Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Whose bits are they?

When i buy digital bits, books, music, films, whose are they?

Are they mine, my own copy to do what I like with - respecting the laws of copyright… or are they just a big library in the sky and what I have bought is just a licence to read, listen or view?

This seems to me to be the core of the issues surrounding big media fighting the consumer today. Big media wants to control the distribution of the bits, consumers want to have them as their own to use as they think fit.

For example,

I buy a DVD, but I cannot get at the bits on it because they are "protected" by some simple encryption called DRM. I can break into this using a software on my computer (Handbrake) but strictly speaking this is illegal under the Digital Economy Act in UK and under various international treaties of the WTO/WIPO, and threatened to be strengthened by the new treaty ACTA which is not yet agreed by the EU, even if the UK government and many others have signed up to the text.

The restrictions about the use of the bits on the DVD, that I must use a licensed DVD player which has inside it the software to decode the encryption, and that the output bits from the DVD to my TV have to be further encrypted over the HDMI cable connecting the two, imposes a severe restriction on the bit I thought I had bought for myself.

Surely there are really just two clear cases:

1 I bought the bits and they are mine to do whatever I want with them. I can pass them to someone else, just as I can give a physical book, or a DVD, providing I don't keep a copy myself, but just move the bits to someone elses computer (to respect copyright).

The music industry is breaking down barriers as they do not today encrypt music and you can download it and they let you do whatever you want with it, except it is still illegal to make a copy for someone else. Again things are breaking down, as a few musicians see making copies as a way of promoting themselves, and attracting people to purchase apermanent copy or CD, or to come to live concerts. So downloading a music file is seen more like listening to it on the Radio.

But this is not happening for movies or books.

2 the bits are not mine, but just 'on loan' like a library book of DVD and I have a licence to read or view, but I must return them in a limited time.

Buying a movie on iTunes is like this, I buy the right to view it provided I start within 30 days, and can view it as many times as I like within 24hours from when I first start. This is controlled by encryption (Apple's Fairplay).

The explosion of ebooks is tightly controlled today, byt the biggest houses (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple) who all impose restrictions by using encryption on what you can do with the bit you "purchase".

So whose bits are they? This issue is just one of the many that is clouding the arguments today about the imposition of 19th century copyright laws in todays world.

Hollywood and studio conglomerates hate progress, now ACTA

Since ever the studios (now merged into a few multi-national conglomerates) have fought against progress, always claiming that they would lose if… while in reality they were, and are, just seeking to maintain their old business models.

1894 invention of 35mm film

1895 motion picture camera

1920's censorship threat fom federal government, studios set up rating system and create MPAA …for 45 years used 35mm film and distributed only to cinemas. MPAA spends $110M/year to deal with innovation

1940's studios own >50% cinemas in USA. Forced to sell under anti-trust laws (26% today). Studios say "its all over"

1950's Cable TV starts. Fight against TV remote controls (channel hopping). Studios say free TV can't compete with paid content, say technology doesn't understand the arts...

1970's The VCR, home rentals. Big objections to VCRs by studios. Say it will starngle their business.

1990's DVDs, Congress pass Digital Millenium Copyright Act, makes copying a DVD you purchased illegal

2000's DVR introduced, increases TV viewing by 20%

2006 Cloud based DVR storage, studios sue to block, lose case

2010 Studios claim on-line "piracy" will put them out of business. Revenue $52.8B 2000 -> $87B 2010!65% of revenue from sources studios originally claimed would put them out of business!

2011 SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) proposed to lawmakers by studios. Gives them unprecedented powers to censor almost any site on the internet (the whole site, not just infringing works). MPAA asks for same kind of powers to censor as in China. Like as "If someone shoplifts your store (uploads infringing works), SOPA allows government to close your store (your web site)".

2012 SOPA withdrawn after huge internet protest, and popular sites blackout. ACTA and TPP continue to roll forward introducing interference with open internet (ISP liability), criminal damages for infringement. Objections starting.

ACTA discussion with my MP

---- email to Tony Baldry, MP for Banbury area

Dear Tony

I read that the UK has agreed at a meeting in Tokyo to sign up to ACTA. If this is the case can I ask why this has had no public debate in UK and in parliament? The treaty is due to be signed in June.

Do you have any response to my previous request about ACTA?

What is your personal position?

Are you in agreement, for example, that your ISP will be allowed to monitor all your emails, web browsing, downloads, etc to check if you are downloading copyright material? Do you agree that such downloading will be a criminal offence, not a civil as today? Is this not a severe restriction of freedom? Just to satisfy an outdated business model relying on copyright and trademarks to profit from creative people's work?


Antony Watts

---- His reply

Dear Antony,

I think there is a fundamental difference between us. You clearly believe that anyone should be free to breach copyright and to download any copyright material. Whereas I believe that copyright is somebody else's property and I see no reason why taking that property does not constitute theft.

No, I do not believe that copyright and trade marks are outmoded business models. As you, in your e-mail, acknowledge they reflect protection for people's creative work, and I see absolutely no justification as to why other people should take some profit from other people's creative work in the way in which you suggest.

Best wishes,


----My reply

Dear Tony

Your email made me a bit cross. I think you are a bit short sighted and not up to speed on the issues.

I absolutely do support that creative people should have a means by which they get rewarded. And I accept that there is illegal copying (not theft as the owner does not lose his work, it is copying! And this is an infringement of his copyright). I do not do any illegal downloading and have paid for everything I have on my computers.

But things are not right, for example when an artists gets 10p payment for a CD that sells for £10, the rest going to the media conglomerates and publishers. So what is happening is:

- the global free flow of digital data is breaking the business models of these goliath's, cutting their traditional sales channels (CD, DVD, Cinemas) and allowing easy convenient home consumption at lower costs and with the potential to offer artists directly a bigger reward.

- For years and years the media industries have fought against progress, VCRs will kill us, Cassette tape will kill us, TV Remotes will kill us etc, etc. But this has not happened. Sales continue to boom. The thing that is "killing" them this time is the internet.

Well while they continue to persue their current business model, where they release CD and DVD in both time and geographic windows, do not offer a quality product (an MP3 is not quality audio), imposed DRM on movies, protect their cinema chains with 1st releases and do not establish direct global consumer sales channels via the internet, they will continue to suffer from what everyone calls "piracy".

The world is global today, if they have a product they should release it world wide. They should seek to meet customer needs. Just look at iTunes, Apple made the sensible move to respect copyright, but they made it easy to meet the needs for the consumer to purchase music and movies, and now they are the biggest distributor in the world. Why Apple and not Universal, Sony, etc? Given a friendly, easy way to purchase what they want people will turn their backs on illegal downloading.

In addition to this the laws on copyright need to be updated for the global digital world, they need to be harmonised, both for artists protection and earnings and for public rights for fair use, etc. For example I do not see that an artists can write one successful song and have it protected for 70 years. No, if he wants to continue to earn money he must continue to work, so 20 years might be a better protection for copyright. And remember that copyright is a monopoly, balanced by rights for the consumer of fair use, etc.

Lastly about the various laws and treaties, any infringement of copyright is between the copyright holder and the person infringing, it has absolutely nothing to do with the delivery chain, i.e. the ISPs and index sites like Google or even Pirate Bay. It is, and always has been, wrong to shoot the messenger. And it is very wrong to make ISPs into policemen and spies.

And on the subject of another curse, DRM, which is used not so much to protect a work as to allow it to be played ONLY on a specific piece of equipment, e.g. a DVD can only be played on a DVD player, and Blue-Ray must go through a encrypted link to a TV... the DRM's which also prevent me from copying the DVD I purchased to my computer media centre to view from there. When I purchase a movie I have it as property, I do not purchase only a licence to view it. Making software that allows me to break such insidious DRM seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable thing to do and I do it all the time.

All these things are against freedom and customer needs, that is what the fight is all about.

...Apart from the issue that ACTA never passed any democratic process, as far as I know you have not debated it in parliament???

I could go on and on about this, but I think you really need to face the facts and get on the right side of consumer support on these issues.


Antony Watts

Monday, 30 January 2012

Its all over now, but this was good

Mr Heston has capitulated and given up his £1M bonus, after a huge protest - 38Degrees got over 80,000 signatures!

So maybe this is what spurred people on to sign up?

IMG 1361

All the same, how many other fat cats are there that are awarding themselves huge salaries quite out of proportion to what they do, what they are worth, or the results they turn in? The financial world is not the only one where these incestuous relationships are allowing this to go on, I see Virgin also has the same problem, and so do the BBC.

Learning Google Sketchup 3D software

Ok so these are my notes as I do the Google Sketchup training…

Google sketch up uses lines and surfaces.

1 A set of closed lines make a surface

Lines and surface

2 You can infer the position of a point to help in lining them up. Click on the start point (green), hover over a point you want to align with (top black), then move to the place you want to end (bottom black). A dot will appear when the new line is aligned with the hover point.

Infer a point

3 When you are on a line your position is shown by various coloured dots.

Green is an end point of a line

Green end point

Cyan is a mid point of a line

Blue midpoint

Red is any other point on the line

Red on line point

4 Draw new constructs to or from existing edges, do NOT draw across other sides


Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 39 35


Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 40 52

5 To make 3D object, you draw a 2D one and pull/push it out.

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 42 53

This can be done with any surface, they can be pushed in (for example to cut a shape out, or pulled out to create a new 3D solid. For example the back surface could be pulled out and an arc added on top:

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 45 09

6 To make a solid a specific size when pulling it out, start the pull, release the maous then type in the size (10', 10", 10cm, 10m). It will snap to this size.

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 48 59

7 You can use inferring to make one thing the same size as another. You draw the first a specific size (see 6), then start to pull out the second, then move your cursor to the face on the first where you will get a blue dot, then click.

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 51 22

8 You can cut opening in a solid by drawing a shape on a side, then pushing it out.

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 13 58 35

9 You can move objects and edges. Select them, then chose the move tool, then move.

Screen Shot 2012 01 30 at 14 01 12

Here the back top edge has been selected then moved down to create a sloping ceiling. And then the whole object has been selected and moved left across the axes. There, that is all for now.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

UK's great financial sector?

We are often told how great our financial sector is, well that's blatantly not true, just have a look at this:

IMG 1362 Of the G10 UK has by far the largest Financial debts. And note how small our government debts are!

The source of this debt arises from the banks having too much capital and too high leverage. The capital has been leeched out of people's pockets by mortgages, credit card loans and down right robbery of insurance savings. The leverage has been allowed to happen because of lack of government regulation.

Both these two causes have to be reversed.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Unemployed? So do something, anything

There is nothing worse than being unemployed today, you feel so useless and unwanted. For so long we have believed that work would come to us, we have failed to relate intellectual challenge and achievement to occupation and fulfilment.

But if you are unemployed their is the HUGE advantage of the internet which is available to day. There is no reason at all why you should not exercise your mind by learning. And that is exactly what you should do, try finance, try programming, try … anything, but keep yourself involved.

After all I am retired but keep active studying and learning about new things (currently 3D design, Reprap machines and Software Defined Radios!). Why not do the same?

Don't just sit around and watch the telly, or lie in bed. This is wasting your life.

Changes needed

Everyone needs something to do. Industrialisation has reduced the labour content of production. So alternative engagement is required. For example study. We could pay people benefits providing they pursue a course of study. Classroom, investigation, hobby, discovery. Out of this we may get a higher level of skills. And we will get happier people. We need to look at how to finance this fully. Instead of 'financial gambling' we need 'people gambling'. Or VC, Startup, Kickstarters.

ACTA - time to react, object

ACTA is an international treaty which has been largely negotiated in secret and outside the WTO/WIPO UN bodies. It aims to protect Intellectual Property, but in doing so may well attack our fundamental freedoms.

ACTA locks-in existing copyright laws making it difficult to revise these, which everybody knows needs doing

ACTA creates two illegalities:

1 copyright infringement and

2 inducement, leading or pushing others, to infringe copyright

This second one is a secondary infringement or secondary liability issue. Under it the VCR may never have existed…cassette tapes either, as they could be seen to induced infringement… and now our web indexers, like even Google, and ISPs come under the spotlight as inducers!

There is also the notion of contributory infringement (when you are more actively involved) this is entirely unclear.

ACTA expands copyright law. Non-commercial file sharing (i.e. copyright infringement - a civil issue) is turned into commercial scale criminal infringement. It also introduces criminal aiding and abetting. Allowing the entertainment industries to off load law enforcement to governments (paid by tax payers!!)

Copyright is a balance of good and bad. It is good to pay artists, bad to allow the entertainment industry to profit from outrageous control of media (release windows, by time and place, control over distribution mediums such as DVD or download, control over personal copying to get your CD or DVD on your computer). And even worse the concept that you do not own a DVD content that you have paid for, just a licence to view it in the way the industry allows you. Ridiculous!

ACTA presents copyright as only good, it talks of enforcement only, and ignores the exceptions (fair use/dealing, public domains, first sale, library loaning…) that make copyright work.

ACTA mandates non-use of tools that break DRM, intended to protect copyright: but this plays directly into the hands of the entertainment industry's business model preventing fair use of works you have purchased (e.g. copy a DVD to computer, photo an artists picture to put in your photo library).

ACTA gives our boarder controllers or bodies like Ofcom rights to examine your computer and confiscate it..but it is very difficult for them to know what is infringing. So it allows the media industry to demand "take downs" without due legal process.

Time to object and force a proper debate about the future of copyright and the way the media industries conduct their business.

Copyright infringement 2

It is illegal to copy a person's original work without their permission, and presumably some payment. This is as it should be within the laws of copyright - with exceptions for critical comment, fair use, library loaning etc. A balanced copyright or legal monopoly.

And in comes the internet and lots of digital works - music, films, TV, etc - which are easily copied, anyone can do it on their PC. Copy CDs to your iTunes library, copy DVDs to your iTunes library (all-be-it with a program that breaks the Digital Rights Management of the DVD). And then in comes the internet, which allows wide distribution of files.

That is where we are. When it comes to copyright infringement no one seems clear who is doing the infringing or if there is such a thing as contributing or promoting infringement. Is the guy standing on the corner selling copies of DVDs infringing, or is it only the guy that made the copies, or is their an offence which he is doing because he is promoting the sales of infringing DVDs?

Let's have a chart of the so called "internet piracy" (I want to make it abundantly clear here that this is not piracy, it is not stealing, the original still exists in the hands of the owner. It is copying, not stealing, piracy is the wrong term for it. And if any infrainging is going on then it is a civil offence not a criminal one).

Screen Shot 2012 01 28 at 11 49 03

To me it is obvious that the person that obtains the first illegal copy from a DVD, a cinema or TV or elsewhere, unless he pays for it is infringing. He is abetting copyright infringement by giving web access to this copy on his web site. And if I go to this web site and copy it to my computer then I am infringing. So the actual infringement occurs at the source, if he doesn't pay, or by me even if he does.

In the middle of all this confusion are some web sites (like Pirate Bay) that index the source sites carrying possibly infringing files. And there are the people that provide the internet, the ISPs, who in no way could be considered infringing, they are just open information providers, innocent pipes.

Now if the owner of the works wants to prosecute anyone for infringement then he has to identify the source and the copier. If the source web site has made illegal copies then he is infringing, even if he gets no hits on his web site. If I download from his web site any material at all, legal or illegal copies, then I am infringing.

The problem for the owners of the works seems to be how to find the people who are putting illegal copies up on their web sites, and who is downloading them. Anything in between is an innocent service. Except if we recognise "aiding infringement" as illegal in which case the web indexes are doing just this.

I don't have a solution to this problem, except to say that it is two things that need attention:

1 The law of copyright. Is it right in this day and age to maintain a law of monopoly that was born centuries ago to give certain people a monopoly? Why should a musician selling 1,000,000 copies of a single CD still make money 70 years after he made it? For sure he should be paid something but not earn money for 70 years doing nothing more!

2 Prevent the entertainment industry exploiting the copyright laws to make a huge business simply based on monopoly. Slicing and dicing (geographical and medium specific) release of works to maximise their income. Why should they be allowed to release a new film in USA, 3-6 months before the UK? Why should they be allowed to release a film for viewing on a DVD player (which legally decodes the DRM) but not provide it for transfer to my hard disk on my computer?

Come on guys, experts, get together on this one. Stop doing stupid things like Hadoopi (France), Digital Economy Act (UK), and even worse the ACTA international treaty. All aimed at stopping distribution of copies of works, not specifically at infringement, all forcing innocent ISPs into monitoring our downloads and checking for infringement… And laws or treaties which also prevent the breaking of "Technological Measures - or DRM" being broken in a truly innocent way when I copy a DVD I purchased to my media centre hard disk.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Amateur Radio

I have taken an interest in Amateur Radio. The plan is to join the local Amateur Radio society (in Banbury Oxon), get a licence, build equipment. Especially my interest will be:

Software Defined Radios.

These are radios which are driven by computer programs running on a PC. I am a MacBook man, but there are a few SDR programs for the Mac so I will try these first. There are also apps for the iPad which I will try out.

Initially I plan to build a receiver, the G0NQE kit (from Kanga Products). This looks fairly simple:

Screen Shot 2012 01 20 at 11 40 25

Next I will tackle a more complicated Transmitter/Receiver, the Softrock Ensemble TXRX (horrible name), this looks like this:

Screen Shot 2012 01 20 at 11 37 01

As you can see there is a lot more to it. Anyway its capabilities are much more.

These SDRs are fascinating

They are so un-like conventional radios, The incoming signals are heterodyned with local oscillator and the result fed to a computer sound input. Then the computer software detects the audio frequencies and allows you to tune along a narrow band.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Copyright infringement 1

I am trying to get my head around the issue of copyright infringement. The OWNER of the work owns the copyright.. OK, this gives him the right to issue copies or allow viewing/listening and to licence this to another.

I can obtain permission to copy (that means to buy) the work from the owner. Such copies are widely available from legal sources, like Amazon, iTunes, etc.

But I can today get a copy of the work from another source, an illegal web site hosting an illegal copy it somehow obtained. I can find this illegal copy using a search engine or a site dedicated to indexing illegal sites.

Here my diagram which tries to illustrate this:

Screen Shot 2012 01 19 at 11 02 45

Rest of the internet - this is every other site I can access

ISP - this is my Internet Service Provider who provides my physical connection, resolves my requests and goes and gets the things I ask for (web pages, files to download, etc)

Search engine - typically Google, Bing, etc. Almost essential tools that index the internet and allow us to find things

Pirate index - a site that creates an index of where you can find illegally hosted works, e.g. Pirate Bay

Host - the offending site which hold illegal copies of copyright worka, and makes them available for downloading

Owner - the owner of the copyrighted work, who can sell it to me.

The Issues

Owners want to stop Hosts from offering illegal copies of the copyright works. To do this they are trying to get government to pass laws banning Pirate indexes, links to them and links to Hosts, they are also asking my ISP to participate in this and block my access to the Hosts.

Sounds OK, but what are the issues.

1 The ISP becomes a law enforcer, and the way the laws are being proposed they can be asked to block my access without due court process, just on request of copyright owners. This is not the basis of our laws "innocent before being proved guilty"

2 If, as the Americans propose, the way to implement this is by interfering with the way the internet actually works. When you type in www.apple.com the ISP has a DNS (Domain Name Server) look up the computers number - its Internet Protocol or IP number - like 172.114.378.388, which is what is actually used by the net to feed your request to the requested site. The site then sends the information you want back to you at your IP address.

3 But who owns the work, the Owner, and who obtains the illegal copy, Me. So the legal claim is between the owner and me. It has nothing to do with the system or "messenger" that delivered the work to me. So sue me. End of story?

4 One other issue, a commercial one, comes up. Many of the copyrights of works are owned by old fashioned companies with old business models. For example film studios, that set both geographic and time windows for the permission to display their work (e.g. Cinemas for the first 6 months, DVD next and Web downloads last, or limits to USA first, UK second, etc).

This begs the question that the owners complaints about illegal downloads are more about sustaining their old business model, rather than protecting artists, who many think they pay miserable rights to anyway… And many feel that they are not innovating their delivery channels to meet today's consumers needs, to protect their profits.

Anyone interested should investigate the USA SOPA proposals, and the world's secret treaty proposal called ACTA. Also have a look at UK's Digital Economy Act and Frances Hadopi.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

OK Its black-out day

As a protest against the copyright wars against freedom of speech and association many web sites will black out tomorrow, 18th Jan 2012. This attack is being made in the USA by proposing laws which will affect the internet world-wide, it is made by the media industries simply because they have failed to re-build there business models to reflect today's information sharing society.

They must be forced to realise they cannot derive us of our freedom just because there business model depends on copyright, extention and enforcement, not on service to the consumer. This is my contribution. A reproduction of Wikipedia's front page: Wikipedia SOPA Blackout Design

Friday, 13 January 2012


Do all graves face East. These do.

Graveyard Wardinton UK

This photo is of the graveyard at Wardington, UK

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Marching in the wrong direction - Copyright re-examined

This is really a summary of an article by Cory Doctorow (See boingboing.net). I don't claim any original ideas in this, but I do strongly agree with the arguments.

Two things we have

General purpose computers and the open internet. Society finds it difficult to have these wonderful intellectual tools around and use them. Why? Copyright.

Copyright wars are threatening the general purpose computer (let's say this is one that will run any program you want and do anything you tell it to do, no restrictions). The first threat to the open use of your computer came from DRM.

DRM grew in different ways: dongles needed to run a program, passwords. This failed because it was unpopular and because it reduced the usefulness of the software (think of a music track that would only play if a dongle was plugged in, a backup that wouldn't work at all…). Pirates quickly overcame the dongle by hacking the software and how to do this spread rapidly over the internet. Game over.

Then we had the idea of "an information economy". This could only work if some form of control was placed on the use of the information: pay €1 to rent a movie, buy a book but not lend it without further payment… and then you could sell movies and books for different prices in different countries, and so on.

This brings five problems that invented DRM:

- how to stop people moving a file from one device to another?

- how to encrypt the file so that a special program is needed to use it?

- how to stop the user saving the file while it is un-encrypted

- how to stop users discovering the keys?

- how to stop users sharing this knowledge with others?

In 1996 we had a solution: the over-arching UN's World Intellectual Property Organisations "Copyright Treaty". This made it illegal to extract secrets from unlocking programs, illegal to extract media from the protecting programs, illegal to tell others how to extract secrets and illegal to host copyrighted works or the secrets. It also created a shortcut process to remove stuff from the internet, without lawyers, judges, court orders etc. Mission Accomplished!

But no. WIPO created more problems than it solved. It made it illegal to look inside your computer while it was running, it allowed anyone to censor material on the internet on request without the courts saying anything was wrong. What happened is that reality did not conform, and copying just got easier. Broad regulations were disastrous in their implementation.

A test of whether a regulation is fit for purpose is 1) will it work, 2) will it have effects on everything else? The general purpose computer cannot be limited in this way, nor can the open internet. They have to go!!! Which is not what any of us wants. [Stop computers running Handbrake to copy DVDs, prevent web access to piratebay.com…). It all is an attack on fundamental freedom and inter-reaction. It does not prevent copyright infringement as people always find a way round anything that blocks freedom.

Yet the attack goes on in many ways attempts are being made to restrict the use of your PC and now governments are attacking the fundamental structure of the internet (the USA Stop Online Piracy Act, now being debated and sternly supported by the Motion Picture Association of America, the very ones whose business model depends on the exploitation of copyright). But these attempts at lawmaking are not the problem or the solution, The problem is copyright itself. Copyright prevents computation. This is the real war. To preserve Top 40 music, reality TV shows, bad movies, etc?

Why does this happen? Because copyright is not taken seriously by politicians. They rush through un-discussed and little understood legislation (e.g. UK's Digital Economy Act) time and time again. Or they write secret treaties like ACTA and try to smuggle it though without democratic process.

We live in a world made of computers and communications: you cannot legislate against that without destroying progress. The approach of "you can't make a general purpose computer that does not run certain programs, you cannot send files over the internet if it upsets us", is a none starter.

The copyright war, and its use to protect so-called "creative industries" (who get paid for a life time for one product they made in a couple of days and which support parasitic industries like media conglomerates, but does little for artists…) has to be won to keep our freedom. We have to use our tools - GP computers and the open internet - to shape the moral behaviour in society, giving support to the creative artists but reforming the media industry, not agree to restrict their utility.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

TV is not a big monitor

There is a very stupid trend among TV makers, extolled at 2012 CES show, that all the TV has to do is have web access to be the next big thing. But this is stupid. It is the reason why the first Google TV failed, and why the next generation will also fail.

There are two reasons:

1 TV is a group activity, so you cannot have just one person clicking around web sites while others watch. It is as bad as someone flicking the TV remote, much to the frustration of everyone else in the room - I know my son does this! And so do I, muting the sound during adverts!

2 There is a good cause for using the TV for internet delivery of media. This could be the one thing that will finally drive the studios to be much more open about their product's delivery.

Today we still suffer from what is called "piracy" of movies and music. But the solution is a more open, and global, delivery system with reasonable charges. Make it easy to get the product, and charge an acceptable price, simple marketing. This is why iTunes music has succeeded. But not yet iTunes movies and TV shows as the studios only release them after it has done the rounds of theatres and DVDs and there is lots more diversity in this market, competing companies, no global players, local TV jealously guarding its product, free TV, yes you the BBC…. parasites like Sky... But things are slowly changing and the advent of TVs being able to view streamed internet programs will increase the pressure on studios to get behind this new global trend.

Note that I said "Global" and "Open". These are two very important concepts. Especially for artists and creative people, they want to reach the world and open their art to everyone. It is the studios and copyright slice-and-dice exploitation that prevents this. The huge studio monoliths have to be broken up and dragged screaming into the 21st century and made to adopt a new delivery channels.

So what should an internet connected TV be? For sure not just a dumb terminal, able to browse YouTube or the BBC iPlayer web site. No, it needs to be part of an eco-system. Where there is transparency between viewing broadcast programs and internet delivered ones. Individual users in the same room have to have separate access at the same time to the internet or alternative channels.

In other words a room with a 50" display, but individual iPads for each person, all linked and all independent. If you want to link your iPad to the actual program being watched then you can, and it will be available for further reading about the program's content, for example statistics during "question Time" that illustrate or contradict a speakers claims. Or back stage cameos of films, or information about the historic times represented, or about the actors… hundreds of possibilities, but linked. Or the iPad can be unlinked and individuals can read their emails while the telly is on. And, by the way, the iPad will be the TV remote, not those stupid, button hungry things we have today.

So there, that's what I think. Let's see how it pans out. Apple bring it on.

Monday, 9 January 2012

3D printing

Get with it!

3D printing is the new in hobby! My son has decided that he would like to try it, and we have together surveyed the available machines, there are quite a few of them. They come in three or four styles.


The activity called "reprap" (see www.reprap.org), which is short for self replication machines, started at Bath University in UK. Here they have made a number of generations of the machines: they call them Darwin, Huxley and Mendel. Each machine is used to make the parts for the next and so on. There is an off-shoot of the latest called Mendel Prusa and this is the model we have chosen. In the USA there is another style of printers, not intended to be replicating and based not on a sort of wire frame construction, but made in a box-like structure. The biggest maker here is Makerbot.

The Mendel Prusa we have chosen has a trade name of Longboat Prusa and is available from www.thereprapkitstore.co.uk. Here's a picture:

Screen Shot 2012 01 09 at 13 25 49

Software CAD

But before going ahead I wanted to investigate what software is used. This is a minefield of very expensive commercial CAD packages, the best being Solidworks, and a few freebies. Among the freebies is a package by Google called Sketchup.

I should mention here that I use a Mac, and quite a few programs are Windows PC only, so take care.

Sketchup supports only its native "SKP" and Collada "DAE" input/output formats. So a couple of plug-ins are needed to support STL, which is used by most of the 3D community (see www.thingyverse.com). The plugins are "jf_stl_importer.rb" (STL import) and "skp_to_dxf.rb" (for STL export).

There is another Sketchup to STL convertor called CADspan, which when installed gives a new menu toolbox in Sketchup which allows you to upload your Sketchup model, process it and download the corresponding STL file from the web. This maybe useful if the export plug-ins have problems handling your model.

One word about STL files. They work with an abstract dimension unit and you have to specify at export and import what is your measurement basis, e.g. 1 unit = 1mm. So take care.

Software slicer

The STL file of your model has to be sliced up for printing, as your printer lays down the model in layers. For this there is a free, but complex program called "Skeinforge". Fortunately there is a derivative of Skeinforge, called ReplicatorG which provides an ugly but functional graphic front end, and has drivers for a number of the 3D printers on the market, manufacturers also provide their own drivers.

ReplicatorG produces an output called "Gcode" which is a CAD/CAM standard. This is in turn sent to your printer over a USB connection to a small on-board computer on the machine and so on to drive series of stepper motors to move the X,Y,Z axes and deliver the liquid plastic through a nozzle to make the print.

The small printer computers, the interface between the USB port and the steppers, and their associated firmwares are made in three main models, Sanginoulu, RAMPS and Gen3,6,7. There is not a lot to chose between them as far as I can see. Anyway you just use the one delivered with your machine. Each uses an Arduino computer board, but with different stepper drivers.

So far

There, that is all I've learnt so far. Now I wait to see if my son buys the machine. Then it will be installed in my study as he has only a small cottage and two kids to fill it up. Then the fun starts as we try to make something, the problem is what...