 kph, from twin Lycoming IO-360-B1G6 engines, with constant speed, variable pitch, reversible propellers. It uses around 91 litres of AvGas an hour when cruising, and the 673 litre fuel tank gives a 7.5 hour or around 400 km range. Climb rate is 425 metres a minute, and descend rate 485 metres a minute. The engines each drive 200A alternators. The red glow from the balloon at night is from two 1 kW internal floodlights, with their own auxiliary power unit.

There are 19 crew members, 14 of them ground support crew. The five flight crew are crowded into a 5.5 metre by 2 metre by 1 metre cabin. That is part of the 8 metre by 3.3 metre by 6.2 metre gondola, suspended by 16 external cables.

Ross Tester wrote a detailed article with numerous close up photos for Silicon Chip, December 2006 issue.

Global Politics and the Kyoto Myth

Lots of people want Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, when they should be able to see that such a move is way too costly. Australia gets essentially all its electricity from coal fired power stations, and there are no cost effective alternatives available. Australia makes most of its earnings by exporting power, in the form of processed minerals.

IPCC are not a research body, and produce no new data. IPCC is a political consensus builder, whose negotiations are behind closed doors. It is perhaps indicative that the conclusions are reached before the release of the report each five years. Despite this, another petition is circulating inviting scientists to support a political change.

Climate change legislation will inevitably reduce freedom, and reduce choices. Not even the greatest enthusiasts for green policies are still willing to argue that climate change policies will increase GDP. If Australia is to take on policies that will badly affect economic well being, jobs and export earnings, then the public need to participate in the debate on the costs, and whether there are any benefits.

Tuesday 22 May 2007

iRobot Roomba developers tools

Various iRobot Roomba developers tools are available, including the Roomba serial command interface (SCI) specifications manual in pdf. Plus a book on hacking Roomba.

Make Roomba a midi musical instrument and control it with a Macintosh. Or control a Roomba with a MacBook tilt sensor instead of a remote control.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Cars drive greenhouse targets off the road

Cars drive greenhouse targets off the road writes Ziggy Switkowski in an interesting article giving some of the figures for carbon dioxide emissions from personal transport.

Why not change that by banning inefficient cars? You could do it under the Australian Design Rules, by specifying CO2 outputs per kilometre of travel. You can find CO2 levels for all types of 1440 cars sold in Australia on the Australian Greenhouse Office web site. Start with banning all cars with emissions greater than 400 grams of CO2 per kilometre, commencing in the year 2010. That gets rid of a bunch of Bentley, and one 4WD. Drop the level another 20 grams each year.

You don't need any new technology. There are already cars that manage close to 100 grams of CO2 per kilometre of travel. Even by 2020, new cars could still emit 200 grams of CO2, an easy target to reach given many cars already do so. The life span of a car is about 11 years, so this is a gradual change.

Only 20% of cars sold in Australia are actually built here. So the local manufacturers know exactly what they need to do to continue to exist. Get the emissions down. It doesn't matter whether they manage it by more efficient engines, by Eurodiesel engines, by making cars that run on renewable or naturally low emission fuels like ethanol, methanol, natural gas, LPG, or biodiesel. It doesn't matter if they do it via hybrid, or electric cars. The car makers have the engineers. It is about time they got told to stop polluting, or get out of business.

Thursday 24 May 2007

Zeitgeist and Trends

The original Google Zeitgeist search patterns was replaced by the more dynamic Hot Trends. Seems many of us search for trivia.

Friday 25 May 2007

Google Calendars

Google Calendar offers access via web capable mobile phones, since more people have phones than have computers. It even manages to format in a reasonable manner to suit the small display of a cell phone. Plus links to Google Maps. Some people may end up avoiding having a computer at all. After all, if you don't need a big, heavy computer, why carry one? Now if only the phone company charges were somewhat more reasonable ...

Internet Applications

Long list of web applications to run business online using your Macintosh Safari or Firefox browser.

Saturday 26 May 2007

Personalised Search

Coming sometime to a search just for you, personalised searches. If you ask who was killed in Dallas, did you mean JFK or JR? If you search for Paris, do you mean the city or the celebrity? Search needs to know whether your questions are trivia and airhead, or not. Look for it from Google, sooner or later.

Sunday 27 May 2007

Antispam and Books

CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart) has a new task in addition to blocking bots from forum site registration. Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon has devised reCAPTCHA, but with two words. First tests whether you are human (so you can sign up for forums or to hide email addresses), however the second is a word the Internet Archive OCR can not understand. If a bunch of humans (as tested by the first CAPTCHA) give the same spelling for the second word, then that second word is identified, and this adds another word to scanned book text being digitised by the Internet Archive.

Monday 28 May 2007


There is a rock chopper out the back, digging foundations for a new construction. On the foreshore is a giant crane, which loads barges with pilings. Trucks arrive every few minutes on the two new causeways to dump rock and soil into Muddy Bay. Out in the bay are two large barges, each with a crane. These are vibrating steel piling walls into the mud. When noisy vibrations don't work, they change to pile driving. There is assorted construction machinery all around. Plus reception just ran the fire alarm drill, with loudspeakers and sirens. Wonderful!

20 years of Internet

I got my first email address in 1986. Got email at my desk in 1987, but I had to install the RS232 cables myself, to a computer seven floors away. There was no spam back then. Not a lot of email either. Text only newsgroups were a great way to talk with people. You could also use command line talk for what is now called instant messaging. The nearest thing to the web was gopher. You could exchange files using ftp.

Tuesday 29 May 2007

Steve Jobs as Spoiler

Dr Vannevar Bush imagined many human memory augmentation ideas in As We May Think, published in The Atlantic Monthly July 1945. Right idea, wrong technology.

Dr Douglas Engelbart and his team at Stanford Research Institute (SRI)had invented the mouse, hypertext, windows and the chorded keyboard and other interfaces augmenting human intellect starting in the 1960s. His 1968 multimedia presentation even included video conferencing. Mainframe computer makers paid little attention.

Xerox had great research labs, with several people from SRI working there, and a bunch of amazing ideas came out of PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). While the Alto GUI computer was experimental, the Xerox 8010 (Star) was a commercial system (but sold only 25,000). The Apple Lisa GUI lacked icons. However Apple extended the academic ideas and PARC work in the 1984 Macintosh, the first commercially successful WIMP computer. Microsoft Windows 1.0 appeared in 1985, one of several GUI computers for that year.

Tim Berners-Lee wrote a program Enquire in 1980 that allowed links. By 1989 he was calling it Mesh. It wasn't until 1990 he called it the world wide web. By then Berners-Lee had experience using HyperCard on an Apple Macintosh. Writing about the WorldWideWeb browser Tim Berners-Lee mentions he wrote this very first web browser using Objective-C on a NeXT computer from Steve Job's company. Note the X close box, used before Windows copied it. However if it had been harder to write that first browser, would the world wide web have arrived much, much later?

There was no clear market winner in the early home computers, although Apple ][ had the high price point. Business was just starting to see these hobby gadgets could actually be of use, especially when spreadsheets became available. Apple welcomed IBM to the market, after IBM decided their mainframe business interests might be threatened. The mainframe certainly was. The personal computer with a spreadsheet ate lots of the business computer market. Now IBM are right out of the personal computer market, driven out by cut price clones, while Apple are still there.

The Apple iPod totally changed how music is bought and sold, and especially how it is played. There were MP3 players before the iPod, but iTunes put music solidly on the computers of people who would never have attempted to get rid of their records, cassettes and CDs previously. Music is now solidly digital. It has already triggered changes in the distribution of independent music.

What will the iPhone do? Other phones have the WiFi connections, but mostly customers ignore it. Imagine an iPhone with an easy iChat?

Wednesday 30 May 2007

American Dream

Or should that be American nightmare? Economic mobility seems to now be lower than many other nations. Median household income was 12% lower (in real terms) by 2004 than it was a generation ago in 1974, as income inequality decreases. The after tax income of the poorest one-fifth rose 9%, the richest one fifth by 69%. CEO pay increased 35 times to 262 the average worker's pay.

Is inequality chance, a matter of class or parents, or simply the results of a meritocracy? Most people prefer a meritocracy. However it appears the younger generation are doing worse than their parents. The rising tide no longer lifts all boats.

Computer Display Ports

Tony Smith writes (again) in The Register about computer video display ports and connectors. Television has had so many connectors most people can't connect them. All those RCA sockets, various composite, component, and audio. S-Video, SCART, and now the badly designed and proprietary HDMI. The range has not be as large for computer displays, but still extensive. These days only the old analogue VGA is left on most computers, although anyone serious about computers insists on digital, in the form of DVI (which mostly includes analogue as well). However DVI can't handle resolutions beyond 1080p (1920 x 1080), and top line monitors do exceed TV limits. Well, not unless you use DVI Dual Link.

So, three competing connectors. DisplayPort, HDMI, and Unified Display Interface (UDI), trying to replacing an existing working system.

HDMI is a piece of proprietary committee crap, based on DVI, but extended beyond what is reasonable, on a flimsy, too small connector, and unable to run distant monitors. It does however do sound, for people too dumb to connect a second cord, which matches the user being too dumb to realise TV sound is a heap of shit. Plus HDMI changes with every release, making users uncertain whether anything will work with Type A and Type B connectors. I don't need to say how annoying the built in HDCP digital content protection restriction stuff is. I simply will not buy it at all. As HD TV sets must have HDMI, I refuse to buy a TV. It isn't like you can't get a HD signal other ways - the XBox 360 does HD over analogue component video.

DisplayPort was intended as a VGA, DVI and LVDS replacement, sort of HDMI for computers. Since DVI can handle VGA also, I can't see any need for DisplayPort. recent changes to DisplayPort added sound and optionally HDCP, so you never know whether any device supports it. DisplayPort mandates its own DPCP (DisplayPort Copy Protection) thus adding another scheme consumers never asked for. License two different copy restriction schemes customers didn't want? Sounds to me as if DisplayPort have ripped their own heads off, and are busy pissing down their own throat.

Unified Display Interface (UDI) is sort of DVI Mark 2. Better video than DVI, and no sound. The people launching it include Apple, Intel, LG, Samsung and NatSemi, but none seem to be serious about it.

Thursday 31 May 2007

Palm Foleo

Palm Foleo mobile companion at US$499 has a ten inch display and a full sized keyboard. Connect wirelessly via Bluetooth with a smartphone. Promotes ease of syncing email, has a PDF reader, and viewing MS Word and Excel documents via DataViz' Documents To Go. You can present Powerpoint, and a VGA adaptor comes with it. Palm Foleo web browser is Opera. Palm Foleo has Wi-Fi. Weight is 2.5 pounds, and it has a five hour battery life. Palm don't give sufficient information to evaluate the thing. TreaCentral think Palm Foleo is Linux based and data centric, not voice centric. It does have a USB port, video out, headphone jack, and CF and SD memory card reader. No hard drive.

I wonder whether this Palm Foleo could be a potential replacement for my ancient Psion NetBook? The Foleo lacks touch screen and applications, so the only advance on 1998 seems to be having Bluetooth. Even with the advantage of Linux, it is sounding like too little, too late. Plus the Palm web site wouldn't let me sign up to be advised of when it was available. Not a good start.

Note added 4 Sept 2007. The Palm Foleo has been cancelled prior to release.

iTunes Plus Music

Apple finally announced availability of music on iTunes Store without the hated DRM copy protection. Prices for this music increase from 99c to US$1.29. The EMI catalogue will be available, however how much more music will be DRM free is unknown. Many independent music producers may be interested. Another iTunes upgrade is required, as most people expected.

I have never bought any music from iTunes, as I don't like copy protection (I ripped all my CDs). Guess I will check what iTunes have available.

YouTube Internet video on AppleTV

In mid June, Google's popular internet video site YouTube will be available for streaming on AppleTV. This change requires a free software update. Plenty of people were wondering when Apple would make a download capability available for AppleTV. I imagine eventually other social networking sites will be available that way. Apple will also offer an AppleTV model at US$399 with a larger 160 GB hard drive (the original 40 GB model was US$299).

On the other hand, YouTube produces absolutely pathetic results. It appears to transcode whatever decent video you feed it into around 320 x 240 Flash (although it plays back larger). Great for reducing bandwidth, but the results are crap. There are hints that YouTube videos will start being done in the much better H.264 standard for use with AppleTV.

If the tuning into sites like YouTube is sufficiently easy, then content from any amateur producer competes on your TV set with regular commercial content. Well, it competes if you have sufficient bandwidth from your ISP to download even the pathetic YouTube Flash format video. So far that isn't the case here. Also I'd say having given away my TV set because of the lousy quality of shows isn't going to help me find YouTube all that attractive. There is a limit to my appetite for fuzzy funniest home video.

If you are going to produce something to show on YouTube, at least put the camera on a tripod, and get rid of the entire background, or make it as plain as possible. The ideal is no fine grained content. Reduce motion to a minimum. You take an enormous hit on quality using YouTube and Flash.