Archives for: "November 2004"

Knock-down blow for Sony

The next-generation DVD war has entered a new phase, the Blu-ray format largely from Sony has been gathering momentum for sometime now, seemingly unaffected by the HD-DVD format being ratified by the DVD consortium. Going from last week it would seem that Blu-ray would win the format war.

However things have changed. The HD-DVD (High-Definition Digital Versatile Disc) largely from Toshiba and NEC has won a massive victory, 3 major film studios have just announced their support for the new format, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers join ranks along side New Line Cinema. This compares with The Sony owned studios (Sony Pictures Entertainment and MGM Studios). Twentieth Century Fox is still evaluating the formats.

This brings support for HD-DVD into the spotlight. Now the majority of studios, will support the new format. The trouble now is, will Sony carry on fighting like they did with Betamax? Or will they just put Blu-ray onto the back burner and continue to develop it for future storage? Let's hope the latter, the reason the CD and the DVD has been so successful is because everybody supported it. The DVD-RW/DVD+RW/DVD-RAM format war seriously damaged uptake of writable DVD formats, we don't need a repeat performance.

Trouble brewing in the Ukraine

Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition leader in the Ukraine has shown his total hypocrisy, throughout his campaign he was constantly singing the tune of "democracy", he lost the election - 46.61% of the vote, compared with 49.46% for Viktor Yanukovych. Now he speaks of rebellion, turning his back on democracy completely because the people refused to support him.

All the talk of electoral fraud is based on the exit-polls (which were financed and organized from the US), which did show a victory for Yushchenko, of course this is completely irrelevant and unofficial. The exit-polls in the recent US election showed that Kerry won! Both sides pre-election agreed to the composition of the Central Election Commission, now they've lost they of course proclaim it to be corrupt.

The opposition is primarily composed of five ex-prime-ministers and 10 ex-ministers, all of which were fired for corruption and also five oligarchs. Hardly the rosy bunch of the western media portrays. But then of course, they only show the few thousands in Kiev protesting in favour of Yushchenko, they don't show the hundreds of thousands of Yanukovych supporters in Donetsk, Simferopol or Kharkiv do they?

I don't know how manage a website, I'll sue Google!

Buzzing around in the news today is a story about a Californian based pornographer suing Google.

"They're showing pictures from my magazine and my website for free, so there's no reason for anyone to buy my products." This is the basis for the legal action, it also demonstrates what a total idiot this guy must be.

Let's clear up a few things about how a search engine, such as Google, MSN or Yahoo actually work. Basically they have a program called a robot, sometimes a spider, or a crawler but they all do basically the same thing. It visits a website and stores a record (known as indexing) of its content in order to position it within the search results, if the robot detects the word "flowers" it'll list the page under any search result where you enter "flowers" as your search entry. Yes it's obviously a bit more complex but that's how the basic technology works.

A robot behaves just like a regular person browsing the internet, it can view any public page, but obviously cannot view private pages where you need to login, or where the server simply blocks all access to that directory from the web using .htaccess or similar, because of this there is no danger in it indexing private information. To be extra sure you can also create a robots.txt in a the root of a web server to specify extra rules for the robot to follow, ignoring a particular public directory for example or a range of other options.

The only way the Google robot could have indexed his material is by having that material wide open, with no access restrictions, why bother paying anyway if he doesn't even have any access restrictions?

Now Google image search stores a thumbnail on Google's server for the images that appear within the index, these are typically a fraction of the size of the original, may be 100 pixels wide for example, totally useless for his viewers purposes - this is done to save every page view on Google requesting data from 50 odd servers, which would be insanely slow for users, as it would be requesting the full size image each time. This is partly where the guy has a problem, people are searching within the image search and a thumbnail of whatever pictures he left open for the robot to index pops up. The thumbnail on Google would then link to the page for the full image, if his website is configured correctly, it will just return a 403 Forbidden error or ask for login details.

So what happened? 1) The owner of the website neglected to ensure his content was secured away so public users or robots couldn't access it, or 2) the owner deliberately allowed the robot to access his pages in order to bring legal action against Google. The result… The judge should throw the case out.

Why the iPod sucks

I hate the iPod, everyone who knows me well knows I hate the iPod, not everyone knows my reasoning, it follows.

Longevity problems, dare I mention the battery issues that have plagued the iPod, batteries in a device with this kind of price should not fail or lose a significant amount of charge for years - months and weeks is simply not acceptable, what's more if (or when) the battery fails this actually requires Apple to sort it because the batteries aren't removable, a critical flaw in the design. Apple don't cover this in their warrantee, so that's hundreds of pounds down the drain.

Update - Apple now do cover this in their warrentee, but once it has expired you still have to pay through the roof for a repair.

Poor sound quality. I don't know what Apple can get away with among it's Mac OS users but Windows users are used to far better sound quality. Virtually every portable media player (even bargain basement players) I've listened to has exceeded the iPod in sound quality, this is one area where Apple need to do a lot of work to catch up, I'm not saying they'll ever be able to match what Creative have with their Zen players, but for a several hundred pound device not to compete with a £60 device in this department certainly raises a few eyebrows.

Poor control system - yes I'll admit the wheel looks like a good idea, and it's easy to control if you've got it out in front of you, but what about in your pocket? Where these players are suppose to be? It's virtually impossible to control, another gimmick feature out of Apple.

Poor compatibility - this is probably the iPod's worst defeat. Zero support for Windows Media Audio, the best lossy codec there is today and no support for Ogg Vorbis, an open source ultra-high quality codec that enjoys mass support from Linux fans (and myself) and then it lacks support for lossless formats like, WMA-lossless and Monkey's audio both very popular among audiophiles. Apple are bent on using the fringe format AAC, with their own copy protection bolted on the side for the iPod, a format that has almost zero support, a format that requires lots of unstable plug-ins on other players to actually work.

No support for Windows Media Player - the most popular media player in the market by far. Over 70 devices support the latest version of Windows Media Player (version 10) these you simply plug them in and WMP will auto-sync, transfer media the lot - all automatically if you want, you don't need to install any software you just plug them in - simple, how things should be. Not the iPod. Apple want you to install their own software called "iTunes" which like a lot of Apple software, is slow, it's buggy it's glitchy it just isn't very well thought out. It places icons on your desktop, start menu and quick launch all without asking, it installs several other applications that you never asked to be install and secretly boots them with Windows. Forcing users to install your own software and having the software do things behind your back is not on at all, you could quite easily compare that to the behaviour of a virus.

No support for 3rd party music stores. Thinking about using your iPod with many of the other music stores, Napster, MSN Music and the many others? Think again Apple force you to use their own music store linked via the before mentioned virus known as iTunes. The music you download from this store has extremely restrictive rights, you will only ever be able to play the AAC files you download on your iPod and on your computer, thinking about transferring some songs to your new player at some point in the future? Dream on, you'll have to buy it all again, and most likely from another store anyway. Apple are deliberately trying to trap users into their own media empire, a very shady business activity indeed, but then for a company that's been declining for over a decade what can you expect? I only hope people wake up and realise this before they have several hundred (or thousand) pounds worth of music that suddenly becomes totally worthless when Apple find themselves being squashed out of the market, by all their competitors that do offer choice.

iPod symbolizes lack of choice. In this day and age this is unacceptable. If you go for any Windows Media Player there are over 100 of them ranging for double digit costs and up, you can use them with virtually any online stores (except iTunes - cheer!) you'll have the choice over which licenses to go for, which prices you like and other packages that are suitable for your needs. Something that iPod users will critically lack, and something they will in the end suffer for. With Windows Media players you can just plug it in to your PC and let it fly, no installing complicated software that does things behind your back.

The choice is clear - don't go for an iPod. It's an evil hugely over-priced, parasitic device with virus like software that attempts to trap you and limit your options.


Other corrections, or out-of-date arguments:

1980s style LCD - not even colour? Come on this is the 21st century, for that kind of price it should have double the resolution and at least 16bit colour.

Update - I wrote this before the iPod photo actually came out, back in the Spring, so yes the iPod photo does have a colour display, although it is still tiny in comparison to other devices. Again this is evidence of how Apple's lack of desire to licence the technology out and desire to keep a stranglehold of the entire arena is causing them to be left behind just like with the Mac. The Creative Zen Portable Media Center, for example costs only £30 more then the iPod (or £30 less then the iPod photo!), but also can play video, 85 hours worth, you don't have to install any software, you just have to plug it in!

No charging over USB, that's right you can't even charge the iPod over the USB cable. Sorry but that is totally not on, most of the competitor products do that at a far lower price point, very few mainstream computers have firewire ports, adding the ability to charge over USB would of cost just pennies, yet Apple cut corners yet again.

Update - the newer iPods do seem to charge over USB.

Reply to some of the comments:

From Dru "So stop your bitching and don't buy an iPod. Buy one from the multitude of competitors that consitiute the 8% of the HD based MP3 players that aren't Apple."

Actually this is incorrect, the iPod market share has been hovering around the 30% mark for some time now.

Tired wrote: "AAC, like MP3, is open source, and hopefully more hardware manufactures will see that. WMA is NOT!"

AAC is not open source at all, it's an open standard, may be you're getting the terms confused. It's developed by Dolby, you have to license it, work around patents, just like Windows Media Audio.

Tired also wrote: "Notice in the first line the word "proprietary"? Do you understand the implications of that? Probably not."

Yes, AAC is also proprietary, it's owned by Dolby, and you have to licence it, you can get licensing information from Via Licensing.

I wrote: "A lot Microsoft's source code is available to it's customers." in response to what tired wrote "...And don't even begin to champion MS as an advocate of Open Source."

I think now over 60% of Microsoft's code is available to it's major customers. Sorry if you don't like that, but it's the truth. I think you're getting far too confused between having source code that you share and the GNU Public Licence. Either way your argument is flawed because AAC isn't some GNU product, it's owned, it's patented just like Windows Media.

Hey I'm tired too wrote: "It's odd that people think Apple is apparently restricting customer choise by supporting mp3 and aac and yet it's Microsoft that forces EVERYONE, including retailers, to use wma. Are we really willing to hand all the keys to MS again?! I hope the answer is NO!"

Sorry, but Microsoft doesn't force anyone to use Windows Media, how could they? There are basically two main formats, AAC (with Apple's fairplay bolted on) and Windows Media Audio. Windows Media Audio is available to anyone should they wish to use it. Apple's fairplay technology is not something Apple wish to licence because they want to keep iPod users stuck on iTunes. Apple could licence it if they wanted but they don't want to, who's really being restrictive? Why do they fear iPod users using other online stores?

Ian writes "Oh did i mention MS was trying to sue Linux for infringing supposed patents." and "and remember apple invented it first."

This is incorrect. I think you're getting confused between Microsoft and SCO. SCO claim to own parts of Unix that Linux apparently is using. Also I believe Creative were the first out with an "MP3 jukebox" as it was called back then.

From Sebhelyesfarku "iPod can't play mp3 tracks gaplessly."

Yes, that's one thing I forgot. Thanks for pointing that out.

Bias Alert spent a lot of time simply repeating the same URL over and over, pointing to Stereophile "The iPod is normally beneath their radar, but it ended up in their labs and was tested for audio quality with uncompressed sources, namely AIFF and WAV files, to see if it could deal with uncompromised audio signals with good accuracy."

OK fair enough, so what other players did they test? Seriously guys... Hook your iPod up to your hi-fi and then compare it to a Zen. Don't just take 1 persons opinion, go try it for yourselves.

Nebula DigiTV

Just got my hands on a Nebula DigiTV PCI card yesterday... Pretty good! For those who don't know it has a digital tuner allowing it to access all unencrypted channels broadcasted digitally in the UK (aka Freeview) as well as an analogue input for video from an external source, although the quality is quite poor and the newer software seems bent on trying to encode it to MPEG in real time creating a delay of several seconds, rather then just push it through onto the screen, the older pre-July software didn't do this so it's a little odd. However for watching and recording digital TV it's the mut's nuts.

Now if only I could make the final step (me and spending money don't mix) of getting Windows XP Media Center Edition, 2 digital tuners, 2 analogue tuners, 2 sky boxes so I could but together one beast of a Media Center for the living room.

Idiot of the week

Up on the BBC News website, they've got a little article on Halo 2, more to the point they've had a few words with Errera, the dude who maintains halo.bungie.org, he says:

"It does not feel like a game release any more. Somebody told me this was the biggest single release of any product in Microsoft's history."

I guess he's never heard of a little product called Windows then?

Iraq is safer?

I was reading through some posts on a newsgroup I won't mention where it was (it was a completely OT conversation) anyway this was posted by "Lisa1174" in response to some criticism of the Bush regime by a Canadian.

"Perhaps we are concerned about America FIRST and Iraq and the rest of you LAST!!!!! And, for your info, YES, Iraq is a safer place! Ask the citizens of Iraq. Ask the US Military. So, get your head out of your A*S and get your facts STRAIGHT BEFORE you open you STUID mouth!!!! You all don't like OUR PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH because you know that he will secure the US and thathe will preserve and freedomand that is what you hate!"

If they're so concerned about America, how come they're always sticking their noses and bombs into other people's business?

Iraq is a safer place? Daily counter-attacks by rebel forces both conventional and suicide, constant bombing and attacks by "allied" forces. The actual civilian death toll post-war, directly related to the war and the escalating violence has been put at around 100000, 51% of all civilian deaths have come via violence post-war. The year before only 2% were due to violence (from a recent report by Lancet). Iraq is safer? Sure those figures really show that.

Ask the US military? Who themselves come under constant attack, yes I'm sure they feel safe.

We don't like Bush because he's an ultra-right wing capitalist bastard. Secure anything? He can't even secure Iraq, before the war Al'Qaeda was nowhere to be found in Iraq, now it's full of Al'Qaeda members. Bush managed to complete what Bin Laden had tried and failed to do for years, remove Saddam Hussein from power.

So please "Lisa1194" get your facts right before you open your mouth.

Humans and the Forerunner

Be advised this entry does contain Halo spoilers. You have been warned.

343 Guilty Spark - I am insane?  Hee, hee, hee!

I've lately been playing through Halo, again, and paid particular attention to 343 Guilty Spark, that annoying blue floating thing that dragged you through the Library, or more accurately known as the some what quirky caretaker, or "Monitor" in his words, of "installation 04" aka Halo.

I'm sure so many players, myself included, simply dismissed Spark as being a completely insane AI that had lost it, the fact he seems bent on protocol, seems to think he knows us for some reason, always calls himself a genius and giggles like I don't know what would give most people the impression that he is totally nuts and should be ignored.

However, after actually sitting down and thinking about what he's said, both in the game and in the book I reached a rather interesting conclusion.

Your first encounter with 343 Guilty Spark is at the end of 343 Guilty Spark funnily enough:

"Greetings. I am the Monitor of installation 04. I am 343 Guilty Spark. Someone has released the Flood. My function is to prevent it from leaving this installation. But I require your assistance."

This tells us that he's been around since the Forerunner (the people who built Halo), he was built to monitor over the installation, an installation designed to contain the Flood.

He transports us over to The Library where most of the dialogue with 343 Guilty Spark takes place:

"Speaking of you, who the hell are you, and what's your function?"
"I am 343 Guilty Spark," the machine said pedantically. "I am the Monitor, or more precisely, a self-repairing artificial intelligence charged with maintaining and operating this facility. But you are the Reclaimer--so you know that already."
The Master Chief didn't know anything of the kind but it seem wise to play along, so he did "well refresh my memory... how long has it been since you were left in charge?"
"Exactly 101,217 local years" the Monitor replied cheerfully, "many of which were quite boring. But not anymore! Hee, hee, hee."

He seems to know the Master Chief, and seems to believe the Master Chief knows what is going on. Also the 101,217 figure would seem to fit in with the time frame the Forerunners vanished.

"I would conjecture that the other species currently on the installation is responsible for releasing the Flood. They seem most persistent in their attempts to access restricted areas."

He refers to the Covenant as the "other species" this is interesting as it seems to indicate that he is unaware of who they are as he simply calls them "other", yet he seems to think he knows who the Master Chief is.

"Why naturally the Flood is simply too dangerous to release, and mass sterilization protocols may again need to be enacted. Of course, samples were kept here after the last catastrophic outbreak... for study. It seems... that decision may have been an error."

Seems to indicate the ring was activated before, the Flood destroyed and possibly the Forerunners, but some samples of the Flood have been kept locked up within Halo, which the Covenant - most likely accidently released.

"The installation was specifically built to study and contain the Flood - their survival as a race was dependant on it. I am grateful to see that some of them have survived to reproduce."

Now this is a very intesting line from the game, and can mean several things. On first read he seems to be talking about the Flood depending on Halo for their survival, but this obviously isn't right, as Halo is designed to contain and eradicate the Flood. So who is he really talking about?

"The installation (Halo) was specifically built to study and contain the Flood - their survival (the Forerunners) as a race was dependant on it (containing the Flood). I am grateful to see that some of them have survived to reproduce."

Who's he talking about here? He seems to be talking about the Master Chief as being Forerunner, perhaps he's just getting his armour mixed up, after all it's sheild technology is based on that of the Covenant, and the Covenant aren't believed to be innovative, only imitative, it seems a large portion of their technology is really just Forerunner technology. Guilty Spark getting mixed up here, quite possible.

"Mobuto, Marvin, Staff Sergeant".

If you cast your minds back to the Library level, you may remember a dead marine about half way through. In the books there is some detail on this.

"Ah," 343 Guilty Spark said, peering down over the Spartan's shoulder. "The other Reclaimer. His combat skin proved even less suitable than yours."
The soldier looked up over his shoulder. "What do you mean?"
"Is this a test, Reclaimer?" the Monitor seemed genuinely puzzled. "I found him wandering through a structure on the other side of the ring, and brought him to the same point where you started."

So here we go, Guilty Spark isn't only recognizing the Master Chief as the Reclaimer, a Forerunner, it's not just his armour, he sees all humans as being potential Reclaimers, all humans as being Forerunner.

Past the Library and onto Two Betrayals:

"Why would you hesitate to do what you have already done?"

Meaning we, the Forerunner had already activated Halo before?

"Last time, you asked me, if it was my choice, would I do it? Having considerable time to ponder your query, my answer has not changed."

What's he talking about here? It seems the previous Reclaimer (the one back 100,000 years ago) asked him this question, but why? Surely the former Reclaimer would be aware of the correct protocols, perhaps the last doubts of someone about to commit mass genocide and destroy their race in order to save the galaxy from the Flood?

Now onto The Maw:

"You can't imagine how exciting this is! To have a record of all of our lost time! Human history, is it? Fascinating."

He says this when he's tapping into the computers on the Pillar of Autumn, "lost time" to me sounds like he refers to the time we have been separated, from the destruction of the Forerunner, to the arrival of their survivors on Halo some 100,000 years later.

There are just so many odd things about Guilty Spark, even the name "Guilty Spark" why's he guilty? Hopefully we'll run into him again in Halo 2.

Well that's it for today. Hopefully it'll give you something to think about.

BBC tech news insanity

Over on the BBC News website they have up an article talking about the new Portable Media Centers (they actually fail to mention their names). It's based upon some of Jupiter Research's findings on consumers demand for portable players that can handle video.

It reads "the analysis of the portable media player market found only 13% of Europeans want to watch video while out and about" "By contrast, almost a third are interested in listening to music on a portable player such as an iPod." and continues "The firm said gadget makers should avoid hybrid devices and instead make sure music reproduction was as good as possible."

Now I don't usually have a problem with the BBC's coverage of technology, (other then the fact it is very dumbed down, and Bill Thompson's columns where he always seems to reach an either nonsensical or bogus conclusions), but this has gone too far. I'm not sure if this is the BBC news technology team twisting things up or just some poor advice from Jupiter.

But let's address some issues here;

1) 13% of Europeans, they make it seem like a small number it's actually 95 million people, doesn't sound so small any more does it?

2) Yes of course more people are interested in listening to music on the go, you don't need to look at anything you can just keep the player in your pocket. But the way they dismiss the option is nothing short of plain stupidity. They mention the iPod, as you would expect as they do seem to be obsessed with the device, despite there being far better players out on the market and for lower price points.

3) Concentrate on better music reproduction, well that's a joke to start with as any audiophile will agree with me when I say the iPod sounds a lot worse compared to Creative's offerings, who also do manufacturer a Portable Media Center, an image of which was featured in the article. The iPod doesn't support WMA, which is the best sounding mainstream format for storing lossy-audio, it supports AAC a minor fringe technology that has very little support from anywhere.

BBC Tech seem bent on trying to limit consumer choice by publishing rubbish articles like these, the Creative Zen Portable Media Center is available for only £30 more then an iPod, it's an absolute bargain considering all the features it supports, storage for 85 hours worth of video, double the battery life, so it won't run out after just a few hours like the iPod.

Why limit consumer choice? I think we just again see the BBC's anti-Microsoft tendencies coming through, if it was Apple who came up with the Portable Media Center I'd bet they'd be jumping on the idea like it was the work of gods.

Halo 2 is coming

Halo 2 boxes

Need I say more?