Monthly Archives

June 2009

Dress less for the Environment…

The weather forecast for this week is warm warm warm (upto about 32c, not a heat wave as the media suggest) and perhaps it is time that we start following the Japanese example to keep cool AND save the environment.  Their Government has issued an edict to employee’s of the nation’s companies to stop wearing ties, long sleeve shirts and coats, and dress for the summer.  In turn, Government departments are being told to turn UP their air-conditioning to 27c (82f) rather than the more common 25c (77f). It doesn’t sound much, but is forecast to save 81 million barrels of oil per summer.  In THIS article from 2005, it shows a certain amount of resistance from what is stereotypically seen as the straight laced Japanese worker.  But by issuing guidance on how to dress ‘smart-casual’, this resistance is waning slowly but steadily.   Its a clever approach by the powers that be to cut consumption by a decent margin, and its idea’s like this that will gradually reduce our demand for fossil fuels.  I suspect it also means that power stations aren’t running at full tilt and means that spare capacity is available, unlike many forecasts that say some countries will be required to enforce switch off’s of regional area’s to prevent brown-outs due to the demand for energy from air-conditioning units.

The King has left the Building…

Well, what a strange morning.  I’m not a massive fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve grown up with Michael Jackson’s song’s – he’s been present in the music industry since I remember.   I’m too young to remember John Lennon’s passing, being born a couple of months after he was murdered, so, other than when Diana died, this is the biggest ‘famous’ death I’ve known. No matter what you think of him,  he was a great show person and the world of music has lost a massive talent.  I’m not about to mourn, as in my opinion, we all have our time, and when your ticket is called, you must go forward to the cashier, but I will certainly acknowledge that this is history being made…

Adventures in Time & Motion.

And now for my next experiment…

I found out a while ago (and have only just got round to trying it) that its possible to connect a Nintendo Wiimote to a computer using a Bluetooth Adapter.   The Wiimotes work via Bluetooth, so when you scan them they appear as HID’s and have a pin code of 0000.

So what’s the point?  Well, primarily it makes it an excellent (and relatively inexpensive) remote control, ideal for a media centre or presentation controller.  Without using the motion sensors, the full set of buttons work natively on the controller to navigate, click forward & back, and exit (you can map button’s to key’s with software).

What is really cool is when you bring in the motion tracking and infra-red tracking elements.  The Wiimote (as I’m sure you’re aware) has a 3 axis accelerometer and an infra-red tracking camera built in, which allows it to to know where it is in time and space.  Some clever developers, the most famous of whom is Johnny Lee, an MIT student who has written some excellent interface software to demonstrate the capabilities and possibilities of the hardware.

Some examples include using an IR-Led array and some reflective tape to provide an interface along the lines of "Minority Report",  building a cheap IR Pen to provide multi-touch interactive white boards, and my personal favourite, head-tracking to give ‘virtual windows’ into the world using this inexpensive technology.  You should checkout his website HERE where he discusses the capabilities and allows you to download the software.

Be sure to checkout the videos on YouTube – some impressive stuff indeed!

CD’s, and all that Jazz…

Its pretty cool how quickly the music industry are embracing new ways of making money after spending years fighting against it.  I attended a concert at Birmingham’s NIA on Friday Night (Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds) and as well as the usual programmes and t-shirts and other marketing stuff, I was impressed to see that they were offering a live recording of the night on a CD that you could collect 10 min’s after the gig finished.

Me being cynical thought nah, it’ll be a recorded ‘as live’ CD, but what the hey, its an interesting and nice souvenir to take home with me.  At the end of the concert, we all dutifully trouped out of the hall and were directed to a ‘sheep pen’ to await the arrival of the magic CD’s.  At that point I realised that perhaps it was a live CD, and that some fella was there burning them off with his laptop.  Not so!  A team of people were transferring CD’s from a spindle into ready printed cases, already prefilled with the Act 1 and photo excerpt CD’s whilst others ran back and forth with more CD’s! Amazing stuff, and really only a 15min delay in getting hold of the pressings.

Being intrigued by how it works, I looked up the company on the Internet (www.concertlive.co.uk) to see if I could find more information.  There’s a sky news video of the process HERE (doesn’t work in the office), but basically they have their own sound engineers who sample & record the concert from backstage, then burn off the resultant recording in a trailer filled with hundreds of CD burners.  As far as I can tell, the CD’s and cases come pre-printed, and the photo CD pre-pressed (its a normal silver CD), then they put the first half burned CD’s in during the second half, then put the second half CD’s in as they issue them. A genius idea, and easily achievable provided you have enough staff and enough CD burners!!!  The set costs £20, so more expensive than a shop-bought album, but not stupidly priced. And it helps fend off the bootleggers who record concerts then release them on the Internet, as the performers will each receive a cut of the CD’s sales, as well as the producers and record companies.

As far as sound quality goes, its top notch.  There was a problem with the sound in the Auditorium part way though where the left channel was lost, but the CD recording is perfect – I suspect they take a feed from the pre-amp and process it themselves to sound good on the CD, as well as taking a feed from atmospheric mics to get the standard ‘applause’ at the appropriate point.

But all in all, an excellent show, and some excellent idea’s for marketing.  I just wish the NIA was bit better organised.

The Digital Britain Report.

So the Digital Britain report is out – a review of ‘digital’ services across the UK and how we can improve Britain’s take-up of these to make us a more competitive country in the world economy, led not by private businesses, but by the government.  Whilst its good to see, countries around the world have been addressing this for years, so its a shame that only now in 2009 that the politicians are waking up to technology.

The recommendations from the report will lead to a real shakeup of some services, potentially affecting the entire population, whether they like it or not.   The full report is HERE but I’ve summed up some of the points:-

    1. universal access to broadband by 2012, fund to invest in next generation broadband and liberalisation of 3G spectrum – government is keen to get the entire populous ‘online’ with at least a 2mb connection within 3 years.  To do this, they’re looking at having a 50p per month tax on each fixed phone line connection.  Our leaders are hoping that Rural area’s will be able to take advantage of 3G networks to supply the 2mb pipe they’re so keen push.  Which is great, but people don’t want Mobile pylons sprouting up across the country, so they’re going to need to address this.  In addition to this, the roll out of fibre to the cabinet by BT to bring upto 40mb/s to 50% of the population.  Virgin media are already working on 50mbps for their network, but many countries are already at 100mbps, and some looking at 1Gbps.  Too little, too late I think
    2. digital radio upgrade by 2015 – They’re talking of scrapping the FM and AM bands for national broadcasters, something which is going to upset a LOT of people, especially when the solution is the somewhat average DAB standard.  The FM frequencies will be made available to local broadcasters only as a temporary measure, presumably so that they can eventually be sold off for other services.   So, anyone like me who tends to buy 5-6 year old cars, don’t be expecting to be able to listen to the likes of the BBC Radio network when they switch it off, at least not without laying down a wedge to upgrade your radio to a DAB standard.  Most people are perfectly happy with FM and don’t see the benefit of DAB which is why, despite must protestation to the opposite,  Digital radio’s arn’t flying off the shelves.
    3. consultation on how to fund local, national and regional news, support for public service content partnerships – Discussions are already underway in allowing the BBC and ITV to share newsrooms in the regions – why bother sending two sets of journalists and AV people to report on a story, when often they capture the same information.  This could be an interesting approach and I’m all for it, provided that producers and directors within each broadcast agency are able to maintain their independence and take their own approach to reporting. 
    4. changed role for Channel 4 – Discussions have been ongoing to merge Channel 4 with BBC World, the commercial arm of Auntie Beeb.  The report hints at ruling this out, but allowing regulatory change such as to allow for a different focus and allowing C4 to compete with other corporate broadcasters.
    5. three year plan to boost digital participation – The BBC will be forced to take a slice of licence fee revenue (£200 million) to encourage the whole population to move to and embrace digital technology.  One interesting note from the report is that 3% of the populous surveyed by Ipsos Mori had never heard of the Internet.  Also 42% of people without internet access was due to self exclusion, with 37% of those saying that the Internet was of no interest.
    6. legal and regulatory attack on digital piracy – The Government are proposing to review copyright legislation and giving more power to Ofcom and ISP’s to first try and dissuade illegal downloading of copyright material by reducing access, before implementing criminal law for those hardcore downloader’s who cease and desist. Whilst this may go some way to addressing the issue, I personally believe that offering content at a lower cost and in a fair way (for example allowing the backup of physical medium for personal use) are the keys to reducing piracy on the Internet sea’s.

All in all, there’s nothing unexpected in the report, but there are some excellent idea’s & suggestions which act as good guidance.  The stone has been dropped into the mill pond, and I expect the ripples to radiate for some time.  However, there are some extremely contentious issues (especially in relation to the Radio) which I believe will cause a great amount of upset.  And the ‘rose tinted view’ of an all embracing digital UK will simply not live up to the expectations set out in this report. I hope they do, but I occasionally visit the real world to check on the state of things.

My Bargain of the Century…

IBLIKWIFI_large1_thumb_07EFC687I popped into my local Curry’s last night to look at headphones (see my previous thread on this topic) and whilst perusing the many isles where they store them, I happened to note the DAB radio section, and specifically the DAB/Wifi radio section, where upon I glanced upon the product you see on the right.

Its a Revo iblik wifi and its a clock radio that does…  FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Podcasts, UPnP media streaming, iPod dock and generic MP3 support.

Now, I’ve not got an iPod (having a deep mistrust of Apple products), but I have got access to all of the others.  And I have to say its amazing – rapid to setup, easy to use, excellent sound from something so small, it doesn’t look like a toaster or something from the 1950’s (why do DAB radio’s seem to have this requirement?) and works (so far) flawlessly.  I suppose that it shouldn’t be surprising how good it is when it retails at play.com for £169.99.  Which is why its a bargain when I picked up an ex demo unit for just £29.99. Unboxed, it was just the unit & the power wart, where as the boxed unit comes with…  A box,  remote control, stereo cable and manuals.  Well, the box goes straight in the bin anyway, the manual’s are available online, I’ve got stereo cables knocking around and the remote can be bought for the princely sum of £10 from the manufacturer’s website, should I feel the need to be able to control my alarm clock from the bed with a remote rather than having to reach my arm to tweak it.

And it seems like a good investment – the Government seem to be pushing to take the FM frequencies off the BBC and force them to use DAB only (more on the Digital Britain report later), but not only do I get local radio, but I can listen to radio you might not normally hear – last night I listened to RTL Germany,  the Sacramento fire department and the Atlantic radar control.  Amazing stuff, and recommended if you can find it at 1/5th the price it should be!

Oh yes, and I didn’t pickup any headphones. 🙂

I can see clearly now…

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I can’t find it anywhere, so I’ll bring it to the surface again.  I use a great product which I believe the masses have yet to discover :–

rainxlogo_thumb_16459798

Rain-X is a vehicle window treatment which helps to repel water in the same way as car body wax, by making the water, snow or ice bead off the surface rather than sticking to it. When the car is stationary, the rain forms into beads that either fall off due to gravity, or get blown off by the force of the wind as you drive along. This means an end to the streaky splodge mess that you often get with a car that hasn’t been treated with this product, giving far better visibility even in the heaviest of storms and vehicle spray.   My Dad showed me the product about 6 years ago, and I’ve been a loyal fan ever since.  Its so good that once, I was driving down an unlit section of motorway in the dark, and I didn’t realise it had been raining until I came upon original_circle_thumb_16459798 a lit section and could see other car’s wipers going furiously to clear the water.

Two disadvantages with the product:-

1) It takes time to apply it to get the best effect.  First, you have to clean the windows of any existing grease, grime and other gunk (for example the wax from car washes), but a glass cleaning compound should sort this out.  Then, you have to make sure that the glass is really dry – I usually use a squeegee/paper towel combo to sort that, before applying the product (again with a paper towel) before buffing it clear.  If I’ve not topped it up recently, I’ll repeat this twice to get the best finish, but normally a single coat is enough, especially if done regularly.  Finally, a good buff will bring it back to clear.

2) It wears out fairly regularly.  It used to be much better, but now only lasts about a month before needing a top up.  I suspect they’ve made the formula a bit weaker in order that you use more and hence buy more (that’s the cynic in me talking) but at £10 for a year, its hardly a massive investment.

It also depends on the angle of your windscreen as to what speed the water blows away – on mine 30mph is enough, but I’ve heard some people saying that 40mph is required, and on an old car I had with a flat windscreen, it was about 20mph.

I’m surprised that fleet’s don’t give this out to all their drivers, as it certainly helps improve safety, and I’ve never heard race teams using it – ideal for F1 drivers visors in the wet. Rain-X claim a 1 second reaction time advantage in poor weather conditions, and I can see that this may have mileage (pun intended).

As a final note, I’ve heard of other products which claim to be better/longer lasting/cheaper and all the rest, but I’ve not had any experience of these.  I’ve also heard of special wiper blades which leave a thin trail of silicone across the glass each time you use the wipers, giving the same effect.  If you’ve got any experience of these product, feel free to get in touch – id like to see if a competitor has exceeded the yellow standard

iPhone 3GS GTI TFSI TDI TTFN

Yesterday was the WWDC, Apples developer conference where they show off the latest products and developments to developers world wide.

This year’s keynote speech as come and gone with a range of new announcements which has got Apple fanboi’s somewhat overexcited, and the rest of us interested but not ecstatic.

Up for a refresh was a range of ‘new’ laptops (something PC manufacturers do every week of the year), Snow Leopard, an updated version of Leopard, lots of new apps in the iStore, enhanced functionality to the iPhone with OS 3, and an updated iPhone called iPhone 3GS (for speed, doncha know?).

So, in detail.

Snow Leopard is a new version of the operating system for Mac’s, and has such advanced features as Microsoft Exchange support, a faster browser and updated Quicktime.  In the world of Windows, these are called service packs, but Mac users must shell out $29 for these tweaks and updates.  They’re also moving their core code completely to 64 bit and have improved multi-core cpu handling and better API’s to make it easier to support multi-core’s.

iPhone OS 3.0 is updated for the existing iPhones, to offer cut/copy/paste functionality, MMS functionality, Video recording, Movie rental/purchase from the device, tethering to allow you to use the iPhone’s mobile broadband functionality with a Windows or Mac machine rather than a dongle. They’re bringing an improved browser to make it even more desktop like, language support, remote kill switch (for MobileMe users only and I suspect built at the demand of corporates), find my iPhone (for absent minded folks) and better/easier communication with 3rd party peripherals and sensors.  One big excitement is TomTom, rumoured for over 12 months and finally arriving in the App store.

iPhone 3GS is an iPhone 3G update, faster better stronger, covering such support as 7.2 mbps HSDPA, 3mp Camera, Voice control, Digital Compass (for when GPS isn’t accurate enough) and options of 16gb and 32gb storage capabilities, with the original 3G sticking at $99 for the 8giger.

So all in all, nothing groundbreaking – everything that Apple are billing as ground breaking is nothing new in the rest of the IT industry, but it certainly sounds like they’re starting to get their act together regarding features and functionality that every other smart phone has been able to do for the past 3 years.  However, once again, I’m going to wait to see what the caveats are, just like what came about after the iPhone 3G appeared on the scene.

Stereo-typically poor headphones?

One frustration I come upon every few months is just how rubbish headphones are – I can guarantee that within 3 months of purchase, a set is completely destroyed and must be replaced.

I’ve tried all sorts – the cheap ones, the expensive ones, branded, unbranded – all of which end up in various states of disassembly.

The previous set was a ‘Technotrend’ pair bought from Tesco’s.  Their current state is that the backs have fallen off each ‘phone’,  one side no longer works, and the other side sometimes leaves the frontage that protects the speaker in your ear.

My current set (about 6 weeks old) has a back that falls off on one side and occasionally discharges an electrical shock at random intervals into the ear.  These ones are Phillips and were twice as much as said technotrend units.

I often listen to quiet music whilst I work to filter out background office noise and distractions, and I also find it helps to stimulate the brain.  So they do get used daily, but only in an office environment.  I’ve tried tens of sets over the years, and ALL show similar problems.  The only solution I can see are ‘over the ear’ units, but I don’t think these are appropriate for an office environment, as they’re hardly discreet, and are more difficult to use with a single ear (I like to keep one ear free to at least have some contact with the outside world).

A short discussion in the office seems to confirm that I’m not the only one that experiences these issues, and quite frankly its abysmal that no-one seems to build headphones which are resistant to their environment.  Unless you can suggest otherwise.  I do wonder on this World Environment Day (WED) how many millions – perhaps billions of these go into landfill every year? Such a waste.

Some mid-week humor.

I’ve happened upon these during my voyages on the choppy waters of the Internet and they made me smile, so I thought Id bring them to you too.

First Up, from GraphJam…

songchartmemesblogs_3_3BA870A2

For those of you who haven’t experienced GraphJam yet – its a site where people can submit graphs representing information in a humorous way, such as the above.

Secondly, I have discovered the quotes of the great ‘Gene Spafford’, A professor of computer science at Purdue University, and a leading computer security expert.  Wikipedia has a great article on him here.

Anyway, he has some excellent quotes related to the Internet (but perhaps not suitable for Iris’s Quote of the Day, so I dispense them here:-

  • Axiom #1: "The Usenet is not the real world. The Usenet usually does not even resemble the real world."[2]

    • Corollary #1: "Attempts to change the real world by altering the structure of the Usenet is an attempt to work sympathetic magic — electronic voodoo."[2]
    • Corollary #2: "Arguing about the significance of newsgroup names and their relation to the way people really think is equivalent to arguing whether it is better to read tea leaves or chicken entrails to divine the future."[2]
  • Axiom #2: "Ability to type on a computer terminal is no guarantee of sanity, intelligence, or common sense."[2]
    • Corollary #3: "An infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of keyboards could produce something like Usenet."[2]
    • Corollary #4: "They could do a better job of it."[2]
  • Axiom #3: "Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) applies to Usenet."[2]
    • Corollary #5: "In an unmoderated newsgroup, no one can agree on what constitutes the 10%."[2]
    • Corollary #6: "Nothing guarantees that the 10% isn’t crap, too."[2]
  • "Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhoea — massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it."[2]
  • "Don’t sweat it — it’s not real life. It’s only ones and zeroes."[2]
  • "The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards – and even then I have my doubts."[3]
  • "Securing an environment of Windows platforms from abuse – external or internal – is akin to trying to install sprinklers in a fireworks factory where smoking on the job is permitted."[4]

I know a few of these should make my colleagues smile.  I particularly like the last one.
For those of you who don’t know what Usenet and Newsgroups are, they’re an early piece of internet technology still going strong, but out of the limelight of the general populous and they’re basically message boards accessible to all to post and reply to – an early form of forums.