Monthly Archives: February, 2002


Brainstorming next year’s PC. They want more stylish computers, built-in wireless networking, fast serially-connected peripherals. Doesn’t look like it takes much brainstorming to me. They’re just following Apple’s lead.


I’ve just been to an interesting talk about Dr Osamu Morikawa’s HyperMirror system. How do you allow for richer interaction over video conferences? Make the participants believe they are all in one room, but looking in a mirror. Wonderfully simple idea, which seems to work very well. There are short video clips on the web site.

It reminds me of the MIT ALIVE project, where you saw yourself in a mirror view of an artificial world, with which you could interact. HyperMirror is much simpler and more useful for most people, because it’s about communicating with other people rather than machines. (It doesn’t even need a computer for a simple implementation.)

This is a noticable trend in the progress towards ‘ubiquitous computing‘. Technologies which simplify communication between people thrive. Those which simplify communication with machines are mostly just a stepping stone.


One of the things I love about the Mac is the way that applications are usually self-contained on your disk. They don’t dump miscellaneous files into system folders, for example, like Windows apps do, thus requiring an uninstall procedure. For most Mac apps, the uninstall procedure is ‘drag to the Trash’. Similarly, backing up and restoring your programs is easy.

Of course, this tidiness also makes this sort of thing easy!


From “Import This: the Tenth International Python Conference”:

"Tim [Berners-Lee] became a Python enthusiast when he tried to learn Python on a plane trip. He had already downloaded Python and its documentation on his laptop, and between takeoff and landing he was able to install Python and learn enough to do something with it, “all on one battery.” "

(Python is a programming language. Just in case anyone thinks this is an unhealthy obsession with reptiles.)


Andrew Sullivan’s very interesting Blogger Manifesto:

“…the nascent Napster of the journalism industry”

I’m a bit behind the times, posting a link to this. He wrote it about four days ago. Which illustrates something or other about the world we live in.


W3C retreats from royalty policy. The standards body backs away from a proposal that would have allowed companies to demand royalties for technologies used in its standards. [CNET] So there is some sanity out there after all.


Last summer Rose and I took up a new hobby: horse-riding. I’d sat on a horse many times in the past, but always as a passenger rather than a driver! We got hooked, and we’ve been going once a week ever since. I wish we could ride more often.

I was trying to work out quite why I enjoy it so much, and I think it’s largely that it’s so different from anything else I do. Much of my time I spend working with machines, which generally behave in a fairly predictable and repeatable way. My car isn’t sluggish about changing into third gear just because it didn’t get a good night’s sleep. But on the other hand, it doesn’t rub affectionately against me either.

Another factor is that I spend so much time trying to predict, invent and plan for the future that it’s fun to pursue an activity which is shamelessly wallowing in the past. Good for preserving one’s sense of balance (in more ways than one).

Recommended for geeks everywhere.


A bit more hacking, and this page now displays the number of comments to each message (for those that have any). It also emails me when a new comment is posted. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t actually expect many people will want to write anything here; I’m doing this because integrating the client-based Radio and the server-based PHP is quite a fun experiment.


I’m quite pleased with a photo I took of my wife Rose today:


You might very reasonably ask, “How did a guy like you get a girl like her?”

I got lucky.


Motorola phones will support AOL Instant Messaging.


Amazon’s stock of the new iMac sold out in four hours. Our local dealer has a couple of display models, but is quoting a six-week waiting time for new orders.

As a result of Mac OS X, BSD-based Unix is now apparently three times more popular on the desktop than Linux.


From Robert Cringely: "A U.S. Government Panel Has Recommended a Royalty System That Will Probably Kill Internet Radio and Make Possible a Better System to Follow"

But, sadly, his ‘better system’ wouldn’t work. At least, not to kill off illegal copying. As far as I can see, no matter how much software encryption you try to throw at the problem, music copying will always be with us, for a simple reason:

At some point in the decoding of the music, it must be converted to plain digital amplitude samples to be fed to the digital-to-analogue converters on the sound card, which in turn create the voltages which drive the loudspeaker. All it takes is for somebody to write a bit of software which sits between the music player and the soundcard and siphons off the plain amplitude samples and, hey, you’ve got a WAV file. This bit of software can masquerade as a soundcard driver. Many such utilities already exist and they work regardless of which particular bit of music-playing software you use.

The only alternative is to require the decrypting code to be built into the soundcard hardware so that no software can get at the plain bytes. Only people with the decrypting sound hardware would be able to hear the music. This is just about plausible, but then people would just copy at the analogue level. The resulting quality would be fine for a world which is happy with 128kbps MP3s. It would, however, be rather less convenient.

You see, the convenience is the key. The reason I use Napster and its clones is not that I’m not willing to pay for music. It’s that if I hear a song on the radio, like it, remember a few lines from the chorus and want to hear it again, there is no other easy way to get a copy of it. The way for the recording industries to control this is not by trying to legislate against all distributors in all the different legal systems around the world. They can’t win that way. What they should be doing instead is coming up with a really good service which is so convenient, high quality, and reasonably priced that for most people, using anything else simply isn’t worth the bother.

Perhaps that’s what Cringely meant, actually.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser