Eric Lindsay's Blog 2007 September

Saturday 1 September 2007

Jean Returns

I drove to Mackay around 6 a.m. Stopped at Bloomsbury to collect a milk shake for breakfast. Still got to the hospital before Jean got breakfast. To our surprise, the surgeon dropped in soon after. Jean seemed fine to go, so I brought the car around to the door, and helped Jean get in. Not enough leg movement to be sure of getting into the car without a little help.

At home at the Whitsunday Terraces around 11, Jean managed to get up the 35 steps on crutches, although she found it tiring. Once she was settled in, I dropped around to the rapidly closing Airlie Beach local markets to get some fresh vegetables. Lunch was a Subway, mostly to make things easier for me.

Whitsunday Fun Race

The Fun Race was due to set sail at midday. It had sprinkled rain that morning. Now it was overcast, and there was enough drizzle to dampen things. I guess sailors are used to that.

We did hear music playing at the Whitsunday Sailing Club until midnight, so I imagine folks who participated had a good time anyhow. Interestingly, the sponsors were almost all beer and rum companies.

Household Balance Sheet Risks

Alan Wood comments in The Australian on the shift of financial risk to households. Household debt to annual disposable income in the early 1990's was about 50%. Now it is 160%, at the top of the range globally. Borrowing has mostly been for housing, now 86% of household debt, and much of this has been investment properties. Household assets have grown from 500% of annual disposable income to 800%, so gearing (ratio of debt to assets) has remained moderate at 17%.

A third of households have no debt. Two third have no owner occupier housing debt (they either own or rent). Many households are in a good position to take on the debt they do. Relatively few are overcommitted, so even if things go bad, I can't see vast numbers of homes being lost.

Superannuation is relatively exposed to risk, as defined benefits schemes are not often offered now. This shifts risk to households. Whether the risks are well recognised is another matter.

Sunday 2 September 2007

Oil Reserves

Record spending on oil exploration last year failed to make a major increase in known oil reserves. 228 oil and gas companies spent 45% more (to a total of US$401 billion) in 2006. However oil found increased by only 2%, to 263 billion barrels equivalent. Some countries are however not permitting company access to oil.

This report credited to John S Herold and Harrison Lovegrove.

Monday 3 September 2007

Retirement Costs Rise

Retired couples need A$26,000 for a modest lifestyle (A$19,000 for single), or A$48,000 for a comfortable lifestyle (A$36,000 for single), according to Westpac and ASFA. Modest is actually pretty basic, whereas comfortable allows for domestic goods and some overseas travel. This is A$4000 more than three years ago. To handle that, you need at least a half million dollars invested, and this will increase by A$200,000 within a decade.

Oil will drive costs up, as shortages and increased costs drive up food prices, which are a major factor in the price increases. In Australia we use 205 million barrels of oil a year, but produce only 130 million barrels. Oil use is increasing, and production is decreasing. Seems an obvious problem.

Tuesday 4 September 2007

Speech Synthesis

There are some voices that sound better than the default in Macintosh OS X. Cepstral make several voices. Unlimited length trials (with reminders to purchase). Cost is US$30 per voice. Acapela Group's Infovox iVox application that Assistiveware sell offers some excellent voices, with a wide range of languages. US or UK English is US$99 for Infovox iVox application.

Wednesday 5 September 2007

Water Leaks

I think we found the cause of the long standing water leak at the Whitsunday Terraces. Considering the roof in question had more roof repairers tracks over it, we couldn't see how it could have a leak through that seals. I was still suspicious of the sealing of the balcony above, but a fire hose couldn't fault it. Tried lots of other spots. Then noticed way up the wall, that the external balcony light had peeling paint. Crow bar removed the remains of the trellis woodwork from the wall. That did leak when subject to a fire hose. I think we finally have the problem. However why didn't every similar apartment leak also?

Thursday 6 September 2007

New iPod Models

Apple held a media event in the USA a few hours ago, introducing their revised iPod line for the peak US shopping season.

New colours in the iPod Shuffle line, including Product Red. Colours are silver, light blue, teal and green. Price unchanged. If you liked one of the old colours, tough luck.

Apple releases new iPod Nano 3rd generation in shorter but wider form, with a 2 inch QVGA 320x240 pixel display equivalent to the classic iPod pixel count. The new metal model (anodised aluminium and stainless steel) can play back video. US$149 (4 GB) and US$199 (8 GB). The previous tall and narrow models were US$149 for 2 GB, US$199 for 4 GB and US$249 for 8 GB. Includes coverflow, three bundled games (iQuiz, Klondike, and Vortex). 24 hours audio playback, 5 hours video. This model is 6.5mm thick, however the volume has increased by about a third.

Note: Component video output to television is supported by iPod nano (third generation) and iPod classic at 480p or 576p resolution, and by iPod touch at 480i or 576i resolution.

The classic hard drive iPod 5.5. capacity changes to 80 GB (US$249) and 160 GB (US$349). Thinner metal body, in black or silver. Previous models were 30 GB and 80 GB. 40 hours music, 7 hours video playback.

New iPod touch screen model at the top of the range, with an iPhone like 3.5 inch 320x480 display. This comes with flash memory only, at US$299 for 8 GB, and US$399 for 16 GB. I imagine flash memory prices made larger capacities a problem. iPod touch screen will be thinner than iPhone, at 8mm. Same multitouch and coverflow as iPhone. Wifi 802.11b and 802.11g (not pre-n). Sensor for auto lanscape viewing. It has Safari, connect to internet via Wifi. YouTube via WiFi. 22 hours audio, 5 hours video playback. Shipping at the end of September. This one is obviously intended partly for Apple iPod users outside the USA, who can't use get iPhone for a year or more.

iPod touch does not have a camera, email, Bluetooth, iChat, games, microphone, speaker, .Mac connection.

Does it have lyrics, voice input, disk mode, notes, WPA WiFi encryption?

The 4 GB iPhone has been dropped, and the price of the 8 GB iPhone reduced by US$200 to US$399. There is no indication that sales have been unsatisfactory previously. Apple said sales are on track for one million. This is a nice price break, now that production and activation has caught up with demand. I note activation probably went into meltdown on the first weekend of sales.

I do feel a little sorry for the iPhone early adopters who didn't see this coming. However early adopters knew the launch price since January, so they can hardly complain. Looks like Apple may have made close to an extra US$200 million from the early adopters, which is good for their stock price. Doubtless there will be various people complaining about not having the lower prices from the start. I suspect the high initial price was partly intended to limit demand during the early production days. But maybe flash memory ended up cheaper than originally projected. There were expectations of major shortages following problems at a major supplier.

I would imagine Apple will announce a 16 GB iPhone for the USA, and a 3G iPhone for Europe around November or December, but both at a higher price. Perhaps Apple needed the initial high price so that the new models would look reasonable when released at the same high price.

Apple now offer iPhone ring tones via iTunes at US0.99 cents. New version of iTunes allows you to make your own ring tone from any 30 second section of some songs you have purchased. Not sure why anyone would pay for a ringtone anyhow, although it appears they are popular. At least this is cheaper than some ringtone companies, but it is still a music distributor rip off. Won't affect me, since I refuse to buy anything from the music distribution scum.

iTunes Wifi Store, access via your iPhone. Download music direct to your iPhone. Available in a few weeks.

Starbucks partnership lets your iPhone list the last 10 songs played at a Starbucks. There will be free access to iTunes WiFi Store via Starbucks wifi.

iPod Hi-fi speaker system still appears on the Apple web site, despite rumours it would be dropped. However the Apple Store reports it not available at the moment. Dropped? or about to be refreshed?

Drive Jean to Mackay

We drove to Mackay just before 8 a.m. so Jean could get the staples removed after her hip replacement. Long day for her, starting with the 35 steps down to the Whitsunday Terraces car parking area. The surgeon saw her early. Alas, a few of my photos of the staples being removed didn't work. Jean insisted I get her some photos. I hoped to get a shot of the cutting implement (looked very much like a regular electronics hand tool). We dropped some chocolates off for the hospital staff who looked after her.

We had a lunch at Bloomsbury, so for the first time Jean had to cope with regular low chairs without arms. She found it hard, but managed without help. She was getting pretty tired by the time she got up all the steps when we reached the Whitsunday Terraces.

Despite that, in the evening she was wandering around using only one crutch, for the first time. That was a great sign.

Friday 7 September 2007

$100 Apple Store Credit for iPhone Buyers

After a storm of complaints from early purchasers of iPhone, Apple provided early iPhone buyers with an Apple Store credit. Steve Jobs also provided reasons for the price drop. More affordable for holiday sales. Technology is bumpy (who would have thought). They goofed and didn't predict the intensity of the reaction. Given Apple had no legal reason for making any sort of gesture, this was a surprising but sensible move. Early adopters are worth much more that the cost of the store credit in the long run. Plus all the folks who bought at an AT&T store will now check an Apple store to get their credit.

Saturday 8 September 2007

Fire Alarm

Some clowns in Barnacle Terrace broke a fire alarm button around 12:30 a.m., so everyone in the Whitsunday Terraces resort got disturbed by the noise of the alarm. Night manager was in Brisbane, so it was a fair while before the Whitsunday Terraces resort management arrived, just behind the fire brigade. The security cameras got some good photos of people departing. If we are lucky, we may be able to throw those involved out. Plus another person pulled loose the speaker wires from the nearest alarm, to get some peace. So they will be in further trouble.

Sunday 9 September 2007

Jean Walks

Jean managed to take shuffling steps across the room without her crutch today. If her right hip were not affected by arthritis, she probably would have been more confident about walking further.

Monday 10 September 2007

Inconsulata Font

Just saw Ghostscript maintainer Ralph Levien's fine Inconsulata monotype font. Very attractive. I am going to run with it for a while in Text Edit, to see if it remains restful to the eyes.

One million iPhones

Apple sold the one millionth iPhone during the weekend, 74 days after launch. This is ahead of the predicted schedule (end of September). The iPod took two years to sell a million.

Water Leaks

I noticed the plumber was here to seal a wall involved in a long standing water leak here at the Whitsunday Terraces resort. Noted here so I have a record of the date it was done.

Tuesday 11 September 2007

Jean Goes Shopping

Jean felt she could manage to go shopping today. Down the 35 steps at the Whitsunday Terraces on crutches. I drove her to Cannonvale, and got a parking place as close to the Coles as I could manage. She did really well, but still can't get around with the support of a shopping trolley. Her shopping list included esoteric vegetables and stuff I would be unlikely to pick correctly. She got up and down a fair few aisles, but found the walking tiring. She was so tired she didn't even go down the chocolate aisle (she sent me - I know what her favourite is). I thought that was a very successful first non-medical trip from home. The hip replacement was Monday two weeks ago.

Digital Music Killing CDs

Actually it isn't yet, but the signs are there in Australia. Single CD sales (which were only 1.3 million) for the first half of 2007 were down 4.7% on the previous year, CD album sales of around 17.6 million were down 13%. Digital single tracks were up 62% to around 8 million. Digital album sales were still nowhere (380 thousand), but were up 147%. Digital music is now 10% of the Australian market, up from 5.5% last year.

Figures from the Australian recording Industry Association, per an article by Matthew Westwood in The Australian. So total sales numbers are up, but the amount customers are paying is down, as single downloads displace CD album purchases. Physical sales dropped from A$203 million to A$168 million. Digital sales were only A$18 million, up from A$12 million.

You can see where this is going. Not good for the music labels.

Wednesday 12 September 2007

Apple iPod Prices

Apple online store prices for iPods were Shuffle $99, iPod Nano 4GB A$199and 8GB A$279, iPod Classic 80GB A$349 and 160GB A$479. The iPod Touch 8GB is A$419, and the 16GB A$549.

Harvey Norman (large retail chain) prices for iPods were Shuffle $94 (-$4), iPod Nano 4GB A$196 (-$3) and 8GB A$275 (-$4), iPod Classic 80GB A$343 (-$6) and 160GB A$476 (-$3). The iPod Touch 8GB is A$415 (-$4), and the 16GB A$543 (-$6). Seems like even the large retailers can't do much to move Apple's prices. At least I may get to see what these models look like now.

Thursday 13 September 2007

Robot on Moon

Google have offered a US$30 million Google Lunar X prize to the first private team to land a robot on the moon. Put a robot on the moon by the end of 2012, drive it a half kilometre on the surface, and send back a gigabyte of photos and data.

Friday 14 September 2007

Nintendo Wii

Despite the name, the Nintendo Wii has inched in front of Microsoft's Xbox 360 with 9 million sales vs 8.9 million. Sony Playstation 3 is running a distant last with 3.7 million units sold. These sales according to The Financial Times. The older unit sales, such as PS2 or original Xbox had higher sales. On the other hand, Nintendo is still hard to find.

SCO Bankrupt

SCO blames Linux for bankruptcy, says it lost too many law suites where it sued Linux users for Unix copyright breeches. I hope those SCO losers die and disappear. Every Microsoft money couldn't prop them up forever.

Apple wireless keyboard

Apple's new Bluetooth wireless keyboard is the thinnest keyboard I have seen. Runs off three AA batteries. Connected and paired with my Apple easily. Pleasant to type on, and I don't think my typing speed has decreased. The aluminium body looks great, and the white keys don't seem out of place. The software update was fairly large, but make the new key positions work (the old key mappings were used prior to the update). I am very happy with the lightness and small size of this keyboard. If you need a numeric keypad (I don't want one) you need either the old Bluetooth keyboard, or the new wired model.

Saturday 15 September 2007

Piracy Easier Than Purchase

Actually CNet say piracy is easier than purchase and then give full instructions on using Miro media player to grab a feed for a TV show that hasn't appeared in your country.

Must say I am so far behind on viewing TV content that I prefer just to buy each series on DVD. As long as I avoid advertising I am happy.

Ringtone Racket

John Gruber at Daring Fireball mentions the ringtone racket unfavourably. I've never bought a ringtone in my life, and wouldn't start. However it is a pity cell phones don't sound like a bloody phone when they disturb you.

Nice to see John Gruber zinging the entertainment media executives yet again. Especially since there is probably no law against making your own ringtones. Notice RIAA screwed the artists over ringtones, and then made an agreement with Apple to screw all the iTunes customers that want ringtones. Seems like business as usual. Solution, boycott the music recording industry. Buy only from individual artists.

Sunday 16 September 2007

Large Cars Decline

Sales of large cars have declined to less than 14% of the market in Australia. Isn't it about time to set limits on CO2 emissions per kilometre travelled from all passenger vehicles? Start at say 400 grams per kilometre, dropping by 10 or 20 grams per year.

iPod Touch

The iPod Touch seems like AppleTV. A really neat gadget that fails to hit the sort of targets I would like. I'd love to partly replace my PDA, now old and failing. But despite having keyboard access, the iPod Touch doesn't even have notes or museum mode. Nor a way of editing iCal. Nor a way of putting in ToDos. No disk mode available. I believe it also doesn't show song lyrics. Unless WiFi was present in enough places (it isn't) to allow web applications to substitute, then it just isn't sufficiently functional. Guess I have to give the iPod Touch a miss also, just like the AppleTV. Both seem like transitional products, not something that actually worked at their proper potential. I do note hints in the pdf manual that Apple were intending to allow notes, so perhaps it is just a feature not completed in time for the launch. Mind you, the iPod Touch does have video out, which is disabled in the iPhone. Unfortunately, at 480i and 576i, it is less capable than the 480p and 576p of the iPod Classic or iPod Nano 3rd generation.

It doesn't even look as if the iPod Touch is supported even by Apple's iPod Camera Connector. What a pity I don't actually want an iPod as a music player, or as a cell phone. They seem pretty good as music players. iLounge give detailed iPod Touch review.

I will have to continue to hope that Apple eventually make a small format notebook computer. I note that the tiny new wireless Bluetooth keyboard would mate really nicely with a touch screen computer. Let's not call it a tablet computer or a slate, as these have not been big sellers. However Apple would probably have a reasonable chance to make a real Dynabook that worked. Against this, people have been predicting an Apple tablet for years and years.

Monday 17 September 2007


Having decided that neither the AppleTV nor the iPod Touch were much use to me, I thought I would check out Slingbox TV streaming device. Blank page on their web site. Folks, Flash is a proprietary format, and nothing to do with web sites, except for displaying things otherwise difficult to depict. I eventually found a regular Slingbox site. Says you need Windows (not true, you can use a Macintosh). Says you should have at least 256KB upload speed. That makes it not much use in regional Australia, thanks to the stupidity and idiological purity of the Liberal Party selling off the phone line monopoly. So, the Slingbox is another gadget that is no use to me.

Tuesday 18 September 2007

iPhone in UK

Apple announced the iPhone would be released in the UK on 9 November by O2 at £269. Phone contracts are £35 (200 minutes), £45 (600 minutes) and £55 (1200 minutes) per month, with unlimited internet (which in some peculiar UK fashion means 1400 pages a day). The iPhone is the same as the USA version, using EDGE, not 3G. Steve Jobs, launching the iPhone, claimed 3G chips work reasonably well but still used too much power. Say EDGE is still OK for email. O2's EDGE coverage is expected to be 30% of their GSM towers.

An interesting touch is access to The Cloud's 7500 WiFi hotspots is included with the iPhone. This WiFi network normally costs £12 a month. Seems to me Apple is promoting WiFi as a partial way to make an end run around the cell phone networks.

iPhone will debut in Germany on 9 November also, using the T-Mobile EDGE network. Orange will be the iPhone network in France.

In Australia, I am pretty sure Telstra have the only GSM phone network with EDGE, and the only phone network with regional 3G HSDPA. Telstra Operations Chief Greg Winn told Apple to stick to its knitting when the iPhone was announced in February. Given Telstra's BigPond Music doesn't work with an iPod, and BigPond movies require Windows XP, release of an iPhone in Australia via Telstra looks unlikely.

On the other hand, the new Nokia 6120 Classic looks like a fine Symbian S60 smartphone, and has most of the features the iPhone lacks. Like syncing contacts and calendar, and having MMS as well as SMS.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Blood and Green Gore

Generation Investment Management, otherwise known as Blood and Gore, has David Blood as its London based managing director. Today partner Al Gore launched the fund in Australia via Colonial First State Asset Management, who have exclusive retail distribution rights in Australia.

Failing to Communicate

I happened to see a note that X10 powerline controllers were once again available in Australia from Bunnings Warehouse, with Winplus the distributor. Tried the Winplus site, only to get a totally blank screen (they were using Adobe Flash, a proprietary format that is not a web standard). So I tried the Bunnings site, but it wanted my postcode, and wouldn't let me enter regardless of what I entered (probably trying to set a cookie, which I do not permit). A potential customer (with lots of X10 gear already) just stormed out of your stores, swearing about his treatment. You are losers.

That sort of stupid web page design also explains why Google doesn't produce decent search results for either company.

Thursday 20 September 2007

Near Future Computers from Apple

Intel's tick tock CPU and chipset advances schedule the 45 nanometre Penryn CPU to replace the current 65 nm Meron CPU in the Santa Rosa chipset, according to chief executive Paul Otellini at the Intel Developers Forum this week. Intel expect up to a 20% performance increase, and 10% or so better energy efficiency.

Except for the Mac Pro, Apple use only mobile version CPUs. The standard Mac Pro workstation will therefore be upgraded to a dual 2.83 GHz Penryn based Xeon quad core CPU (codename Harpertown) with the Santa Clara chipset and 1333 MHz front side bus, at around US$2800. The really interesting item will be which video card will be on offer. Since the Xeon is a desktop CPU, a new Mac Pro workstation could appear well before the end of the year.

Intel are expected to release five mobile Penryns in January 2008. These are X9000 Extreme 2.8 GHz at US$851 (at 1000 pricing), T9500 2.6 GHz at US$530, T9300 2.5 GHz at US$316, T8300 2.4 GHz at US$241, and T8100 2.1 GHz at US$209. The Extreme is not clock locked, allowing manufacturers to overclock. Apple will probably offer that at a substantial premium. The front side bus of each is 800 Mhz. Each of the T9x00 models has 6 MB level 2 cache, while the T8x00 have a 3 MB L2 cache. In addition, Intel are expected to offer Santa Rosa Refresh in January 2008. This includes the 965 Express chipset, Next-Gen Wireless N, and Gigabit ethernet.

Standard Apple Macbook Pro currently use the T7700 2.4 GHh and T7500 2.2 GHz Meron, which list at very close to the price of the T9500 2.6 GHz and T9300 2.4 Ghz Penryn models. The easy prediction is this Macbook Pro update to Penryn and 2.6 GHz and 2.4 Ghz is to be announced at MacWorld San Francisco in January.

Another easy prediction is the lower cost Macbook to be updated to both Santa Rosa and the Penryn T8x00 line at the same event. Apple may do the Santa Rosa update a little earlier, with the newer Intel GMA X3100 integrated graphics chip. I was actually expecting them to do this Santa Rosa upgrade already, but perhaps that makes the Macbook specifications too close to the Macbook Pro. One possibility is for the Santa Rosa chipset to occur in time for the Xmas shopping season. Against this, most purchasers will not notice that sort of change. Perhaps the Penryn side of the upgrade would be delayed past January for the same reason, but I doubt it.

It does occur to me that the recent iMac cosmetic upgrade may have been scheduled as a first step to a Penryn based iMac, but the chips were not available so early. Apple did get to test whether there were problems with the new case design, while using a CPU and chipset they were very familiar with.

Low Power Computers from Apple

Intel announced Moorestown, their system in a chip, early in 2007. This is the silicon for a web tablet. Moorestown is the 32 nm version, not expected until 2009 or 2010. Now head of the Intel Mobility Group Anand Chandrasekher says they will cut power consumption to a tenth what a multichip system will use.

The 45 nm ultra low power Silverthorne 64 bit x86 CPU to be released Q1 2008 for the Paulsobo chipset will make up their Menlow platform. Samples have been floating around engineering departments since mid year. Looks like a lot of phone and PDA makers are interested, but there is also a strong list of computer makers signed. BenQ, Hitachi, Lenovo, LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba. No mention of Apple. However there have been demonstrations of a Silverthorne CPU using less than 0.2W at idle, and only 0.45W when running. This is still far higher power consumption than ARM chips typically used in Smart Phones, so expect this in larger gadgets than phones until the next generation.

One interesting point is that the first Ultra Mobile PC (UMPC) chip, nicknamed McCaslin, was the chip used in the Apple TV.

Intel have been pushing the idea of ultra mobile PC for ages. Not much resonance from customers so far. Windows XP doesn't exactly shine on these devices, with no ensmalled XP version available. However Linux scales pretty well, and Mark Shuttleworth demonstrated a pre-alpha Ubuntu Mobile on a Menlow based Mobile Internet Device.

Friday 21 September 2007

Canon Powershot TX1 digital camera

Small point and shoot 10 times ultra zoom 7 megapixel vertical format digital camera originally released in Australia around April (announced February) at A$700. It has optical image stabilisation via lens shift in both still and movie modes. Despite the Powershot name, it looks more like an Ixus or Elph. Despite the small size (89 x 29 x 60 mm), it weighs in at a solid 220 grams. Imaging element is 1/2.5 CCD, giving a maximum resolution of 3072 x 2304. Twelve element 10 times zoom lens provides 39-390 equivalent, aperture f/3.5 (wide angle) to f/5.6 (telephoto), and has macro (10-50 cm) and super macro (0 to 10 cm) ability. Shutter speeds at 15 to 1/2500 second. Continuous shoot without autofocus is 2.2 fps, with no frame limit.

Video is recorded as MJPEG, a series of stills, at 30 fps with stereo sound. You have a video record button that is separate from the still shutter release. Good results in 720p (1280 x 720), but you can store only 3.5 minutes per gigabyte. I think the trade off is worth it for the quality, but it can't handle really dark scenes without adding noise. You can even get video out of the TX1 via component video at 1080i.

Uses SD card for storage, USB 2.0 connection (no Firewire). The LCD monitor is 1.8 inch 115,000 pixels, no viewfinder (bummer). Uses a small NB-4L 760 mAh Li-ion battery, good only for a paltry 160 shots. Heavy users will need a spare battery. Comes with charger but not an AC adaptor.

You can record a 60 second sound memo for each image. The built in flash is very weak. Noisy when in low light, and for best result you need the ASA set low. Likes lots of light.

PC Authority review of Canon TX1. Detailed Digital Photography review of Canon TX1. Steve's Digicam review of Canon TX1.

Saturday 22 September 2007

How to Sell Your Music on iTunes

An an old summary of digital distribution of music. TuneCore vs CD Baby for digital music distribution. Check Tunecore for a 28 page summary of selling your music. Or CD Baby on digital distribution.

Computerworld Wants iPhone Fixed

Computerworld publish 15 things Apple should fix in iPhone 2.0 by Ryan Faas. They include add 3G, GPS, make auto-correct auto-complete, developer support and SDK, mobile iChat, USB drive access, Bluetooth syncing as well as wired, video capture from camera, flash for camera, push e-mail, sync to-dos, sync notes, text messages to multiple recipients, RSS reader. Readers add copy and paste, voice memo recorder, file save, MS Office file support.

Sunday 23 September 2007

Jean Uses Walking Stick

Jean managed to get down the Whitsunday Terraces steps to the car park, and back up them, using a walking stick. I think this is the first time she got outside without using her crutches.

Renewable Energy New Zealand

New Zealand plans 90% renewable energy by 2025. Peak demand in New Zealand is 7500 megawatt. Peak demand in 2025 is expected to be 10,000 megawatt. If older thermal plants close when scheduled, about 1400 megawatt would be available, if no new thermal plants are built. Allowing for shut down times, there is enough thermal power.

The problem is whether renewable energy can handle the rest. That is an 87% increase on the current splendid 4800 megawatt. Most of the present renewable power is hydro electricity, however there is little opportunity for major increases. Wind power is a mere 200 megawatt, but New Zealand has some good potential wind power sites. Despite this, I predict New Zealand can not do it.

Monday 24 September 2007

Jean Visits Camping Store

Jean got to the car wash and to the camping store using her walking stick rather than the crutches. We asked Michelle about getting a Solar Billy. Jean even managed to walk around Centro shopping centre for a fair while.

Franklin Dam Hydro Energy

The 1979 Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania (HECT) proposal was for a 180 megawatt power plant. The proposed dams would flood 37 km of the Gordon River and 33 km of the Franklin River in Tasmania. The proposal would have added jobs in the west of Tasmania, a traditional high unemployment area. Environmentalists opposed the dams, resulting in a farcical referendum in 1981 which did not include an option for no dams (44% of votes were informal). A 1983 High Court decision stopped work on the plan.

HECT constructed instead the King and the Anthony plants, which cost a staggering A$1200 million, and deliver only 112 MW average power output. These plants are poorly sited, with small feed lakes. Their storage capacity when built was only 2% of Tasmanian energy storage.

Tuesday 25 September 2007


Glenn kindly visited to give Jean a very nice pickup stick to replace the broken gripper gadget she had bought. This one uses steel strip springs to work. Looks much less likely to fail than the plastic model she already had.

Despite all these invalid aids, Jean still gets me to pick up most things that have fallen on the floor. As you would.

Apple Memory Arrives

ePowerMac sent me another gigabyte of memory for my Apple computers. I installed in the G4 Al Powerbook, so now I have 1.25 GB available. No install problems, although I did take the precaution of reading the user guide section on memory updates before commencing, in case there were strange features to the upgrade.

Clean Energy Targets

The Federal Government has proposed replacing existing clean energy targets with a new target of 30,000 gigawatt-hours clean energy (15% of the present annual total) by 2020. This will include coal with carbon capture, and nuclear, to the disgust of green groups, who call it a farce. Greens claim projected energy use in Australia of 342,000 GWh by 2020 means the target is actually only 9%. Subsidies to reach that target would probably need to be around A$7.5 billion. Low emission sources to be included are those producing less than 200 kg of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour produced.

Amazing the change that losing an election can provoke. Too little, too late, despite Labor also not appearing to have a clue beyond their meaningless ratify Kyoto mantra. No-one wants to admit the problem is overpopulation.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

iRobot Scooba Breaks

Our iRobot Scooba floor washing robot can't detect it has a full water tank. Thus we can't get it to work. While there are still a few extra diagnostics I can try when I have some time, I suspect they will all fail. Not impressed by this failure, as it isn't that old and has hardly been used.

Luckily there is a lot of stuff on the web (including on the iRobot site) about the Scooba check tank error. Once I have a chance to read a bunch of the messages I will see if any clear up the problem. The trouble with mobile robots roaming the floor is that although we have a lot of design experience with mechanised gadgets like washing machines, even simple robots are a bit new to know what the problems (and solutions) are.


Kerry and Leanne were doing some work in the area. We had a very nice lunch with them at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. They visited our Whitsunday Terraces apartment after, and Kerry was able to see the extent of the changes to Muddy Bay as the marina construction continues. He was surprised at how few diggers were present, and their small size. We could see only four diggers, and have never seen more than six. Same for the dump trucks, which are probably only 20 tonnes or so. We could only see two diggers working, but perhaps it was during a lunch break, as they are mostly busier.

Vivendi Universal Indecent

Vivendi claim the terms of their Universal Music Group contract with Apple iTunes is indecent. Vivendi's Chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy says Universal Music Group (largest record company in the world) don't get a large enough share, especially on new releases. Vivendi get 0.70 Euros of the 0.99 Euro price Apple iTunes charge. Vivendi have wanted a higher charge for new releases. Apple refuse to change their standard price per song. The Universal contract with Apple is due to be renewed in one month, so the negotiations start with a bang.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Amazon MP3 Music Store

Encoded in MP3 at up to 256Kbps (VBR), the Amazon store supplies an MP3 downloader program that transfers songs into either iTunes or Windows media Player. Prices for songs are often as low as 89 cents. The big thing is no downloads without DRM copy protection (although the music is watermarked).

Amazon have two million songs, including the Universal catalogue. This is unusual, since Universal have argued against allowing music without DRM. Looks very much like a strike by Universal at Apple's powerful iTunes position. This Universal experiment ends in January, after Universal and Apple negotiate a new contract for iTunes sales.

It is interesting to note that Apple's refusal to make its Fairplay DRM available except on an iPod means the only way to compete is to make music available without DRM. It isn't likely the music labels anticipated that when they started trying to use iTunes to test the waters for legal downloaded music. Only when iPod took over the music player market did Apple have a lot of leverage.

Note that the smallest major music publisher, EMI, made most of their music available without DRM on iTunes (at a higher price) a few months ago.

It seems unlikely this will harm iPod sales, but does provide a way digital music stores can compete with iTunes Store, just like eMusic already does.

Telstra Structural Separation.

Speculation that either side of politics may physically separate Telstra's networks and retail arms after the election. Telstra naturally resist this. Mention in papers of New Zealand separation. This Telstra break up seems to be talked up by the investment banks that will benefit from any such change.

Friday 28 September 2007

Flatulent Cattle

Beef and dairy cattle in Australia emit from their mouth about 10% of the energy they derive from their food as around 200 litres of methane each a day. This greenhouse gas is more effective than carbon dioxide. That is around 28 million cattle. Australian's 100 million sheep also emit about 25 litres of methane each a day. About 6% of Australian household greenhouse gas emissions come from beef and dairy. Most farm animals in Australia are range fed, not grain fed. Many areas have cattle and sheep when they are unsuitable for other crops. Sheep and cattle earn Australia around A$6 billion in exports each year.

Worldwide, around 1.5 billion cattle and about 1.7 billion sheep are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture contributes around 22% of the world's greenhouse gases, and livestock makes up about 80% of that.

The estimated greenhouse emissions per kilogram of food (or litre of drink) are 20 kg for beef, 13 kg for lamb, butter and cheese, 4 kg for chicken or olive oil. It is under 1 kg for fresh fruit or vegetable.

iPod Connectors

Complaints that new squat iPod Nano 3rd generation and hard drive based iPod Classic no longer play video through their audio connector. It seems to me likely that Apple have (again) changed their pinouts on the audio connector. Apple made an audio connector change between second and third generation iPods, which added video out for iPod Photo. The iPod remote control protocol runs over a serial line.

I am not sure why the audio connector would change, but most likely is that since the iPhone has an audio input (for the hands free), there were no longer enough contacts on the connector. That could indicate an audio input on the iPod Touch, 3rd generation Nano, and iPod Classic. It will piss off a lot of people who just used a AV cable rather than a dock. An AV cable is portable, a dock is not nearly so portable, since it depends on USB power. Indeed, dropping the cable only connection could be a way of ensuring decent battery life when playing video. At one stage the Apple Component AV Cable compatibility listed iPod Nano 3rd generation, iPod Classic, iPod Touch, and iPhone (the iPhone was later removed, and has never mentioned video out, but the ability was enabled with update 1.1.1). Sounds like a new set of connectors for all of these.

One problem is there is no standard for a 3.5mm (1/8th inch tip ring sleeve jack or phone plug) stereo audio video to RCA cable. Many camcorder connectors have the left audio on the tip (white), video on the first ring (yellow), ground the second, and have the right audio (rather than ground) on the sleeve (the last ring) (red). Stereo audio connectors normally use tip for left, ring for right, and sleeve for ground. Likewise, microphone connections tend to have tip as left audio in, first ring as right audio, and sleeve as ground. They supply both microphones with a bias voltage for the microphones, and decouple the DC supply from the audio signal via a capacitor.

I believe iPod video originally used tip for right audio, ring nearest tip for left audio, next ring for ground, and the sleeve for video.

Complaints that Apple have a special chip to make iPod not send video through the dock connector seem to me unlikely. More likely, the new model iPods expect a different resistor on pin 21 to indicate what is connected externally. Apple now offer composite video and component video. However earlier generations of the iPod docking connector only make composite and S-video available. It seems to me likely that Apple have redefined the S-video pins, and taken one other pin to make component video output available. In older iPods, dock connector pin 8 was composite video out, pin 9 was S-video chrominance, and pin 10 was S-video luminance.

Saturday 29 September 2007

Population Growth the Problem

Hardly anyone wants to admit that the problem with reducing greenhouse emissions is that the only way to do it is to reduce productivity, and reduce living standards. Very hard to promote to countries that at present have lousy living standards. You can make marginal efficiency improvements, which may reduce the rate of increase in emissions. This is not reducing the emissions, merely reducing the rate at which they increase.

The big problem however is population. Eight billion people can't live like your typical western citizen. However, they want that life (and who can blame them). So either you drastically reduce the living standards of a billion or so people, or you cut the population to a billion or so, or you put up with greenhouse emissions.

World changing innovation is rare. You need a big, well educated population to throw up the outlier inventors, scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, philosophers and politicians who really make changes happen. But a big population is also the problem. Sooner or later you will need GM people, as well as GM food.

Sunday 30 September 2007

Wind Farms

Roaring 40s like the Government's new clean energy targets of 30,000 GWh a year. Say they may reverse their decision to suspend Australian operation, and spend A$600 million on Musselroe, Tasmanian and Waterloo, South Australian wind farms. Wind farms provide a cash crop for farmers on whose land they are sited, with lease payments ranging between A$5000 to $10,000 annually for each wind turbine. Wind farms being built in Australia at present tend to cost around A$2.5 million per megawatt capacity.

Wind enthusiasts like to point to Denmark's wind farms producing 70% of the power used by that country on some windy nights. It actually averages 20%. However Denmark can draw base load power from elsewhere in Europe when the wind is producing only a few percent of the energy they need. Europe encourages wind power with above market rate prices. However the output of wind is typically only a small fraction of the installed capacity.

I bet no wind farm on mainland Australia (Tasmania has a better chance) consistently produces more than 20% of the rated output of its wind turbines. To get rated output you need consistent winds above 10 metres a second. I can't see any site on mainland Australia getting that sort of wind velocity. I wish I did.

World energy supply in 2005 was more than 80% carbon based. Sustainable energy supply was less than 1%. Most of the green energy push is hot air.