Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Myth of Market Share

According to the above article, corporations that focus on market share (that is, trying to dominate the competition) end up much less profitable than those corporations that focus on profit without regard to market share. Companies that pursue market share as their ultimate goal often end up with pyrrhic victories, if they win at all. Companies that ignore the competition and focus on profit can be very successful and provide the greatest return on investment to shareholders, even from the number two (or three or fifteen) position.

This has always seemed obvious to me, but it is apparently a new concept in US corporations (compared with Japan, where this is the standard practice.)

As one respondent said, American Airlines is the biggest. Southwest is the most profitable. Which would you rather own shares of?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Indonesian "tree man"

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A man in indonesia has a very rare immune disorder, which causes HPV warts to grow completely unchecked, resulting in extensive growths that make his hands and feet resemble tree roots. Fortunately, it appears that a cure (or at least a treatment) may be possible.

One thing that struck me as interesting is that this is the sort of thing that myths may be based on. According to the article, these growths started forming after he injured himself many years ago. If this had happened a thousand years ago, the story about the man turned into a tree by the gods would be dismissed as pure fantasy by people today.

I wonder how many other crazy-sounding ancient stories, that we dismiss today, may also have a basis in reality.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

World's dumbest counterfeiter

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FOX News: Man Charged With Disorderly Conduct, Forgery After Trying to Deposit $1M Bill

Someone tried to open a bank account with a forged $1,000,000 bill. Somebody should've told him that the largest bills in circulation are $100 (so his "Series 2007" printing makes the bill even dumber.) But even if he was trying to forge a historic-but-still-legal large denomination, he should've done enough homework to realize that the US has never printed a $1,000,000 bill. (The largest ever produced was $100,000.)

Rat, on blogging

Today's Pearls Before Swine makes a wonderful observation about blogging. The key paragraph follows, for when the link expires (in about a month):

Rat says to Goat (who is blogging):
[Blogs] provide their frustrated creator with the delusional outlet of being a published author. Sort of like how the prison warden lets the psychotic inmate scribble 'poetry' on the cell wall so he doesn't beat his bunkmate with a toilet seat.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Steampunk keyboards

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Datamancer makes custom keyboards designed around a steampumk theme.

These keyboards are expensive. According to the FAQ, they are all custom-made and typically $800-1000, due to the cost of materials and the extreme amount of labor needed to manufacture them. But wow, do they look good!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Roy Spencer on global warming

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Roy Spencer (PhD in Meteorology) writes a very interesting essay pointing out the fact that current climate models are woefully deficient and that there is strong evidence to suggest that proponents of man-made global warming are incorrect.

His believes (and provides much supporting evidence) that the Earth's climate exhibits a negative feedback system. That is, the greenhouse effect constantly adjusts itself in a way that keeps temperatures in sync with the amount of heat received from the Sun. That winds, clouds, evaporation and precipitation react to temperature changes such that high temperatures weaken the greenhouse and lower temperatures strengthen it.

He points out that today's climate models do not take enough of these factors into account, so they incorrectly predict disasters.

Read the essay for all the details.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

... and this is why DRM is evil

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Major League Baseball switched suppliers for their videos. As a part of this, they shut down their DRM server, making all previously-purchased videos completely unplayable. That's right - if you spend hundreds of dollars on MLB videos, you can no longer play any of them, because the DRM server needed to authenticate your player no longer exists.

MLB will not be putting the server back, nor will they issue any refunds for the now-useless videos. They are, however, asking you to buy new videos using their new (and incompatible server.) And anybody who thinks they won't get screwed over a second time is just plain stupid.

Anti-DRM advocates (myself included) have pointed out that this is a distinct possibility whenever you buy DRM-protected content. Your rights to your purchases can't possibly outlive the supplier. And in the case of Major League Baseball, their outsourced IT department, it seems.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Wired's predictions for Apple

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Back in 1997, Wired Magazine ran the article "101 Ways to Save Apple", listing what their editors felt would be best for Apple, its shareholders and its customers. This past year, Wired points out that a few of the predictions almost exactly matched what Apple ended up doing, calling themselves "oddly prescient".

Well, five predictions out of 101 are hardly an indicator of prescience. With that in mind, let's investigate the rest of them. For those who don't want to read my 101 comments (this will be a long post), here's my summary of the 101 predictions:

Correct: 24
Incorrect: 38
Debatable: 25
Inconsequential: 10
I don't know: 2

Note: Correct/Incorrect simply refers to whether Apple actually followed the recommendation. It has nothing to do with how good or bad the suggestion might be. Also note that many of the "incorrect" recommendations are ones that were obviously intended as jokes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

British army tests invisible tank

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According to the above article, the British military have an experimental tank that can become invisible.

Well, not really invisible, but close to it. It has cameras to capture images of the surrounding landscape, which are then projected onto the tank's surface. When you look at the tank, you see what's on the other side.

Of course, it's far from real invisibility. You have to be standing right where the system thinks you should be standing in order for the tank to be completely invisible. But it should, nevertheless, act as very good camouflage, especially when the background is relatively uniform.

Of related interest:

Memage: TV shows

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This one is making the rounds of the blogosphere....


  • Bold all of the following TV shows of which you've seen 3 or more episodes.
  • Italicize a show if you're positive you've seen every episode.
  • Asterisk if you have at least one full season on tape or DVD
  • If you want, add up to 3 additional shows (keep the list in alphabetical order).

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ars Technica reviews Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard

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This is a fairly long article, but it's a good read. Unlike most other reviews I've read so far, this one contains a lot of technical description and analysis. It's also not a "fanboy" article - it criticizes the product almost as much as it praises it.

Of particular interest to me is the fact that Mac OS 10.5 has a lot of interesting new technology on the inside. Unlike what I often see in software, this is not just a cosmetic skin over the same old system. Apple appears to have done some solid (and original) computer science research as a part of developing this release.

Assuming reality lives up to first impressions (which I'll know in a few weeks, I'm sure), I'm going to have to get myself a copy. If there are critical bugs (all new products have bugs, but they may not be critical to me), then I'll wait for one or two service packs first.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Discrete Track Recording hard drives

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Apple's newest iPods use a 1.8" hard drive with a capacity of 80GB per platter. This results in two different capacities - a single-platter 80GB drive and a slightly-thicker 2-platter 160GB drive.

Not content with that, Toshiba has invented a new hard drive technology, known as Discrete Track Recording (DTR). DTR promises to increase capacity by 50% (when combined with existing perpendicular recording technologies). They have already announced a 1.8" drive with 120GB per platter (and therefore 240GB on a 2-platter drive.) They expect to ship these drives in 2009. Expect Apple to ship iPods with this a week later.

They have not yet announced drives with this technology in other form factors, but we can probably expect to find 50% storage increases across the board - meaning 2.5" laptop drives at 480GB. (They did say that the process "is most easily applied to small form factor HDDs", so we may not find 3.5" drives using this until the process matures, but when it does, it would not be unreasonable to expect a 1.5TB drive.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NBC proves themselves to be a bunch of greedy pigs

1 comment:
As you may be aware, NBC and Apple have recently had a falling out. NBC may be deciding to stop selling content through the iTunes Store. According to Apple, NBC was insisting on much higher prices - as much as $5 per episode for some shows, and Apple refused to budge. (Apple says that NBC has already walked away from the bargaining table, but other sources say this hasn't been finalized yet.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What does the government really mean by "poor"?

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The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, published a report on Poverty in America.

Last year, the US Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty in America. It stated that there are 37 million poor people in the US, roughly the same as in the past. (A report that came out a few days ago says that the amount of poverty has gone down slightly in the past year.)

What is interesting is that the Census Bureau's definition of poverty is radically different from the popular image.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Shamino reviews two new products

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As some of you may be aware, I occasionally write reviews of products I buy for Epinions.

I wrote two more tonight. Check them out. If you find them helpful, be sure to let the site know (there are buttons at the bottom you can click to rate reviews).

Kodak EasyShare Z712 IS camera
Kenwood KDC-MP205 car stereo

Monday, August 20, 2007

USB enclosures: You don't always get what you pay for

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Barry Brown (see the above link) was seeing poor performance when attaching a USB hard drive to an Apple AirPort Extreme router. He ran several tests with different enclosures and found that an el-cheapo enclosure performed better (sometimes much better) than a more expensive enclosure.

In the computer/electronics industry, it's not too unusual to see cheaper products outperform more expensive products, but this is a lesson that is easy to forget. Mr. Brown's example underscores this fact.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

US colleges speak up against British academic antisemitism

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As you may or may not be aware, back in May, the UK's new "University and College Union" decided, as its first official action to recommend that its member universities boycott all Israeli universities, as a show of solidarity with Palestinian terrorists.

Well, in a pleasantly surprising show of backbone, 300 US universities signed a statement (written by the American Jewish Committee) stating that they stand with the Israeli universities, and against the UK's UCU.

And I'm very happy to see that my alma mater (NJIT) did sign.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The continuing crisis...

1 comment:
I have long held the belief that people today are far too angry, and that if people could simply be a little more patient (and a little less quick to anger), most of today's problems would go away.

As if to underscore this belief, this story appears in today's news.

A total stranger in Texas calls another total stranger (a sailor in the US Navy, stationed in Virginia) a "nerd", on an internet forum (one where people routinely poke fun at each other.) In response, this sailor flips out, and threatens to kill the guy from Texas. He then drives halfway across the country, locates the Texan, and sets fire to the trailer he was living out of.

Clearly, the arsonist here is mentally deranged, is a threat to society, and should be locked away for a long time in the most oppressive prison cell allowed by law, but that's not my point. I've been seeing a lot of stories like this in the news recently - people who get murderously angry over trivial nonsense. What I wonder is: Are things like this happening more often than before? Or has it always happened, but without national publicity?

The arsonist blames the internet. Of course, that's a BS answer - the internet didn't make him do anything, but it allowed a stranger over a thousand miles away to trigger his rage. Without the internet, he'd probably have ended up following a stranger home from a local bar, movie theater or sporting event, committing his arson closer to home. Fortunately, he plead guilty, so we won't have to deal with the possibility of a jury unable to come to the same conclusion.

Anyway, getting back to my main point, is this a new phenomenon? When I was growing up, I occasionally heard news stories about crazy people committing crazy acts of violence, but I didn't hear stories like that happening all the time. Today, I hear of stories like this almost every month.

The more I observe the world, the more I want to move to northern Alaska and live out of an igloo or something.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Learn to read between the lines

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Sometimes is funny how a scam-artist can become really goofy when sued by the government.

Hi-health, a shady company that sells pills, has long been advertising a product they call "ocular nutrition". This product is basically a multivitamin, nothing more. The manufacturer (advertising on nationally syndicated radio programs, like Paul Harvey) has historically made the most outrageous claims about this product. They claimed that it could cure age-related macular degeneration, remove "floaters" from vision, and even cure cataracts.

Well, they were sued, and they settled out of court by paying the FTC a $450,000 fine. A slap-on the wrist, IMO, but that's not the point of this article.

After the FTC fine, Hi-health did not stop selling ocular nutrition. They still advertise it on Paul Harvey's program, but now their product claims are much weaker. They now point out the fact that, in controlled studies, 25% of the people using it found the progress of their macular degeneration had halted or slowed.

In other words, 75% of the people taking it saw no effect or saw their degeneration progress faster! It doesn't take very much intelligence to see what they're really saying, but it does require you to pay attention and think about what was said.

Unfortunately, the elderly population - who this ad is targeted at - generally do not think critically when it comes to scam-artists promising miracle cures. And when the message comes from a friendly voice, like Paul Harvey (who actually reads the ad-copy during his broadcasts), they will tend to trust it more than if it was a random ad prepared by an ad agency.

If you know someone who is considering (or actually using) ocular nutrition, please show them this article, the FTC statement, and have them get real advice from an ophthalmologist. At best, they are throwing their money away. At worst, they may be making themselves sick, from overdose and possible drug-interactions.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Updated blogger template

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Google recently updated their template system for Blogger. Not wanting to be left behind, I upgraded to the new system. None of the pre-built templates were formatted exactly as I had this blog originally (which isn't surprising, since I customized the template I used originally), but I think I managed to make everything look the same.

If you notice anything broken, let me know so I can fix it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New e-mail contact

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Just a heads-up for those readers who know me in real life.

I've recently set up a new e-mail address, which I'm requesting friends and family use instead of the addresses they have been using until now.

I sent e-mail to all of the friends and relatives that I have in my address book, but I know there are others that aren't listed there. If you are one of them, contact me for the new address. (I'm not posting it here to keep the spammers from harvesting it.)

If you are just a casual reader of this blog and don't know me personally, disregard the above message.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Don't disable memory testing

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Whenever I buy or build a new computer for myself, I always configure it to test the memory. By default, most computers sold today have this disabled. They do this because it can take a few minutes to test the amount of memory needed to run modern system software comfortably.

Earlier this week, I powered on my PC and the memory test failed. After running a few of the usual tests (reseat the DIMMs in their sockets, try each DIMM individually, try different sockets) I determined that one of my DIMMs no longer works reliably. (This DIMM was working fine for two years until this weekend.) I removed it and sent it off to the manufacturer for warranty replacement.

If I hadn't enabled memory testing, leaving it in the "fast boot" mode, I would not have discovered this problem. Windows and my applications would simply run, and then malfunction when accessing the defective parts of RAM. I'd have then started tracking down things like buggy software and/or virusses, when the problem was a piece of hardware gone bad.

To everybody reading this: learn from my experience. If your PC is configured to skip memory testing (sometimes referred to as "fast boot" or "quick boot"), change that configuration. It may make you wait an extra minute or two when turning the computer on, but you will be able to quickly detect memory problems before they cause your software to malfunction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Obama, affirmative action, and my take on it

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This past Sunday, in an interview on ABC TV, Barack Obama stated that he does not believe there is a need for race-based affirmative action in college admission. He believes that poor white kids are just as disadvantaged as poor black kids, and that rich black kids are just as advantaged as white rich kids. He goes on to suggest that race-based affirmative action should be replaced with some kind of financial-need-based affirmative action program.

... and now my take ...

I think we need to distinguish between two aspects of college attendance - admission and financing.

After admission, I have absolutely no problem with colleges offering need-based scholarships, so students from poor families can actually accept the offer and attend. (Of course, such scholarships should require the student to maintain a reasonable grade level - no assistance program should allow students to slack off on someone else's dollar.)

Until the point of admission, however, financial need shouldn't be considered. Admission should be based solely on test scores, grades in school, and extracurricular activity. Race, financial status, religion and other such factors should not be considered at all. As a matter of fact, I would say that the admission boards that make these decisions shouldn't even have this kind of information (including the candidate's name, since that can also prejudice a board.)

There is nothing inherent about poverty (or race, etc.) that makes someone less intelligent or less educated. In college, I made several friends who came from poor families. They were not admitted on the basis of lowered standards, but because they were able to get good SAT scores and get good grades in high school, despite their upbringing.

Sure, many poor kids come from families where education is considered unimportant, or from incompetent public schools, and that is unfortunate, but how will these kids be served by admitting them to a college where the coursework is too advanced for them? Either they will be unprepared for the difficult coursework or the college will have to dumb-down the coursework - neither of which is going to be good for the student in the long run.

With regard to a possible solution, if there is a problem with the students' families, there is nothing anybody else can do about it. If there is a problem with the public schools (and we all know there are problems with many of those schools), then the solution is to fix those schools, not dumb-down college admissions procedures.

Of course, until the public schools do improve (which we know may take a very long time), some kids will fall through the cracks. One possible remedy would be some kind of optional post-high-school program (perhaps run by colleges) that offers remedial courses to promising students from bad school districts, specifically to get a student up to the level where he can get admitted to a college on his own merits. Many colleges already have programs like this, so perhaps the real solution is to convince more colleges to start up similar programs of their own.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Unstoppable Global Warming - an interview

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The above link is a transcript of a talk by Fred Singer and Dennis Avery, authors of Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years, given at the Hudson Institute in November, 2006.

As a part of this presentation, the authors summarize their book and take questions from the audience. A lot of (politically inconvenient) facts are presented, making that case that the global warming trend we're currently experiencing is:

  • Completely natural (not man-made)
  • Cyclic (tied to an approximate 1500-year solar cycle)
  • Not preventable, and
  • Beneficial

The authors point out the junk science being published as fact, and the bias in supposedly respectable scientific journals. They also point out how much carbon reduction would actually be necessary to have an effect (for the US, 100% - meaning complete elimination of all fossil fuels from all sources.)

Read the paper. Then read the book. It's well worth doing.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

WETA: Fourth Estate or Fifth Column? You decide.

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"Islam vs. Islamists" is a documentary about the "silent majority" of Muslims that support democracy, freedom of religion, and separation of church and state. They oppose the radicals who are seeking to force Islam on the rest of the world by threat of terrorism. These people are usually unheard in Muslim nations, because the radical governments in charge don't let them speak.

Well, it appears that PBS (and WETA, in particular) has decided to agree with the radicals and silence them in yet another venue. The "America at Crossroads" series it was produced for will not be broadcasting it. They will, however, be broadcasting the segment that presents the radical's pro-terrorism point of view.

According to an interview with the producer (on the radio this afternoon,) "Islam vs. Islamists" will be shown to members of Congress in a private screening in Washington DC, but that may be the only time the film is shown. On top of all this, PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are blocking all attempts to get the film broadcast by a different TV network.

The media elite in the US hates George Bush so much that they have decided to join ranks with the radical Muslims that seek to murder us all. If the terrorists win, then George Bush loses, and there's all that matters. If this means broadcasting terrorist-propaganda films as documentaries while silencing the opposite opinion, that's just fine. And the fact that these members of the press would be the first murdered by a radical Muslim government, should one take over, doesn't matter either.


The original article's link at has expired. But you can read about the current status of Islam Vs. Islamists at You can also sign a petition to demand that PBS allow the producers to release this important film to the public.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Nukes? Ha! Who needs 'em?

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Here's a fascinating article: MOPping Up: The USA's 30,000 Pound Bomb.

During World War II, the US developed some truly huge bombs. For example, the "Grand Slam" packs a 22,000lb blast (11 ton).

Development of these pretty much stopped after nuclear bombs were invented. For comparison, "Little Boy" (dropped on Hiroshima) and "Fat Man" (dropped on Nagasaki) were 15T and 21T, respectively.

Today, however, it is unacceptable to use nukes. It is especially unacceptable to use them for taking out small targets (like underground bunkers). So the US has gone back to the drawing board and is developing new, terribly powerful, conventional bombs.

The first of these, the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP), is a 30,000lb (15T) bomb. That is as powerful as Little Boy, but without any nukes. Which means it can be dropped on a battlefield without poisoning the landscape for centuries. Initial tests show that it can penetrate through 60' of concrete. My guess is that the goal here is to be able to take out Iran's underground nuclear development labs.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Apple - We'll put up, not shut up

You may recall Steve Jobs open letter, Thoughts On Music, where he called on the record labels to allow Apple to sell music without any digital rights management (DRM) restrictions.

Well, one record label took the bait, and Apple is following through with their end of the deal. In May, all iTunes Store songs published by EMI will be available without DRM. More specifically, these songs are 256K AAC (double the bitrate as before) and sell for $1.29 ($0.30 more expensive), and have no DRM.

The existing 128K AAC DRM-protected songs are still available for $0.99. Customers who have already purchased EMI songs may upgrade them to the new format (256K, no-DRM) and only pay the difference in price ($0.30).

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Something just froze over

Jerusalem Post: Evangelicals to present Knesset with 'letter of repentance'

I'm under no illusions here - I don't think anything will change in the grand scheme of things. Christian missionaries worldwide are not about to give up their careers because of this one group of evangelical leaders.

Nevertheless, this is still big news. If the leadership of prominent ministries can come this far, then maybe in time, they'll walk the next few steps and decide that Jews (gasp) have the right to want to remain Jewish.

Naw. I'm just fooling myself now. No Christian missionary will ever come to this conclusion. They'd have to abandon or ignore large chunks of their bible in order to come to that decision.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The end of an era

Today, I must say goodbye to my good ol' Macintosh Quadra 840av. I bought this computer used in 1998, as a part of Visix Software's going-out-of-business fire sale. It was a few years old at that time. I upgraded it several times since then, adding more memory, replacing the hard drive when it died, upgrading the CD-ROM drive, putting it on the internet, and setting up a tape-backup system for it.

This computer was my main machine at home for several years, until I got my Power Macintosh G4 system, which I'm using today. Running Microsoft Office and Filemaker Pro, this computer held together my personal finances, and kept track of most of the important things in my life.

Today, the G4 fulfills these purposes, but I made a point of powering on the Quadra every few months, just to see if it still works, and to play a few games that don't play well under Mac OS X (like those that demand the old 1-bit color display modes.)

Until two weeks ago, that is. This most recent time, it wouldn't start. The monitor turned on, the hard drive started spinning, but the familiar "bong" sound didn't play. I checked the PRAM battery, and found that it still had plenty of voltage. I went on-line to do some research, and apparently, this is a common fate for Quadra 840av systems. The capacitors get old and start leaking, and the motherboard dies. Some people suggested washing the motherboard (in the dishwasher, no less!) to clean off the leaked electrolyte, and some suggested replacing all the capacitors on the motherboard, but I think there's really little point to attempting either of these procedures for a computer that, admittedly, hasn't served any useful purpose in the last five years. But it's still sad to see formerly-good equipment decide to finally fail.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gizmag: Car runs on compressed air

The Tata MiniC.A.T is a small car, apparently aimed at the European commuter vehicle market. This isn't unusual (although, you may not have heard of Tata, it is, apparently, a very popular brand in India.) What is unusual is that this car runs on air.

That's right, it runs on air. Specifically, compressed air. It's tank holds 90 cubic meters (3178 cubic feet) of compressed air. This allows the car to drive at speeds up to 68MPH, for up to 10 hours or 200-300km (125-186mi). An electric air compressor can refill the tank in about 3-4 hours.

The manufacturer expects filling stations to eventually start offering air-refill services. These stations would have high-pressure compressors capable of filling a tank in a few minutes. They estimate that a refill will cost about €1.5 (about $2). (Of course, that doesn't count the inevitable taxes that governments will impose to offset losses from gas-tax revenues if people stop burning gasoline in their cars.)

In terms of scheduled maintenance, it needs an oil change (1l of vegetable oil) every 50,000km (or one quart every 31,000mi).

It's exhaust is just air. Interestingly enough, this exhaust is very cold air (below freezing temperatures), so the car can recirculate it as a part of the air conditioning system.

The manufacturer expect a selling price of £5,500 (about $9,000).

Shouts & Murmurs: The Wisdom of Children: Humor: The New Yorker

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The New Yorker runs an amusing commentary comparing futile student protests with the nonsense children think when hearing adults talk in the room next door.

An excerpt:

—Did you hear the news, Mr. President? The students at the University of Pittsfield are walking out of their classes, in protest over the war.

—(spits out coffee) Wha— What did you say?

—Apparently, students are standing up in the middle of lectures and walking right out of the building.

—But students love lectures. If they’re willing to give those up, they must really be serious about this peace thing! ...

Read the rest of the article while the link remains valid.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Steve Jobs: Apple would embrace DRM-free music downloads

No comments:
In an unusual open letter, Steve Jobs (founder and CEO of Apple, Inc.) writes about the current state of legal music download services.

He starts off by explaining why music download services (including Apple's own iTunes Store) apply digital rights management (DRM) data to downloaded music. As you are probably aware, this isn't because Apple wants to be mean, but because the record companies (that hold the copyrights on the music) demand it. He says that Apple's contract requires strong DRM, and that if the DRM is broke, Apple must quickly fix it or the record labels can withdraw their entire catalog from the store.

This was news to me. I know the record labels require strong DRM, but it hadn't occurred to me that Apple's store can be completely shut down if a third party breaks the DRM in a way that Apple can't fix. I wonder if other music stores (like Microsoft's Zune store, or the numerous WMA-download stores) have similar terms on their licenses.

Jobs then proceeds to explain three possible futures for DRM content.

The first possible future, is to leave everything as it is. While many critics claim that this is a "lock-in", forcing iTunes Store customers to buy iPods, and forcing iPod customers to buy from the iTunes Store, Jobs points out several facts that contradict this:

  • iPods can play several non-protected formats, including MP3 and AAC.
  • The overwhelming majority of music on iPods is not purchased from the iTunes store. (Most is ripped from legally-purchased CDs.) It's hardly a lock-in if the majority of music on iPods is not restricted, and only a small percentage is restricted.
Jobs doesn't mention a third fact - that Apple's DRM allows customers to burn CDs with the purchased music. These CDs can be ripped into a non-DRM format, which can be played on any computer or portable player. So even iTunes purchases can be made portable, although with some degradation in quality.

The second possible future Jobs describes is an open-DRM standard. Specifically, he addresses those critics that want Apple's "FairPlay" DRM to become an open standard. So multiple stores can sell FairPlay tracks, and so non-Apple music players can play those tracks.

Jobs points out that Apple has a difficult time right now, meeting their contractual obligations to the record companies. FairPlay DRM has been broken a few times. Apple has repaired the damage by simultaneously updating the iTunes Store, the iTunes client software, and the iPod firmware. This coordinated effort is not easy to get right. It would be virtually impossible to coordinate this across dozens of music stores and dozens of music player manufacturers.

On top of all this, DRM systems all use secrets (encryption algorithms, encryption keys, etc.) When these secrets are shared among dozens of corporations, leaks to the outside world will be inevitable, undermining the entire concept.

Either of these scenarios (undermining DRM, or failure to quickly distribute updates) would result in the record labels shutting down music stores, which definitely would not be in the public interest. (Jobs also points out how even Microsoft is moving from an open DRM standard, "plays for sure" to a closed one on the Zune.)

Finally, Jobs proposes the third solution - eliminate DRM altogether. I am a proponent of this, and I know a lot of other people who are too. I was, however, shocked and awed that the CEO of Apple proposed it as a serious alternative.

He points out several facts that are well known, but seem to be ignored by the record labels that demand DRM from on-line services:

  • 90% of music purchased is on CD, which has no DRM. Putting DRM on the 10% that is downloaded does nothing to prevent piracy, because the pirates can simply buy CDs.
  • DRM is expensive and difficult to develop, implement, and maintain.
  • DRM restricts consumer freedom
  • DRM makes it hard for new players to enter the music-player and music-reseller markets.

Jobs then points out that most of the clamor for Apple to open up FairPlay is coming from Europe. Most of the record industry (the ones demanding DRM) are European (Universal/Vivendi is French, EMI is British, Sony/BMG is 50% German). Jobs suggests that European governments direct their pressure at the record labels, to eliminate DRM requirements altogether.

Finally, Jobs states that if the record companies will support DRM-free music downloads, "Apple will embrace this wholeheartedly." This still amazes me.

I don't know if the record companies will ever wise up and realize that DRM is a waste of time and money (the way the software industry briefly understood the same about copy protection), but if anybody can convince them, it is Steve Jobs. Let's hope he can pull it off.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Colorado Governor: PETA "A Bunch Of Losers," "Frauds"

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Just in case you thought PETA might actually believe their rhetoric, read the above article.

Thousands of cows and other animals are freezing and starving to death in Colorado, due to the massive snowstorms they have been having recently.

When asked if they would do anything to help these animals, PETA spokespeople said they would not. With respect to the cattle, they said it would be pointless to save animals destined to be eaten. With respect to wild animals, they declared it an "act of God" and chose to do nothing.

In other words, PETA only cares about animals when they are being used to benefit humans. When animal suffering is not caused by humans, is costing farmers a lot of money, and is serving no meaningful purpose, PETA doesn't care one whit.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The true cost of content "protection"

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Peter Gutmann, in the above-linked article, describes many of the insane requirements that Microsoft and movie studios are making in order to try and prevent piracy of HD content. He points out that the requirements are draconian, vague, physically impossible, extremely expensive, and will make you want to throw out your computer and go back to using clay tablets.

But if you want to play any "Premium Content" (DVDs, HD movies, SACD audio discs, etc.) on Windows Vista, you will be forced to go through all this BS. This means buying new, very expensive hardware, running software that no currently-shipping processor can run at full speed, and watching/listening to it only in a highly-degraded form. And if any software on your computer tries to bypass this, Microsoft can disable all of it without notice, leaving you with a box that may not even be able to boot again.

Sounds too stupid to be true? It does to me, but Mr. Gutmann backs up all his claims with primary source documents straight from Microsoft. This is real. And your only way of saying no is to refuse to play any HD content on your PC (refusing to upgrade to Vista would also be a good idea.)

Monday, January 01, 2007

DVD burning - not all media is created equal

None of this will come as any kind of surprise to those of you who have experience burning CDs and DVDs, but it is interesting nonetheless.

This past week, I bought some software on DVD-ROM. I wanted to make a backup copy (the discs are not copy protected, and no I am not giving any copies away to anybody else, so this is perfectly legal). There is 7G of data on each disc, meaning dual-layer media is required to hold the backup.

I went to a local store and bought a 10-pack of generic "Windata" brand media. I chose this brand mostly it was the least expensive brand in the store ($10 for a 10-disc spindle), and they were rated for 8x speed (My Plextor PX-716A can burn dual-layer media at up to 6x). I knew that this was a no-name brand, but it has the "DVD+R" logo printed on it, so it should conform to the specs for +R media and work fine in my drive.

Anyway, using this media was a colossal failure. I tried several methods to make the backups (copy with Toast, make an image and burn it with Disk Utility, copy the files to my hard drive and burn a new disc, etc.) and they all failed. Each time, I got weird errors from the drive, usually about buffer underruns, even though the drive has underrun protection. I even tried installing a firmware update from Plextor, which didn't help.

I also noticed that software was only reporting 4x capability.

Strangely enough, however, burning a 1.8G data set (which only uses one layer) worked fine on this media. Thinking there might be some kind of copy protection, I tried burning a disc with 7G of my own data - that also failed.

After doing some web searching, I found a lot of report of people having problems with Windata media and Plextor drives. Everybody recommended Verbatim.

So I went back to the store and bought a spindle of Verbatim media ($30 for 20 discs - a bit more expensive, but not too much more so). This time, everything went flawlessly. Software reported 6x burn capability, and I was able to make my backup. I made image files from both discs using Disk Utility. I burned one with Disk Utility and the other with Toast. No problems at all, and I got my drive's full 6x speed.

At this point, any reasonable person would conclude that Windata media is just junk. I did too.

Seeing my problems, my housemate, who had also bought a spindle of Windata media at the same time, decided to return his package (unopened) to the store. Just for kicks, I decided to see if I could make my backup on his computer (a generic Asus PC, with a Samsung 8x OEM drive, Windows XP and the Nero Express program that came with his drive) using some of my leftover Windata media. It went perfectly, generating no errors, and burning at full 8x speed.

So apparently Windata isn't complete junk. They're incompatible with my system (Mac and Plextor drive), but they seem to work just fine on my housemate's PC. (He kept his spindle of media.)

Conclusion: DVD media is not much different from CD media here. Although the trademarked logo may ensure that the disc is up to spec (assuming it wasn't used illegally), it doesn't guarantee compatibility with all drives. And media that doesn't work on one drive may work just fine on another drive.