Sunday, 28 February 2010

HiFi in Apple's ecosphere

I have been studying for a long time the way Apple has implemented its audio strategy, with hardware like the Mac, Airport Express, Apple TV, iPod and the new iPad, and software like iTunes and the iTunes store selling music files.

These slides show the ecosphere, how it applies if you want to use it for HD audio (i.e. not tracks from the iTunes store which use lossy AAC compression, but tracks purchased from other sites such as Linn Records in high quality, non compressed formats), a summary of the AAC download and CD ripped paths - essentially the focus of Apple's efforts, and finally how I think the ecosphere should be. That means how it should be simplified.

Apple's confusing audio.001.png

Here is the whole thing. Confusing isn't it? Note the mixture of audio qualities, Bluetooth (Green), AAC & CD (yellow) and HD audio (purple). Note that Apple does not support the most common download standard for HD audio, FLAC, so you need a conversion to AIFF program, for example XLD.

Apple's confusing audio.002.png

Here is just the HD audio part. This is quite simple and a good reason why many people use Apple's stuff for HD quality music HiFi systems. The output can be either from your own external DAC or from an Apple TV. HD audio cannot be streamed through the Apple TV, but must be synced to maintain the HD quality. Airport Express does not support HD audio streaming as files are down-sampled before WiFi transmission.

Apple's confusing audio.003.png

Here is the "Apple" ecosphere by itself, showing just AAC & CD quality audio, note that there are three inputs: the iPod/iPad, iTunes on a Mac or the Apple TV; and four outputs: direct from a Mac, via an Airport Express or Apple TV and direct or via Bluetooth from an iPod or iPad. Ubiquitous but maybe confusing? The Mac, Airport Express and Apple TV provide Optical audio outputs as well as analog.

Apple's confusing audio.004.png

FInally here's my idea of how it needs to be simplified. First by dropping AAC lossy compression and using FLAC file standards to give true CD (16bit/44.1kHz) and HD (24bit/96kHz) quality; introducing a new Super Airport Express capable of handling HD Audio over WiFi and with an HDMI output for surround sound, and the use of a special, new amplifier design called the Stream Digital Amplifier (see Cottage Audio) and a Bluetooth receiver (for example the new one from Belkin) for the iPod/iPad - alternatively the iPod/iPad could stream audio over WiFi just as a MacBook does using Airtunes.

Yours to take care of

I have just posted a comment to Techradar 1 and Techradar 2 about the consequences (death of public WiFi, Protest) that could come from the Digital Bill. What I say is...

The people that own copyright material should take more care of it. If they do nothing to exploit sales of their product, then they must accept the loss. This has always been the case (Cassette tapes, VHS video recorders, etc) and has not harmed the business. Just because now the studios have lost strangle hold control of their distribution chain (the CD and DVD) does not mean the collapse of the industry, they must adapt.

Ok, so the internet is a bigger threat , but should be countered not by legislation, but by new business models by copyright owners - i.e. by studios and labels (don't think that artists own copyrights! they mostly sign them away in exchange from promotion to big media businesses...)

This Digital Bill or DRM, or whatever, is not justified in an open society, it is against freedom.

However the international steamroller behind it is huge, already the EU and UK are in the final stages of negotiation of a US treaty called ACTA which could sign away our freedoms and rights without debate or votes. Check it out with your politician, ask if he has seen and considered ACTA. Tell him to vote against the Digital Bill.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Earlier ACTA information

ACTA 2007

Some information has been leaked about the secret ACTA negotiations that have been going on since before 2007 between several countries about the international protection for intellectual property and copyright. The proposals cover both trademarked goods and copyright media.

The early proposal suggested provisions for

- sharing law enforcement information
- providing strong IP/rights protection, both for rights holders and trading partners
- creating legal frameworks to bring counterfeiters to justice

These would include boarder measures (by customs), civil enforcement and criminal prosecution with imprisonment and seizure of goods, equipment and proceeds.

Action would be taken against countries involved in mass production of counterfeit CD & DVDs.

The proposals include internet distribution of media, but with safeguards for ISPs from liability, but with their cooperation to ID the infringer.


Countries are required to have civil judicial procedures and authority to issue orders to desist. They also should have authority to award damages for profits suffered or the infringers gains based on the market price of the goods. For copyright media there should be pre-determined damages or ways to determine them sufficient to deter future infringement.

Both the goods and manufacturing equipment should be destroyed without compensation and the infringer is obliged to provide information for example about production, other people involved, distribution channels.

The rights owner has however first to provide evidence that infringement is happening or imminent.


Countries are required to have criminal procedures against infringement on a commercial scale, either with or without direct financial gain. Both fines and imprisonment are to be provided sufficient to remove monetary incentives.

All goods, materials and assets may be seized and the goods, manufacturing equipment destroyed without compensation.

There should be also criminal procedures against importation and sales on a commercial level and against copying, recording or transmission or media that has been released in public.


This information is at an early level but is being actively developed, in secret! It probably has been revealed to interested parties such as labels and publishers in private. It has a large chance to be adopted and to affect the UKs existing civil and criminal laws, especially as regards copyright and the internet. It is clearly one of the inspirations for the Digital Bill now currently going through parliament largely believed to have been inspired by meeting between government and the media industries.

I suggest everyone asks their MP if they have seen it, and if parliament will debate it.

Best news yet - wind investments in UK

I just read this article in the Guardian about investments and startups in UK for the manufacture of wind turbines. This is the best news yet and something that has to be trumpeted around.

Mitsubishi and Spain's FCC plan to invest £100M on building turbines, mostly for the blooming UK off shore generating projects. This is on top of another announcement by US Clipper Windpower to build in the UK. All these projects are leading edge technoilogy.

Out of this could come 70,000 backend jobs and £100bn private investment in manufacturing in UK.


Now what is next....


We need investors in solar panel development and manufacturing. Who is out there listening?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

What do we cut?

The struggle is on. The UK has to cut government and local government costs.

The issue is will we cut back-room jobs (we will maintain "front line services"....)

- do they cut 6M employees to 4M?
- do they cut high earners? (Diversity Officers...)

or do they cut things in principle?
...minority support services?
...lots of IT projects?
...chose your own quango...

ACTA - ISP gates & criminal threats

Some information has been leaked about the secret ACTA negotiations taking place between many governments about intellectual rights.

Here it is [PDF]

My understanding is that this Article 2.17 on Enforcement:

1 Introduces civil AND criminal enforcement for action against trademark, copyright, rights on internet.

2 Creates remedies for 3rd party liability for copyright infringement (i.e. ISPs can be liable, internet no longer free & open...)

3 For on-line industry, measures against copyright infringement:

a) some limitation on scope of civil liability for an ISP when
i) automatic technical process (Google news?)
ii) users action not due to ISP selection of material (no QOS?)
iii) links to locations in case of i) & ii) if ISP does not have knowledge of infringement


b) ISP must meet these requirements
i) ISP must ADOPT & IMPLEMENT POLICY against unauthorised STORAGE (no open clouds?) or TRANSMISSION (blocked web sites?) of copyright material
ii) Remove or disable access to material if given notice of ALLEGED infringement if subscriber does not provide evidence of mistake or misidentification (Guilty assumption?)

4 Implement WPO legal & effective remedies against DRM circumvention, with civil remedies, or criminal if:
i) unauthorised
ii) on products sold to circumvent (no Movie copies for your iPod?)

5) Each legal & effective remedy against DRM circumvention is a separate civil or criminal act.

6 ) Implement legal & effective remedies (maybe criminal?) against DRM circumvention for rights management information (e.g. BBC program guides?)
i) removing right management information (No viewing satellite HDTV without approved equipment?)
ii) distribute media that has information removed...


Now we need to do something about this:

- ISPs should not act as policemen of the internet, the internet will no longer be free and open

- Rights holders can use ISPs to ID people ALLEGEDLY infringing rights, rather than dealing directly with individuals

- No breaking of DRM, even for personal, backup or shifting media to different equipment (e.g. copy a movie to your iPod)

ACTA is a trade agreement which can be imposed on us without parliament debate or our input!


Sunday, 21 February 2010

All about money - or lack of it

I quote:

“Our finances have been brought into grave disorder. No British Government in peace time has ever had the power or spent the money in the vast extent and reckless manner of our current rulers... no community living in a world of competing nations can possibly afford such frantic extravagances... the evils which we suffer today are the inevitable progeny of that wanton way of living.”


“The production of new wealth must precede common wealth, otherwise there will only be common poverty... It is because these simple truths have been denied and our people duped by idle hopes and false doctrine that the value of our money has fallen so grievously and the confidence of the world in Britain has been impaired.”


“We are witnessing a deliberate attack on our values, a deliberate attack on those who wish to promote merit and excellence, a deliberate attack on our heritage.”


Does this sound familiar today after years of Labour government, they have done it twice, don't let them do it again!

How about

* Slim down the state. Sack every "Diversity Officer" and all the other extravagances and quangos
* Reduce tax, encourage saving and spending
* Halt social engineering, especially in schools and universities
...and as many other good policies you can add.

Screen shot 2010-02-24 at 10.23.12.png

Friday, 19 February 2010

Mesolonghi Greece

Mesolonghi is on the North at the start of the gulf leading to the Corinth canal. Opposite to Greece's third largest city, Patras (also written Patra and Patrai).

It is a strange location, seemingly way inland. The approach is up a 2 mile channel, to the top, where there is a sizeable bay with the public quay on the East and the new, growing marina on the West. All around is low lying land and huge open expanses of shallow water, and haven for wild life and birds.

The approach from the sea has to be done with some care as the shore is very low lying and there is no landmark to use to find the channel outer buoys. From either the West or East the best solution is to crank up your GPS and plot the entrance, and go for it, staying 1-2 miles offshore until to the South. Whatever you do, do not go round the outside of the channel buoys, it rapidly becomes very shallow.

Another gorgeous day in Mesolonghi Greece.jpg

[The Marina]

If you want to anchor in the bay at the top of the channel, do not block the approach to the fishing and commercial quay on the North side. Either stay just outside the marina outer breakwaters or go over near the public quay to the east. When you go ashore in the dinghy, go the Northeast corner as this is the shortest distance into the town.

The new marina is now open and lots of yachts have over-wintered here, both in and out of the water in 2009/10. It is still under development with new buildings and services going up. By the end of 2010 there will be cafes, restaurants, chandlers and other services. The management is very friendly and english is spoken fluently. One thing strange, so far they do not have a radio channel, and on approach you have to call up on a mobile phone number!

Marina details can be found at Mesolonghi Marina.

The town of Mesolonghi is entirely Greek, with little or no tourism. In fact the arrival of live a-boards this winter has been the first surprise they have had of foreign tourism, and they welcomed us in a very friendly way. It is university town and full of cafes and good tavernas well used by locals. Shopping is from lots of small shops and a few supermarkets, but don't expect to find a wide selection of luxury goods. If you are in the marina it is a good idea to have bicycles as it is a 10-15 minute ride into town for coffee every morning!

After the carnival Mesolonghi Greece.jpg

[Pedestrian street in the town]

Local bus services are good and cheap to nearby towns and to the city of Patras (across the newly constructed suspension bridge).

For trips back home you must go by bus to Athens, then by bus to the airport on the other side of town, this all takes 5-6 hours. But flights to most places are available from Athens. Busses run almost every hour to and from Athens. There are many small, good hotels in downtown Athens if you decide to break your journey and have a look around.

There are ferries from Patras to Italy, Brindisi or Venice.

So, come and visit or stay at the new Mesolinghi marina.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Faith & belief

You cannot argue against faith and belief. Those who have it (and there are many) regard it as an absolute, in-disputable truth, as much as any other...

Seems to me to be part of humanity, that is the way we are built. I don't need evidence to say that, I don't need analysis to argue it. It is just faith and belief. A neat circular argument.

In many ways it does not matter in what we have the F&B, it could be UFO's it could be the resurrection of Christ. It is fundamental to our humanity.

I closely associate this with our soul. That strange disputed part of us. We are built with a thing called a soul. Your soul is little recognised or perceived today, and it may be a challenge to call it up to our conscience-ness but it is there.

We need a very broad view of ourselves to live a full life, perhaps to have a fulfilled death.

IPCC truth

From the Guardian:

"The greenhouse effect was discovered in 1824 by Fourier, the heat trapping properties of CO2 and other gases were first measured by Tyndall in 1859, the climate sensitivity to CO2 was first computed in 1896 by Arrhenius, and by the 1950s the scientific foundations were pretty much understood."

There has been lots of spin articles about small errors in the IPCC reports on climate change...

IPCC is just a reporting organisation, it does not drive subsequent calls for action. It just says, "Boys, the climate is changing, and we have firm evidence of that, be prepared".

Being prepared is the job of governments.

The real issues are where is humanity going forward?

- where do we get our future energy from? Solar, Nuclear, wind...?
- what are we going to do about the exhaustion of the earths resources?
- what are we going to do about population growth?

I support "Reason to Buy"

Reason to Buy is a mantra of the web site "techdirt", look them up on Google you will learn a lot about media company shenaghans.

To paraphase one of their postings:

Surveys show that lots of people would pay for media (news, music, magazines...) if it was easy to do, this attitude does in no way justify the industry's approach of:

"shut down The Pirate Bay"

"kicked file sharers off the internet"

"pass three strikes legislation"

"increased enforcement"

"beef up copyright laws"...

If you realise how many people are actually paying for media (quite a low number) versus the number that would be willing to, the reason is not copyright infringement or unauthorised file sharing, but that the producers of the media don't know how to give people a valid reason to buy their product.

The media companies are living in a world which did not need a better business model. Just create an artificial shortage (like a locked CD/DVD delivery chain) with a small number of distributors and people had no choice but to buy.

This is not the case today because of the internet.

But the media companies have the mistaken approach to the internet, first swamp it by promoting music on multiple channels, and then start complaining when this doesn't work and ask for legal action against the freedom of the net...

Monday, 15 February 2010

It's only money

The UK has debts of £697B or 47.5% of GDP, that includes £100B for Northern Rock and RBS re-capitalisation

Without banking rescues debt hit 40% of GDP, and with fiscal stimulus, this will peak at £1000B or 57% of GDP by 2012. (£15000 each person in UK, add that to your own personal debt...whatever that is).

What could happen?

On the one hand, we could borrow less but the credit markets might freeze up so generate a big depression, on the other hand we can borrow more... that is go in the wrong direction but keep going!

Don't worry, says the Chancellor, neither the UK nor any one else has the courage or the ability to repay any of their debts.

It is just a big game.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Private is it? ID needed.

There is a lot of debate today about " Are we giving away too much of our private information?"

This is the wrong question, it should be, "How can I get it back?", "How do I know where it is?", "How can I delete or edit it?" "How can I get ownership of it back?"

This applies as much to Facebook as it does to banks and credit agencies as it does to government and the NHS.

There is an assumption these days that once I have given away some information it no longer belongs to me and I can't take it back.

This is plainly wrong. It is my information.

Have you tried to renew your driving licence on-line? WoW! They ask for reams and reams of numbers and codes, which I simply don't regard as my information and don't see why I should keep it for them. It is their information. Something that makes their wheels go round, not mine. Ask me something I know, not to remember information that you know.

In the end Data Protection - not to use any data except for the purpose it was given and to destroy it after it has been used - is not enough.

We have to have the right to open and free access to every bit of information given and stored anywhere about us. Without delay, without payment.

For example. If my doctor fills in some notes about me I want free and open access to that information. I would go even further, I want control and ownership of that information, I want to keep it myself and let others see it only when I chose. I want it removed from the database when I leave the surgery and kept in some form (USB stick, Smartcard?) by me. I will then reveal it when and to whom I chose.

And this is a general rule, applicable to any data collection. It is mine to own, mine to keep. Mine to reveal or keep secret as I wish.

Let's have ID cards

In this day and age it seems to me that we do need ID cards, At least these will enable the person that is me to be easily associated with data that is kept about me. Provided two things, that everyone uses the same common ID system (government, banks, shops, etc), and that I have free access (read and edit) to any data sent or held, and a right to remove it and keep it privately if I chose.

You see the ID card has to identify me for control of my data.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Still too much CO2

After the climate conference in December 2009, lots of countries confirmed their proposals for CO2 reduction. Now these declarations have been analysed and the results are no good.

If only these promises are fulfilled (and it remains to be seen if they will be implemented...) then the world's temperature will still rise to almost 4℃. Which is a disaster! Here is the chart:

Screen shot 2010-02-13 at 17.16.27.png


The details can be seen (just about) below

Screen shot 2010-02-13 at 17.23.11.png

I wonder two things

1 Why could not everyone use the same reference starting point and some consistent way of reporting?

2 What the hell are we going to do now. We need to get some steam back in the CO2 reduction issue.


Friday, 12 February 2010

Little Bo Peep...

..has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them.

Neither does the Government. They are tendering for a £6M database to track sheep!!

Seems that the only solution to any social or business problem by the Government is 'make a database'.

Its like the old Goons joke, "Policemen are numbered in case they get lost".

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Warner this way, Warner that

I see that the blogs today are carrying the story that the huge Warner music label has withdrawn licences for streaming music (from Spotify,, Pandora and others).


On the one hand they are stopping one of the ways that music fans enjoy their music, on the other they say that these business models (free streaming, plus buy a premium service) are not for them.

I have another opinion to add strangely in support of Warner. The audio quality of all the streaming services is very poor and by supporting them the labels are downgrading their product. What they need is CD quality downloads, and a new HD quality service at premium cost.

They should go talk again to Apple to see if they will put Apple Lossless files at 16bit/44.1kHz and 24bit/96kHz on iTunes. That would be a premium service worth paying for.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A common DRM system

Ideas come and go. But Digital Rights Management (DRM) hangs around looking for a solution.

In this world where copying media which belongs to someone else and sharing the files illegally is worrying all media producers, from journalists, to musician and labels, to movie houses, to TV broadcasters.

But on the other hand when proprietary DRM is imposed then consumer rights are blocked - for example the right to resell a CD or eBook, or lend them to a friend to listen or read (note in both cases no copy is made, so all is well). Or the right to record a DVD in your computer or a TV program for you own use. Even worse is the trend today to regard buying a copyright work not as conferring ownership but as lending it for use, with the possibility of retrieving it if the seller wishes.

So is there a solution? The problem essentially comes down to proving ownership. This implies that the owner or purchaser himself can be uniquely identified, and this ID can be tied to the media.

First we have to have unique, electronic IDs. This needs a trusted body to issue them with a unique electronic signature. This is a job for governments.

Second, when you purchase media you should have to use this ID to mark, or encrypt the media. Then when you want to use it you should use the ID to decrypt the media. If you sell the media then it should be re-encoded with the buyers ID. Any straight copy made will not work without the ID of the purchaser.

We all need to protect artists and creative people, we all need a common DRM system. We cannot continue to lock up delivery chains, as we have tolerated for years with the CD and the DVD. We must have an common DRM system.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Death of the CD - why?

There are reasons why the CD is dying and the future of audio is downloads. And there are other reasons why those downloads have to be of better quality than MP3.

What are they?

The CD is a locked delivery chain, tied to the labels, distributors and retailers. Although some say that they like to buy something physical that they can own, many more want to buy music as computer files, for use on every level of equipment from the £5 MP3 player to the £10,000 audiophile HiFi equipment.

There are already lots of outlets - iTunes and Amazon being the most notable - for buying MP3 or AAC (a slightly better quality MP3) downloads. There are conspicuously fewer download sites for files of CD or higher quality and their offering are usually only Jazz or Classical. But hopefully this will change as the public desperately need a new purchasing route for medium quality (CD) and high (HD) audio downloads. Today the labels are hanging on to low quality MP3and not offering CD quality downloads, just to keep in place the CD delivery chain on which their business model is based. Take away the CD and they are bankrupt. The cost to the consumer of the music is much less than the cost of the retail CD.

The problem, as everyone knows by now, is that a change in delivery to internet downloads will break the stranglehold business model the labels have over artists and consumers.

Storage cost

But think also of the cost to the consumer of keeping his music, a CD costs £10 (say) and stores just 0.6GB of information - one album - costing £12/GB! In a computer a Hard Disk Drive of 500GB costs £100, or £0.4 per album stored!

Guess which consumers will go for?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Now Books on the Internet


There are two industries, if you can call them that, which have for years exploited artists and writers. Music and Publishing.

The music business still today believes it can pay an artists just £1 out of the sales of a CD for £10. But as the internet and downloading is proving - I don't mean file sharing which is an illegal breach of copyright - but legal iTunes, Amazon, Spotify are the new reality of music delivery.

The old model in which the artists sign away their copyright in exchange for promotion and distribution (via CDs) of their music is breaking down. Labels are haemorrhaging money. New models are starting to emerge (Fans on Facebook, direct artist downloads) which cut out the old labels and kill their business model. They have reacted of course, trying to get the government to block file sharing, which they see as theft, but which artists see as promotion in itself. They are just trying to prop up a dead business model...

And now publishers are going the same way. In this business things are, if anything, worse. Typically an author gets £0.40 when his book sells for £10.

The publisher has this deal: An author writes and owns, through copyright, his book.The publisher takes 50% from any sale of the work, the author pays up front for in-store displays and promotion to catch a customers eye, which take a lots of the other 50%. Then if the books don't sell they are shipped them back to the warehouse. Possibly not to be promoted again.

Selling through supermarkets is worse, they demand 65-85% of the sales price, leaving the publisher with not much and the author with even less. They may also use a high value book as a loss leader, thus depressing the value in the whole market.

The book business is almost monopolistic, at least in the way they do business, Authors have little choice in the business model.

But now comes eBooks. Publishers now have a new scam, they do not sell a book, but lend it or license it to your eReader. And if they want to they can delete it without warning, just as Amazon did on the kindle for those that thought they had purchased 1984, when Amazon found they did not have the rights to the book. Then there is the boggie man of DRM, to stop us reselling or lending our books, which we were free to do with printed material.

But help is at hand, there is a move to share 50:50 between authors and editors, and promote and sell directly on the web. Thus cutting out the large, monopolistic and publishing houses.

By the way, the next are newspapers,big news companies, but a future of journalists and editors paid on an article-by-article basis and delivered to new platforms like Apple's iPad.

Bring it on.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Growth is unsustainable

Lets define growth as

Growth = change in GDP or GNP (GDP -imports, +exports)

But growth could occur if money spent on disasters, pollution, fighting crime, job-less growth or creating value by consuming natural assets.

3% growth is x2 in 23years, 10% is x2 in 7 years. Each x2 consumes as much resources as sum of all previous periods.

This is at the heart of why growth is unsustainable.

We are consuming nature's resources and creating emissions 44% faster than nature can regenerate and reabsorb the waste. It take the earth 18 months to produce the ecological services that we need in one year. So we need 3.4 earths.

So growth is not possible.

But governments still plan expenditure on basis that the economy keeps growing (no growth means shortfall in income and reduced public spending - same is true for saving for pensions).

A lot is the damage caused by weakly regulated banks chasing maximum rates of growth through speculation.

Economies put legal obligations on public listed companies to grow, give returns to shareholders is the priority of management.

They can take your money to wherever is the highest rate of return. Money is lent with interest, economies based on loans with interest have built-in growth.

New web standard HTML 5

HTML 5 is built on HTML the language of the web. Designed at first for creating links from one page of text to another. To create a web of information, HTML has grown much more sophisticated with the introduction of CSS or style sheets. These allow pages to have attractive layout. Another common addition is Javascript which allows page to have lots of interaction.

The internet is maintained as a standard by a group known as a working group called Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group and the W3C consortium. They standardise the features of HTML which then get integrated into browsers from different companies.

HTML 4 was born in 1999, and HTML 5 was born in 2004, and is still being finalised.


The biggest new bits are video. Today most people watch internet video with a "plug-in" typically Flash or the clunky Real-player, Windows Media Player or Apple's Quicktime. A new entry to the field is Microsoft's Silverlight.

HTML 5 supports a simple new tag "video ..." for embedding a video in a page, just like "img.." for embedding an image, using a video codec in the rendering engine of the browser itself. Most people are looking at MP4 containers for H264 video codec for the video tag to support in the browser, and currently Safari and Chrome support this. The effect is that the movie viewer is less buggy and runs faster.


HTML 5 supports off-line storage without a plug-in.

Drag and Drop, Document Editing

HTML 5 has a super simple implementation of editable document boxes, drag and drop page elements and drawing surfaces.

Using HTML 5 will bring a better quality, speed and richness to web pages and apps And think, if your document editor is in HTML 5 it will work and look the same on any platform, from the iPhone to a Windows PC.

Could HTML 5 kill Flash?

Could HTML 5 render Adobe's Flash plug-in obsolete? Flash is installed on most computers, but Apple has turned away from it for its iPhone, iPod touch and the new iPad in favour of HTML 5, MP4 and H264. New implementations of web browser rendering engines support full screen video. Apple's Safari is the first browser to fully support HTML 5 and they, together with Google, are strong supporters of web engine developments for this new standard. The other browsers have yet to catch up. Microsoft's browsers may be popular but the are well behind in the implementation of HTML 5.

But HTML 5 itself does not specify the codec for video, the two proposed ones are OGG - an open source free codec, which is notoriously inefficient and a bandwidth hog and so not popular - and MP4/H264 which s standard used from mobile phones through HD TV, but patented and may demand royalties. H264 is a very efficient codec and preferred to save internet bandwidth. Recently the patent owners have said they will licence it free until 2016, but who knows after that, the patent runs out in 2028.

Then there is DRM

Flash supports it, but HTML 5 does not. This is a big problem for media distribution companies as without it movies could be easily saved to your computer and streamed again on the internet. So for the moment, if no DRM, then no TV or Movies from the studios. And it is difficult to imagine everyone getting together to agree on a DRM standard, as each company wants to control their own delivery chain (think iTunes), but we can hope.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Spending pie

We all have a spending pie. By that I mean if you draw a circle to represent your income, net of tax of course, and then divide is into cake slices each as wide as each major expense you have, then you have your spending pie. (And remember the rule, expenses rise to meet or exceed income, so there won't be any left over slices).

Now what happens if one of the slices gets larger, for example Ofgem says energy costs are going to go up by 20%? You have two choices, use less energy (insulate your house - but you need money for that, wear jumpers, or go into debt) or cut spending somewhere else.

Now this is what it is all about. If the basics of food, energy, car entertainment, etc went up then what is left has to go down - say your mortgage. But that implies the house value and loan have to go down. How can that happen? Well today your house value is determined by the companies that loan you money to buy it, at the market value at the time. So if the house value goes down, maybe the mortgage company should share some of the hurt and reduce your loan?

Why not, that would be a flexible market? But no you are stuck with negative equity (your house is worth less than the mortgage) and in the worst case repossession.

That is not right.

You cannot live in a flexible world, where governments or the market can throw increased costs at you, but have one of your main expenses inflexible.

Can you?

Monday, 1 February 2010

Computer usability

Just a little post. About the usability of computers. Ask yourself which computer would you give your grandma. Would she have any idea how to use a desktop PC? Would this not involve her in the most horrendous learning curve? When all she wants in to browse the web, talk to you on Skype and send a few emails. And as a bonus look through family pictures, and may be read her favourite magazine and newspaper?

So here's the deal

Screen shot 2010-02-01 at 22.53.43.png

Its Apple all the way. Well done Steve.

Its energy stupid

Climate change is happening, this is without doubt. Temperatures are rising, ice is melting, storms are increasing, seas are rising. All this is well documented.

And the simplistic view is that CO2 is responsible. But CO2 is not so much responsible as it is a measure of what is happening.

Climate change is an effect on our atmosphere. And there are many causes, not just CO2. Methane, Water vapour, Aerosols, changing Nitrogen cycle, changing phosphorous cycle...

So to use CO2 as a measure of climate change and attempt to reduce our emissions of only it, is foolhardy. We have to tackle all the issues we have so far discovered. So the simplistic idea of carbon rationing, or carbon credits, is not justified.

A better approach is to look at the historical correlation between the industrial revolution and climate change. And the elements which are the driving forces behind the industrial revolution, energy.

It is the abundant source and use of energy that has revolutionised the world. Staring with coal, then oil. What is now facing us is that we are over-exploiting these resources. Resources which have taken millions of years to build up we are using in a few hundred years (about 150 years so far).

So it follows that we need to look at our sources of energy, and how to get that energy to where is is needed. There are lots of types of energy, from low heat to oil, to coal to electricity. Some are easily converted to other forms that we need, some are impossible to convert. For example cool heat - like the sea, cannot produce warm heat without some other energy input in the form of a heat pump running on electricity. At the top of the pile is electricity which is convertible into almost all other forms of energy. That's why we make so much of it, and use so much of it.

So electricity is most useful. Where can we get it from? Currently we get most of it from coal, oil and gas burning, to boil water, to drive generators. But this has to change if we are going to look for alternatives to these fossil fuels.

The whole world is facing this challenge, by using waves, wind, hydro, tides, and solar. And as it turns out far the best is solar. Basically the sun is our only power source, and we should use it not waste it. The only drawback to solar is that the sun does not shine all the time. So in addition to solar panels we need batteries once the proportion of power we generate rises. Not much visible effort is currently being made to have efficient low cost (economic and environmental) batteries.

So forget Climate Change, per se, and lets focus on clean energy generation. This is what we have to finance, not CO2.

Data Clouds

The cloud is the future for the internet. All your stuff saved on large server farms somewhere in the world. But...

FIRST we do not want a world of clouds branded Google or Apple. So we need public clouds, such as Wikipedia, but for many sorts of material - Music Video, Art. We have public libraries and museums, now we need public clouds.

SECOND there is a threat from corporate control. We need to regulate commercial clouds, to limit their power and to expose them to competition. Our personal information stored in clouds needs to be safe and to clearly belong to the person rather than the cloud.

THIRD is the rear-guard action being fought by many media companies to prevent clouds forming (especially the music and publishing industries). At the heart of this is copyright. Cloud culture will breed creativity only if people can easily collaborate, share and create. New forms of licensing are required, building on open access and creative commons, which are designed to allow sharing but also to channel rewards to creative artists.

FOURTH is the threat from government control of the cloud on grounds of state security, public decency or economic necessity. These threats do not just come from authoritarian regimes in the east, but also from western liberal democracies where governments lack the courage to stand up for the open web.

FIFTH is inequality. When people from the poorest countries arrive in the digital world they will find people in the rich countries a long way ahead. For cloud culture genuinely to promote global cultural relations, we should focus on development of tools for use world wide.

Threats to the cloud, summary

The potential for a more cosmopolitan, open, cloud , which could connect hundreds of millions of people all over the world in shared endeavours, will only be realised if we tackle the major threats to it:

1. Increasingly intrusive government censorship;

2. Controls over content by traditional copyright holders;

3. The power of the new global media companies to shape the cloud to their own ends;

4. The vastly unequal opportunities open to people in the poorest parts of the world to be a part of cloud culture.

And finally

If my data, personal or creative, is stored in any cloud, or database for that matter, we need new laws to ensure that I have direct access to that data, the right to update it, and a personal copy of it.

Salvation for newspapers

News will be saved by a change in financial structure not a new technology

Journalists need to be paid. We all need them, so we have to pay..

It is a matter simply of how?

1 Pay-walls - don't work as this is simply propping up an industry (Printing) that is the very one that has to change. No one wants to pay by issue or by month for a subscription to a newspaper where they might read only a couple of articles - as there are millions more out there on the web and they are easy to reach.

2 Micro-payments - no one has tried this yet. It requires a close cooperation between banks, web sites, maybe ISPs, and journalists. But it worth thinking about

3 Or it could be about merger of delivery pipes and content creators. ISPs and journalists. The ISP delivers the paper if you subscribe to them, change ISP, loose you paper. But this rebels against Internet transparency. TV cable services, or maybe encrypted IP TV services could include the paper in the subscription. The old story of "lock up the pipe".

4 It could be Sky that now delivers both TV and News papers, as your computer gets merged with your TV. This sounds a lot more likely to me.

What an opportunity for a hardware maker like Apple, plus a broadcasters like the BBC to get together and make a product which is an IP TV plus news reader. All over the open transparent internet. But paid for by subs or licence fee. Oh but we have that, no? The BBC has a web site and a TV channel, What is missing is the openness to let all journalists use it and get paid by readership.

But wait, all newspapers are today producing video clips of the news, what happens if they become TV broadcasters in their own right? The question remains how to get paid, as advertising won't be enough. It needs ownership of the pipe? Encryption? Pay-per-view? Micro-payments?

It is the finance side that needs sorting, not the technology. Technology is not going to give the answer.

Computer ABCD


If someone comes up to you and says, "You have to understand about Viruses, CPUs, GHz, File systems and all the other parts of a computer", then reply, "No I don't, I just want it to work". but if they insist, or things go wrong you might want to take the "nerds" course below. Good luck, but resist it like crazy. If your computer doesn't work call the shop or supplier or buy one that does. Like an Apple Mac or the new iPad.

Being a nerd

These are the things you need to know if you use some computers. Sometimes they simply don't work... This of course puts people off as they don't want to be troubled with things, they just want the thing to work.

Most problems are with Windows PCs, Apple Macs have very few of these issues, if any, and tend to just work. The new Apple iPad is tomorrows computer which will give you most of the applications you need, but it is a closed eco-system, with all hardware and software supplied and guaranteed by Apple, without any problems. It is strongly recommended for new comers to computing.

So what are the issues?


Viruses are programs that get loaded on your computer often without your knowledge. They are common on Windows PCs, but unknown on Apple Macs.

An example of a virus might be a program that watches you typing on your keyboard and records each key, then sends these across the internet to a criminal. If you go onto your bank web site, or enter your credit card number on a store, the criminal knows your bank login or your card number. Next thing you know is your bank account is emptied!

Where do viruses come from? There are lots of bugs in the Windows operating system that allow criminals to do things like attach virus programs to emails or web pages. So that when you read your email, or even worse open an attached file, or browse a web page, a virus program is loaded on your computer without your knowledge.

There are a number of commercial "anti-virus" programs available which you can buy to watch for viruses and block them. But they have an ongoing cost to keep their knowledge base of known viruses up to date. You should also always load your computer with any updates that Microsoft releases, don't wait do it immediately. It is also a good idea to change your browser from IE to Firefox or Safari.

Or buy an Apple Mac and forget about the problem.


There are many, many different versions of PCs which all run the Windows operating system. There are also many different peripherals, cameras, printers, scanners, etc etc which can be connected. All these variations need special little programs called drivers which Windows needs to know how to talk correctly to the peripheral.

If you have any misbehaviour of your computer or something you buy and plug in doesn't work it is probably that you don't have the needed driver program. To correct this you have to search the internet or ask the supplier to provide you with the program, then install it.

Or buy an Apple Mac, I have never found a peripheral that doesn't just work on the Mac.

De-fragging drives

In a computer there is a component called the Hard Disk Drive (HDD). This is a storage device that saves all your programs and document, music etc. These are stored in files which are recorded on the HDD in blocks, not necessarily contiguous. When the HDD gets full or after a lot of use, the blocks can be scattered all about. This causes the computer to slow down as it has to search around all over the HDD to find the thing you want, program or document or music, etc.

To correct this fragmentation, a special program is used to shuffle the blocks to make them contiguous and thus speed it up again.

This problem is becoming less and less important as later operating systems, Like Window 7 or the Apple Max OS X do this automatically.


There is a big difference between operating systems in the way they are organised. Programs on Windows are made up of small parts called Dynamic Loading Libraries (DLLs). These are scattered about on your HDD and when you use the program, only those needed are loaded in your memory.

Sometime these DLLs are not updated, sometimes they are corrupted, sometimes they are simply missing after an update.

This causes chaos and programs do not work. The only cure is to re-install all your software.

The Apple Mac does not use this system of DLL, and so does not suffer from this problem.


Computers use a memory called the RAM (Random Access Memory) to keep the programs you are currently using. Over the years the programs have become bigger, and more are running at the same time, so RAM sizes have gone up. When yo buy a computer one of the things the salesman will pitch at you is the RAM size. Typically 1GigaByte (GB) is enough, 2GB is lots. But if you do lots of high resolution photography and editing then you may need double that.

Not having enough RAM will not stop your computer working, but it will slow it down.

The HDD (Hard Disk Drive) is a big storage unit that keeps all you programs and document, music, etc. Whereas a RAM loses all it contents when you switch off, the HDD keeps them safe. Again a salesman will get you to but the biggest HDD he can, at a higher price. Your choice depends on what you want to keep on your computer. If you keep lots of music or videos then you need more storage. For a small system, like an iPod, 16-64GB is enough. For a desktop or laptop, 100-500GB is the right size.


Just in case your computer fails and when you switch on nothing happens, you should keep a copy of al the things on your HDD. This is done by using a second HDD and copying the information across to it. Obviously you need a drive that is bigger than the one in the computer.

On Apple Macs (here we go again) there is a cute program that automatically backs-up your HDD without you having to do anything, except connect an external HDD (or you can even do it over a WiFi network). And if you accidentally delete a file you need you can go and get it back.

Always buy a back-up HDD with your computer and make sure you know how to use it and which program to use. Ask the salesman.


Inside your computer is a part called the CPU (Central Processing Unit) which does all the clever stuff when you are running a program - like adding up, or interpreting the MP3 music to audio or ... The speed at which this thing works is defined by the frequency of a signal that is fed into it. This signal is called the clock and is measured in MegaHertz (MHz) or GigaHertz (GHz). 1 GHz = 1000,000,000 wiggles per second, pretty fast! Again the salesman will emphasis the speed of a computer as indicated by the "GHz". Unfortunately this is not true as mostly the speed is determined by other parts of the system that cannot work as fast as the CPU. Anyway 1Ghz is enouhg for most people, unless you are editing a lot of video, in which case the higher the better.

Some computers have more than one CPU, if the have two then they are called dual core. Dual does not make it go twice as fast, again it depends on other things. But dual is the modern thing so buy it.

USB and other connections

USB (Universal Serial Bus) is a way to connect things like iPods, or cameras, or printers to your computer. When they are connected your programs can talk to them an transfer music, load pictures or print. There are a number of different USB plugs and you need the right cable for each peripheral you want to connect.

You can connect lots of things at the same time, so you may want several USB connection on your computer. I fit only has one, no problem, you can buy a cheap "USB Hub" box to expand the number.

There are other types of connection that you may find, for example Firewire - a very fast connection typically for video cameras or audio input/output. Ethernet, again a very fast connection used for connecting to a network, or your internet router. Some very old computers have a "Parallel port" with a clunky plug use to connect old type printers, forget this or buy a new computer.

KB (KeyBoard)

You type on this. It may have many more keys than just the alphabet. Most of them are just to confuse you. The only ones you may find useful are TAB to jump a column in text entry, SHIFT to get Upper Case letters, Control to do special commands.

One interesting thing about the new tablet computers, like the iPad, or the iPod touch or iPhone is that the keyboard is displayed on a touch screen.You type on it by touching the screen. And the layout can change depending on what the program you are running wants you to enter. For example a calculator will have 0-9 keys, but a word processor will have QWERTY keys. This make the touch screen very flexible.


A desktop computer has a connection to a monitor or screen which displays what you are doing. These monitor can be of different size and "clarity". They display characters and videos in a series of very small dots. The number of dots across the screen and down the screen defines the resolution, or the smallest thing you can see, or the clarity of what you display. Screen size is measured across the diagonal of the display area. Sizes vary from 7-10" for a Netbook, 10-17" for laptops, and up to 30" for desktop monitors. Resolution, (the number of dots across) is from 640 to 1920. If you have 640 or so you obviously cannot view well HD TV, you need 1920 for that. 1280 is a good compromise.

Again the salesman will try to sell you the biggest and most expensive. Just take a look at the monitors in the shop and decide which is for you. 20-22" is a good size for desktops, 13-15" for laptops.

File Systems

Ever since the start of time, computers have had what are known as hierarchical file systems. This means a vertical series of "folders or directories" arranged on a HDD, and within them or below them your files and programs. Arranged like an upside-down tree. You may have more than one HDD which will be called, on a Windows machine C:, D: etc. A file on one of these may have the name C:/my Documents/bank/Fax 22-10-08.txt. The last three characters ".txt" tell the system what kind of file this is - a text file. There are many different file types.

It is very easy to create chaos on your computer by not taking great care of the folders you have or that you create and not saving your documents, music etc in the right ones. For example you should keep all the documents about your bank in a folder called My Documents/Bank, obviously.

Things are pretty much the same on an Apple Mac, with "volumes" in place of drives. The volumes have plain names, like "My HDD" or anything you care to name them, which is little easier than "C:". It has similar folders and files. The suffix is not strictly needed on a Mac as it knows secretly what kind is each file, but people use it anyway, to have PC compatibility if nothing else.

The File System on a PC is differently organised to that on a Mac, but you can transfer files easily. If you plug in a USB stick, then take care, a Mac will understand a PC file system, but a PC will NOT understand a Mac file system. So you must format the USB file system as a PC for them both to read the contents of the stick.


If you have got through that lot then you are now officially a "nerd" congratulations. The only thing is you don't need any of it to use a computer, and if you go for one of the new Apple iPads you won't see any of this at all, it just works.