Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Red Ken still refuses to apologise

Good ol' Red Ken! London mayor Ken Livingstone has refused to apologise to the Daily Mail group and their London paper The Evening Standard for likening their rude Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp.

And in his statement he attacked The Daily Mail group for being anti-semitism for half a century. It was the most fascist paper in the 1930s. With time their targets changed to blacks and Irish. And today their main targets are muslims and asylum seekers.

76% of public correspondence to the mayor has been supportive of his stance. An online Guardian voting pool shows 75% of readers support the mayor and a CNN pool shows roughly 64% in support.

Tony Blair has urged the mayor to apologise - but I think the PM should apologise for lying to the World on Iraq first before even thinking of asking the mayor to apologise.

Source: BBC News

Opinion: The MP3 format

A couple of months ago I was travelling on the Jubilee Line to East London to visit a friend when a lady stood in front of me. Dangling from her ears was this white coloured earphones connected to a 3rd generation white iPod.

Just a few minutes before, I was explaining to my girlfriend on the culture of iPod users especially on the tube and how most of them are caught up in the whole iPod hype and trend thing. Anyway, this lady who is in her late 20s had her iPod in her tote. Now there is nothing wrong with that – except what she did later.

For no apparent reason, she removed her iPod from her beige tote. Most people would do that to check the music title, or change a track or increase the volume. But she did not. She held the piece of gadgetry on her hand, in full view of any potential London pod-snatchers.

Amazingly, just opposite her was a Daily Telegraph reader in black suit listening to his iPod. The gentlement probably sensing a need to show his techie side, started showing off his iPod as well. By constantly fidgeting and readjusting his white ear buds he had an excellent excuse to flaunt his expensive toy. Now, the sight really amused me because he was using a fairly feminine iPod Mini.

It got me thinking. Evidently these people seems to be enjoying their music – because why suffer bad music just to show of a piece of kit? Wouldn’t it be cool if we were able to swap tracks? Of course not because the iPod has no means of communicating with other iPods let alone other portable devices.

Back then I had an iPAQ and my girlfriend uses a palmOne Tungsten T3. Both of us would store our tracks on 512Mb SD cards (we both have 1 GB cards now). This would be no problem if the iPod had a memory card slot like some Archos digital music players.

The problem lies with the fact that my music collections are stored in a slightly geeky format called OggVorbis. I could play his tracks (if there is a way to extract them) but he wouldn’t be able to open mine. Similarly if his tracks were bought from Apple iTunes websites, my player couldn’t cope with protected AAC files. Oh, I am sure he has some vanilla MP3s. My device is capable of playing those. But do I really want to?

MP3 was originally developed in 1988. It was adopted as a standard by the Motion Picture Experts Group (Mpeg) as ISO-Mpeg Audio Layer-3. Mpeg is the sort of group that determines the future of mankind and how often we empty our wallets for a new video standard (currently it’s the future of High Definition formats). Back then MP3 was mainly used by spotty nerds who looking for ways to accumulate large quantities of music on their computers. Frequencies that can not be heard by the human ear are dispensed with. That was why MP3 files were small. It was a revolutionary file format.

The mainstream finally caught up with MP3 during the late 1990s when 33k modems made the internet fast enough for file sharing. Most celebrated was a service called Napster which was the most popular file-sharing software. You may remember them being mentioned in certain music presses being sued by a certain aging 'metal' band.

Even when Napster was shut down, MP3 continue to be the digital music format favoured by internet users. A quick search on KaZaa would reveal that the majority of albums traded are encoded in MP3 format. And I blame my fellow ‘techies’ at pretend magazines like T3 and Stuff for this.

Why? Because MP3 was the preferred journalistic term during the rise and fall of the old’ Napster. The term was embedded into the public’s consciousness then. MP3 was ideally technical sounding, yet still easy enough to be understood by the press. MP3 is digital music. And for the past two years, the iPod is its only player.

Of course you and I know that there are far better formats out there that are able to produce tracks at a much higher quality than MP3. And most of them are free. The only saving grace for MP3 is it does not contain any form of digital rights management (DRM).

You see, the way DRM is supposed to work is that a protective copyright layer is inserted into music files. This wrapper contains restrictions that the music labels apply on protected tracks. iPod owners who purchase their music from iTunes will receive their files in AAC format. And hear this – the AAC files, wrapped with Apple’s FairPlay proprietary DRM, can only be played on Apple’s iPod products. Even the number of times a playlist can be burned to a CD is limited to seven. But it is easy to avoid both DRM and MP3.

Pretty much all audio files we purchase in the future will be protected by some form of DRM. Currently the DRM initiatives in place are a complete mess with competing audio formats fighting to be the new MP3. If you purchased your music from MSN SonicSelector, you will need a portable music player that is capable of playing protected WMA files. Worryingly some players that are capable of playing proper WMA won’t play protected WMA files. Other services like Sony’s Connect are even more perplexing. Tracks downloaded from Connect contain fairly liberal DRM restrictions allowing users to copy them up to seven CDs and 15 portable (only Sony or Aiwa) players. It is possible to transfer songs to two other computers but you will lose their portable device transfer and CD burning privilege.

Which is ridiculous! Music labels should be persuaded to change their whole business model of making money (they earn 75 cents for every 99 cent iTunes download). If they don’t, only a second Napster might do the trick.

Personally I would avoid purchasing music from any online download store – for now. iTunes might offer cheaper albums (usually between £7.99 to £9.99) compared to physical albums, you will still be receiving compressed audio files that have already lost some of its quality, contain restrictions and incompatibility with other players. For the extra few quid I believe one should invest in CDs that at least guarantee the highest compatibility with existing and future digital music players. Do not get me wrong, I think the concept of music download store is excellent – but only if they drive down the price and liberated them of DRM.

For archiving, I always advise people to encode their files in the Windows Media Audio 9 lossless format. This format provides the highest fidelity of any digital music format. Of course you are going to need to invest in a pretty large hard drive (200-400Mb per album) but with prices of hard drives as cheap as chips these days it is a none issue.

You can then simply convert your files to smaller files in any format (minus the DRM) using freeware utilities such as dbPowerAMP or the classic AudioGrabber. If you feel that by using WMA you are giving support to the malevolent Microsoft empire then archiving in other formats such as MP4 or OggVorbis is fine. Just make sure you encode them at the highest bitrates as some lost of quality is expected.

The issue of DRM is in the people’s hand now. Consumers must vote with their wallet to make sure music bought today can continue to be played in the future. Personally I feel the issue of Apple locking its iTunes tracks from playing on competitor’s products is to protect its iPod monopoly. This is illegal and must be dealt with to protect consumer rights.

As for MP3, it will stay with us for some time even if it is just the term. I know MP3 has come a long way with LAME MP3 encoder pretty much giving satisfactory results. I do hope that we will not be using this old and cryptic audio format for much longer. I just wish companies like Apple and Creative will sit down and decide to adopt or at least give us the option to the best formats available - or better yet just give us the option to use any formats out there.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time mini-review

Star Ocean: Till the End of Time is the third game in the main Star Ocean series and is published by the newly formed Square Enix company (though developed at Enix before the merger). The PAL version is based on the Director's Cut.

The game is developed by tri-Ace whom are not as well known in the West as their titles are mainly niche Japanese role playing game (JRPG). They also developed the original Star Ocean and Enix's very rare and underrated Valkyrie Profile game. It isn't necessary to play the other games in the series as Star Ocean 3 has a complete narrative by itself separate from the series, rather much like each Final Fantasy games has its own different set of characters and locations.

The combat here is in real time different from many RPG titles which uses turn based mechanics. The closest I can describe is that it plays rather like Valkyrie Profile, but a friend of mine says that it is more like .hack. I never played .hack (should I?), so I don't know, but right now the closest I have ever played to an action based RPG is Valkyrie Profile. Like all RPG, EXP can be gained from defeating enemies and stats can be improved over time through levelling up. Combat is in real time and you can run around hacking and slashing.

Star Ocean 3 story first begins in the imaginary planet of Hyda IV resort (similar to the resort where Bruce Willis visited in The Fifth Element), where Fayt Leingod, the games protagoninst, is on holiday with his family. While there an alien race the Vendeen Empire attacks the planet which triggers a war. Fayt manages to escape with his friends but his parents were separated. Consequently Fayt was also separated from his friend when his ship was attacked. The plotline is very compelling and different from many usual RPG games.

The graphics are very impressive for the PS2 although it falls short of challenging even the smallest budget PC game out there. Characters are deformed though nothing like Final Fantasy VII. Polygons are visible and characters more or less appear like dolls on the screen. Locations on the other hand are beautiful with the futuristic sci-fi setting detailed and believable, though nothing comes close to being realistic. Voice acting is minimal and can get annoying during battle as they scream around.

This is a wonderful game that truly deserves an enthusiast attention. If you are a gamer heavily into good storyline as well as a RPG fan, then you should check this out.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

EU Software Patent Law Faces Axe

European Parliament politicians has rejected a bill that would have allowed softwares to be patented. Which is fantastic news. The bill would now have to go back through consultation and might be binned altogether. Copyrights are sufficient enough to deal with intellectual property.

However the battle is not over. According to this ZDNet news piece, the European Commission may actually ignore the requests by the MEPs to restart it. The EC is under no obligations to follow the directives issued by the European Parliament so we still might see some humps before this mad bill gets scraped.

Source: BBC News

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Ken is right!

London Mayor Ken Livingstone's has been criticised for his remarks to an Evening Standard journalist. Ken has likened the journalist to a "concentration camp guard". The journo who is Jewish immediately played the race card and accused the Mayor of being a racist and promoting anti-Semitism.

Now this is all bollocks! Personally I do not think Ken should apologies for his remarks. I don't think its offensive at all. Just because the reporter is a Jew does not mean he is allowed to get away with rudeness. His remark stemmed from his frustration of the treatment he was receiving from the reporter. Just because a person is Jewish or Black or Chinese, does not mean you have to be nice to them! Its political correctness gone mad!

And latest news is Blair has joined the anti-Ken bandwagone by joining his fellow Right Wingers in demanding an apology. Well Blair, wasn't it your party who put out those 'anti-Semitism' posters out that causes so much outrage (which I did not understand myself). And why don't you apologise for taking your country to an illegal war based on lies?

Here is Blair's statment (Source: BBC News):

"A lot of us in politics get angry with journalists from time to time, but in the circumstances, and to the journalist because he was a Jewish journalist, yes, he should apologise,"

Now if there is something wrong with that statment above is that the PM stated that Ken should apologise to the journo because he is Jewish. Wot? You mean not because he called him a Nazi. So its alright to attack someone as a Nazi but not okay if he is Jewish. What bollocks.

In fact the whole 'concentration camp guard' issue is totally bullshit. Why? Because being likened as a concentration camp guard does not mean one is likened as a Nazi. In fact the term concentration camp was first used by the British military during the Second Boer War in South Africa over a hundred years ago long before the Nazi party was founded.

Anyway here is the transcript on ThisisLondon (Evenind Standard sister website). As you can see Finegold (the reporter) does not seem offended by Ken's remark. In fact he sounded happy that he finally caught a soundbite that could further his career in the right wing press.

PR wise this thing is a blow to the paper and their sister daily The Daily Mail. Most Londoners agree that Ken should not apologise.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

i-mate Jam touchscreen problem

Been experiencing this problem myself where the digitizer would go haywire. Check out this Compact Jam for some tips on how to fix the problem temporarily. My advice is if its getting so bad, send it in for repair or better yet demand i-mate to send a new one.

Mine is getting worse and I have sent i-mate an e-mail detailing the problem. This is not an isolated case and as with all other HTC products - digitizer problems are very common on HTC built PDAs.

Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Cell - Intel chip killer unveiled

Information regarding the Cell chip has been released by IBM, Sony Corporation, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SEC) and Toshiba Corporation.

An example of one of the eight SPEs on the Cell chip (Source: Electronic Weekly)

The multicore chip has eight synergistic processors and is OS independant meaning it could work on a multiple of devices including consumer products like televisions and mobile phones (providing the issue of heat and size is tackled first).

Cell chip - you can see all eight SPEs on this multicore chip (Source: Eectronic Weekly)

These are the facts on the prototype Cell chip:

- Multicore architecture (nine core)
- Contains a single PowerPC chip with eight synergistic processors with 128 entry 128-bit register file and 256k cache per SPE
- Contains 64-bit Power Architecture with VMX (dual thread SMT)
- 2.5Mb on chip memory (PowerPC 32kb L1-Cache, 512kb L2-Cache and 256kb per SPE)
- 234 million transistors
- 221 mm2 die size
- Fabricated with 90nm SOI process technology
- 256 billion calculations per second
- 100 gigabytes per second processor bandwidth
- 4Ghz clock speed and above
- Memory interface by Rambus

The chips will initially be fabricated in IBM's 300mm fab plant in New York followed by Sony's Nagasaki Fab this year. Among the first consumer products to feature the chip would be Sony's Playstation 3 and IBM's powerful workstations.

Cell chip (Source: Tomshardware)

Source: SlashDot.org, GamesIndustry.biz, Electronic Weekly

Saturday, February 5, 2005

Girls Fined for Giving Cookies to Neighbours

What do you get if you deciced to bake cookies for your neighbours? Get sued that's what!

Two teenage girls decided one evening to skip one summer's evening dance and stayed home baking cookies for their neighbours. They left half a dozen choc-chip cookies for a middle aged lady with a note 'Have a great night."

The 49 yead old women named Wanita Renea Young became terrified by the knocks on her door around 10.30pm (This is America we are talking about so its no surprise that some of them are so scared of terrorists trying to terrorized them at night).

She ended up in hospital and decided to sue the young girls. And she won! The two teenage girls were ordered to pay US$900.

Man, I am glad I am not a resident of a sue happy country.

Denver Post, MSNBC