Saturday 28 April 2007

Stuff from this week #6

Kylie to star in Dr Who! Apparently she will be a cyberwoman (perhaps with an Aussie accent “G'day, you will be deleted, maaate!”)

Hmmm, I am also wondering when the ABC will show the new season of Dr Who here. My guess is Sunday night at 7.30 after Robin Hood finishes (mid July I think) as the Saturday night slot is now taken by The Sideshow (not sure how long that will go for).

Plasma Pong. Whoa! An interesting take on this old game :)

Amazon is hoping to sell non-DRM songs in its digital music store (and not just ones from EMI). Apple has also let all its iTunes partners know they can sell higher quality and DRM free songs from May.

Hubble had its 17th birthday on the 24th April. Despite its troubled beginnings it has turned out to be a big success. 500,000 images in 17 years!

Another Exoplanet planet has been discovered by the European Southern Observatory, interestingly this is the first one that is in the habitable zone...

Sunday 22 April 2007

Stuff from this week #5

15-year old pretends to be the ABC and gets the Chaser's content removed from YouTube. Funny bit is the ABC does not mind it being there! The kid has since apologised.

Australia is in big trouble with the Murray-Darling water system having very little water. Hopefully this will force a rethink on some crops grown which use too much water such as rice and cotton. Also mining out in the west of NSW uses a lot of water too. Perhaps there is opportunity to move to recycling more water for the townships.

Customers are not happy with Microsoft Vista. Dell has changed their policy and is now allowing users to specify Windows XP instead of Vista.

Consortium wants to build a tunnel under the Bering Strait linking Alaska and Russia.

Saturday 21 April 2007

DRM, AAC and iTunes Store lock-in

Onto my first opinion post. Originally when the EMI/DRM news came out I was going to do a post (albeit shorter than this one) all about that. Well in the end I never finished and it ended up as only a couple of lines in my weekly stuff. Since then I have heard and read quite a few media reports on this and most seem to be treating Apple as though they are the Microsoft of music. I think that is completely wrong, so I wrote this new article :)

Now before going into the article it is worth noting that I have owned 4 Macs (2 still in use), Ruby and I each have an iPod and I have purchased tracks from the iTunes Store. So, yeah, I do like my Apple stuff. Hopefully this will come across as a balanced article and not too much of an Apple fanatic...

Digital Rights Management

I think the announcement by EMI and Apple that all their tracks will be available in May DRM free is really big news. To me this is the beginning of the end of DRM. I really don't like DRM as it restricts what you can do with your music and treats you as if you are a thief. This does not really encourage me to buy new music!! I can buy a CD, play it in my car at home or rip it and put it on my iPod, Phone or mp3 player. With Apple's DRM (called Fairplay) I am restricted to playing only in iTunes or on an iPod. However, it is worth noting there are a couple of simple ways to get around this (not that I have bothered).

Now some of the media reports on this announcement have been interesting as well as a bit misleading. They have focussed on the fact that price of individual songs has increase by 30% (this is for the US store, the Australian price has not yet been announced). Some have mentioned that the quality of the songs has doubled. However, very few have noticed that the prices of complete albums has NOT increased.

AAC files and iTunes Store lock-in

Another thing many of the media reports have been focussing on is that Apple's iTunes store locks you into using an iPod and the change in DRM makes no difference to this. Apple does not use the MP3 format for the iTunes Store (though the iPod can happily play MP3s), instead it uses AAC. Now many in the media seem to think this is an Apple only format (Apple Audio perhaps!). It is not an Apple format, AAC is an international standard just like MP3 and can even be thought of as a successor to MP3 (have a look at John Gruber's excellent post on AAC for a good explanation). Other devices apart from the iPod can also play AAC like the Sony PSP and PS3, Sony Ericsson phones , some Nokia phones and the Xbox 360.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple do not want to control music. What a lot of people forget is Apple makes most of their money of hardware sales (Mac or iPod) as these have a generous margin. Apple instead uses innovative software solutions (such as the iTunes Store, Mac OS X, iMovie or Final Cut Pro) to help drive software sales. It is also worth noting that the iTunes Store makes very little profit.

It is also worth reading Steve Job's Thoughts on Music essay. Also, this announcement from EMI is not just restricted to Apple's iTunes Store (see this Q&A transcript). EMI has made the DRM free tracks are available to any of the other digital music stores.

So its really great that we can now buy some digital music with DRM removed! However, this is only the first step, its time for the other large music companies to follow suit. Oh and hopefully EMI will soon make the Beatles catalog available too :)

Saturday 14 April 2007

Stuff from this week #4

5th paying space tourist arrives at ISS.

Apple has now sold its 100 millionth iPod. Only took them 5 1/2 years! Worth noting that Sony sold 350 million Walkmans over 15 years and that the sales of iPods have been accelerating...

Next update to Mac OS X has been delayed until October.

RTA gives up on priority traffic light system for busses on the North-West T-Way. This system would have been a good idea, allowing busses to get green lights all the way, now the RTA wants to wait until a Sydney-wide system is implemented in 2009. Knowing how things work the Sydney-wide system will be delayed a year or 18 months. You would be better to bring this system online and gradually work on other parts.

Daylight savings to be increased!! Nooooo! This is a bad idea. If anything it should be reduced back to the first weekend in March, the extra week will mean getting up in darkness and having very little extra light in the evening.

John Howard says Work Choices has increased jobs. What a bunch of crap, there is no way this can be reliably measured. This could be due to the minerals boom or the lack of sunspots. Anyway, even if Work Choices has increased jobs it has decreased the bargaining power of employees and reduced their opportunities. Whilst I am not advocating increasing union power, we need to have a good balance between the rights of workers and the rights of the business. We have swung too far towards business with this bad policy and it is time to redress this. I doubt the current Federal Government will change this so it is time to vote them out.

Chaser stunt makes news in the USA. Good also to see the Chaser's ratings are still high (5th spot with 1.3 million for Wednesday just behind Spicks and Specks). It is bad to see even more people watch the diarrhoea that is Today Tonight. Channel 10 has been running repeats of House since the Chaser started 3 weeks ago, with a new episode next week it will be interesting to see if any of the defectors return to House.

San Francisco to London? Google Maps say I need to swim across the Atlantic!! Only takes 31 days. Oh, and I tried to go to Sydney but it would not cross the Pacific!

Soccer Video on YouTube (set to Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life)

Tuesday 10 April 2007

Playing with Google's My Maps

I had a bit of a play with Google's new My Maps over the Easter long weekend and I created a couple of my own maps. In essence My Maps allows you to create a web mashup of photos and placemarkers on a map (which can also be exported to Google Earth). Previously you had to do know a bit about javascript to add these to your website. Here are the links to our NZ 2007 and USA 2006 trips. Eventually I will put links to these on our photos pages, I am still working on an update to the website and I will do this as a part of that (hopefully later on this week).

Whilst this stuff is cool, I would still like to see a one very useful addition. I would like to be able to copy directions to become lines on the map (these are tedious to create, hence why there are only 2 for NZ). This can be done in Google Earth, however, you cannot import this back into the Maps (another feature perhaps!).

Thursday 5 April 2007

Stuff from this week #3

Stuff from this week is coming early this week due to Easter :)

Big news. In fact if this had come out on April 1st instead of 2nd, no one would have believed it! EMI and Apple have announced that EMIs catalog will be available DRM free from the iTunes Store in May. Individual songs will cost more, however they will also be double the quality of the old ones (256K AAC instead of 128K). See this transcript of a Q&A with Steve and EMI boss Eric Nicoli and also a bit more info from Gizmodo.

Make a webpage look like MS Word!

List of April Fools Day 2007 pranks/jokes on Wikipedia. However the snake that escaped in Google's New York offices was not a joke!

The TGV train has set a speed record of 574 km/h. However, I don't think you will see this as a regular occurrence just yet. This was with an experimental TGV with twin superchargers and on a part of the new track between Paris and Strasbourg which has been specially reinforced.

Apple released the 8-core MacPro which is an extra $AUD2500 above the standard 4-core machine.

Wondering what Brett Lee is up to since he is not part of the World Cup? He is training up for his post cricket career in Bollywood.

Update #1: You can now create your own maps in Google Maps and share them! Cool!