* Posts by Martin Usher

473 posts • joined 8 Dec 2006


So what's the easiest box to hack - Vista, Ubuntu or OS X?

Martin Usher

Its probably a PR stunt

Its another attempt to demonstrate "Look, see, Windows is as good as OS-X and Linux!" (They might shoot for "better" but that's probably too ambitious.)

Top security firm: Phorm is adware

Martin Usher

One small addition to the Dummies' Guide

You're not actually on the Internet proper until you hit a router port in the ISP's Point of Presence. Until then your traffic may be on a variety of links, even the Internet, but its in a tunnel. A point to point link. So running the Adware at the POP is just like installing it on your computer without the hassles of drive-by installs and background reporting of data. And, yes, the POP knows its you -- they do all this so that they can manage your account (you still have to log in with a user name and password).

I don't see what relevance cookies have to this process. I think they're just added to create some noise so that most punters will think they've got control over the process.

Most ISPs encourage users to load their special software -- its usually some hack on IE -- because it "enhances the user experience" (i.e. loads the computer with crud and tells them what you're doing). Enlightened users regard this as just ISP supplied malware and roundfile their software. Phorm is just moving all this BS to where you can't delete it.

BBC's download iPlayer goes titsup

Martin Usher

Content owners have to get realistic

A comment above mentions the 800-900 per year license fee if material wasn't DRMs -- clearly an OTT to try to illustrate a point. The point is that content is only valuable if you can sell it.

I've still got a couple of old rental tapes that I bought used that date back from the late 80s. In those days prerecorded movies cost $80..$120 per tape so it wasn't surprising that demand was low and duplication rife. Once the stuff is ubiquous then its only worth a little -- but you can still make your money from it. The fantasy fee assumes that everyone's interested in broadcasting a show and that they've got an audience to broadcast it to. Its not realistic.

BBC calls DRM cops on iPlayer download party

Martin Usher

Too much material degrades its value

The whole argument about content generators needing to get paid and so on obscures the real issue. Very few people are going to make copies of everything because life is just too short, you just can't consume that much material. Restricting access is all about cutting off sources of old material unless you can monetize it -- you remove the old stuff to make room for the new (or, as is fashionable these days, you extend copyright indefinitely and keep reissuing the same old stuff as 'new').

Most contemporary BBC programming is low budget crap. (IMHO) Its not worth spending the time on. There are some exceptions -- Radio4 still manages to struggle along but compared to streams I can pick up (unencumbered) from the rest of the world its just not worth spending the time and effort on.

Windows better off closed, says Microsoft

Martin Usher

Probably not a good idea...

Looking at Microsoft's source code probably won't tell you anything you didn't know about or suspected already but it will make you party to Microsoft's trade secrets. You'll then be screwed if you try to work on a FOSS project -- Microsoft will just claim IP leakage. After all, if they can claim that Linux violates "hundreds" of their patents without actually citing any of them (even though those patents are published) then they're really going to have fun with the vaguer "trade secrets".

The more I work with FOSS code the more I'm convinced that large parts of the MSFT codebase are obsolete. It reminds me of the later days of vxWorks, something that's had its day but really can't come close to the quality and ease of use of Linux. The only thing MSFT have left is their user interface and media tie-ins (neither of relevance to me -- I do embedded).

I'm not a Linux fanboy, BTW. Its just they've got the better development model. MSFT should really try emulating FOSS methods.

Sony chews the Blu-ray fat with Microsoft

Martin Usher

Never say never

We're being offered FIOS in our city at the moment. This is Fiber Optic to the home and in addition to being the best vehicle for HDTV distribution -- it beats both cable and satellite according to a recent "Consumer Reports" survey -- it offers phone service and 5MBits/sec Internet access rates. (Consumer Reports is the US version of Which? BTW)

IPTV -- TV over the 'net -- isn't like cable, you don't get multiple video streams sent to you, just the one you selected (although you also get low rate feeds of other channels so that when channel flipping it appears like regular cable TV). The selection is made upstream so its trivial to add movies to the choice of streams -- video on demand.

We already have movie downloads on demand in the US through a number of routes including TiVo. TiVo is interesting because it seamlessly integrates live, recorded and downloaded content.

"Never say never" -- downloads of HDTV content are a fact and given the rate its developing it may even be widely available before an economically priced BluRay player.

T-Mobile sinks money into femtocells

Martin Usher

Currently in the US...

...TMobile is supplying one of these units as part of an add-on package to standard cell service. The way it works is that when you're at home your cell calls get routed as VoIP and don't use cell minutes. A call once started on VoIP is charged at this rate even if you leave your base station for the great out doors (but conversely if you are on a cell call and you reach home and the phone switches to your home unit you're still charged as if its a cell call).

Its convenient for two reasons. One is that it allows you to use your cellphone as a landline at home -- no need for any other type of phone. The other is that cell signals in some tracts are a bit weak -- the US is a big place, and operators can't afford to put a tower in every back yard (even if the residents would allow it).

I think its $20 a month extra. They've been doing this locally for about a year.

Terrorist robots dissected - anatomy of a scare

Martin Usher

The FAA's already on top of this.....

The size and performance of planes available to the public is carefully controlled to the "bounce off office buildings" energy levels. Its one of the conditions that allowed GA to restart in the US.

As for using models as weapons delivery systems I suggest you try a low cost experiment first. Go to the hobby store and buy a low cost model plane, a park flier or a combat wing. Then practice flying it through a window frame (without glass, of course). You'll find it rather difficult even when you're right by the frame, but when you master this move the frame one or two hundred meters away. If you still can ace this strap half a pound of lead onto the plane (don't want to get too ambitious). In the unlikely event that the plane gets off the ground then try flying it through the window frame.

I'll guarantee you'll fail this training course.

You could try with a helicopter. They're really difficult to fly, though (and they lift even less).

Like I said, the FAA are up to speed on this. They're not entirely stupid. Politicians, journalists and the like -- anyone's guess.

The best use for models is observation. A lot of the smaller UAVs are models with a high cost "sensor package" attached to it. (Look up "Coularis" on youTube for a home made version...)

Paramount, DreamWorks rip up HD DVD release list

Martin Usher

You just don't get it.....

The whole HD disk saga is yet another instance of corporate imperatives driving the market rather than the other way around. Look around you and you'll see countless examples of this, from Vista being a PoS that had to go out "to make the numbers" to the brush off any time you try to talk to a company's customer service. Whatever we can say about the disk technologies from a consumer's perspective HD-DVD is a better option because its cheaper -- it delivers the same package as BluRay but at a lower price point. It didn't suit the corporate policies, though, so it had to go. Now we all as consumers are going to pay the price. We'll pay again when the corporate people discover that there's still no big rush to high definition disks and they'll probably do what they do with the in-store demos where they show you on a split screen SD and HD -- they deliberately degrade the HD picture (you can see the artifacts, you don't get them in a normal conversion). (I've got my suspicions about 'upconverting' DVD players...)

The point is, do you want to be just grist for the corporate mill? Do you want to accept sub-par performance, extra costs, websites that don't work, degraded experiences -- basically a whole bunch of second rate tat just because you've been sold it as "new and better"? A lot of modern technology is crap, its designed to reduce your choice and turn you into a subscriber, somebody that can reliably contribute to the corporate revenue stream.

Boffin: Coconut jumbo is millstone in disguise

Martin Usher

Nice article

Just about says it all. Its about the best writing I've seen on the subject. The comments about hydrogen are also spot on -- its not a viable fuel unless you combine it with something like carbon because the hydrogen atoms are so small they leak through everything.

From our technical perspective we should be focussing on things like dissuading bosses who insist on F2F meetings, going 'on site' all the time and the like --- "is this journey really necessary?". The same goes for commutes -- we've got to get of hte habit of forcing everyone to turn up at the workplace at exactly the same time. Industrial and office buildings, at the last the ones in the US, make even the least efficient homes seem green (insulation poor to non-existent, large single pane windows, A/C or heating on all the time, computers, lights -- no problem, we pay for it in the lease). We can do so much without having to dramatically change our habits so there's no excuse for not getting started.

Microsoft's LAMP answer arrives in pieces

Martin Usher

Its their culture

Microsoft's business model requires them to be different, not better, so instead of spending their efforts producing stuff that works better than the competitions they product a blizzard of oddball and often half-working products. They could get away with this while the alternatives were either non-existent or too eclectic for most users but now we have these robust, well understood and well supported alternatives Microsoft's stuff is starting to look really weird. Their only recourse is to deliberately make things that don't interoperate which only serves to drive them further into a corner.

There are so many established technologies in the LAMP group that there's just no need for something radically different unless its really different, not just weird. (And the reason why the weird stuff commands higher salaries isn't because its better -- ever worked with Token Ring networking?)

Spammers crack Gmail Captcha

Martin Usher

Age is sometimes the answer

>The audience on El Reg will understand this, but someone who just uses an old Win98 computer for a bit of email and word processing probably wouldn't.

Actually I wish that were the case. Someone who has such a machine and uses it sporadically isn't a threat. Its the people who've got their PC directly attached to their cable or DSL modem who leave the thing up 24/7 that are the problem. There are a lot of people like that out there and many are completely clueless about how computers work. We don't normally move in such circles so when we do have to deal with these users -- as I was recently (an elderly friend) -- its the very devil to get them to understand that when a web page says "you've got malware, click here to remove it" that the last thing you should do is follow those instructions! (Fortunately I've got her system rebuild down to a fine art -- I've been thinking of mirroring her disk so I just have to press the button.......)

As for the CAPTCHA code, I'm almost tempted to have a crack at it myself. This is the kind of puzzle that's fun. But just as cracking encryption is the price you pay for getting better quality encryption all this is going to do is improve the quality of the CAPTCHA algorithms. Its an arms race, and a fun one at that.

Gilligan's bomb: Is it time to panic yet?

Martin Usher

Its still not as easy as it looks

TATP is just one of several quite powerful explosives you can make with common household ingredients. The problem is that you have to make something that works reliably and you have to do this without prematurely killing yourself. That cuts down the field a lot. Even mixing the ingredients for gunpowder, something everyone knows how to make, is tricky -- the mixture may not work or it may work just that bit too well and you lose a few fingers or a hand. (Weedkiller and sugar mixtures are just as dangerous, BTW.)

This article is just common sense. Its not easy being a terrorist unless you can get quantities of commercial explosives. And if you must do homebrew chemistry then you can probably do more damage to society at a much lower risk to yourself by cooking up a batch of methamphetamine in the bathtub.

Incidentally, we had a terrible industrial accident in the US recently that killed about 10 people. The explosion was caused by powered sugar.

Eye-o-Sauron™ man-tracker masts now fully online, says DHS

Martin Usher

Not too many cows in the desert

Its not really cattle country where these people cross. Its desert.

The basic problem that Chertoff et al have not come to grips with is that there's a lot more illegals than there are Border Patrol agents. Its the same mindset that provides unlimited budgets for CCTV systems in English town centers (some that even shout at you) but can't seem to get the budget together for a couple of extra plods to patrol the place.

Virgin biofuel jumbo trials won't use algae

Martin Usher

Will help to give perspective

It'll be quite interesting to see just how much fuel is used and how it relates to land area and crop production. At the moment the disconnect means we don't know just what that transatlantic ticket is worth. Assuming we could use unconverted corn (i.e. 100% efficiency) and a full 747's fuel load of 40 tons then we'd need about 20hA's worth for each transatlantic flight....maybe a year's food supply for a quite large village.

Once we see how obscene it is turning food into fuel then maybe we'll stop. Ethanol isn't a very efficient liquid fuel either -- its not a new thing to use it in engines, it used to be popular for competitions because it didn't detonate at high compression and you could squirt tons of the stuff into the engine where the energy needed to evaporate it kept the engine from melting.

Ofcom cracks down on London pirates

Martin Usher

Low Power FM?

In the US we're allowed to run low power radio transmitters without licenses subject to not interfering with licensed users. Its also quite easy to get a license for a somewhat more powerful station, especially if you're a non-profit.

This interference thing is just so much noise. The government swiped half the FM band anyway, the kinds of transmissions that might use it are legacy (you get a lot better service out of a cellphone) and generally they're more interested in restricting public use than anything else -- all the death and destruction scenarios are just so much hot air.

Home Office opens sex offender files in pilot scheme

Martin Usher

..anybody notice the 'training' bit?

So much job creation for so little effect....

We've (US) got our offenders on-line. Not surprisingly the websites rarely show where they live because they've moved on so you do get the occasional case of mistaken identity (and despite you having to click through a license type page that says you won't use this information for vigilantism and stuff).

I don't go for violence against kids myself but sometimes a smack is the only way to get their attention. You're not trying to hurt them, you're trying to get the little bugger's attention. They're not rational, you see -- its one of the reasons why we don't give 4 year olds driver's licenses.

Former contractor sues Google for $25m

Martin Usher

It he wanted to keep his idea then he should have kept his mouth shut

Says it all, really.

You enter a contract with a company -- I presume its in California -- then you get three or four pages of boilerplate along with the bit with the signatures. If you read it you discover they own you body *and* your soul, the only exceptions being for acknowledged standard techniques (being able to write code, for example) and any inventions or other proprietary tools you list on the sheet that comes with the contract.

I've invented tons of stuff over the years. One or two things may even have been original ideas (i.e. like everyone else I've reinvented numerous wheels). If I got $25mil for every half-baked idea I'd be a very wealthy person...

Armed police swoop on MP3-packing mechanic

Martin Usher

Only arrested

The LASD (the Los Angeles County police force) have shot people (dead) for brandishing a TV remote control. Its now the law in California that toy guns have bright orange parts on them, its an attempt to prevent jumpy cops from accidentally nailing kids (that's happened as well).

...and we're used to the things.

What that lady didn't realize is that a useful sized weapon, something like a 9mm semi-automatic pistol, is a whole lot bigger than a MP3 player. If it were player sized it would probably be chromed or something, more of a fashion statement (!) than a serious weapon.

What's MP3 sized and a weapon is a Taser. In fact they've shown one that has a MP3 player built in (its for the jogging market)(obviously you have to be careful about which bit you stick in your ear).

ISPs demand record biz pays up if cut-off P2P users sue

Martin Usher

The other use for torrents

for the record, I'm one of those users of Bit Torrent who's never used it for downloading music or videos. The media corporations probably overestimate piracy by just assuming that any shortfall between their estimated sales and actual sales is "obviously" a loss due to this cause. It may be because people just aren't interested.

There's a limit to the amount of media that a person can consume. Once they've got to the limit then new stuff is only acceptable if it can displace older stuff. If the older stuff is good then it just doesn't get displaced. Also, we don't need to keep buying the same stuff over and over -- unlike LPs digital media doesn't wear out; I've got all my Led Zep records from 30+ years ago, why do I need to buy them again (and again)? (Could this be a little problem with them coming out of mechanical copyright?)

I am concerned that the media people are in bed with some dodgy types who are planting Trojans and generally carrying on poking around on peoples' systems. These guys obviously think that they can make the law to suit themselves -- they have a God given right to make money and Heaven help anyone who gets between them and their birthright.

Feds, NASA bracelet space shuttle spies

Martin Usher

What a load of C**p!

First up, if I were interested in sabotaging the Chinese space effort I'd be feeding them as much data on the Space Shuttle as I could. Those things are death traps which are just about at the end of their service life. Secondly, the Chinese don't have to steal our technology, we've spent the last decade or more giving them as much of it as we can. (Obviously people who work for the FBI don't have to worry about their jobs being outsourced so they probably haven't figured out what's been going on -- they still think we're the technology leader and everywhere else lives in mud huts.)

What you're really seeing is the disconnect between the government and reality. The government is a large operation with many different pieces and they don't always march in step, much less are synchronized with what's going on in the larger world. So you get these sorts of things -- the pronoucements, the charges, the mounting sentences, but its really the product of some mid to low level official who's been watching to much "24" on TeeVee. The problem for the people caught up in this will be that now the government has put its stake in the ground its going to go into CYA mode, it will never admit it screwed up. (Remember the Chinese spy working at the nuclear research facility a few years ago -- they eventually dropped all the charges but not before he got well screwed by the system.)

Teen hacker re-unlocks Apple's iPhone

Martin Usher

Hasn't Apple got anything better to do?

The title more or less says it all.

Its a pretty device with a nice UI but if the price you have to pay is that you buy it but down own it then its too much for me. I can wait. After all, I think I'll get better functionality out of an EEPC plus Bluetooth to my regular cellphone.

French motorwonk savages hybrid cars

Martin Usher

They are an interim solution...

...because we can't buy diesels in California yet. The problem's not the diesel but the local fuel, it has had too high a sulfur content. We will be able to get our hands on those diesels later this year and then we can enjoy decent mileage figures.

Hybrids get more than their fair share of hype -- these Frenchies are on to something. Some of it is well deserved -- we used to get really good tax breaks and goodies like permits to drive in HOV (carpool) lanes and incentives to drive what are really just slightly oversized golf carts.

UK men would stay out of bed for 50in plasma telly

Martin Usher

Could this be the reason why the missus chose a 52"?

..not plasma, she didn't like the shiny screens, but LCD......

Bunker-nobbling US megabomb test delayed

Martin Usher

We do hit civilians all too often

Its just coming up to the 20th anniversary of the US Navy shooting down an Airbus in the Gulf -- 290 people killed. Its one video that made prime time TV (there was a news crew on board) but its has never surfaced on youTube. (There's some normal news reports but they're just bodies in the water -- clumps of floating babies and stuff -- and somewhat upset relatives and friends at Dubai airport.)

It was an interesting incident because we're still at it 20 years later. I'm actually rather fed up with our government wasting time and energy like this, and this screwup over the "lets build a bigger bomb" and then "oops, does fit in the aircraft, oh well we'll just spend another bunch of cash on it" is just typical. Its no wonder our economy is in the toilet.

Cable cutter nutters chase underwater conspiracies

Martin Usher

So this the Doom bit...

We're always been treated to Domesday scenarios of "What happens when the interweb fails/gets taken over by terrorists/whatever" but now bits of it have failed its proved to be a nuisance but not exactly the end of the world as we know it.

A bit like the famous 2K bug, really.

US Army struggles with Windows to Linux overhaul

Martin Usher

This article doesn't make any sense

I don' t know of any problems interconnecting Microsoft and Linux systems -- provided you keep to the standards. Since you're trying to make a robust system that's also secure there's also a lot to be gained from keeping things relatively simple (a lot of Microsoft's inter-application information sharing and other innovative "features" seem to be accidents waiting to happen).

Microsoft as a company has a poor track record with standards. It can't resist tweaking things, it seems to be a throwback to the early "Hack-DOS" days, with the result that their kit is a pain to work with. This is something you have to put up with in the desktop world because there's so much of it about but its not the way people build reliable embedded systems -- for those there is nothing that Redmond has to offer except a gut feeling of uncertainty about what's going on and when is it likely to crash.

More remote workers squatting next door's broadband

Martin Usher

What a load of C**p!

Its like this story gets planted at regular intervals for a specific purpose -- the language is the giveaway. Users are "hijacking" a neighbor's connection, remote workers are "unconcerned" about security and so on. We, as technical people, should treat this article with the contempt it deserves.

First up, if you don't want your AP to be used by the public, secure it. Some people like the idea of offering connectivity, some don't. The choice is theirs.

Secondly, if you're a remote worker then you're almost certainly using a VPN. If you're using a Windows computer (probably) then the thing should be equipped with decent anti-virus and firewall software to keep probing code out. The VPN should deal with keeping work data confidential.

Thirdly, it is possible for random computers to accidentally connect to a neighbor's connection. It happened to me once with a lab system which, by its nature, was just a 'pure' XP release. It caught a virus in about 20 seconds. I learned my lesson.

Beeb iPlayer gets Firefox-friendly

Martin Usher

What is Television, anyway?

One of those really stupid, glaringly obvious and completely unanswerable questions. I think the UK government and the BBC need to get this figured out before technology leaves them behind. They've had adequate warning -- radio sets once needed licensing but it got dropped because the sheer administrative difficulty of tracking millions of portable radio sets. TVs were left behind because they were a large, fixed, piece of equipment.......but that's not the case any more.....

Boffin shortage will blight Blighty's prosperity

Martin Usher

Look on the bright side

Having an Master's or Doctor's degree in a technical or scientific subject gives you quite the leg up if you want to emigrate.

Software pirates put sizeable dent in UK economy

Martin Usher

Bizrre logic

This whole "costs us x million which translates to y high paying jobs" is so 1970s. Assuming that the piracy numbers were realistic and that everyone paid full retail for their code -- two very big 'ifs' -- then all that would happen is that certain companies would make even more money. They're not going to employ more people because they already have the product ("think about it").

If there wasn't a billion in piracy then the BSA would be out of a job.

Showdown over encryption password in child porn case

Martin Usher

How do you know the file is encrypted?

I would have thought that the police were only guessing that the random data that they see on the computer is an encrypted file containing something incriminating. Unless the suspect was stupid enough to tell them that this is the case, that is.

The safe argument doesn't work. A safe is a secure container for holding things so its mere physical existence is proof that there are things that might be held in it. Random data is just that. Noise. It could be anything. Its only assumed to be child porn in this case because the person they're bothering for the key has been defined as someone they suspect of possessing child porn -- a self fulfilling prophecy.

The argument that "terrorists could hide their activities" doesn't work either. Terrorists already hide their activities, if they didn't they wouldn't be terrorists, they'd be prisoners.

Caught on camera: the Downfall of HD DVD

Martin Usher

Interesting bit of BluRay news today.....

It appears that the early adopters of BluRay have got themselves a boat anchor. In the rush to get the format to market the specification was left incomplete and it appears that even players bought recently cannot be upgraded. In fact the only players that were mentioned as upgradeable were the ones in the PS3 (which figures).

(Source -- BBC.)

By now it must be obvious that BluRay is primarily driven by marketing, not technology or customer needs. That doesn't mean that its not going to be a winner, just that we shouldn't be rejoicing in screwing our customer base. Its the same sort of mindset that continues to push Vista at consumers even though everyone and their dog knows its a lemon. In the rareified world of marketing it doesn't matter if the stuff works, so long as you've got the power to ram the stuff down the consumer's throat (and get them to pay for it) that's all that matters.

The movie was good, though.

US.gov sets Real ID rules in stone

Martin Usher

Non drivers get an ID card

In California the DMV will issue non-drivers with an ID license -- essentially a driver's license that doesn't entitle you to drive.

Its important to remember that REAL ID is that it mandates standards for "government issued IDs" -- it covers more than drivers' licenses. You need this type of ID for many different purposes even today -- to enter Federal buildings, to fly and so on.

Polish teen derails tram after hacking train network

Martin Usher

Trams do it differently

Tram points are controlled by the driver, not some signalman in a remote location, and in the old days they sometimes had to lean out the cab and physically change the setting using a pull cord or something like that. Using an IR remote is a handy upgrade, especially if you live somewhere cold and wet. The problem here is that the kid changed the track setting after the driver had set it, either sending the tram the wrong way or (if its while the vehicle is going over the switch) derailing it.

Its a lot more difficult to do this on a railroad. We have more opportunities to do this in the US because we put sidings off the main track in all sort of remote locations but changing would be vandalism -- you've got to cut locks and things. It might be easier to just unbolt a section of track.

Incidentally, we do use a form of remote control to change traffic signals in the US. Its supposed to be used on emergency vehicles only but due to an oversight it wasn't illegal to have one until recently.

US-Iranian naval clash: Radio trolls probably to blame

Martin Usher

Anyone remember the Vincennes?

Way back in the 80s a US warship that patrolling in the Gulf was hosting a TV news crew. Suddenly there was an alert, something had been launched from Iran and it was heading towards this guided missile destroyer. Much macho professional panic on the bridge as they aquired the target, launched some missiles and took the threat down. Then, in the after-adrenaline come-down someone stopped and thought for a minute -- was it an incoming missile or some regularily scheduled Airbus flight between Iran and Dubai?

The footage ran on the news but has probably disappeared from view by now since it was really bad. Seeing a bunch of kids kill 290 people like that -- but then they were Iranians, not really people.

It seems that not much has changed in the Gulf in a generation. Someone will start a war because they're not capable of stopping and thinking.

YouTube biker clocked at 189mph

Martin Usher

My 2c

That Kawasaki is fast, but not 189mph fast. But it really doesn't matter -- 100, 120, 140, 160mph, all a bit quick for a normal road, no matter what the conditions or time of day. You just have to watch video from the TT races to realize how narrow a road gets at 100+, there's no room to maneuver and no time to react. At least the racers know the course and didn't have to deal with normal traffic.

Everyone thinks the Woodhead video was metric. Possibly. I think not. The giveaway is how the bike reacts to subtle curves in the road. That video ended too soon -- just as it was ending he was approaching a tightening downhill right hander with the (wet) road narrowing and with a vehicle in the way -- and I reckon he was doing 120-130 at the time. The next few seconds would have been interesting.

Warner Bros gives all its hi-def loving to Blu-ray

Martin Usher

"Consumer indifference to HD"

Says it all, really. HD isn't so compelling a technology that you need to spend extra dollars on it (and obsolete your existing kit). Currently the problem is that there aren't enough HD titles and what titles there are are sold or rented at a hefty premium. Since BluRay and single format HD discs are unusable in any other player you pay extra and sacrifice usability to be able to see picture details that are essentially irrelevant.

(BTW -- We have a HD setup with all the trimmings but we usually watch SD discs.)

Hundreds of US fighter aces reassigned as drone pilots

Martin Usher

Its sad....

My daughter had a boyfriend for several years while at college. He was a pilot sponsored by the Air Force, and he did well in his studies. So well that he was one of the just 550 of his senior year to be inducted as a pilot into the USAF. (The vast majority of Air Force types don't get to actually fly planes, you see.) Inside the USAF there's a hierarchy based on training grades, the higher up the pecking order the more choices you get. At the top are the A-10 and fighter (F-22) types. He was interested in flying the F-22.

You can guess how the story develops....you could see it coming even then.....all that training, all those top grades, those rigorous selections to attain the pinnacle of their career -- you get to sit in a cube in an office in Las Vegas driving a laptop. Not unlike the software biz, isn't it? (Now, about that outsourcing.....)

USB 'compact cassette' promises 1980s nostalgia, home taping

Martin Usher

A disappointing product.

For a minute it looked like something you could stuff a USB stick into so you could play your MP3s on the car stereo (I'm too cheap to replace mine with something modern). But its just a case. Surely it would be more cost effective to get an old cassette, cut out a stick sized hole in it and hand it over?

I still have cassettes and a deck (a dual one, no less). I don't listen to them very often but every time I do listen to a tape it gets digitized. (I do the same thing with old video tapes, they get recorded onto DVD as I watch them.)

BTW. Saw a "Disney / Mickey Mouse" stick in the store a couple of days ago. A tiny thing, barely larger than the USB plug, it came with a cartoon head stuck on it and a tiny wristband (obviously meant for 10 and under). It was a gigabyte. Makes one wonder what our elementary school kids are into that needs a gig of storage.....

Car crash driver blames pterodactyl

Martin Usher

I seem to recall a remote control pterodactyl glider....

Yes, but its not practical enough to fly down the street to frighten drivers. It has to be flown off the side of a hill ("slope plane").

If you recall the opening lines from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" -- about driving across the desert when the dinos hit or whatever -- then a more likely explanation is that he was suffering the effects of whatever he washed down with that "minimal amount of alcohol".

The Electric Car Conspiracy ... that never was

Martin Usher

The EV1 was quite practical

I know someone who had one of those things, he drove it until he was forced to give it up. The problem with the EV1 is that it cost practically nothing to own and run -- apart from the lease payment and the occasional set of tires all you paid for was off peak electricity which works out far cheaper than gasoline (about a third of the cost in 2003 prices).

Saturn also made a very innovative compact car, the SL1. This is also a dog from the car company's perspective since it pulls in 33..40mpg (US gallons -- 4 liters to a gallon), typically costs about $35 to service and lasts for ever. (Its the one that has plastic body panels over the box chassis so that you didn't get problems with scratches and dings). It was cheap, too cheap (about $12K5), and it got withdrawn for something more conventional about the time that fuel costs started rising rapidly.

The protection's off, as Warner commits to Amazon

Martin Usher

Apple's DRM is in name only

Probably one of the worst kept consumer secrets is that Apple's DRM seems to be more to keep the labels happy ("We've got DRM") than a technical obstacle to track copying. I notice, for example, that my daughter buys quite a lot of material from iTunes but she has a Zune, not an iPod. The first thing she does -- and everyone else seems to do -- is strip the DRM off because its just a nuisance.

So I expect as the barriers come down Apple will drop the DRM.

How to copyright Michelangelo

Martin Usher

The true face of copyright

Copyright used to be about rewarding the creator of a work for a period of time before the work's ownership became public. Gradually the laws and practices are being altered so that copyright is about ownership in perpetuity. A lot of the arguments about DRM and copyright enforcement overlook this -- its not about rewarding starving musicians, its about the ability of large organizations to own our culture and charge tolls for its use.

The Egyptian government has recently got in on the act, its going to copyright its monuments and stuff. How is anyone's guess, but it obviously has looked at law and practice and feels it can do this and so monetize its property. (The French have long since had a situation where you can't photograph property without permission, they regard building facades as copyright, so this might be where they've got the idea from.)

Its all wrong. Horribly wrong. But there's money involved so there's nothing we can do about it.

FBI preps $1bn biometric database

Martin Usher

Earlobes aren't a joke

The standard picture for the US immigrant visa ("Green Card") used to be a three quarter face view with the earlobe clearly visible. "Pre-computer biometrics"

Do you get the feeling that this whole ID thing was cooked up a long time ago and any debates in legislatures and the like is just window dressing? Its like the science fiction stories with the global network taking over the world, taking over from individual contries, only its not some fantastic computer 'brain' but an effective network of law enforcement and security services. Oh boy, are we screwed or what!

Plunging player prices to reveal Blu-ray vs HD DVD winner?

Martin Usher

But what exactly are you getting for your money?

The whole problem with HD is that you're putting a whole lot of technology in play - with its extra costs - for minimal user benefit. Flat screen displays are an obvious improvement over CRTs, DVDs easily outshine tapes, but what, exactly, are the improvements from the extra resolution? There are two things we overlook. One is that the eye is not a HD device -- SD was designed around the properties of people's eyes. The other is that picture information is hugely redundant, you can fake an acceptable picture by interpolation (the ears, OTOH, are very intolerant of errors). So what you have with HD is largely a marketing exercise, and since its also heavily dependent on modern fads in DRM the technology ceases to be cost effective.

Yes, I have all the crap, the (oversized) 1080p LCD, the HD sources and so on. Its because of this, and because I have had hands on experience working with (digital) television, that I make my assertions. BluRay to me is a dog not because of its technical specs but because its trying to carve a completely new market niche for itself -- its demanding we throw away everything we have that works satisfactorily and buy new (Sony) stuff. Since its coming from the company that's associated with weird propietary formats, rootkits and other marketing driven anti-consumer technologies, what's the point in biting? I get just as good results from the HD-DVD sources and I don't have to junk all my existing kit?

Martin Usher

Usability is the key

SD is going to be around for some time because most households have more than one (SD) DVD player and some have DVD recorders. SD resolution is fine for most smaller TVs, as someone else noted you won't really notice the difference until you get to a 52" screen (and, from experience, even if you've got a 52" with decent upconversion the picture's going to look fine). So the key to acceptability is flexibility and cost. HD-DVD has the advantage (IMO) because of dual format disks. Blu-Ray may store more information (and stream it faster) but this doesn't matter to users, they're only interested in whether the stuff works or not and whether the cost is incremental. You shouldn't have to spend a small fortune on kit just to watch TV and its pointless having spent that money to have to spend even more to duplicate the media so you can use it elsewhere in the house.

One of the interesting things about HD broadcasts is how they've improved the SD feed. Its not the medium, its the source (how many times has this been shown to be true with CDs?).

(The Toshiba players run Linux, BTW. Its kind of odd to have to boot Linux to play a DVD.)

Wikipedia COO was convicted felon

Martin Usher

Come on -- this is an English site

This "convicted felon" business is America-speak. She's probably done some dumb stuff when younger but only in Amerika does it follow you around for life.

German air passenger quaffs litre of vodka

Martin Usher

..and he missed his plane

Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, security.

It almost makes you want to get a liter bottle of vodka, empty it, fill it with mostly water and then quaff it. Stare are the rent-a-moron, smile, and continue boarding.

Rubbish UK management crushing creativity

Martin Usher

Old news.....

This article could be 30,40,50 or even more years old. Its endemic to British culture, anywhere where 'management' is seen as a separate function to 'engineering'.

The history of English industry is full of examples of brilliant work being done on the side, great ideas and sometimes great products, but this success rarely lasts beyond a product generation because the product gets absorbed into the organizational culture and stifled.

Its more or less the same in the US. I've seen more than one startup stumble at the second round of financing where the founders are required to bring in professional management. This brings in the organizational culture (and, as a side effect, greatly increases the run rate (overhead)). The result is as predictable as if it were scripted.


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