January 2007 Archives
January 29, 2007
Oh, how I love this: a spoof of geek video blogger Robert Scoble, in the manner of Fake Steve. Scoble's overlong, unedited, wobblycam videos have been ripe for parody since before he left Microsoft -- it's not that they're entirely bad, it's more that Scoble appears to willfully, even gleefully, ignore a century of cinematography knowledge. He'd post a whole lot less if he edited out the dull bits, and as Kevin Marks said, "editing shows respect for your audience." It's plain rude not to.
So, anyway, the Scoobie blog runs thus:
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the A-list blogs. Very few of them linked to my exclusive four-hour video tour of Intel’s new chip plant, preferring instead to briefly mention that Intel has invented a new type of chip.
Admittedly my video wasn’t very interesting at first, but if you look closely at the 2:13 mark, you can see a man in one of those bunny suits (think Intel ads rather than Donnie Darko!!!) walk past the window carrying some kind of high-tech tool. It’s not that clear because I dripped sweat on the lens again, but it’s there.
Further down the page:
This is just the highlights - the full video is 49:43 long and I’ll put it up shortly. You can’t really make out what anyone’s saying but I’m very excited!!!
Quite. And again, a story ripped almost verbatim from Gruber.
There's a new bit of web tech that's cropping up in more and more places, and it's driving me up the bleedin' wall. 'Snap Preview Anywhere' pops up a preview of a linked page when you hover your pointer over the link text. Which is great, right?
Er... no. The preview's too small to see anything much, and there's no hover delay beyond loading time, so in densely-linked text these previews pop up like whack-a-mole puppets. The most stupid bit, to my mind, is that they usually pop up above the link text, obliterating the thing I'm trying to read. Plus, they somehow knacker the text that appears in the bottom bar of my browser, telling me to where the link points. Gaaaah!
Anyway -- if they're pissing you off as much as they are me, go to Snap's FAQ here, scroll down to the second question, and click the link to set a cookie. Annoying that you have to hold a cookie to opt out, but there we go.
Please, site owners -- just pack it in. It's not big, and it's not clever.
(link via John Gruber, bless his minimalist grey background patterns)
[update: There's an options linky in the corner of each pop-up, and from there you can turn the damned things off. I know this, because the above method doesn't appear to have worked for me. Neither, for that matter, does the option thingy. I think because my browser is paranoid about cookies from servers that aren't delivering the main page, which is usually a good thing.]
January 28, 2007
Footage of an amazing but decidedly ill-looking weird shark thing (technical terms): at CNN.
January 23, 2007
Come to think of it, though, I avoided it because the first three times I came across it, I thought it worked primarily through SMS. And my UK mobile is mostly roaming in Ireland right now, so receiving texts costs me. Blech. Also because I currently have 5000+ unread posts in NetNewsWire: how am I supposed to cope with more missives from people I barely know? Huh? Huh? Stop the madness!
They're back. For a gig. Outside LA. On the same bill as Bjork and the Arctic Monkeys.
Quernstone.com may be long overdue an overhaul, but for the most part it does the job. Unlike the site of the number-two broadcaster in the UK, ITV. My friend Wendy and her posse were on Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway the other week, which I sadly missed by dint of being busy. And TV-less. And... in a foreign country.
They pitched for funding to take their (very likely excellent, knowing them) science shows into schools that normally can't afford their (woefully under-priced. No, really, I'm serious) services. They didn't get it, I gather because Duncan Bannatyne failed to appreciate that the usual business rule-of-thumb doesn't work: 'Who benefits? That's your funding source' is perfectly reasonable, unless the immediate beneficiary is a bored 12 year-old with a pocket containing 86p, a half-sucked Cola Bottle, three elastic bands, and an iPod nano. The eventual beneficiary is... theoretically... 'society,' which unfortunately is also rather hard to tap for a shilling. Unless you're a wide-reaching organisation with, you know, tax-raising powers. Like a government. Or the BBC. Hence the potential significance of a Public Sector Publisher (see previous post), but I digress.
The point is: can I find out what happened to Wendy & co from the series' execrable ITV website? Can I monkeys. The only real content there appears to be video that's embedded as something whacko, and is throwing a 404 anyway. Pfah!
But hey -- feel free to lob money at Wendy's company Science Made Simple anyway. They're good people.
Warning -- annoying 'yes-dammit-I-bleedin'-am-logged-in' Media Guardian links ahead:
Floated at the Oxford Media Convention last week, an idea sort-of from OFCOM to found a new media-focussed 'Public Sector Publisher' funded via the license fee. Vital statistics include a mooted 2012 launch, circa £300m annual budget, and tentative support from culture secretary Tessa Jowell. There are some interesting comments in the Organ Grinder, notably about Andrew Chitty of Illumina Digital and from Andrew Lilley of Magic Lantern, who've apparently put one version of the proposal together for Ofcom Chief Exec. Ed Richards.
Interesting stuff, but frustratingly -- and I guess inevitably -- short on detail. This is exactly the sort of thing for which I'm hoping SciCast (caution: unfinished prototype site) will provide a practical example, and I'm itching to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in. Not just on the practicalities of SciCast itself, but on questions like:
- Would projects like this be easier or harder if there was a pre-existing delivery system? Is platform flexibility more or less important than existing infrastructure? (current guess: it depends who you are. Blech.)
- How important is the asymmetry with broadcast, where additional viewers cost nothing to serve, vs. offering up web media, with all the scaling issues that entails? (current guess: if you've found a way of making dosh, deal with it -- but with pure education projects that sort of economics isn't valid. Discuss, 20 marks.)
- How do you measure 'value for money'? Value to whom? (current guess: ah, the £300m question. SciCast is getting lots of people excited, but so far few of them have any money. The same could have been said about Johnny Ball.)
- Video costs scale downwards to a few hundred quid a minute, but below that you're into seriously diminishing economies. How do you keep cost-per-viewer down, without exploiting people and/or building an unsustainable industry. (current guess: Hah! Got you! It's a trick question: you can't.)
It's going to be an interesting year, not least as I find out if I have a contribution to make, or merely think I do. Scary and exciting.
January 22, 2007
I wrote a little about the production problems of high-definition a while ago; now the New York Times has done the commendably obvious story and talked to porn industry insiders about the problems they're seeing. Sure enough, they're resorting to clever post-production techniques to smooth skin. You have to register to read the article, but it's worth it for the name 'Stormy Daniels,' which is clearly 'name of first pet and mother's maiden name' or somesuch.
Anyway, there are reports that the 'DRM in the cables' HDCP-enabled HDMI schemes are (a.) completely baffling to anyone who isn't forced to chant marketing pap every day at early-morning acronym school, and (b.) consequently likely to degrade high-def content played back on, for example, a Vista-based PC. This leads to the hilariously paradoxical situation where legitimate Hollywood-generated movies can look worse than cheap-and-cheerful home-made HDV. Like -- er -- porn, I guess.
One theory doing the rounds is that Microsoft is bending to the wishes of the movie industry in full knowledge that the whole edifice is fatally flawed, and that the utter collapse of the high-def DVD market will bring them to their senses. I don't buy that (can you say 'antitrust suit'?), but it's an amusing possibility.
(Be sure to read Peter Gutmann's article that restarted all this, by the way. It's technical, opinionated, and refreshingly blunt. It's also worth a read of Microsoft's riposte to Gutmann, if only to marvel at them firstly not deigning to link to it directly, but also to wonder how things can be so messy that 1900 words are needed to explain the situation. Also, skim the comments there and tell me people support Microsoft and the media industry in this.)
[update, Tuesday 23rd: Gutmann responds to Microsoft's response. Of particular note: he's yet to receive word of anyone successfully playing HD content, on a PC, in HD. HDCP isn't there yet. Also: The Inquirer's take, Article with an interesting real-world example (scroll down: additional process sucking 10-20% CPU when playing mp3 files); Engadget article about the sort of HDCP-stripping DVI box that, if revoked, could suck loads of legitimate hardware with it. This is a mess. Likely not as much of a mess as people fear, but -- put it this way: if you're pissed off at not being able to suck songs off your iPod, this is going to be even more frustrating.]
Let me get this right... the government controversially gave the police powers to hack into computer systems to secure evidence in the course of investigations, on the authority of a senior officer. And now the police have used those powers to hack into... Number 10's systems?
Though you have to wonder: if the Met can hack into government systems, why can't... er... pretty much anybody else? Also: do we take it that Number 10 doesn't routinely encrypt files, or that the Met can...
...Blimey. Get the popcorn, this is interesting.
January 21, 2007
For broadly irrelevant reasons, I've been feeling a bit fed up this weekend: a condition which has had all the expected consequences. That is to say, I've bought a large amount of extremely good food, and a bunch of Takeshi Kitano films from a wonderful independent DVD shop.
Sometimes, nights in are the best.
January 18, 2007
Where was the Origami buzz at CES last week? Remember, Microsoft unveiled a new ultra-mobile tablet PC concept last year, amidst huge marketing hoohah that actually had people a bit excited for a while (unlike... er... Zzzzune). But then we saw the brick-like devices with minimal battery life and XP Tablet Edition, and we uttered a collective 'meh!'
And yet, mere months later, the whole thing appears to have been forgotten. Which is odd, because another miniature tablet device running a modified version of a desktop OS also wasn't at CES last week, and that appears to have attracted a tad more attention.
I'm just sayin'.
(Oh, apparently there was some ultra-mobile PC stuff at CES -- including a glimpse of a Vista-based Origami-continuation tablet interface, which actually looks rather pretty.)
Things we don't yet know about the iPhone:
- The processor (likely ARM of some sort, apparently -- my guess of low-voltage Intel was right for Apple tv, wrong for iPhone, it seems)
- The graphics subsystem (Nvidia?)
- The type of touchscreen (Synaptics?)
- Pretty much anything else about the hardware, come to think of it.
Things iSuppli claim to have worked out, based on their analysis of the above:
- 4Gb iPhone to carry a $229.85 hardware cost, $245.83 total expense, 49.3% margin.
- 8Gb iPhone to carry a $264.85 hardware cost, $280.83 total expense, 46.9% margin.
- a 'high degree of confidence' in their conclusions, though:
- ...they're preliminary 'until we perform an actual physical teardown and analysis' (code for: 'find out what's inside the thing')
Things one might conclude about iSuppli:
- They have no idea what '5 significant figures' means.
- They think 'high degree of confidence' means 'we reckon that's about right. Look, we added it up on the back of a fag packet, and everything.'
To be fair -- and as their own article rather than the truncated press release points out -- they've done lots of this sort of thing before. However, I'd believe them much more if they quoted "~$245±15%", or whatever. But if they said that, all we'd be able to take from their analysis would be that Apple's possibly going to make roughly the same margin on iPhone as they do on their other hardware. Which... isn't particularly surprising. Nor interesting.
January 17, 2007
Damien's picked up the blogging again, telling us not-quite-enough about his exploits behind the scenes of basically every film that's being made in Europe. Or so it seems. But come on, man, we more more!
Nicked from Boing Boing, but still: logic goats? Genius! What a pity there isn't a NAND-goat, though. Tsk.
I'm fine, thanks for asking -- just been rather busy. Oh, well, actually, I did go away -- a glorious weekend in Wicklow, of which more anon -- but mostly I've simply been busy. Scope is somewhat improbably staging a comedy gig tonight, which has been a bit of a challenge to set up, and we're still reeling a little from the whole 'Vegas' insanity.
Speaking of which -- forget 1080p TVs, the hit of the show sounds like it was the radio-control dragonfly. Which completely out-does the otherwise fabulous PicooZ helicopter, as mentioned here a short while ago. Damn, and I just got one of those for Christmas, and everything.
But while I'm here: does anyone have any recommendations for group calendaring systems? Hosted, self-hosting, running on an internal server, whatever -- are there any systems out there that actually work? All suggestions welcome.
January 11, 2007
Buying carbon offset is a bit of a minefield, in that it's an unregulated industry and it's hard to know that what you're buying makes either sense or a difference. Tree-planting is all well and good, but does it have a long-term impact? And would the development projects in which you can invest happen without you anyway, in which case what is your money achieving?
Then there are the sharks in the water -- I heard a lovely interview with a chap from HSBC a while back, in which he related that when word got around that the bank was planning to go carbon-neutral, he had calls from people offering to sell him swathes of the Amazon rainforest. He expressed... shall we say 'polite suspicion'? -- that the land was theirs to sell in the first place.
It's somewhat surprising that, as far as I can tell, there's no accreditation scheme for offset projects. If the RSPCA can manage the 'Freedom Foods' project, the Soil Association can do the whole organic thing, and there are more standards in the electronics world than you can shake a USB cable at -- you'd think somebody with a recognisable brand would have this covered. But evidently not, or at least, not yet.
It's encouraging, then, that the Commons environmental audit committee is to investigate personal air travel offset schemes. Compulsory accreditation or regulation at the UK or European level is on the agenda, as is requiring flyers to offset the emissions they cause. Hurrah!
January 10, 2007
I've avoided bitching much about Clearwire here, mostly because their bandwidth is so shite it's rather hard to get the message out.
On the face of it, it's a remarkable service: near-2Mbit near-WiMax service across Dublin. And indeed, from the Trinity College Sourceforge mirror I've seen over 150Kb/sec -- which is great. However, beyond Ireland things aren't so rosy. I see up to about 20Kb/sec from the BBC website, which is OK. From big US sites I get reasonable enough speeds, though still something like 20Kb/sec total -- browser session reloads are painful.
But they're clearly traffic shaping something chronic. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say they're prioritising all web traffic, and then traffic from popular sites, in a crappy attempt to mask inadequate peering arrangements. Case in point: from my blog server, in Los Angeles, I get about 10Kb/sec. To the same server, via FTP, I can just about sustain 5Kb/sec on a good day. On a bad day, there's not even enough bandwidth to sustain an FTP control connection, which is an error I haven't seen since I was doing FTP over a shared 9600baud serial link. Seriously.
Peer-to-peer apps like BitTorrent are completely nixed, and they're doing really horrid things to Skype whereby the incoming data stream is excellent, but the outgoing sees 98% packet loss on a 12Kb/sec link, with 8 seconds round-trip latency.
Support are friendly, helpful, and responsive... until you quote any of this stuff at them. At which point they stop claiming it's your configuration/firewall/router and just clam up.
Upshot: Clearwire Ireland: pile of poo. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Chrysler's chief economist has reportedly revealed his strategy on dealing with global warming: stick his fingers in his ears and shout 'lalalalalala!':
"He said that he had been surprised by how much support there had been in the Daimler office in Stuttgart for these [the Stern report's] "quasi-hysterical" policies that smacked of "Chicken Little" politics - referring to the US children's story in which Chicken Little runs around in circles saying "the sky is falling"." (BBC News)
You have to picture me squinting hard here as I peer into the murky middle-distance... OK, so the iPhone runs OS X, right? Now, we don't know what processor it's packing. Note that the OLPC XO packs an AMD Geode x86 compatible, clocked at 400MHz, claimed to be equivalent to a PIII-500, and the whole machine rocks in at 20W. Plenty of people are assuming iPhone runs on an ARM of some sort, and OS X is demonstrably architecture-portable (heck, it just moved from PowerPC to x86, and there used to be SPARC and HP-whatever versions of its ancestor OPENSTEP) -- so it could run on ARM. But does it need to? I'm rather assuming it runs on an ultra low-voltage Core Solo variant, but what do I know?
Whatever, it's running enough of OS X to have Core Image and Core Animation, WebKit, the Security bits, and so on: which I guess means a chunk of Cocoa is there. Which other bits of OS X does it run, and how do developers get at it? It's not clear if they're going to be allowed to (sharp intake of breath), but one has to speculate:
Inkwell, right? Apple's handwriting recognition software. It's surprisingly good, and it's integrated into OS X -- plug in a graphics tablet and you can scribble all over the screen. We know Inkwell is portable too, since it's also made it from PowerPC to x86... and because it started out on ARM. Er... huh?
Yeah, see, Inkwell used to be called 'Rosetta,' back in the day when it ran on -- da-da-daaaa! -- Newton.
Is anybody else amused by the prospect of running a 12 year-old ex-Newton handwriting recogniser on an all-new handheld from... er... Apple? Cracks me up, anyway.
January 9, 2007
Steven Frank of Panic nails it:
"AAAAAHHH AAAAHHH AAAAAHHH AAAAHHH AAAHHBB GGG LL AAAAA"
- Knowing that this was just around the corner, the folks at Apple must have looked at Zune last November and... laughed.
- The Flash demos on Apple's iPhone pages are amazing, and give a very clear indication of where the Leopard user interface is heading -- lots of smooth animation, a very 'fluid' feel, many dynamic elements. Looks at Phone -> Photos, and wait until it gets to the part where you're emailing the photo -- how cute? And yet, not gratuitous. This is animation with a point, and with taste. Very classy indeed.
- Is anyone else thinking 'Newton didn't die. It just went away for 10 years?'
- 8Gb isn't enough. Already. Bah! :-(
Let me list this:
- GSM mobile phone
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- ambient light sensor
- proximity sensor
- orientation sensor
- 160dpi 3.5" touchscreen
- running OS X
- 2MP camera
Er... yowser. There's 'convergence device,' and then there's... this thing is going to cost a fortune, surely?
Mind you, so did the iPod, originally.
Incidentally - if this does indeed run desktop applications (as Jobs is suggesting), and you can hook up a Bluetooth keyboard, we have the ultraportable Mac laptop here, too.
Oh, and this is why Apple went to Intel. It's presumably running a low-voltage Core Solo or similar.
I'm in Dublin. I'm about to Skype my director in Las Vegas, I'm in an IRC room with 987 others reading about a 'revolutionary new product' from Apple in San Francisco (and it's not iTV Apple tv, they've already done that), and I'm texting news to a chum who's on a bus heading to New York.
[update: OS X-running iPhone tablet widescreen video iPod phone! Gaaaah! My head's going to explode!]
With a past prediction record second only to the Wall Street Journal's, I've naturally been under some pressure this week to lay my cards on the table for this year's Macworld. Here's what I think:
- I'm with John Gruber.
Umm... that's about it. I could go on (like... er... Mark, who's suddenly gone all fanboy on us), but... um... these days, I'm outsourcing my punditry to Gruber. It's just more efficient that way.
Oh, go on then:
- New user interface: check. CoreAnimation has to be there for a reason, and most of it isn't about 3D nonsense. I think the glossy black concept that's been muttered about is likely the one -- while Vista goes all glossily translucent and cuddly and 'lickable' (eu), OS X aims clear above it and goes all professional. Which would be a neat bit of maneuvering. That said, I think we'll see dark grey (à la the Pro apps) rather than black, since the Aperture/Final Cut interface already works well and there are contrast issues and blah blah blah.
- New MacBooks, iMacs, whatever: answer hazy, ask again later. We pretty much have to get new displays, in which case their bezels will tell us whether new machines are coming, whether they arrive today or not.
- Handheld thing. iPod Phone? Palm Treo-esque thing? My money would be on something more like Dell's new SideShow gizmo, but my money would be about 10p in this case. Apple's really backed into a corner with the !('iPhone') thing, in that whatever they reveal will disappoint a significant number of people. My guess is that Jobs will simply not release anything, rather than release something that's not a complete wow.
- HDTVs, iLife & iWork '07, Airport Excessive X3, not a glimpse of Office:Mac 2008, Photoshop CS3 running like a banshee on an 8-way Mac Pro Ludicrous Speed -- yeah, whatever. I'm done here.
January 7, 2007
A conversation, in the vicinity of Shap Fell on the M6:
"By 'eck, they're hardy sheep up here."
"They must be. Some of them look pretty fat, though."
"Does that make them lardy hardy sheep?"
"I guess it does."
"You know the way they baa -- do you think they're telling each other stories?"
"That would make them lardy hardy bardy sheep."
"Some of them look a bit fed up, don't you think?"
"You mean -- lardy hardy bardy mardy sheep?"
"Hey, those just scampering up the fell to join the others!"
"They're late, huh?"
"Lardy hardy bardy mardy tardy sheep?"
"Can we stop now?"
"I think we'd better."
Did I just take an unannounced blog holiday? Hmm, it looks that way. Mind you [looks around], it doesn't appear that anybody's noticed. Heigh-ho.
Highlights of Christmas:
- Making it back to Glasgow, when everyone was worried the fog at Heathrow would cause me to be stuck in Dublin. Because... er... all Britons live in London, or... nope, sorry, I don't follow.
- Fuzzy felt! Yay fuzzy felt! (for further details, ask my niece Edith. Though you'd best not expect a reply if she's in the middle of one of her four-hour fuzzy felt focusses).
- Family Christmas! Hurray!
- Getting my tax return done. Which isn't exactly how I like to spend Christmas, but it had to be done. Also, I've filed all receipts up to and including Christmas, which makes me feel ridiculously virtuous and all. Though the tax bill itself was a bit of a shock. How can I have made that much money last year and still spent the entire period feeling utterly skint? Harrumph.
- Spending almost a whole week with Flossie, oooh! She came up to Glasgow (to... watch me do my tax return, as it turned out. Poor lass), then drove me down to Cardiff. T'ch, devotion -- what can one do?
- Making surprisingly elegant sandwiches in the parking area of some service station somewhere on the M5 (M6?). Hints for those in a similar position include: tortilla chips are surprisingly good for spreading pesto; ultrabright LED lights in mobile phones are astonishingly handy, especially when the car interior light has packed in; PowerBooks make perfectly acceptable trays/plates.
- New Year in the Glee Club in Cardiff was a hoot. We went with a bit of a group and had a blast.
- New Year's Day walk on the beach at Barry, with squally showers and horizontal hail, and pump-action foam rockets. Flossie had a mean glint in her eye as she considered trying to shoot down the kites, which was rather unsettling.
- Chatting to the stoic family with (a.) two young children, (b.) a magnificent sandcastle, (c.) a flask of coffee that I suspect may have been adulterated slightly and (d.) a selection box of chocolates. They were bedraggled, huddled behind a windbreak, and starting to shiver, but also determined that their traditional afternoon on the beach wouldn't be beaten by something so insignificant as the weather. Too sweet, and the sort of thing that makes me yearn for a decent camera.
So now, I'm back in Dublin. The crew are off to Vegas for CES this week (yes! We got them there!), we've had a good week in the edit, and... life is good.
Right. That's us up-to-date again. Normal service will resume just as soon as we've worked out what constitutes 'normal,' etc etc.