Thursday, 30 June 2011

My FLAC vs AAC hobyhorse

I know I go on a lot about the huge use of lossy compression for audio music. That is MP3 and AAC. In the days when we had smaller broadband pipes and very limited download caps, and we had cheap MP3 players, and expensive iPods, these file formats grew exponentially. Threatening the CD for music sales. They enabled marketeers like Apple and Amazon to sell individual tracks, rather than an album CD, with perhaps one or two songs that were any good and a load of rubbish tagged along.

The problem

But the problem is that these file formats have worsened the audio quality and downgraded the public's appreciation of audio quality. The CD has balanced this by maintaining its uncompressed file format, and audience, but even it unfortunately often limits the audio (boosting soft sounds and cutting loud ones) to match the poor performance of domestic, cheap HiFi equipment, and young people's desire to have everything just plain loud. But the popularity of downloads and the iTunes store has promoted an explosion in AAC track sales.

Loss of quality

One thing must be made very clear, lossy formats like AAC spoil the audio quality - often in an unacceptable way. AAC works by what is called psycho-acoustic compression. Which means removing some of the information in the audio file which, in theory, the human ear cannot detect. It is a continuance of the false idea that to reproduce a music instrument it enough to capture only those dynamics and frequencies that humans can detect.

But have a look at these two spectra of music, from Wikipedia, one the original and one a compressed AAC file.

Original file The original file shows dynamics plus a wide spectrum of sound up to above 20kHz.

AAC compressed file This AAC lossy compressed file has lost the high frequencies, they have been cut off by a sharp filter at about 19kHz, but worse than that the dynamics of the sound have been compressed with a flat top and many individual peaks enhanced to the top. This is distortion.

If you believe you can't hear that then you should do two things, buy a better HiFi system and stop using iTunes. Buy CDs or better download HD audio 24bit/96kHz files from companies like Linn audio, HDTracks, etc

Consumers revolt

It is time to revolt and ask the record companies what the hell they think they are doing? Prices of tracks and albums have fallen through the floor, but they seem to have no quality strategy to build a more lucrative market. They even make things very much worse for themselves by selling their product through streaming sites like Spotify, which has a dreadful audio quality. Spotify may have 9million tracks and iTunes 18million, but who needs this much? The amount of tracks available is not the way to boost profits for artists. Better quality is.

They need to focus on offering a better product. That means better recordings, less limited and less compressed, in lossless file formats like FLAC or Apple's Lossless, with a wider dynamics from 24bit recordings and wider bandwidths from 96kHz sample rates (the CD is only 16bit/44.1kHz and it was invented 30 years ago).


I found this explanation of lossy compression which seems appropriate:

Since small file size is so important on the Internet, practically all of the formats we're interested in employ lossy compression. Here's how it works. First, the client player decompresses the audio file as it downloads to your computer. Then it fills in the missing information according to the instructions set by the codec. To illustrate why lossy compression is so crucial, consider the phrase, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country". One way to compress this would simply be to remove all the vowels and spaces: "Nwsthtmfrllgdmntcmtthdfthrcntry".

That cuts the message from 71 characters to 31, a 56% file savings, but of course our compressed message is unintelligible. Imagine that our codec, however, has appropriate rules for decompressing this message with minimal distortion. The conversion likely wouldn't be perfect, but it would be good enough to understand the message, something like, "Now's tha ti'm for oll gudm en to com to the aad of their country".

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Digital audio, clearing the air

Go on the web and google "digital audio" and you will find hundreds of thousands of hits. There is an enormous amount of discussion going on about the topic. I would say that 90% of it is people coming from the analog era who simply don't understand digital audio. This is really a big surprise as the CD has been around since 1978 - seems we are slow learners.

But digital audio is very different from analog, and the conversions back and forward from analog to digital and back are not well understood. Lots of audiophile talk about "bit perfect", about jitter, about what is best USB, Firewire or optical SPDIF interconnects, without understanding the fundamentals. These are minor issues compared to the fundamental use of CD or HD audio.

So lets have a look at these and bust a few myths. I must comment that I and most audiophiles use Apple Mac computers as they have a well implemented set of audio core functions that provide very good performance, as we shall see.

Bit depth and volume controls

The Apple Mac "Core Audio" software has 32bit processing, any 16 bit CD tracks are converted to 32bit where the 16bit occupies the MSBs of the 32bit data. If a volume control is applied by shifting the data towards the LSB then the full 16bit info is retained for up to 16 shifts, or around 95db. One shift however represents a large drop of 6db in volume (more on this later).

What matters is the conversion, or not, back to 16bit with a simple DAC. If a 16bit DAC is used then the 32bits are converted back to 16 bits and bits 17-32 are thrown away. If the volume has been reduced digitally then the result is going to be a few more '0's at the MSB end, and the LSBs will extend below bit 16, so if a 16bit DAC is now used then these bits below bit 16 will be cut off. If a 32bit DAC is used then there is no loss of resolution down to the full range of the CD capability.

The Mac using OS X provides 32bit processing, and provided you hook up a 32bit, or more likely a 24bit DAC, any changes to volume or any effects applied, will be correct. The volume control in iTunes works this way for 16bit recordings (CD rips and the awful lossy AAC tat that Apple iTunes peddles).

On the other hand the iPod, iPhone and iPad (and Apple's Airplay) using iOS software do NOT work well, because iOS supports only 16bit audio processing. So their volume controls or Airplay transmissions always lose resolution when the volume is turned down. Which is why they sound so poor at low volumes. If you use a combination of an iPad, AAC compressed files, and the iPad/iOS digital volume control then you get very poor quality. Apple's Airplay is also just a 16bit pipe, so any 24bit tracks are down sampled. Airplay can carry the 16bit output from an iPad perfectly, but not the 24bits from an HD recording in iTunes. At least Airplay/Apple TV supports 48kHz so downsampling from 96kHz to 48kHz is relatively simple and accurate. But 24bit to 16bit clipping is not a good idea. Time for Apple to introduce 24bit/48kHz ALAC files as standard in iOS and on iTunes.

Mathematics and bit perfect

Volume is reduced not by simply shifting the data towards the LSB, which would reduce it in large 6db steps, but by mathematic computation of gain x signal input. To get a smooth volume control the gain number has ideally to be also a 24 or 32bit number, thus requiring a processor or maths unit capable of 24x24 or 32x32 calculations. The Mac OS X software actually uses floating point 32bit audio representation and fast enough processors so its calculations do this easily.

Remember here that all the arguments about bit perfect transmission are immediately destroyed by any gain calculation, the bits out are not the same as the bits in except when the volume control is set at one of the 6db steps represented by a one bit shift of the data. Multiply a number by a fraction and you more than likely will get a remainder. The only way to get bit perfect is not to use a digital volume control, but an analog one between DAC and the power amplifier leaving the digital part of the chain to always run at full resolution.

Limits and levels

Screen shot 2011 06 30 at 11 00 28 Remember also that normally the analog 0db level is equal to -12dB (14bit resolution) on a CD, leaving a 12db overhead up to the full 16bit capability (you cannot get more than all '1's in the 16bit word!). So most music is only 14bit dynamics (pop music limits or compresses music to use up this overhead, and even reach just 3dB below digital clipping to have "punch" so essential to the teenage ear). 12dB leaves an 84dB range for a standard CD linear PCM. For 24bit recordings the 0db level is set to -18db leaving 21bits for recordings, with an 18db overhead. Clearly 24bit is essential for HiFi systems. 21bits gives a 126db range, not enough for a full orchestra range of about 135db, but way better than 16bit/84dB of the CD.

The solution for audiophiles?

1 Use an Apple Mac and OS X which does all audio processing at 32bit floating point
2 Use a 24bit DAC, and Firewire or SPDIF optical connection
3 Adjust the gain of the analog power amplifier so that max DAC output (corresponding to full 24bit digital input level) is equal to the amplifier's max output peak output capability, so the DAC output can never cause it to clip.
4 Use true 24bit HD audio recordings, if you can get them!

On this last point it is worth saying that record companies seem distinctly unwilling to release music at 24bit/96kHz. I can see NO sensible reason why they would not do this, it would stimulate a new interest in music and audio reproduction, and mark a new turning point in the offering of higher quality music which has not happened since the CD was invented. The recent moves to AAC and streaming audio are very retrograde steps for the industry. In today's world with fast broadband speeds delivering tracks in 24/96 using lossless FLAC or ALAC compression is a no-brainer. A typical track is about 80-120MB, or in my calculations just 160secs to download across a 5Mbps ADSL line.

Use of available range

Screen shot 2011 06 29 at 09 34 21 Imagine a range of sound from the smallest (silence) to the loudest peaks. This has a certain range. Now where do we fit this range into the capability of a 16bit CD (which has a total range of 96dB) or a 24bit HD recording (with a total range of 144dB). If we put the range at the bottom LSB, then for the CD the highest volume peak can only be 96dB above this level, not enough for classical music. If we use 24bit then we can have up to 144dB, more than enough for any sounds in the world (except perhaps the space shuttle taking off).

We have been accustomed in the analog world to a concept of 0db as a reference level, with headroom above this for peaks. When it comes to digital recording we have to chose to put the peak of the range of sound at a level when all bits are full (all 1's), it can go no higher, this is the equivalent of analog clipping. But where then do we put 0db to give an acceptable headroom? The 16bit CD uses a 12dB overhead (only!), but 24bit HD audio uses 18dB (still a bit low but better than CD). Remember that 1bit of a digital signal = 6dB analog level, so a CD 0db corresponds to 14bit and HD audio 0db to 21bit. The 14bit of the CD is a rather poor resolution as it represents too few analog steps in the digitisation and leads to an inaccurate restoration of fast moving audio signals.

Mixing and effects

What we have also to take into account is that recordings are not made with a single microphone yielding 16 or 24bit of audio. Use more inputs or apply effects or EQ and you have to do some digital mathematics to mix the sounds. 24bit x 24bit mathematics can yield more than 24bit results! So the audio digital signal processing or mixing, equalisation, volume control or anything else needs more bits. Typically 32bits are used, and in Mac OS X floating point 32bit is the standard for the internal CAF audio format for Core Audio software. Hi end studio mixing equipment can run up to 32bit and 768kHz!

Sample rates, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192...

The other matter that remains is what sample rate to use. Common rates are either multiples of 44.1kHz or 48kHz. (By the way there is no technical reason for choosing the 44.1kHz rate for a CD, other than the historical use of video tape recorders to capture the first digital recordings, would be great if the first engineers had chosen 48kHz instead...!). Our objective is to reproduce the sound of the original instrument, not the human perceived sound! The incredible fallacy of the argument that we only need a bandwidth that the human ear can hear (chosen as 20-20kHz) has provoked the acceptability of 44.1kHz sample rates of the CD giving a bandwidth up to around 21kHz (sharp low pass filters must be used before analog to digital conversion in the studio to avoid distortion), and even worse is the second argument that the human brain cannot distinguish between some sounds which has led to psycho-acoustic lossy MP3 and AAC compression disaster. With stupid claims that "AAC is CD quality" and "anyway you can't hear above 15khz or so".

The fact is some musical instruments generate sounds or harmonics over 90khz or so, the simple rattle of a bunch of keys shows a spectrum up to 50-60kHz. Nyquist mathematics says this will need a digital sample rate of 2x the highest frequency, or at least 180khz. So an obvious choice is 24bit/192kHz recordings. However 24bit/96kHz are more common, and are a fundamental improvement over 16bit/44.1kHz of the CD, giving a bandwidth up to 45kHz. They much better capture the dynamics and timbre of instruments and vocals. Thus giving a much better listening experience - more breathy openness, more dynamic oomph, etc. And lossless compression avoids the loss of phase information and stereo imaging that lossy formats like AAC suffer from.

Of course using a 24bit/96kHz digital system means you need a very good analog poer amplifier with bandwidth of 50khz or so and sustainable Low Frequency output, say down even to DC. Anyway the weakest link in the chain is the loudspeakers and this is where to spend your money.

Even CDs are no good

Clearly the 16bit of the CD, with a limited headroom of only 12dB and a silence-to-0db range of 14bit or only 84dB is not enough to record live music, classical or pop. So all recordings are compressed or their volume adjusted to fit in this 84dB range, or they are limited to avoid hitting the 16bit maximum level possible, pumping up the apparent volume. What is also clear is that digital volume controls in 16bit only systems are a disaster and that AAC or MP3 lossy compression is also a step backwards in audio quality...

HD audio at 24bit/96kHz in non-lossy compressed files such as FLAC or Apple's ALAC get a deal closer to what we need giving 18dB overhead and 144-18 = 126dB silence-to-0db range. This is enough for most classical and pop music.

You will be amazed at the improvement in audio listening pleasure if you move to HD Audio. Go try it out!

My setup

My setup: Apple MacBook, WiFi router, Appel iPad and iPhone, Apple Airport Express (analog or digital output), Apple TV (digital output only), home built amplifier with quad chip DAC, two Hypex Class D amplifiers, Spendor loudspeakers. All audio is stored on the MacBook in ALAC format files and streamed to the Airport Express or the Apple TV (Preferred). I have also a Firewire 24/96 DAC for direct connection to the MacBook for critical listening.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Hey guys, super news 3Mbps brodband

Well is has taken me 9 months of arguing with first Orange and then BT and then Plusnet to get my broadband sorted out. The event line is something like this;

1 We have free broadband from Orange under a mobile phone contract
2 But it is only 600Kbps at best
3 So I call them and ask why they cannot deliver the 20Mbps they offer...
4 They are obstructive and unhelpful, they refuse to contact BT to report a fault
5 I quit Orange and sign up with Plusnet
6 They take over my broadband and manage to give me 1.2Mbps, way below the rating of my exchange of 8Mbps and way below their publicity of 20Mbps
7 I complain, they start to check it out, making some tests and get me also to run some tests. These are inconclusive, no one knows what the problem is.
8 They take over my phone connection later, and the broadband rops to 0.6Kbps, like it was with Orange. Back to square one.
9 But I don't give up, I ask them to look into it, and they eventually agree it must be a fault on the line and call in BT to investigate
10 A BT engineer calls and tests the line, he also re-wires me to the exchange! There is no improvement. Now that puzzles him.
11 A couple of days later I get a note from Plusnet to say they have found my broadband was restricted !!! I could have told them that!!!
12 They remove the restriction and the speed goes up to 3Mbps, whoopee.

A very sad and exhausting story of poor customer care, but I got there is the end. Here's the recent history of my connection speeds.
11-05-29 12:25 1216Kbps 366Kbps
01-06-11 14:06 1216Kbps 301Kbps
05-06-11 09:56 1216Kbps 341Kbps
07-06-11 12:22 1232Kbps 308Kbps
10-06-11 09:25 624Kbps 318Kbps (phone number active on Plusnet)
14-06-11 10:03 696Kbps 369Kbps (line "reset")
17-06-11 09:00 784Kbps 259Kbps
20-06-11 14:54 696Kbps 366Kbps
22-06-11 17:02 696Kbps 306Kbps (after BT visit and line changed… awtg line reset)
23-06-11 11:04 688Kbps 319Kbps (msg to say I was CAPPED, they will remove it)
25-06-11 11:10 3274Kbps 294Kbps (wow!)

New contest: Germany 1 ECB 1 Greece 0 Banks 0

Well now some light is dawning. France is getting its bank to reschedule the Greek loans (the credit agencies say this is tantamount to a default, but there...). The ECB is asked to take over the loans. Now that's a good idea. In fact what I suggest is that every country's loan above 60% of GDP is taken over by the ECB, who then raises money from other countries, or prints it... (60% is the figure everyone was supposed to respect when the euro was launched, but which a few, most notably Greece totally ignored). That may even the score and underline that the future of the euro is more important than the impact of profligate countries to exceed their borrowing capacity. It may also make the stupid banks sit and think as they are way over extended in their sovereign loans.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

BBC slow on the uptake

The BBC has a redoubtable news organisation, except that it is often a bit light on facts, and heavy on opinions.

We sit at home watching their output on our TVs, generally together, not individually.

The BBC has realised that they have to combine the TV delivery with internet delivery.

Now to do this they should

- link the TV locally to the iPad, so it looks up pages on the web associated with the program
- have TWO news organisations, one to build a knowledge database, one to produce TV News

and when you watch a program, like Question Time, you can listen the the panel spouting away, but at the same time have charts, tables on your lap to make up your own mind

Greece 0 Germany 4

So the battle is coming to a close. But we need to see that a proper balance is struck between keeping the euro as a common currency and sorting out the Greeks.

There is no doubt in my mind that the euro has to continue, the benefits to the people are huge - one currency in your pocket. It is like free boarders, these have to stay too.

So what is the deal?

- The Germans, and the rest, have to pay the Greeks. Germany especially as it has not paid its war reparations, and it has the most exposed banks at 32:1 leverage!

- The Greeks that got them into this mess have to go to jail.

Simple really

Saturday, 11 June 2011

BT Infinity coming to Banbury exchange - but when?

This is my current broadband suppliers offering

Screen shot 2011-06-11 at 11.38.34.png

And if I run the broadband speed checker I get this

Screen shot 2011-06-11 at 12.07.07.png

In reality the speed I am currently getting is much lower!!!

Plusnet BT 14-6-11  0930.png

Now it seems that finally BT have added the Banbury exchange to their list of Infinity FTTH exchanges

Screen shot 2011-06-11 at 12.08.08.png

And the pricing they are quoting right now is

Screen shot 2011-06-11 at 12.08.51.png

The date they say that it will be Ready For Service is 1-9-11

Screen shot 2011-06-15 at 14.46.25.png


If I had discovered this a few weeks ago I would have waited, tolerated Orange's awful 0.6Mbps speeds and not changed to Plusnet (who gave me 1.2Mbps and who might, I suppose, offer the FTTH themselves when BT installs it...???). Because the latest status from Plusnet is that their broadband speed has now dropped to 0.6Mbos like Orange, now that they have taken over my phone line - or is this a technical fault which can be corrected? And for this I had to pay BT £22 disconnection charge. This is getting ridiculous!!!

The Arts and local events on TV

There is a move to bring us local TV, but this is by broadcasting it on radio waves. Which is entirely the wrong approach. This is ideal for IPTV, transmission over the internet.

The cost of setting up local IPTV servers is small compared to setting up a TV station.

Dream TV

What I dream of is a local channel at my home town of Banbury, with inputs from freelancers and organisations (art clubs, venues like the Mill or concerts from St Mary's) nearby, say within 50miles, which will provide pay per view IPTV. Not live, but watch it when you want it.

It is a huge benefit to the organisations, a huge benefit to artists, a huge benefit to the community. It IS big society in action.

Isn't that a good idea? Who will join me and carry it out?

Apple to kill music reproduction quality - unless

Today Apple iTunes is the leading music store in the world, with very good reason: it is legal, it is comprehensive, it is easy to use.

But it has one major problem, it uses lossy AAC file compression. This, combined with 16bit and 44.1kHz sampling means that the resulting musicality is LESS than the CD.

I thought we were supposed to be moving forwards, not backwards? How can the industry support this move when clearly their way forward is to offer a better, not worse product?

And now we will get iTunes Match, which if I read is right, will take your ripped CD music and make available to you an AAC file for download to any of your devices (iPhone, iPad, etc). This will make the domination of AAC complete. Everyone will start to think that this is it, that this is the quality we can expect to listen to. WRONG.

It ought not to be like this. What I would like to see is iTunes offer

1 AAC 256Kbps as now, suitable for small storage devices like iPad, iPod and iPhone.

2 FLAC 24bit/48kHz files, suitable for terabyte storage like the TimeCapsule, or a NAS

3 FLAC 24bit/96 or even 192kHz files, ditto

With the rapid increase in broadband bandwidth and storage capacity delivering the FLAC files should not present too much problem. Of course the new Apple server complex will have to be much bigger to store the files, and our iPods and iPhone will have to accept and decode FLAC. But this should be the new industry standard.

The Airport Express and Apple TV (which can currently do 16bit/48kHz) should be upgraded to have a decent 24bit/48 or 96kHz DAC, and Airplay should be capable of transporting the FLAC files.

HD Streaming?

And by the way, if Youtube can stream video at HD quality, why is it not possible to stream HD sound? Why do we have to settle for this AAC stuff?

Friday, 10 June 2011

Design and build a HiFi amplifier

What's wrong?

One of the things about HiFi which is universally ignored is the fact that real instruments generate sounds way above human hearing. For example trumpets or cymbals have harmonics up to 90kHz or so.

Now you can argue, and many do, that since we cannot hear sounds above 15-18kHz, and as we get older down to 8-10kHz, that we do not need to record, store or reproduce higher frequencies.

But this is UNTRUE. If the true output sound of the instrument is not recorded then the timbre will be lost.

It is also true that making digital recordings with low sample rates, e.g. the CD at 44.1kHz, limits the upper frequency which can be stored to about half of that, i.e. 20kHz or so. And it is also true that lossy compression techniques, e.g. MP3 or AAC, although designed to use psycho-acoustic sampling, i.e. throwing away those things that humans cannot hear, allows us to make recordings smaller.

But both of these delivery method prevent the true range of the instrument, the phase relationship and stereo image to be delivered.

More over the limit of digital recording on CD and most MP3/AAC songs, means that the dynamic range of the music cannot be recorded. A full orchestra has an SPL range of 30-130dB, whereas a 16bit CD can only store 35-110dB at best. Consequently engineers turn down the loud bits and turn up the soft bits to compensate.

Through all this we have four problems

- Tibre

- Dynamics

- Integrity

- Delivery


The recording chain must be upgraded to capture as high a frequency spectrum as possible, this is why studios to day are often using 192kHz sample rates, giving the possibility to record frequencies up to half this, or 96kHz. There is a strong movement to deliver 192kHz or the lesser 96kHz files over the internet today. Moreover these files are usually 24bit not 16bit, thus improving the dynamic range. Lossy compression is also not used, but lossless FLAC files.

Thus almost all the problems are addressed. So what we need is a HiFi systems capable of handling the new frequency spectrum up from the 96kHz recordings. This means a 24bit DAC for conversion, and amplifier with a response to 50kHz or so, and some very good loudspeakers - these are the critical part of the chain.


A good amplifier can be fairly easily constructed, this on uses the Class D modules UcD180 from Hypex.

Screen shot 2011-06-10 at 16.54.59.png

Here's a photo of the amplifier, using a toroidal transformer and a power supply module from HK.


I can't get more than 0.6Mbps broadband

The up to date status is this

1 I have received numerous pamphlets offering 20Mbps broadband in big letters

2 I have checked out the status of the Banbury, UK BT exchange that I am connected to, it was last updated in 2006 and is capable of only 8Mbps.

3 I have recently given up on Orange broadband as it gave me only 0.6Mbps, and no improvement was forthcoming after numerous complaints to them and BT

4 So I signed up with PlusNet who quoted me 2.0-5.5Mps (estimated 3Mbps. Great, now I can watch BBC iPlayer.

Except that when it was installed it gave me only 1.2Mbps. Again complaingin has got me nowhere, PlusNet say its my line - which is provided by BT... Its too long or something, and they are unwiling to complain to BT to do anything to improve the speed.

5 So today (10-6-11) I get an email and a Text that say that my phone number has now been transferred from Orange to PlusNet.


Back to square one.

This is the text of a note I sent to my MP, Tony Baldry and to Dawn Pettis at Cherwell council...

The government has committed a universal speed of 2Mbps for all of us. But the reality is that BT is frustrating this by slow investment and lack of planning.

For example, the Banbury exchange was last upgraded in 2006 and can provide only up to 8Mbps (don't believe the many advertising claims you get in the post offering 20Mbps). The Banbury exchange does however support broadband supplied by BT or by third party ISPs.

The quality of the BT line to my house is very poor, the result is that Orange were able to provide only 0.6Mbps and my new supplier Plusnet can give only 1.2Mbps.

When I signed up to Plusnet they were also advertising 20Mbps, and they quoted me 2.0-5.5, estimated 3Mbps at my post code. It turns out that these figures were simply copied from BT who also showed on their web site that my post code could achieve these speeds. BT also show on their web site a different figure if my line was with BT, this is 1.5-5.5, estimated 3Mbps!

So have

- Offers from BT, Sky, TalkTalk, Plusnet and others of 20Mbps
- A signed up offer of 2-5.5Mbps from Plusnet
- A second figure from BT of 1.5-5.5Mbps
- An actual measured speed of 1.2Mbps since my new Plusnet installation

I have discussed this with Plusnet and they say the problem is the BT line between me and the exchange. And their is nothing they can do about this…

I have tried to contact BT but with little success, they tell me to complain to my ISP, who in turn say contact BT. So this is a dead end.

BT have no published schedule to improve broadband speeds at my location, even though they are promoting their "Infinity" fibre to the cabinet system (FTTC) for high speed internet all around the area.

Cherwell council is very much aware of the problems of people in Oxfordshire to get decent broadband and have a task force trying to find a solution for all of us. Today it is reported that 90% of Oxfordshire is covered by exchanges supplied only by BT (no competitors), and Cherwell have a report showing that more than 55% of Oxfordshire premises have less than the governments committed 2Mbps speeds.

It is clear that BT is entirely responsible for this lack of service in Oxfordshire and that they have no plans of commitments to improve it. It is also clear that all broadband suppliers are making very false claims and offers to provide 20Mbps broadband when they cannot do so.

Dozy unhelpful PRS

Apple's new iTunes Match and sharing of your music through the iCloud wil not happen in UK until 1Q12 at the earliest.


Because the interfering, dozy old PRS wants to get into the act. Apple has made a deal with the biggest record companies so why, I ask, has the PRS got anything to do except rubber stamp the deal for UK?

I, and millions of others are fed up with the unprogressive attitude of the PRS, who frankly are doing more harm to artists than helping them earn a living.

Time for Copyright revision, a global approach and taking on-board the new report recently commissioned by the government. Preferably before 1Q12!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Apple bonanza time again

Well we have had the WWDC keynote, 6/6/11, and have marvelled at the new levels that Apple is taking the User Interface and networking capability of the Mac eco-system software.

What really did we get?

OS X Lion

Lots of new ways to shuffle app windows around. I think this is mainly designed to make Microsoft Windows look stupidly old fashioned rather than as a useful user interface. You need some large real estate on the screen to make use of multiple windows, Window-type icon bars, and laptops don't have this. So the utility of the new gestures is somewhat limited to simple swipes that swap you around the running apps, but more than that they are just gimmicks. I get the same functionality today by programming my 'Fn' key to display all open windows...

I think what they did was to make a list, what can we do with one finger? Well point and click, and point and drag, as before. What can we do with two fingers, three fingers, four fingers? And they invented pretty effects to use for each gesture. Many of which most of us won't use. It takes time even to learn these things after all. They may in fact simply get in the way.

On the other hand some things are nice, two finger scroll (a la iPad) with no scroll bars for one, glad of that. Full screen apps for another, with 3 finger swipe between screens and even back to the desktop.

The other things in Lion are mostly under the hood, or upgrades you need anyway to use the iCloud service. Mac software is pretty much limited now to purchase through the App Store, with Apple taking its cut. I can see little advantage in the "Launch Pad" which puts iPad type icons on the desktop, nothing is wrong with the Dock in my opinion. Would have been nicer to have a two level Dock? (One finger down to reveal the main Dock, two fingers to open a second level?)

Using Lion you will definitely have to buy a wireless KB, wireless mouse and probably a wireless trackpad to make sensible use of the system on an iMac.

Finally the upgrade to Lion is going to cost me a bunch of money, 4GB is almost half of my monthly broadband and I have two Macs to upgrade... hope you can save a bootable copy on a USB stick... both to port it across and to be used in case of re-install.


Well now we are talking innovation! First is that apps self sync to each other, and each handles its own file system. No longer do we have to worry about making folders in the Finder and sorting our stuff into Documents, Spreadsheets, etc, and then copying them to iDisk to retrieve them the other end, what a bore that was, especially as few apps supported iDisk, most used Dropbox. Is Dropbox dead? Depends if the new sync system allow others to access a "Public folder" in your cloud, to exchange files, if not how do Apple propose we do it?

Library in the Apps???

On the other hand a BIG opportunity has been missed, or not yet implemented, to have a classified library system on our Apple stuff. What I mean is the ability to keep multiple file types in folders by subject, like all your emails, faxes, letters, spreadsheets, etc about your finances in a 'Finance>Bank' folder. It is cute to have all Pages docs directly accessible in the program on the Mac and on the iPad and iPhone, but when I have 100-500 documents it will be unmanageable.

And if I want to find a spreadsheet related to a letter I have written it will be doubly difficult. Yes the Finder is dead, but giving all files to apps and keeping them by file type is not good. They have to kept in a system wide classification menu tree accessible from any app. You know, look in the library within Pages, find a subject, find a spreadsheet and have it open in Numbers...

Anyway back to iCloud. It looks great. But I wonder about the sync system, does it all go through Apples farm? What happens if the farm goes down, and I can't get my stuff, what happens if they lose it? What huge broadband cap will I need when I have sync on 'automatic'? What we have today with MobileMe is sync of contacts, calendar and email. What we get in addition is sync for files belonging to Apps, documents, spreadsheets, photos, music... and any others that developers want to write apps for running on both the Mac and the iPad/iPhone.

Download limits???

Then again it is not clear how I can get 1TB of stuff off my Mac onto my iPad 32GB! There must be some sort of selection mechanism, and the functionality of iCloud depends very much on the way this works. Already we have seen some limits to photos (1000, 30days if not put in albums) and music (download what you want from the iCloud Music Store, or sync limited amounts from iTunes, by WiFi). Whatever there are strict limits on the mobile devices.

iOS 5

Well now here's a bunch of good and poor bells and whistles. Some seem just for the fun of it, some are real steps forward. The upgrade to Notifications was inevitable after Android and jail-breakers showed a better way, the new system is much better. I am heartedly fed up with little boxes flashing up on top of what I am doing, and the box I hate most is one that comes up every time I lose 3G coverage. God damn it I can see that as it says "No Network" in the menu bar!!! And there is no way to turn this notification off. I hope we will get some detailed menus in System preferences to set which app can list notifications and which cannot, right down to none at all.

iMessage is humbug, designed mostly for commercial use as it is encoded, ditch your Blackberry's and switch to iPhones which now have encryption (by the way will Apple let India have the keys?).

The whole problem with messaging today is the large number of incompatible systems. So any time you want to be sure of getting a message to anyone the only choice is the old, old SMS way. iMessage should quickly make itself compatible with BBM, MSN, AOL, Yahoo, Google and myriad others, and get a gateway to SMS. If not Apple is just making another Apple fan-boy walled garden. There are really too many ways to post messages and express short ideas today, including Twitter and Facebook. Enough is enough.

But iMessage has a great interface you have to say that. By the way will it be compatible with iChat on my Mac? I guess it will? So it could at least be compatible with some of the other systems, as iChat is. In the end we need a world standard system, I hope Apple is on to this.

Newsstand is good. One place to subscribe and view your news, be it daily, weekly or monthly. Bye, bye Zinio?

Reminders strike me as a program for people who have more time there hands than sense. After all it takes time to type up a reminder, and even more if you geo-locate it or time it. I think a scruffy piece of paper in my pocket with the stub of a pencil would do the job, or a tame and sensible wife is also useful. Calendar anyway gives a current way to book appointments and give alerts, so why Reminder?

Twitter. I have a confession to make. I have tried 6 times to load and understand Twitter. I have failed to see how to work it. The only interface I can get working is the mobile.twitter in Safari, or the TwitterFall program. Both of which allow me at least to follow what is being said. But I cannot find out how to join the conversation... sad really. So its integration into other apps will no doubt baffle me too.

I like the improvements to Camera, volume button to take a shot, improved zoom and self focus/exposure on a selected subject. But the big problem I have had and which I will continue to have is the pesky Still/Movie switch, I cannot remember how many times I have accidentally hit this and found myself shooting a movie when I meant to take a photo. Please Apple make the whole bar go away when not in use. I just want to point and shoot. By the way note that using the volume button top right makes you hold the iPhone upside down and makes it easy to cover the camera accidentally with your finger, better to use it with the Home button on the right, and the shutter release on bottom left then push it with your thumb?

Updates to Safari are welcome anytime, both tabbed browsing, swipe to go through History and use the Reader to just view the main story - advertisers will hate this? How will web sites survive? Will they all become pay-walled? And goodbye Instapaper.

Local WiFi sync has been a long time coming, I would have thought they could have done it very much sooner, after all there are plenty of good apps that sync stuff with your Mac - for example PhotoSync for your photos, which is excellent. But finally its coming in iOS 5, right from the first switch-on. Funny thing is that it seems that syncing only happens when you charge the device, not on request. Why?

Multitasking on the iPad is a great idea and the new way to change apps by a swipe is great, it is a pain today to shut an app, then open another, or to hit the Home button twice and chose another app. Just wiping your four or five fingers across will be great.

Finally it is also wonderful that all the iOS 5 stuff will be compatible with all the current hardware, iPhones 3GS & 4, iPad & 2, iPod touch 3 & 4.


So that is what we are waiting for. "The Fall", is all they are committing to today... let's hope Fall comes early this year.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

This is the broadband problem, BT

A recent survey in Oxfordshire, where moves are underway to improve broadband across the county shows the current status:

Screen shot 2011-06-02 at 18.44.28.png

And that just about says it all, Oxfordshire is a broadband backwater. 54% get only 1Mbps.

Moreover other reports show that 90% of Oxfordshire is linked only to BT exchanges, so if anyone is to do anything about our poor broadband service it is BT.

We need a couple of simple goals

1 Minimum 2Mbps for everyone, target 10Mbps.

2 Do it by 2013. Installation and delivery just like electricity, sewage, telephone and all other services.

So we need to but a boot up the backside of BT to get a decent service. Every effort I have made to talk to BT about this has simply met a brick wall, they are a company that could not care less about its market (as it has a monopoly) and couldn't care less about its customers.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

My web page please

Wouldn't it be nice to have all my personal stuff on one web page. Tax and NI, health care records, DVLA licences, TV licence, direct gov, bank, local council costs & payments... both public body web sites and private one's, all of my choosing, with one login / password for them all.

You get my point. Instead of chasing around multiple web sites to do what I want I just go to one place. I have no doubt widely different system and security issues make it challenging, but all the same it would be a revolution and a brand new way to use the web for people's benefit.

Now imagine that you get your web page when you are born, and use it all your life...