Friday, November 30, 2007

Something for the weekend

Steve Lamacq's Radio 6 Show lists a number of helpful music discussion starters: [edited]

1: Can a cover version can ever be better than the original?

2: Is a mouth organ ever really necessary?

3: The Smiths are miserable.

4: Every song with whistling is brilliant.

5: Best Electric Light Orchestra song?

6: Miles Davis, creative genius, or competent bore?

7: The Beatles or the Stones?

8: New Order, fantastic pop, or just plain useless?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Affordable solar energy moves closer

Nanosolar reports: [edited]

At Nanosolar, we have taken the highest-performance and most durable photovoltaic thin-film semiconductor, called CIGS (for "Copper Indium Gallium Diselenide"), and innovated on all seven critical areas necessary to reach a breakthrough cost reduction in solar cells, panels, and systems.

As opposed to using slow and expensive high-vacuum based thin-film deposition processes, we developed a proprietary ink to allow us to use much simpler and higher-yield printing for depositing the solar cell's semiconductor.

We use a highly conductive yet low-cost foil as a substrate, which allows us to avoid the need to separately deposit an expensive bottom electrode layer (as required for a non-conductive substrate such as glass).

Thanks to Sora for the link.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Nintendo DS Lite sales record

Reg Hardware reports: [edited]

The Nintendo DS Lite has taken the record for the greatest number of games console units sold in the UK within a single week.

191,000 DS Lites were sold during the seven days up to 24 November.

The console took the crown from Sony’s PSP, which until now had held the record with 188,000 units during its launch week in September 2005.

Eco Media Player reports: [edited]

The iconic iPod music player has for many years been challenged by new so-called iPod Killer products entering the market. The Eco Media Player is unlikely to be one of those. But it does add a new dimension to the genre.

The media player bit comes into play as the unit is a video player, music player, fm radio, LED torch, photo viewer, hi-fi recorder, memo recorder, data storage device and a mobile phone charger. The eco prefix is applied because it does all of this without need of replacement batteries. Power comes simply from winding a fold-out handle on the rear of the unit (or, if you want, charging it via USB cable to your computer). 40 minutes of audio play requires one minute of self powering.

An onboard lithium ion battery has a maximum playtime of 20 hours. Audio will play back in mp3, wma, asf, wav, ogg formats (no mention of aac, the iPod default). The 1.8" colour screen shows videos in asv (and wmv, avi, mpeg, after conversion) and photos as jpeg, bmp, gif images. With 2GB of built-in memory the media reader supports SD cards to increase this. Microsoft Windows seems to be the supported operated system when connected to computers with no indication of compatibility with Macs. Sells for £155 in the UK, and $425 in Australia.

If you’re wondering who Trevor Baylis is, he was the British inventor that created the original wind-up radio, as a way of getting information on HIV/AIDS to remote African villagers. The success of that project spawned the brand Freeplay, who have dominated the self powered device market for the past decade.

Trevor looks like he is re-entering that market with this product. Inventors John and Tony Davies approached his ideas incubator company and Trevor so liked what he saw he lent his name to not only the Eco Media Player, but an accompanying line of self-powered eco-products under the moniker of New Generation. There are lanterns, head torches, radios, bicycle lights, etc. Tango in the UK carry the full range.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World's first jukebox

Wired reports: [edited]

The first jukebox was constructed by the Pacific Phonograph Company in 1889. Four stethoscope-like tubes were attached to an Edison Class M electric phonograph fitted inside an oak cabinet.

The tubes operated individually, each being activated by the insertion of a coin, meaning that four different listeners could be plugged in to the same song simultaneously.

Towels were supplied to patrons so they could wipe off the end of the tube after each listening.

The success of the jukebox eventually spelled the end of the player piano, then the most common way of pounding out popular music to a line of thirsty barflies.

The machine was originally called the “nickel-in-the-slot player” by Louis Glass, the entrepreneur who installed it at the Palais Royale. (A nickel then had the buying power of $1.08 today.)

It came to be known as the jukebox, although the origin of the word remains a bit vague. It may derive from “juke house,” a slang reference to a 'bawdy house', where music was not unknown.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Buffalo release 320GB pocket hard drive

Reg Hardware reports: [edited]

Dubbed the MiniStation TurboUSB [what, no 'super', no 'nano'?, Ed.], it is protected by a tough outer case. The 5400rpm hard drive is powered through a USB 2.0 connection, with the cable wrapping around the device’s outer rim.

The 320GB drive will be available from next month for £155.

The West Wing

On Sunday evening, I watched the 154th episode of The West Wing, the finale to the best television series I have ever watched.

Aaron Sorkin, its creator and primary writer for the first four seasons, creates scripts that are intelligent, inventive, challenging and entertaining. The dialogue is sharp, informed and involving, moving you through issues that impact millions of people as it chronicles fictional, but believable days in the life of the White House administration.

The actors are perfectly cast, and they are obviously enjoying living out their characters. And the interaction between them is so dynamic that I often found myself replaying sequences of dialogue in a similar way to which I might re-read a particularly complex, or enjoyable, section of a novel.

Martin Sheen plays the charismatic polymathic Democrat, President Josiah Bartlet (think of a hybrid of John Kennedy and Bill Clinton). Stockard Channing (remember Betty Rizzo in Grease?) plays his equally brilliant, sparky and headstrong doctor wife.

Equality between males and females is assumed. Sexuality is acknowledged but not exploited. Individual's strengths are recognised and rewarded, and weaknesses acknowledged but kept in perspective and rarely despised.

In a single episode you can find yourself laughing out loud, marvelling at the complexity of the American political system, wrestling with a massive military dilemma before bursting into floods of tears at a random act of kindness.

As Sorkin moves away from the writing, the mood of the series does change, with a harder and more negative edge becoming evident. But this never degenerates into 'soap-opera', there is always plenty of respect for honourable behaviour and examples of careful handling of 'real-world' dichotomies and decisions.

If you're thinking of a 'watching project' for next year, why not treat yourself to Series 1 on DVD (available from for under £18.00 including delivery). Or if you're feeling rich, the complete DVD box set for £121. That's 154 episodes (112 hours of viewing), on over 44 discs. That's less than a £1 per episode. And you get a bucketful of other stuff thrown in, if you're interested in 'extras'.

If you rationed yourself to 3 episodes a week beginning 1 January that would keep you going through 2008 - although my guess is that you'll have watched the last episode before June is out!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Gentium redux

I've featured Gentium in a previous blog.

It is now available, in beta form, as two families, Gentium Basic and Gentium Book Basic from the Summer Institute of Linguistics web site.

Each family features regular, italic, bold and bold italic. Gentium Book Basic is a little heavier in feel than its sister typeface.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Nokia N810 reports: [edited]

The Nokia N810 has a large colour display, touchpad screen, slide-out keyboard, 400 MHz processor and up to 10GB of memory (an optional 8GB memory card combined with 2GB internal memory). To access the Internet, users simply connect via the nearest Wi-Fi hotspot or over Bluetooth on a mobile phone.

The Nokia N810 also features GPS, with free maps preloaded for users to browse detailed locations, search for street addresses, find points of interest (POI) as well as nearby Wi-Fi hotspots.

The maemo Linux-based OS2008 features a highly customizable user interface and a Mozilla based browser with Ajax and Adobe flash 9.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Dondero A Capella Choir (& Instrumentalists) reports: [edited]

"For me, it started one Saturday morning in 2002. On a whim I picked up two Dondero A Capella Choir cassettes at a thrift store, something to listen to in the car as I went about my errands.

"I got in the car, popped in a tape and "Black Water" started to play. As with so many ubiquitous pop songs, the Doobie Brothers' original never did much for me. It was just another pretty sound that might come over the loudspeakers at the supermarket. The Dondero version, however, pulled the song out of the background and shoved it right in front of me. Now I had context: knowing that high school students learned this song, rehearsed this song, performed it in front of family and friends finally made "Black Water" real to me as a piece of music.

"This ability to make tired old pop songs fresh is only part of what makes these concerts a such a pleasure to hear, however. There's real skill demonstrated here, and a palpable sense of excitement in this music. The students sound like they're having a great time on stage, and the audience is cheering and shouting with equal - if not more - enthusiasm."


Visit the link for a chance to listen to, or download, the 'greatest hits' compilation. Or download one of the annual concerts complete with intros and outros.

Relax into the shaky timings and dodgy notes. Think Polyphonic Spree meets The Go! Team. Immerse yourself in the moment and find yourself smiling out loud at the enthusiasm and joy that these people are experiencing in playing, singing (and listening to) some of their favourite songs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Free fonts

Billy Argel has released a luxurious, surprisingly legible distressed script typeface. Olho de Boi was inspired by the first Brazilian postage stamp, released on August 1, 1843.

And if you're in the market for typefaces of this ilk, another Argel creation Santos Dumont might be worth a browse.

Monday, November 19, 2007


c|net reports: [edited] CEO Jeff Bezos believes the Kindle will be to reading what the iPod was to music, according to a report published on the online edition of magazine.

In what appears to be the Bezos' first interview about the company's upcoming electronic reader, Amazon's chief told the magazine that the Kindle can store up to 200 books and connect to the Web with the help of a system called Whispernet. Amazon, a company that has become synonymous with buying books online, will also offer Kindle owners a selection of more than 88,000 digital books at launch time, according to Newsweek.

Last week, CNET reported that Bezos will unveil the Kindle at a media event in New York on Monday. An industry source said that the device will retail for $399 and receive automatic downloads from major newspapers, magazines and other publications. The source also said that Kindle features e-mail.

The e-mail service enables owners to receive word documents or PDF files that can be stored in the device's library just like a book, Newsweek reported. But what makes the handheld truly unique is that it downloads books off the Web - and it can do that "in less than a minute," Bezos told the magazine.

E-readers used to confine e-book buyers to wherever their computers were located. Digital books had to be first downloaded to a PC and then synced to an e-reader. Amazon is freeing them to buy wherever they can connect to the Web and this could lead to more impulse purchases.


Amazon have now officially launched it, visit this page for more details, including a video ad/demo

Be prepared

Stephen Fry's excellent blog is always worth a read, but his latest (long) article is particularly enlightening. Here are some excerpts:

I expect all of you have heard of the risks posed by the various forms of attack code that go under names like virus, Trojan horse, worm, malware and so on. These are little bits of clandestine code that your computer picks up, usually through email attachments, designed to infect the host (your PC), raid its address books, send out copies of themselves to all your friends and contacts and then either spitefully screw with your operating system, rendering it inoperative or, more likely these days, record your keyboard input and send back to the malicious code’s originator a log of such keystrokes which can be used to determine your passwords, credit card numbers and other sensitive data.

But, and here I come to my nightmare scenario, imagine malicious code written by cunning, ruthless criminals that could turn your computer into a kind of slave machine, a zombie PC which can connect with other zombie PCs to create a whole network of robot computers which would grow almost exponentially in power and bandwidth. Such a robot network, or ‘botnet’, would soon overtake all the supercomputers on earth in might and reach.

Let us further imagine that this botnet learned to defend itself against the security forces by moving the location of its command and control centres so fast and so randomly that the head could never be cut off. Let us even further imagine that the criminal masterminds in charge of this colossal entity divided it up into sections which could be sold, leased or rented to other criminals (along with instructions for use) who could use it for spamming, share scamming, phishing, identity theft, fraud, DDoS and any other kind of lucrative enterprise they chose.

The fiendish nature of the code would mean infected PCs wouldn’t freeze or slow down noticeably, so individual computer users like you and me would have no idea that we were enslaved players in this vast criminal conspiracy, the transmission routes would change literally daily from porn sites to cheerful links or witty birthday cards and friendly pointers to interesting blog pages – anything. Those profiting would be almost impossible to catch and the entity itself, the botnet, would grow and refine itself until it became the very stuff of science fiction: the neural nets of William Gibson, Skynet in The Terminator films, the Borg collective in Star Trek, you know the genre.

Well, my (not very surprising) kick in the teeth is this. Such botnets exist and one of them, the Storm botnet, has grown so fast, so terrifyingly and so cunningly, that in the last eight months it has overtaken all the others. Storm is an amalgam of millions (no one knows quite how many) of slave PCs.

It sends out billions of spam messages, stock market scam mails and appears to be behind many examples of what are known as Distributed Denial of Service attacks, which for reasons of malice, politics or criminal extortion close down or threaten to close down legitimate servers by flooding them with more data traffic than they can handle. Using sci-fi sounding techniques like Fast Flux, Storm evades capture and surveillance and recent evidence leads those who know about these things to conclude that parts of it have indeed been leased or sold as ‘botkits’ to less technically savvy criminals.

Storm began life early this year, but as of a couple of weeks ago it had grown into easily the biggest and most sophisticated botnet the world has seen.

But according to The Honeynet Project, Dark Reading and other reliable sites that monitor this subject, Storm is only the beginning. In a year’s time it will in all likelihood seem naïve, clumsy and harmless. Slashdot carried this headline only the other day: “There’s a new peer-to-peer based botnet emerging that could blow the notorious Storm away in size and sophistication.”

So... Don’t trust those you don’t know. Don’t click on that alluring headline, that tempting YouTube link, that interesting ad, that funny sounding birthday card or joke unless you are one hundred percent certain of its origin.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

London, Lincoln, London 18-11-07

Big Girls Don't Cry - Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Duel - Propaganda
Genie in a Bottle - Christina Aguilera
Johnny reggae - The Piglets
Philadelphia Freedom - Elton John
Hold Me Close - David Essex
Stuck In The Middle With You - Stealers Wheel
Smoke You Out - The Donnas
Rock Lobster - The B-52's
Hyperactive! - Thomas Dolby
I Only Want To Be With You - Dusty Springfield
It Doesn't Have To Be This Way - Blow Monkeys
We Built This City On Rock And Roll - Jefferson Starship
I Should Have Known Better - Jim Diamond
Cherish - Madonna
Locomotion - Kylie Minogue
Sweet Little Mystery - Wet Wet Wet
Beauty Queen - Lash
Sugar and Spice - The Cryan Shames
The most beautiful girl in the world - Charlie Rich
Ring My Bell - Anita Ward
Since U Been Gone - Kelly Clarkson
John, I'm Only Dancing - David Bowie
A Chicken with Its Head Cut Off - The Magnetic Fields
Let The Music Play - Shannon
The Wrath of Marcie - The Go! Team
Getting To Know You - Julie Andrews
National Express - The Divine Comedy
One vision - Queen
Martian Hop - The Ran-Dells
Silence (DJ Tiesto's In Search Of Sunrise Remix) - Sarah McLachlan
Sign Of The Times - Belle Stars
Down Under - Men At Work
My Boyfriend's Back - The Angels
You Spin Me Around - Gigi D'Agostino
Together In Electric Dreams - Human League
Lovin' each day - Ronan Keating
I Think I Love You - Partridge Family
Stacy's Mom - Fountains Of Wayne
pizza day - Aquabats
Little Yellow Spider - Devendra Banhart
Wannabe - Spice Girls
Mixed Up World - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
What Is Love - Haddaway

Your Excuse - Slobberbone
Screwdriver - The White Stripes
Backlash Blues - Nina Simone
Trouble - The Jayhawks
I'm Free - Soup Dragons
Shadow Blues - Laura Veirs
Awesome God - Rich Mullins
Swamp - Télépopmusik
Turning Away - Shakin' Stevens
Imagine - T.T. Ross
Broken Butterflies - Lucinda Williams
We Both Go Down Together - The Decemberists
Crazy Dreams - Lucy Kaplansky
Home (Air "Around the Golf" Mix) - Depeche Mode
Hazy Jane II - Nick Drake
Warm Love - Van Morrison
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - John Lee Hooker
When Tomorrow Comes - Eurythmics
A House For Sale - Millie Jackson
More Than a Feeling - The Moog Cookbook
I Think You And I - Skip Spence
Vampire - Juliet Turner
Plan 9 Channel 7 - The Damned
Stumblin' In - Suzi Quattro & Chris Norman
Drops Me Down - Lisa Loeb
Biological - Air
Had Me A Real Good Time - The Faces
Big Area - Then Jerico
Unemployed In Summertime - Emiliana Torrini
Los Endos - Genesis
Hardin Wouldn't Run - Steve Earle
Rednecks - Randy Newman
On The Beach - Neil Young
Big Wheel - Laura Cantrell
Hard Life - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Comanche - Cake
Surfin' USM - Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine
Homeless - Paul Simon
Jupiter Rising - Emmylou Harris
The Things That Dreams Are Made Of - Human League

Saturday, November 17, 2007

London, Lincoln, London 17-11-07

You Will Always Be The Same - Ryan Adams
Green Summer Lawn - Vigilantes Of Love
Maundering - Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Jack Shit George - Ian Dury & The Blockheads
Kanon - Enon
I'm The Leader Of The Gang - Gary Glitter
Never Knew Love Like This Before - Stephanie Mills
Taxman - The Beatles
Big Girls Don't Cry - Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
Memphis Pearl - Lucinda Williams
Paralyzed - Bob Mould
It Must Be Love - Labi Siffre
Taa Deem - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
Live Bed Show - Pulp
The Beauty Of The Days Gone By - Van Morrison
Stuck In The Middle With You - Louise
Green, Green Grass Of Home (live at Folsom Prison) - Johnny Cash
Troubled So Hard - Vera Hall
Listen To The Radio - Nanci Griffith
I Got A Feeling - Barbara Randolph
Down To Zero - Bettye Lavette
Is it Peace or Is it Prozac? - Cheryl Wheeler
Every Rose Has Its Thorn - Rex Hobart And The Misery Boys
Girls Dem Sugar (feat Mya) - Beenie Man
I Am Your Tambourine - Tift Merritt
Liar - Deana Carter
Nu Rip Off - The Kleptones
Born To A Family - The Go-Betweens
Merry-Go-Round - Gunilla Thorn
Sonny Could Lick All Them Cats - Chuck E. Weiss
Shting-Shtang - Nick Lowe
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window - The Beatles
In The Midnight - Van Morrison
Hallelujah Jordan - Hothouse Flowers
Inside - Patti Rothberg
There Was Love - Charlie Peacock
Reefer Madness - UB40
The Nursery Walls - The Lilac Time
Ireland For Losers - Jackie Leven
Computerlove - Kraftwerk
Terminator X To The Edge Of Panic - Public Enemy
Kiss - Prince
High Water - Bob Dylan
One Moment More - Mindy Smith

Are You Ready for Love - Elton John
What's New Pussycat? - Los Fabulosos Cadillacs & Fishbone
Working My Way Back To You Babe - Spinners
I Love You 'Cause I Have To - Dogs Die In Hot Cars
Rawhide - The Blues Brothers
Breakthru - Queen
(excerpt from) Jack and the Beanstalk - Children's Disco Musical Stories
Fast Food song - Fast Food Rockers
I Don't Care - 7" Remix - Shakespear's Sister
Breakin' Up - Rilo Kiley
Don’t Look Back Into The Sun - The Libertines
Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini - Frankie Avalon
Queen of the World - Ida Maria
Don't You Want Me - Human League
Self-Defence - Monty Python
Give Him A Great Big Kiss - Shangri-Las
Still Alive (credits to Portal) - Ellen McLain
Redneck Girl - Gretchen Wilson
Better When You're Naked - Ida Maria
I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman - The White Stripes
Happy People - R. Kelly
Mansard Roof - Vampire Weekend
Foundations - Kate Nash
My Life - Billy Joel
Babylon's Burning The Ghetto - Lethal Bizzle
Voyage Voyage - Desireless
Feel the Beat - Darude
Letter from America - The Proclaimers
Ruby - Kaiser Chiefs
I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You - Black Kids
Yoda (parody of Lola, kinks) - Weird Al Yankovic
I Can't Go For That - Daryl Hall & John Oates
Everytime We Touch - Cascada
Monsters and Angels - Voice of the Beehive
N Apostrophe T - Tom Lehrer
Only You Can - Fox
Up The Bracket - The Libertines
Shang-A-Lang - Bay City Rollers
A Glass Of Champagne - Sailor
The Duel - Giorgio Moroder
Shake ur body - Shy FX & T-Power feat. Di
Sugar Sugar - Archies
Brother Louie - Modern Talking
Louie - Ida Maria
Ladies Of Cambridge - Vampire Weekend
Staring At The Rude Boys - The Ruts

Friday, November 16, 2007

Asus Eee PC 4G 701 micro-laptop

Reg Hardware reports: [edited]

Asus' new micro-laptop runs on Linux, has Wi-Fi and 4GB of flash storage, of which around 2.9GB is consumed by the OS, bundled apps and sample files.

An advantage to using Linux is that it's easier to make the OS fit the screen. The 701's 7in, 100dpi, LED-backlit, 800 x 480 screen isn't a standard resolution, but there are pixels aplenty to ensure dialogue boxes don't disappear off the bottom of the screen as they almost always did with early Windows-based UMPCs. Any that do can usually be resized to fit the screen with just a click. Windows, rather than dialogue boxes, open full-screen by default, but it's easy to switch between them using the tabs in the status bar at the bottom of the screen.

Typing on the 701 is certainly possible, but if your fingers aren't those of a five-year-old, it'll take a bit of practice to make sure you hit the letter you want and not the adjacent keys as well. But all the keys you'd get on a full-sized model are present.

If the keyboard's hard to use, that goes double for the touchpad. A mere 45 x 30mm, it's got a scroll space over on the right-hand side, but that just makes it ever fiddlier to use.

The 701 has three USB ports, a VGA port and SD/SDHC card slot. The other side is home to 3.5mm headphone and microphone sockets and a 10/100Mb Ethernet port.

Closed, the 701 measures 225 x 165 x 25-35mm, but in real terms that means it's the size of a typical hardback novel. It weighs about the same, 890g. In other words, eminently portable, and a perfect size to close up and stash away in your backpack or briefcase when you've finished surfing, writing the latest chapter of your magnum opus or whatever.

At just £220 [camera, model and straw mat not included, Ed.], the Asus Eee PC is a steal. This is a fun, cheap machine.


Editor's postscript: Someone has managed to install Mac OSX on one of these. Bet he doesn't have much room for his iTunes collection.

Nokia N82

Mobile Burn reports: [edited]

Nokia have announced the N82, featuring a 5 megapixel camera with Xenon flash, autofocus, and a Carl Zeiss lens. It is also capable of recording video at VGA resolution, at 30 frames per second.

The handset has quad-band GSM and WCDMA (2100MHz) support. Data connectivity options include HSDPA and WiFi.

The N82 sports a GPS receiver in addition to Bluetooth 2.0 with A2DP support for stereo headsets. The 3.5mm audio jack accommodates standard headphones and can be used with a TV-out cable for displaying videos and photos on a television.

The Nokia N82 measures 112 x 50 x 17mm and weighs 114g. There is a microSD memory card slot with support for capacities up to 8GB. The display is a 2.4" 16 million color TFT screen, with 240 x 320 pixel resolution.

A second front-facing VGA camera is included for video calls. The Nokia N82 costs around £300.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Drobo - intelligent, expandable backup reports: [edited]

As rich media (photos, video, movies, music) continues to devour your storage capacity, you need a solution that allows you to easily manage, protect, and scale storage for your PC or Mac. For you, we've created Drobo, the first fully-automated storage robot to take the pain out of keeping your important digital content safe.

Drobo guards everything on it.
Drobo combines up to four hard drives into a big pool of protected storage. Start with two, grow to four, then upsize smaller drives-get Terabytes of protection.

Drobo manages storage, so you don't have to.
Just connect Drobo to your Mac or PC. No RAID levels. No management or configuration. Drobo does everything for you. Get rid of multiple external drives. Avoid the complexity of RAID. Attach a Drobo storage robot to your system and let it manage your storage so you don't have to.

Drobo upgrades capacity on-the-fly.
Add drives to Drobo at any time. Mix 'n match capacities, brands or speeds. No downtime, data migration, or waiting to access new capacity. Drobo works the way you do.

Drobo lets you "pay as you grow"
Hard drives get bigger and cheaper all the time. Don't buy storage capacity until you need it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dorothy gets a laptop reports: [edited]

A new era began Tuesday when the Kansas City School District launched the largest distribution of laptops in the metro area.

The school board earlier this year agreed to purchase Apple MacBooks for all of its 5,000 high school students to use at school and at home.

The project aims to better prepare students for college. Principals have lamented for years about their students not having computers at home, fearing they will be behind their peers by the time they get to college.

“Laptop computers will help us to teach each student at their instructional level, so that they can find success,” said Susan Engelmann, a district administrator who oversees the high schools.

The school district required parents and students to attend an orientation session about the rules and expectations for using the laptops.

The school district paid about $6.4 million for the lease. Parents are responsible for the $25 insurance fee. For those unable to pay, the district allows community service as a substitute payment.

The laptops are equipped with software to prevent students from viewing pornography, but parents are also expected to help keep track of Internet usage.

District officials have taken several measures to prevent theft. All of the laptops have stickers clearly identifying them as the property of the Kansas City, Kan., public schools. The sticker will not come off without virtually destroying the laptop.

If thieves find a way around that obstacle, a GPS tracking device will help locate it. If all else fails, district officials said, they could also use a remote device to destroy the hard drive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Strapline for Britain

As Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown is seeking to set the agenda by choosing a 'Motto for Britain', chosen by a "citizens' summit" of 1,000 people, allowing it to be "truly representative" of Britishness rather than have it imposed by ministers or a team of highly-paid consultants.

Members of the public will be asked to come up with five or six-word slogans, perhaps based around ideas of fair play or national pride.

Sources described the plan as a "once in a lifetime chance" to capture Britishness in a few words.

Times Online readers have responded with a few of their own, including...

"Great people, great country, Great Britain"

"Courage, reason, humanity, democracy, monarchy"

Some are wary of any sign of nationalism, warning:

"Pride comes before a fall".

And others have grabbed the chance to have a dig at Brown:

"Taxation without Representation is Tyranny"

"Created by heroes, destroyed by Labour"

"Our government no longer listens".

Nostalgia for the empire also runs deep, with suggestions such as:

"Wallowing in a post-colonial miasma"

"Once mighty empire, slightly used".

But most contributors seem to favour engaging in the popular national sport of self deprecation.

"Drinking continues until morale improves"

"Our glass is half empty"

"Dipso fatso bingo ASBO Tesco".

"Sorry it's all our fault"

"We apologise for the inconvenience"

and the one that made me laugh out loud...

"At least we're not French"

Feed the world while feeding your head is:

"a vocabulary-testing multiple-choice website. Click on the answer that best defines the word. If you get it right, you get a harder word. If wrong, you get an easier word. For each word you get right, 10 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program."

And it would appear it isn't a scam. However as LanceWiggs reports: [edited]

There have been 1.2 billion grains given out so far. That’s 120m correct answers - call it 130m page views.

At a CPM ($ per 1000 impressions) of, say, $20, that’s $2.6 million in income. At a CPM of 10 that’s $1.3m. They feel like a good range, but really I’m just guessing here. I’m confident that the revenue is at least $1m.

Rice is light: 1000 grains is about 26 grams, so 10 grains is about 0.26 grams.

Rice is cheap: 1 bagged metric tonne is $350. So 1.2 billion rice grains is about 3,120 tonnes, or $1.09m FOB. Therefore the site owners are making everything above a CPM of about $8.

Advertisers - if you are paying more than that, then you are enriching one John Breen, who is a very smart cookie who just happens to have also collected $1m for global poverty efforts.

I love this, and I love the moral dilemma aspect as well. Is it right to enrich John Breen while you are enriching poor children?

My answer is yes - as the $1m worth of rice is $1m more rice than the UN had before, and you’ve had some enjoyment along the way. Your opinion may differ, and perhaps John Breen is a non-profit, and the funds channeled to worthy causes or business building?

Thanks to photogabble for the original link to the free rice site.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Artificial brain falls for optical illusions

New Scientist reports: [edited]

A computer program that emulates the human brain falls for the same optical illusions humans do. It suggests the illusions are a by-product of the way babies learn to filter their complex surroundings. Researchers say this means future robots must be susceptible to the same tricks as humans are in order to see as well as us.

For some time, scientists have believed one class of optical illusions result from the way the brain tries to disentangle the colour of an object and the way it is lit. An object may appear brighter or darker, either because of the shade of its colour, or because it is in bright light or shadows.

The brain learns how to tackle this through trial and error when we are babies, the theory goes. Mostly it gets it right, but occasionally a scene contradicts our previous experiences. The brain gets it wrong and we perceive an object lighter or darker than it really is – creating an illusion.

Until now there has been no way of knowing whether this theory is correct. Beau Lotto and David Corney at University College London, UK, think they have finally done it. They created a program that learns to predict the lightness of an image based on its past experiences – just like a baby. And just like a human, it falls prey to optical illusions.

They trained it using 10,000 greyscale images of fallen leaves that animals might face in nature. It had to predict the true shade of the centre pixel of the images, and change its technique depending on whether its answer was right or wrong.

The researchers then tested the program on lightness illusions that would fool humans. First, it was shown images of a light object on a darker background, and vice versa. Just like humans, the software predicted the objects to be respectively lighter and darker than they really were. It also exhibited more subtle similarities – overestimating lighter shades more than darker shades.

Next, the researchers tried White's Illusion. Again like a human, the program saw areas of grey as darker when placed on a black stripe, and lighter when placed on a white stripe.

Previous computer models tried to directly copy the brain's structure. They could fall for either of the two illusions, but unlike a human, not both at once.

Lotto's programme was instead just designed to judge shades through learning, without being modelled on the brain. He says that suggests our ability to see illusions really is a direct consequence of learning to filter useful information from our environment. "We didn’t evolve to see things accurately, but to see things that would be useful." Lotto points out.

That has implications for robot vision. Most creators of machine vision try to copy human vision because it is so well suited to a variety of environments. The new findings suggest that if we want to exploit its advantages, we also have to suffer its failings. It will be impossible to create a perfect, superhuman robot that never makes mistakes.

Thomas Serre, a vision expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, US, is impressed with the team's results. "It's a very neat and elegant way of showing that [learning experiences] alone can explain illusions," he says.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Vector Magic

Vector Magic allows you to convert bitmap images to vector images, online. If that doesn't make any sense to you, skip this blog. If it does, then it is worth a visit.

Leopard's Time Machine. It works!

Reg Hardware reports: [edited]

"I was planning to leave my appraisal of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard's Time Machine feature until the end, but necessity has just forced me to look at it in depth straight away. Put simply, if it wasn't for Time Machine, you wouldn't be reading this article.

"Earlier today, I experienced one of about three kernel panics I've encountered since I installed the first Mac OS X Public Beta release back in the later 1990s. I've owned three Macs in that period, and that's the number of kernel panics I've had. But today's did for my MacBook Pro..."

If you own a Mac, the rest of the article makes worthwhile reading.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Why I won't be joining the iPhone queues tomorrow

Since the iPhone's announcement in June, I've been pondering whether I should get one. It looks beautiful. The interface is pure Apple. Intuitive. Clever. Fun. And my first hands-on (with the iPod Touch) reinforced these impressions.

The iPhone is a huge success in the US. And it will continue this success across Europe. For the majority of purchasers it will provide them with a...

- mobile phone
- sms system
- camera
- calendar
- address book
- web browser
- email client
- photo manager/display
- music manager/player
- video manager/player

in a unit that is only a little larger than a conventional mobile phone, and that is a pleasure to look at and use.


The O2 contracts don't suit my usage. I hardly do any voice calls, and very little texting. There's no 3G. I could purchase a 'hacked' iPhone, but I would be at the mercies of the next Apple 'update' turning my expensive PDA into a 'brick'.

The primary use for my iPod is in my car, where it is mounted on my dashboard. The touchscreen interface is not suited to being used 'on the move', and the track information text is too small to be read at a distance.

The video playback is excellent, but it can't handle Quicktime movie trailers. So, just like with my Nokia E65, I would still have to convert them to a suitable format. Or watch the low-res 'Podcast' versions.

I can hook my E65 up to my PowerBook via Bluetooth and use it as a 3G modem. And it browses my Gmail account (using Google's excellent Symbian app) as well as allowing me to check the latest news via various 'mobile-orientated' sites.

Although using the numeric keypad to type messages is clumsy, I can do it without looking at the screen. And when I want to send an SMS message from work or home I use a program called BluePhoneElite on my PowerBook that allows me to use a proper keyboard.

Oh, and I like the fact I can check the time/calendar on my Nokia without switching the phone on.

The camera quality on the iPhone is acceptable, but no match for my Fuji F30. And when you only get one chance to take a photo, I don't want it to be an image that isn't good enough to enlarge and print some time in the future.

And why, oh why, oh why, didn't Apple implement stereo Bluetooth on the iPhone? And WiFi streaming of music to my Airport Express? A micro-SD slot? I'm guessing for the same reason they didn't put a better camera, 3G, etc on it. So they can sell a load more 'new-improved' iPhones in 2008!

For more on my wishlist for iPod touch v.2, read my previous blog.

Non-stick gum

University of Bristol reports: [edited]

Revolymer, a spin out company from the University of Bristol, has completed development of its new Clean Gum that can be easily removed from shoes, clothes, pavements and hair. Preliminary results also indicate that the gum will degrade naturally in water.

The company has completed initial trials on pavements in local high streets as part of a collaborative agreement with local councils. In the two trials, leading commercial gums remained stuck to the pavements three out of four times. In all tests the Revolymer gum was removed within 24 hours by natural events.

Professor Terence Cosgrove, of the University of Bristol and Chief Scientific Officer of Revolymer said: “The advantage of our Clean Gum is that it has a great taste, it is easy to remove and has the potential to be environmentally degradable”.

“The basis of our technology is to add an amphiphilic polymer to a modified chewing gum formulation which alters the interfacial properties of the discarded gum cuds, making them less adhesive to most common surfaces.”

The irresponsible discarding of gum cuds costs local councils in the UK £150 million pounds a year to clean up.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Proof that Steve reads my wish lists...

Upgraded to iTunes 7.5 today. Went to add my latest purchase to the 'kidz journey' list, only to get reminded that I'd already done it.

I've been asking for this feature since iTunes got playlists!

Battle of the games

Wired reports: [edited]

Forget about Xbox vs. Wii. This Christmas, the fiercest videogame rivalry is a battle of the bands.

The makers of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock pulled out all the stops to defend their turf against rival music game Rock Band. They enlisted actual rock stars to write new riffs, and hired six guitar experts to turn dozens of real-world rock anthems into engaging game fodder.

The first incarnation of Guitar Hero quickly won fans after its 2005 release with its simple concept - play rock songs with a plastic guitar. That game, which turned popular tunes into virtual notes that players slammed out on guitar-shaped controllers, spawned a huge-selling sequel, Guitar Hero II.

But now the franchise faces its first real challenge in the form of Rock Band, a multiplayer game that extends the "let's pretend we're rockers" strategy beyond the guitar to let players tackle drumming and vocals. The fact that Rock Band was created by Harmonix, the original maker of Guitar Hero, makes the struggle all the more personal.

The new song list is packed with well-known hits, from The Killers' "When You Were Young" to Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love." The developers also added "boss battles" against virtual versions of real-life guitarists, bringing in Velvet Revolver's Slash and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello to motion-capture their signature stage moves. Both composed original guitar duets for the battle stages.

In contrast, Rock Band adds drumming and vocals to the mix, creating three distinct single-player experiences - and one crazy four-player mode - but doesn't deepen the guitar experience very much.

Perhaps most importantly, Guitar Hero III will be the only music game on Wii this year. Huang says the Nintendo console's casual game audience makes Wii a "phenomenal platform" for Guitar Hero III.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Driverless cars approaching

BBC reports: [edited]

A driverless car called Boss has scooped a $2m prize in a Californian race for robotic vehicles.

Boss successfully drove around an urban environment, avoiding other cars, and covering 60 miles (85km) in less than six hours, all without any human control.

The race was organised by the US military's Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and is designed to develop unmanned vehicles that could be used in battle situations. Automotive manufacturers say the technology could eventually lead to self-driving cars.

Boss navigated around a simulated town, created on a disused US Air Force base in Victorville, in the Californian desert. It had to deal with single and dual carriageway roads, junctions, buildings and car parks. As well as the 10 other driverless cars, Boss shared the road with more than 30 professional human drivers to simulate busy traffic.

"This is a big day for robotics," said Chris Urmson, the team's technology leader. "We had 11 vehicles that were incredibly capable, and the fact that six of them drove the 60 miles is amazing - just a big day."

Spectators watched from grandstands as the vehicles pulled up at junctions, turned on their indicators, and then pulled away with the steering wheel eerily moving by itself.

One of the key pieces of technology for the winning team was a Lidar - a spinning laser scanner. "It has 64 individual lasers in it, and it spins about 10 times a second to generate about a million measurements of the world," explained Chris Urmson. "That gives us a kind of point cloud which we can use to help understand where features are - cars, walls, the sidewalk and so on."

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pervasive internet access, now.

Pervasive broadband is becoming more affordable by the day. I already check my email and browse the web on my Nokia E65 via Vodafone's 3G network. And I can use the E65 as a modem for my PowerBook, via Bluetooth.

Three is now offering internet access packages for your laptop via their cell network. And it would appear that it is available for Macs as well as PCs.

As their web site reports: [edited]

No more wires, no more hassles, no more waiting for a line to be installed. Just plug the USB Modem into your laptop and within five minutes you’re on the web. You can even swap your modem between computers - your broadband wherever you want it.

If you like to take your laptop out to study in the park or work over a latte, you don’t need to search for a hotspot. Mobile Broadband uses 3’s mobile network so you can use your modem wherever you are, and if you’re on 3’s new Turbo network you’ll get broadband speeds of up to 2.8mbps.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

London, Lincoln, London 04-11-07

Planet Earth - Duran Duran
Macarena - Los Del Rio
Magneto And Titanium Man - Paul McCartney & Wings
They Long to Be Close to You (LP Version) - Dionne Warwick
Substitute - Clout
Don't Pay The Ferryman - Chris De Burgh
Terra Firma (Album/Single Version) - The Young Knives
(They Long To Be) Close To You - The Cranberries
Gilt Complex - Sons and Daughters
Evangeline - The Icicle Works
Me & You & a Dog Named Boo - Lobo
There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds
Blue Monday-88 - New Order
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Gwen Guthrie
It's In His Kiss - Linda Lewis
Us - Regina Spektor
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Dusty Springfield
Why Do Fools Fall in Love - Alma Cogan
Working for the Weekend - Loverboy
They Long To Be Close To You - Burt Bacharach
Stronger - Kanye West
One More Time - Daft Punk
Stay With Me - The Faces
I'm in the mood for dancing - The Nolans
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Barry Manilow
Ca Plane Pour Moi - Leila K
Leave Get Out - Jojo
(They Long To Be) Close To You - Michael Ball
(They Long To Be) Close To You - Gerald Levert ft. Tamia
I like kids - Tommy Cooper
Last Night - Vitamin C
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Petula Clark
Teenage Dirtbag - Wheatus
mispronunciation - Ronnie Barker
(They Long to Be) Close to You - Ron Isley
Popsicles And Icicles - The Murmaids
Dreamboat - Alma Cogan
It's Now Or Never - Elvis Presley
Pinball Wizard - The Who
ship with yoyos - Tommy Cooper
Whatever You Want - Status Quo
The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead - XTC
Cruel To Be Kind - Letter to Cleo

10 Rocks - Shelby Lynne
007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker & the Aces
3 Feet Tall - I Am Kloot
3 AM Eternal - KLF
Your Body Is A Wonderland - John Mayer
You've Got To Talk To Me - Lee Ann Womack
You're strange - Joseph Arthur
You're So Rude - The Faces
You're Quiet - Brendan Benson
You're My Woman - Van Morrison
You'll See - Madonna
You, Baby - The Ronettes
You Win Again - Hank Williams
You Were Right About Everything - Erin McKeown
You May Already Be A Winner - John Hiatt
You Learn - Alanis Morissette
You Got To Me - Neil Diamond
You Can't Do That - The Beatles
You Can Make It If You Try - Gene Allison
You Angel You - Bob Dylan/The Band
You and Me - Lifehouse
You - Kleenex
Y.M.C.A. (disco version) - Village People
Write Your Own Song - Matthew Sweet
Wrecking Ball - Emmylou Harris
Would I Lie To You - Eurythmics
The worst day ever - Simple Plan
Worried Brown Eyes - Jake Thackray
The World's Not Falling Apart - Dar Williams
World War 24 - Ryan Adams
World View Blue - The Blue Aeroplanes
Working My Way Back To You Babe - Spinners
Words Fell (live) - Lucinda Williams
Wooden Heart - Elvis Presley
Wonderful Scar - Now its Overheard
Won't Get Fooled Again - The Who
A Woman Lost In Serious Problems - Josh Rouse
Withered And Died - Caitlin Cary
Wish Someone Would Care - Irma Thomas
Wish I hadn't stayed so long - Hayes Carll
Winter In The Hamptons - Josh Rouse
Winds Of Change - Russ Taff
Will I See You In Heaven - The Jayhawks
Wilderness - Joy Division

Saturday, November 03, 2007

London, Lincoln, London 03-11-07

London to Lincoln
29 - Gin Blossoms
Don't Lose Your Guns - Vigilantes Of Love
La Forêt De Mimosas - Kirsty MacColl
I'll Remember - Madonna
Clean Hands, Dirty Hands - Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Tunnel Of Love - Terry Hall
The Wanderer W/Johnny Cash - U2
Anything But Down - Sheryl Crow
Spanish Bombs - The Clash
Trouble - Coldplay
Larry's - The Wedding Present
Stretch Your Rubber Band - The Meters
You Won't See Me - The Beatles
Start All Over - Kula Shaker
Don't Let Me Down (Instrumental) - Harry J All Stars
Eyes Without A Face - Billy Idol
The Warwick Flog - Maggie & Suzy Roche
Wiggle Wiggle - Bob Dylan
Forces of vicktry - Linton Kwesi Johnson
Children - Robert Miles
Undertow - Ivy
Burning Photographs - Ryan Adams
Midland - San Saba County
Run Run Run - The Velvet Underground
Sister Cry - The Jayhawks
Patience - Catie Curtis
tambourin - Phil Kelsall
Life Floats By - The Jayhawks
Great Dub in the Sky - Easy Star All Stars
Beautiful Vision - Van Morrison
No Place For Me - Laura Cantrell
Day Trip to Bangor - Fiddler's Dram
Living In Hope - The Rutles
I Need You Around - Smoking Popes
Scarlet - U2
Dancin' on the ceiling - Lionel Richie
Intermission - Kathryn Williams
Ode to Billie Joe - Bobbie Gentry
Breakthru - Queen
Broken Land - Adventures
Nights In White Satin - The Moody Blues
My Eyes Are Sore - hal
Chocolate (Revised) - Snow Patrol

Lincoln to London
Hush - AM Radio
Love All Around - Noel Paul Stookey
The Happy Organ - Dave "Baby" Cortez
Speak Like A Child - The Style Council
Silence - Delerium Featuring Sarah Mclachlan
I Don't Wanna Lose My Way (radio edit) - Dreamcatcher
Turn On, Tune In, Cop Out - Freakpower
Like a Prayer - Mad'House
Du gamla du fria - BassHunter
Like Toy Soldiers (clean) - Eminem
Magic - Pilot
Lassoo - The Duke Spirit
Sedated Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne/Ramones (Arty Fufkin)
Time For Action - Secret Affair
Sat In Your Lap - Kate Bush
I Feel For You - Chaka Khan
Since I Left You - The Avalanches
Oh Valencia! - The Decemberists
Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart - Coasters
Chain Reaction - Diana Ross
Mambo No. 5 - Bob the Builder
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) - Edison Lighthouse
Hungry Like The Wolf - Reel Big Fish
Cruel to Be Kind - Nick Lowe
Train To Skaville - The Ethiopians
Posse - Scooter
Drifting Away - Lange & Skye
Revolution - Beatles
Is There a Ghost - Band of Horses
Yesterday Once More - Redd Kross
I'm Blue - 5,6,7,8s
The Weekend (Radio Edit) - Michael Gray
Happy Boys And Girls - Aqua
Spit At Stars - Jack Penate
Hey Baby! - DJ Ötzi
Let Me Be Your Fantasy - Baby D
Don't Stop Believin' - Journey
One Step Closer - S Club 8
All the Way from Memphis - Mott The Hoople
That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings
Kokomo - The Beach Boys
19-2000 - Gorillaz
Eddie and Sheena - Wayne County and the Electric Chairs
Good Vibrations - The Beach Boys

Friday, November 02, 2007

'$100 laptop' now available, for $200

Yahoo! reports: [edited]

The One Laptop per Child Foundation, founded by MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte, has started offering the lime-green-and-white machines in lots of 10,000 for $200 apiece on its Web site.

The laptops are scheduled to go into production next month at a factory in China, far behind their original schedule and in quantities that are a fraction of Negroponte's earlier projections.

It is unclear when the machines will be ready for customers, as the Web site said version 1.0 of the software that runs the machine will not be ready until December 7.

He hoped to keep the price down by achieving unprecedented economies of scale for a start-up manufacturer, and in April, he told Reuters he expected to have orders for 2.5 million laptops by May, with production targeted to begin in September.

But that has not panned out. So far the foundation has disclosed orders to three countries - Uruguay, Peru and Mongolia. It has not said how many machines they have ordered.

Wayan Vota, an expert on using technology to promote economic development who publishes, a blog that monitors the group's activities, estimates orders at no more than 200,000 laptops.

"One-hundred dollars was never a realistic price. By starting with an unrealistic price, he reduced his credibility selling the laptop," Vota said.

The laptop features a keyboard that switches languages, a video camera, wireless connectivity and Linux software. The display switches from color to black-and-white for viewing in direct sunlight - a breakthrough that the foundation is patenting and may license next year for commercial use.

The laptop needs just 2 watts of power compared with a typical laptop's 30 to 40 watts and does away with hard drives. It uses flash memory and four USB ports to add memory and other devices.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

320GB laptop drive

Reg Hardware reports: [edited]

WD today rolled out its latest 2.5" drive, a 320GB monster ready for connecting to a 3Gbps SATA port.

The Scorpio 320 is 9.5mm high (will fit a MacBook Pro). It has 8MB of cache and a maximum spin speed of 5400rpm, although WD's Intelliseek technology will slow it down if it can do so without reducing the data throughput, to keep the unit's power consumption and noise levels down.

The WD3200BEVS is available now, WD said, from its online store and soon through its reseller channel for $200 (£97).

Mac OSX on a PC

The Information Week reports: [edited]

Why run MaC OS on a PC? Well, when you are just used to Windows, it is like living inside a house and not experimenting the whole world out there. Once you get out of it, it is just amazing. Mac is just that: You just feel like glued to the computer. Everything is just beautiful, the interface, the stability. Once you experiment it, you don't want to go back to windows. Trust me.

And one of the things that really got me involved with all this was the ability to have a system that benchmarks [better than] the Mac Pros. You can build your system for a lot less than a real Mac and get the performance of a top-dollar Apple machine.

This is fact and a lot of the real Mac users will deny, but it is fact. My machine runs a e4300 Core Duo Processor over-clocked to 3.40 GHZ. Where can you get a 3.4-GHz MAC? It will cost you a fortune. I have 1066-MHz DDR2 memory, Where can you get that on a Mac???