Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lossless: Keeping your options open

There have been a number of articles 'comparing the sound' of music encoded in a lossless way vs. a lossy way, for example, this one at Slashdot:

Slashdot News Story | Can We Really Tell Lossless From MP3?

I think this question misses a key point (though the original article does touch on it). If you have your content stored in a lossless form you can play it in a number of ways, including compressing music so it sounds as it would if it were being decoded from a lossy source, but you can't do it the other way around.

For example, if I start with a FLAC music file (at any given sample rate) I can convert it to MP3 and listen to the resulting stream with MP3 compression artefacts added (just as they do in the article), or I can listen to the music directly from the FLAC file through something like the Linn Klimax (also mentioned on the BBC, btw). It is not possible to start with an MP3 file and listen to the 'MP3 sound' and then somehow get the 'FLAC sound' from the MP3, because the MP3 has lost some information (hence lossy). The lost bits are just not available. Ever. Lost for good.

You don't need to use something as expensive as a Klimax to enjoy music encoded using FLAC. There are lots of free player programs for your computer (e.g. Play for the mac) and home music stystems (e.g. the Logitech Squeezebox). Yes, lossless formats do take up more space, but bulk storage is quite cheap today and getting cheaper, so this is no longer a really significant issue.

So, keep your valued music in FLAC format and keep your options open. You may not be able to afford a Klimax now, but who knows what the future might bring or how your ears might change.

And, of course, avoid DRM like the plague.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Candidates for hybrid vehicles

We hired a Prius and went on a drive around Wales fairly recently. Wales was stunning, and we'll be making a return trip. The Prius was mostly a not particularly remarkable family car, but there were a couple of area where it really excelled.

The first one was in the quiet of the morning when leaving a B&B. There is a button which tells the Prius to avoid using the internal combustion engine for as long as possible. In this 'stealth mode' we pulled away from B&Bs with just a crunch of gravel, if that.

The other situation where the Prius excelled was in heavy traffic in London. When stopped in traffic, i.e. most of the time (or so it seemed), the car used minimal energy and was pumping no fumes into the air. However we still got to enjoy the noise and fumes from the thousands of other vehicles around us.

Given this experience I'd say hybrid technology is great for:

Early morning or late evening movements in residential areas. In the UK the all electric milk float has been around for ages, and increasingly we are seeing grocery delivery vehicles using either all electric or hybrid vehicles. Great stuff, but we need to see much more of this.

The London cab. This is a great vehicle. Tight turning circle, loads of room inside and driven by someone who actually knows where they are going. But, boy, are they noisy and polluting! Most of their life will be spent stood still in traffic jams or waiting for a fare with the engine running (to keep the driver warm). Hybrid technology (or some kind of all-electric) technology would be perfect for cabs in London and other large cities.

Waste collection vehicles. The nosiest of them all, with their mighty compactors on the back and the amazing range of loud noises they make as they whir, wheeze and rattle down the streets. These vehicle clearly need heaps of power to run the hydraulics for compacting, tipping and all that, but do they really need to run the big diesel engine and compressors while racing (oh, yes) from one set of rubbish bins to another? I think not. With Hybrid technology batteries could be charged while the engine was working to drive the hydraulics, and the engine could be off for the sprints between bins. The engine could kick in for longer runs, but for most of the stop-start small street stuff, the vehicle could be much quieter.

Buses in London are noisy beasts too. TfL are already looking at using Hybrid technology for those, but it seems to be taking a long time to put into practice. I saw the first hybrid double decker at the Lord Mayors show a few years ago, but even now I hardly ever see one actually in service.

If we can get these kinds of vehicles to be less polluting in terms of noise and exhaust it would significantly improve the environment in our modern cities, and hopefully set an example for other city road users.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tube worker suspended over 'rant'

Well, well. Someone has caught a member of Tfl staff bullying a member of the travelling public:

BBC NEWS | England | London | Tube worker suspended over rant

This is the kind of awful treatment which was dished out to Justina in an incident for which I, sadly, did not have a video and which the London transport bureaucracy buried with process.

A key quote from a Tfl spokesman about this recent incident is:
"We do not tolerate members of the public being abusive to our staff but neither will we tolerate members of our staff abusing members of the public."
Hmmm. Perhaps Tfl will at last update the posters they have at stations to reflect that, because at the moment they only tell customers it's not OK to abuse Tfl staff, not the other way around. Both are bad, of course.

To end on a happy note, friends of ours recently lost a wallet on the tube with quite a bit of cash in it. Well, the wallet was handed in and the staff at the Baker St. lost property office were really nice and helpful about the whole thing ... and all the money seems to be there. Most people really are good.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Who should contribute to the copyrights debate?

The UK government have decided, persuaded by the unelected industry secretary Peter Mandelson, that it would be a good idea to make criminals of people who infringe copyright, thus clearly taking sides against the general public in what should be a purely civil matter.

It's OK, though. They did engage in consultations first, or so it is reported.

But who did they consult? The public? No. The creative individuals who made the works? No. ... they seem to have consulted only with lawyers and the "recording industry".

The public have voted largely with their feet, and here is a report on the position of creative individuals in The Register:

Pop stars tell labels to FOAD • The Register

Perhaps time for MPs to listen to the people who voted for them rather than non-voting corporate entities ... and then perhaps the government might even listen to the MPs?

Hope springs eternal.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

What should be taught

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity, and I agree.

The link is to a light-hearted but right-on-target talk he gave for TED.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In GemStone selectors >>true and >>false not allowed

Lesson of the evening ...

While moving Slaps (the Smalltalk LDAP library) to GemStone I found that while VisualWorks is quite happy if methods have the selector >>true or the selector >>false, GemStone is not. Darn.

Oh, well. Easily fixed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Adding UDP sockets to Sport

I am looking at adding UDP socket support to Sport (the Smalltalk portability interface), specifically so I can run the Syslog library in Gemstone.

I have posted some initial proposals to comp.lang.smalltalk (cls), so if you are a Sport maintainer for a Smalltalk dialect or if you are just interested, please respond to my post there.

BTW, we use cls for Sport because cls is a forum for all Smalltalk dialects and Sport applies to all dialects. There you go.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Popeye the Sailor copyright free 70 years after Elzie Segar's death - Times Online

Here's a rare thing. Something of value actually enters the public domain (in some parts of the world):

Popeye the Sailor copyright free 70 years after Elzie Segar's death - Times Online

... though I fear that Popeye will now be portrayed as a victim of 'weak' copyright protection legislation and used to encourage law makers to extend copyright terms yet again.

I hope, instead, that we see some excellent derivative Popeye works over the next year that show value in the economy, and that this strengthens the arguments for resisting copyright term extension, and perhaps even for shortening those terms to more useful levels for the wider economy.