Tuesday, 26 September 2006

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Knowing how flaky built-in MP3 player batteries can be I decided to buy one which runs on replaceable AA power. This way the whole device wouldn't have to be trashed if the battery alone gave up the ghost.

With USBCells you can have the best of both worlds. Flip back the cover on these 1300mah AA NiMH batteries and you'll find a plug which can be inserted into a standard USB port to recharge them - in other words, they're a battery and charger rolled into one compact package. The process takes 5 hours; you'll know when they're ready to rumble because the LED light will switch off.
USBCells cost £12.99 for a pack of two including VAT and delivery.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006


Postal movie distribution; a solution looking for a problem?

So I don't get any smart alecks pointing at me and laughing at my utter stupidity, I'll start this post by saying, I've got to be missing something here. These services must exist for a perfectly logical reason, I'm just too dumb to see what's staring me in the face, dancing a jig and singing, "here I am, look at me" at the top of its anthropomorphic voice.

Right, with that disclaimer firmly in place I've given myself free reign to be as simple-minded as I like and get clean away with it.

You've all seen these companies that specialise in sending you x number of DVD movies through the post for a fixed monthly fee. You compile an online list of must-watch-before-I-die movies, hand over your credit card details and wait for the first one to drop through your letter box. When you've seen it, you pop it into the prepaid envelope, bung it in the post box and they send you the next one in your queue. No more visits to Blockbuster, no more late fees, no hassle and lots of cheap movies. Great stuff, hallelujah!

So why is this considered revolutionary? People have been beaming movies straight to their TVs via Sky and cable for years now... all without the aid of Postman Pat. I'm not talking about setting up a subscription to Sky Movies either. I mean the 'Box Office' movies where you get to pick and mix what you want to watch by tapping a few buttons on your remote - the charge appears on your phone bill and the movies are 'delivered' instantaneously as if by Jedi mind trick.

Only recently did the music industry get its act together by adopting - rather than fighting - the Napster distribution model. So far their 'gamble' has paid off. Piracy is still rampant of course, but lots more people are choosing to purchase their music instead of stealing it. Any previously untapped revenue generated through this channel, above and beyond £0.00, I'd say is a bonus.

The movie industry has timidly followed suit in a limited way because movies are so much more cumbersome to punt around cyberspace. Imagine how fat your 'toobs' would have to be to stream, or otherwise disperse, video data via traditional, non-swarming mechanisms. Nevertheless, it strikes me as odd that Tinseltownians and movie distributors are expending so much energy debating the issue at all when Sky and cable make bandwidth issues irrelevant.

All Warner Brothers, Sony, Miramax et al need to do is grant the TV networks permission to close up the time frame between a movie appearing at the cinema and it being available to buy or screen in people's homes. Either way the studios would be employing an intermediary so that can't be the issue. Presumably the consumers who are in the habit of renting movies aren't concerned that they don't get to keep the physical discs so this is surely a moot point.
I just don't get it.

Friday, 15 September 2006


ABC explains it all

Anyone - even whole nations - can make an honest mistake, but re-electing George Bush after enduring four years worth of embarrassing faux pas and horrifically inept foreign and homeland policy decisions is nothing short of criminally stupid.

Two years later I still wonder how the hell it happened. I've contemplated all kinds of wacky scenarios from alien mind-control technology to ballot tampering (OK so envisaging this one doesn't require a supreme leap of faith).

When I stumbled across an ABC News poll taken in February 2004 it all became clear; context is the key. The survey examined the percentage of Americans who believe that selected biblical parables are literally true.

The most unsettling disclosure has to be that a whopping 60 per cent of the participants stated they believe the story of Noah's ark and the great flood really, truly, actually happened exactly as depicted in the old testament.

Let's take a moment to step back and consider some of the finer details of this tall tale:-
Sprightly 500 year old Noah (along with his wife, sons and their wives) spent 120 years - using nothing more than primitive hand tools - building a 450 foot boat. A boat which is significantly longer than the largest wooden vessel ever constructed - the 338 foot Pretoria schooner-barge, which incidentally broke apart and sunk in 1905 during a violent storm.

In a time frame of only 7 days Noah loaded 30 million different animal species (including prehistoric ones!) and sufficient sustenance to keep them alive into the ark and sailed around for a year and a day until the flood water receded.

Experts with too much time on their hands have calculated that this would take approximately 35 years to accomplish and each animal would have to be squeezed into a space the size of a golf ball. This, of course, is assuming all the animals had previously been gathered from around the globe and were waiting obediently on the shore ready to board the ark - a feat other analysts believe would take a further 684 years!

Once bath time was over, the same merciful, benevolent god who wrought this carnage upon the entire animal and human population conjured a rainbow in the sky as an everlasting symbol of his covenant with Noah (he promised not to obliterate any of his creations again, even if he was having a really bad day). This is why rainbows appear to this day whenever the heavens open on a sunny day, don't you know.

60 per cent.

Yep, I can believe the same people elected a borderline retarded chimp in a cowboy suit to rule the richest, most powerful nation on earth.

Thursday, 14 September 2006


Virtual jukeboxes

The web is currently abuzz with talk of an evolving breed of push-button, 'two-dot-oh' services that allow you to name a tune and have it streamed to your computer instantaneously and for free (as opposed to those that feed you music deemed similar to the bands or artists you type in). This is predominantly thanks to the people behind BlogMusik, a new French outfit who have adopted the concept and slapped a cutesy iPod-like, Flash interface on top to get the fad-followers salivating.
BlogMusik draws its content from Radio Blog Club, which in turn taps into music uploaded by bloggers. Every genre of music is catered for, some of it belonging to multi-platinum selling artists and some the work of unknowns.

Common sense would suggest that unless the copyright holders of this material are receiving royalties from BlogMusik et al, they are likely to be breaking the law and will soon be squished into oblivion by music industry watchdogs. If this is true, the case against them must be progressing treacle-treadingly slowly because similar well-established startups such as Streampad, Fine Tune, Webjay and The Hype Machine look pretty healthy to me. Maybe the limitations imposed by the streaming protocol serve to bolster their legitimacy? I don't buy the, "it's hosted in France so anything goes" tack. Could it be that such technology is considered less of a threat to the music industry because people will still want to own physical discs, or at least digital files which can be transferred to any device and played anywhere?

While it is possible to rip the music you listen to through BlogMusik (you only have to search your computer's internet cache for .rbs files and rename them to .mp3) it remains to be seen if anyone will be inclined to do so considering the low bitrate of the music files made available.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

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Real Player radio on demand

Earlier in the year I wrote a post explaining how to go about converting web-based, Real audio radio streams into a more portable format. Since then a new-ish Mac application has emerged to streamline (see what I did there?) the process even further.

In the spirit of granny-proof Mac software, Stream Recorder does everything for you without asking any complicated questions or pestering you with inane dialogue alerts and requires no ancillary software. There are no parametres to tweak before you begin recording; you simply drag 'listen again' links into the application window and leave it to generate an MP3 file, which can then be transferred to your not-necessarily-Apple-branded MP3 player.

There's a clue in the title of the app, but for anyone who hasn't yet had their first coffee of the day, Stream Recorder captures audio in real-time so it's prone to connection drop-outs unlike the Flashget / HiDownload / Net Transport / Mass Downloader plus NCH Switch method (which involves downloading .ra files via a resumable download manager before converting them locally).

That said, it performed flawlessly when I tested it with two three-hour, 32 kbps broadcasts. It could be that the application has some sort of built-in blip recovery gizmo in place, but as I haven't experienced any yet I can't be certain one way or the other. If not your recordings are no more susceptible to premature coma than they would be if recorded using better established software like Audio Hijacker - on several occasions whilst 'hijacking' BBC radio streams, Real Player has ceased transferring data and Audio Hijacker hasn't known how to pick up the ball again.

In each case Stream Recorder churned out a 163mb MP3 file encoded at 128 kbps. This seems to be the application's default - and unalterable - setting, though as you're unlikely to find web audio streams encoded at a superior bitrate I don't see it as a limitation. Well unless, at the other end of the spectrum, you're running low on flash memory capacity.

One feature I would like to see included in future releases is a timer to indicate how long a stream has been recording. Oh and it wouldn't hurt to drop the redundant, obligatory association with the iPod. Otherwise Stream Recorder gets a big thumbs up from yours truly.