Friday, 29 July 2011

Here we go again

It seems that the "ruling classes" still do not understand two things. One, the Internet is a human right, expressing everything we believe in about Human Rights to free speech, association, etc. Two, that its technology is a darn site more complicated than they can even imagine, especially things like VPN and encryption.


Arising out of this blindness there have been many stupid attempts to control the Internet in favour of the media industry, mainly the recording labels and the movie studios. These bodies are unbelievably complex in the way the do business, the artists that they promote have a very bad deal, most money goes to the companies. They have a vitriolic campaign to fight what they call "pirates". Let's get it clear people that download free media files are not pirates, pirates steal things, downloaders copy them. This is known as infringing the rights of the holders, most often the studios themselves, not the artists who have signed away their creative rights to these Goliath's.

Let's make it clear, infringement of copyright is a civil offence, NOT a criminal one.

A Judgement

So what has happened now? Well some stupid judge has succumbed to the whining of the studios and ruled that the delivery channel of the downloads, the ISPs, are responsible for the traffic they are carrying. In other words BT, the UKs largest ISP, has to recognise the files going across their network as copyright media, and has to block them using the software setup to control pornography which has been used for several years to protect children. The way they are to ID media files is now by waiting until the rights owners file a court order, but the way they block them is pure censorship with no legal ruling. That is they block anyone's access to a web site where downloaders can link to the infringing files.

But really who is committing the offence here? Not the web site, not BT, but the person copying the file without paying the rights holder. So studios are missing their true target, and the judge is going along with it.

Infringement has to have penalties, but these have to imposed by rights holders through the courts directly on the offenders, not to the detriment of everyone, not through blanket censorship.


The studios have only themselves to blame for this haemorrhaging of their copyright media. They should change their business model. It is not at all surprising that people want and will find and copy movies when they are released first in the USA, first to the cinemas, first to DVD, before being made available immediately on iTunes (or any other service). As soon as the movie comes out in cinemas and gets rave reviews everyone will want it now, not 6 months later.

iTunes has already proved that there is a pent-up demand for streamed movies to the TV in the home. So you can pay-by-view and not have to drag yourself out to a smelly, cold cinema and pay the local council to park your car, and pay excessive prices.

The march of technology is unpreventable, just blocking web sites will force everyone underground, where they cannot be found, they will use file vaults protected by encryption and the infringement will go on.

Take it or leave it Studios, your business model is pissed, and it about time you did something about it. Open up the delivery chain, studio to consumer, remove the middle man and get your prices down.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Just to let you know

I have upgraded my MacBook to the new Lion version of OS X. It works just fine, but I am not overexcited, maybe most of the things it does for me are happening in the background?

I like the "Mission Control" which I have set to activate with the "Fn" let at lower left of the keyboard - my MacBook is an old one, so it does not have a multi-touch trackpad, which means I do not get the three and four finger gestures… sadly, need a new computer! But Full screen apps are very good, I like the extra real estate and the drop down top menus.

Now I await iOS5 and the iCloud implementation for OS X. Roll on "fall" as the Americans say. The iCloud will give me more and hopefully better, syncing between my MacBook and my iPad and iPhone. But on the other hand I will lose my web site on Mobile Me and will, if I want one, have to find another host. Perhaps I no longer need a web site as I have this blog?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Good use for a custard pie?

Like thousands of others I have spent the afternoon watching the commons committee grilling James and Rupert Murdoch. What a farce! These two say about just about everything "It wasn't me" (Rupert) or "I wasn't there" (James).


This newspaper has done little except mud slinging for years. They do not impartially report news at all. They openly admit they seek to act as unofficial policemen and expose and condemn people. They think there job is to promote opinion and change society and the law.

They have little morality themselves, they think they can go anywhere (trespass), do anything (phone hacking, blagging, computer hacking...) provided they get a "story" for the front page.

They are not fit to run a company, they are salacious and make a living on the susceptibility of people for gratuitous thrills and a blame culture.

It is clear that they still do not accept that the "buck stops here". They rely on the police, who failed, on the PCC, who failed and on lawyers, who also failed. But they try to get out of their responsibilities by blaming these bodies, then contritely saying they are doing everything to assist with enquiries, while making none of their own. Ridiculous.


Neither Murdoch seem to know what is or was going on. Rupert took the high ground, pretending he sets the agenda for behaviour in NotW: no to illegality, no to intrusive investigations, stand up for freedom of the press. But when it came down to it, no personal responsibility, "it was someone else that did it m'lord". And James is just processes, hiding behind his departments, his lawyers, the police, but allowing "anything goes" provided it is not found out.

This has been going on, and maybe other red tops are behaving the same, we shall see. But it is not the press and newspapers we need or deserve in UK.

Using Apple's Airplay with BBC iPlayer

As most people will have found out, and complained about, the web site for BBC iPlayer does not issue the code needed to enable Airplay when viewing programs. For example you can view iPlayer on a PC, Mac, iPad or iPhone platform (the PC and Mac platform need Abobe's closed standard Flash installed, the iPad and iPhone feeds are in open standard MP4/H264 format). But on the iPad or iPhone the Airplay icon does not appear and you cannot stream the programs to your big screen TV using an Apple TV.

But I found that there is a work-around!

1 Switch off WiFi on your iPhone and access the iPlayer using 3G (if your ISP allows this, I use '3' who encourage this, just as they promote Skype...)

2 Chose the program you want to watch, let it start, then pause its playback.

3 Enable WiFi on your home network where you have also an Apple TV connected. Then resume playback.

You will now see the Airplay icon by the side of the volume slider, chose this and chose your Apple TV, and hey presto the program is on your TV.

Open it up, BBC

This seems a stupid distraction and I hope the BBC does not try to block it. What they need to do is respond to the many, many requests to allow Airplay streaming from iPad and iPhone to your TV. If this way of viewing programs is enabled it would also allow a first step to a holy grail of allowing users to access the web on their iPads at the same time as watching a program on TV, but with a potential link between the material (actor's biographies, statistics and facts, etc)

More people should know about "Cleanfeed"

Cleanfeed is an internet site blocking software used by BT and other ISPs to mask out web sites in UK. It was started by BT in 2004 and extended to other ISPs in 2007.

It allows the Internet Watch Foundation (find them here) to collect complaints and pass these to the ISPs who then block access to the web sites. Typically this means blocking child sex abuse, obscene material and racial hatred sites.

New attack by MPAA

Enter the MPA, an international arm of the USA MPAA representing the movie studios. In june 2011 they took BT to court to try to get sites hosting or indexing copyright infringing files - movies etc - blocked. Specifically they are targeting a site called Newzbin which indexes the files on the internet Usenet system. Many copyright infringing files are on Usenet for downloading by others.

Our UK Digital Economy Act passed last year gives rights holders the right to identify downloaders of infringing material by forcing ISPs to provide their name and address found from the IP number they are allocated. But the DEA does not provide any legal basis for rights owners to pursue the "pirates" that host files for downloading.
See this report from the BBC.

No one knows!

A survey in 2007-8 showed 62% of UK users are unaware of the existence of Cleanfeed and the IWF. 61% don't trust BT and 65% don't trust the IWF because the system implements "silent censorship" - that is you don't know about sites which are blocked and cannot therefore complain about it. Most users would prefer an "open censorship" model where a help message is shown when users try to access a blocked site, and 57% want an "unblock" request form.

So there we are, drifting into censorship of the internet, with little public debate or knowledge. We have to have a bigger discussion about this. A separate report just issued by the OSCE (find it here) clearly found that existing approaches to web control (like the "three strikes and you are off" law are against many agreed human rights agreements which fundamentally say that open internet access is a human right.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

EU debt - worth repeating

Here's two images culled from the web. with my comments underneath.

IMG 0892

Debt to GDP is a fair measure of the situation and clearly there are some EU countries with problems of overspending. Italy looks almost as bad as Greece, and worse than Portugal or Ireland! But we have to consider who owns the debt, as far as I know a fair amount of Italian debt is owned by the Italian banks. Whereas the Greek debt is widely owned by other country's banks, notably Germany and France.

Never the less the EU rules are that countries should keep within 60% and many of them clearly don't. There's a lot of sorting out to do.

IMG 0893

And here are the debtors compared to their 2010 GDP numbers. Italy and Greece are the only ones well over 100%. But Greece is very much smaller than the others, ranking 8th in the list. Everyone worries about Spain but they are really not so bad. They have high unemployment but that should be curable. Germany is disappointing as the largest economy, it is both over the EU limit and not doing very much to help others balance their account. It's probably haircut time!

Audio measurements

I have been trying to work out how to measure the performance of my audio system, in terms of dynamics and frequency response. First a bit about the audio performance of digital systems.

Digital audio levels

A digital audio recording cannot go above the level when all the bits in a sample are '1's. The Mac OS X defines 0dB as all the bits at '1'. The normal CD 0dB is is defined as OS X -12dB, and HD 0dB is defined as OS X -18dB, thus giving CDs an overhead of 12dB and HD audio an overhead of 18dB before digital clipping.

CD are recorded at 16bits/44.1kHz sample rate, HD is normally at 24bits/96kHz.

The CD's 16bits give an overall range of 96dB from silence to clipping, and HD gives 144dB. So referred to their respective 0dB levels CDs have 96-12 = 84dB range for normal recordings, and HD has 144-18 = 126dB.

The CD is a rather poor when trying to record live music as its range of 84dB plus an overhead for peaks of only 12dB does not match the range of sounds produced by, for example, an orchestra which can range from silence to +130-140dB. HD is a lot better with a range of 122dB and 18dB for peaks.

Music bandwidth

If you think about it the breath sounds of a person playing a flute are rather like a steady wind, in other words a very low frequency! The lowest notes from an organ are down to 16Hz, you tend to feel these sounds rather than hear them, but you do sense them and it is important to record and playback these very low frequencies. So at the bottom end I believe sound equipment should go down to at least 2Hz, with as much DC coupling as possible to prevent rapid roll off of the response.

At the top end many argue that since the human ear can only hear at very best up to 20kHz, with most of us capable of 12-18kHz depending on age, we need only handle up to 20kHz in our audio recordings and playback.

But this is a wrong argument, if we want to playback the sound made by a violin, then we have to reproduce all the frequencies and harmonics that the violin makes. And these stretch up to 40kHz or so. A trumpet's harmonics stretch up to 80kHz.

With the 44.1kHz sampling rate of a CD you are, at best limited to recording 22kHz, but at the recording stage you must filter out steeply any frequencies above this. In practice this means filters starting at 19-20kHz. Failure to cut off higher harmonics will cause severe distortion on decoding the digital audio. HD is a lot better using 96kHz, thus able to handle frequencies up to 48kHz.

Why do we need to handle these harmonics, you cannot get the true timbre of a sound unless you record the full frequency range it makes including all its harmonics. A cymbal crash has 40% of its audio power above 20kHz, a rattle of a bunch of keys has sounds up to above 50kHz. An audience applauding has a huge range of high harmonics, and poor, limited systems will easily show there limitations.


An Apple Mac has an internal audio core that operates at 32bit, and up to 192kHz at least. Thus giving it a huge dynamic range before clipping and a wide bandwidth. So a Mac can be used for audio measurements.

Source and measurement

A freeware program called Signal Inspector has an adequate Tone Generator, with the range we need (say 5Hz to 50kHz) and it has a reasonably accurate level calibration, you can set the output to be CD -12dB or HD -18dB as your reference level. For measurement of the system output the program Sound Studio, which also records up to 96kHz sample rate and 24bits, can be used.

An audio file can be recorded with frequencies over the whole range, and saved in AIFF format (uncompressed PCM) at 24bit/96kHz. This file can then be played back using Sound Studio, Quicktime or iTunes and the system output monitored using Signal Inspector or again Sound Studio. If Sound Studio is used then the system output can be recorded and studied later.

Screen shot 2011 07 14 at 15 13 34

The top program running is Sound Studio with its recording window and its input monitor window shown, the bottom two windows are two tone generators, for left and right, using Signal Inspector.

The performance of the DAC and ADC in the Mac is impressive and analog signals can be generated and monitored. Digital signals can be connected by an optical TOSLINK/SPDIF input/output connection for checking the performance of items like the Apple Express and Apple TV.


If you want to feed audio from the output of one program to the input of another then the excellent utility Sound Flower can be used, if this is combined with the input/output control provided by the PTHVolume program, you will have a very flexible set up.

Noise spectrum

As a matter of interest Signal Inspector can generate a Noise signal, when this is recorded via Sound Flower to Sound Studio, and the Audio Fourier Specrum analysis made, this is the result:

Screen shot 2011 07 14 at 16 04 19

Monday, 11 July 2011

Thank God, Goodbye, Murdoch

What the News of the World front page should have read is

Thank God


This newspaper and some others a bit like it are a scourge on our society, far from the holier than you view they have of themselves - we expose wrong doing,, blah, blah, blah... they deceive people into very damaging beliefs and attitude to life. They act as life substitutes, people read these rags and adopt their opinions, as a alternative to thinking for themselves.

I would class soaps in the same way. People watch them and lead the characters lives, not their own. They feel the characters emotions and hold the characters opinions.

We need to clean up

Time for our society to clean this up. It is probably not something that can be legislated away, but our politicians can certainly speak out. Cant' they? So let's be clear, we want a better news reporting, not scandal peddling press. We want less editorial opinion making, less cosying up to politicians, and more plain, good news. Like the Times used to be, or like the New York Times, Le Monde, Figaro or Corriere della sera and many other newspapers are.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

HiFi nirvana

The staring point for HiFi nirvana is Apple's media solution. This stores your music on either a computer or on an iPod/iPad or iPhone.

AAC lossy and FLAC lossless

One thing that is important is to realise that the Apple iPod, iPad and iPhone rely on Apple's choice of AAC lossy compressed music files, recorded at 16bit/44.1kHz (CD standard), but compressed, and because these are lossy they are not as good as CD's for quality. So if you make up your music media centre using just an iPod, iPad or iPhone then you are limited to music purchased from iTunes Store in the AAC format. If you include a computer in the setup you have a much better chance to have HiFi reproduction, as iTunes running on a computer can store AAC lossy music files, CD AIFF ripped music files (plain uncompressed files) or HD audio download FLAC files at 24bit/96kHz. You will have to convert these to Apple's lossless format using a program like XLD but this is simple.

It goes without saying that a Mac computer is better in all respects than a Windows PC...

Media centre to loudspeaker

Now how to get the music from your iTunes/iPod library, running on the iDevice or on your computer?

I should explain, there are two types of amplifier, a plain analog one or an amplifier with a digital audio input and a DAC (Digital Analog Converter). If you have an analog only amplifier then you have two choices, connect the amplifier from the iDevice or computer with a cable, or use an Airport Express WiFi interface. If you have an amplifier with a DAC, either built-in or separate, then you have the choice of connecting by an Optical link (TOSLINK, SPDIF) to your computer, or over WiFi with an Airport Express or the new Apple TV 2.

I suggest the Apple TV2. For two basic reasons, it can also feed your TV with video over an HDMI output and it can handle audio up to 16bit/48kHz - which is a simple down-sample from even HD audio at 24bit/96kHz, thus preserving the audio quality.

So my choice is the Apple TV 2. Apple TV Now comes the choice of DAC and power amplifiers. First the amplifiers. One of the issues about audio is that the bandwidth must be preserved to equal as much as possible the actual sounds made by the instruments. Many instruments make sounds well above the human hearing top threshold of 20kHz (actually I doubt if anyone can hear 20kHz, most likely the limit is 12-18kHz depending on your age). But to get the timbre and dynamics of the instruments right you do need a wider audio bandwidth. A good target is 40-50kHz to end, and at least 5Hz bottom end to get the breathiness of voices and the bumph from low notes.

So how to build such an amplifier? First the power supply, a toroidal transformer (cuts down stray magnetic fields and adds efficiency, rectifiers and good size condensers. I use these from HK (eBay) and a UK electronics distributor:

Screen shot 2011 07 09 at 10 58 21

Power supply photo

And then the amplifiers proper. Here a very good choice is the superb modules from Hypex. These are Class D and thus have low dissipation, they are available in various sizes from 180W to 700W! I chose the UcD180 version

UcD180ST photo

Now what about a DAC? There are a millions DACs on the market some ridiculously expensive. There are a much more limited number of DAC chips from which most of them are made. There is also a lot of misunderstanding about DACS (more expensive = better syndrome). Frankly I am of the opinion that a good DAC can be cheap. I mean even the best chipsets in the world (Wolfson WM...) are less than £5, so why would a DAC cost £500? I chose to source from HK and I found one made by Muse using the TDA1543 chips, in fact the design uses 4 of them and sounds very good. Cost? About £40 only.

Screen shot 2011 07 09 at 11 34 43

I built the whole lot into a fancy box and put a volume control in there and a pretty blue LED to show when its active. Total cost for power supply, amplifiers plus DAC around £200.

Now the interconnect

My choice is the Apple TV 2 so that I can stream both video and audio over WiFi. I can leave my computer in my study and have the media wirelessly sent to the living room. I can remotely control iTunes on the my computer using Apple's Remote App on my iPad or iPhone.

Screen shot 2011 07 09 at 11 39 02

And the results are wonderful, I use a pair of Spendor loudspeakers which are small enough to please the wife, but have a sound big enough for me. HiFi nirvana.

Apple's Time Capsule, media centre

I think Apple is missing a great opportunity with the Time Capsule. This product is a combination of a broadband router (needs external ADSL modem) and a WiFi NAS storage.

Now if it was able to run an OS like iOS then it could do a lot more things. Two of which would be very attractive to customers

1 iTunes. Image if you had iTunes running on your NAS. You would not need a computer, you could just use your iPod, iPad or iPhone to control it with the Remote App, and stream the audio and movies to Apple TV (HDMI video and digital audio out) or to an Airport Express (analog or digital audio out).

Screen shot 2011 07 09 at 09 16 37

You would need a new App to do purchasing through the iTunes Store, but this should be pretty simple to write.

Such a setup would attract thousands of people who are searching for a home media centre solution.

2 A web server! Which could interface with the iweb application (now sadly being retired?) and allow you to create your own web hosted site. The only drawback here is that you would need a fixed IP address and a registered Domain name, but these are easily overcome hurdles of the internet.

So how about it Apple? Especially number 1.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Light Peak on USB

What a mess! I am heartily fed up with Apple's ever changing strategy for high speed interfaces, for displays and external drives. Firewire, USB 2.0, DisplayPort... and now Thunderbolt.

But what is very interesting is that Sony have got it right. They have integrated Intel's Light Peak technology into a USB connector. Now that is sensible and clever. They support the standard USB interface (3.0 no less) AND Light Peak in the same universal plug and socket.

A slight problem is that the controlling body for USB standards does not permit this integration. But they will undoubtedly come round when it turns out to be a popular move. They should have a long discussion and agreement with Intel and straighten things out.




Thursday, 7 July 2011

Labour's financial trains = redundancy

So the truth will out. The bid requirements for the new trains which brought Siemens (Germany) in competition with Bombardier (UK) were formulated by the last Labour government. As yet another example of them trying to hide their excessive borrowing and the consequent debt of the public accounts, they included in the bid the need that the successful company would have to raise the capital needed. (A kind of PFI).

But the rating agencies rate Siemens as an A+ and Bombardier as a BB+. The consequence of this is that Bombardier have to pay 1.5% more for borrowed capital than Siemens.

And so they could not offer the better or even equal quote and lost the business.

Add this to the stupidity of not including in the bid requirements things like servicing, better done by a local company, and socio-economic costs, or redundancies... and you see why this was such a BAD bid requirement.

All to be laid at the door of the last Labour government. So if you are now out of a job, blame Labour. But will they or do they show any remorse and apology? No they try to blame the Coalition!!!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Good point - its called freedom

Open will win.

The future of government is transparency.

The future of commerce is information symmetry.

The future of culture is freedom.

The future of science and medicine is collaboration.

The future of entertainment is participation.

So we need that governments tell us everything, the good and the bad and power doesn't go to their heads, and corruption raise its ugly head. Commerce will go better if all parties, finance, suppliers, makers and customers have a symmetrical balance to success. We can move forward as a race, the human race, if we push determinedly for freedom, in all ways, religious, speech, business, let's be happy. And you can't say that we should not collaborate in medicine, that knowledge should be shared, this doesn't prevent pharmaceutical companies from a return on investment, but it should encourage academics to share.

And finally in the area of entertainment we have to participate, not allow business models to exploit exclusivity, this is an area of current high dudgeon as the internet takes over delivery and this means more than physical product sales.

Think about it today in what you do.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Greeks down, is anyone listening?

The Greeks have capitulated, the urgent money they need will be paid. Their politicians have passed the enabling law and people will get paid, for a couple of months at least. But the people are not with them, and it remains to see if the measures can in reality be implemented, not only sackings, but wage cuts, tax collection improvements, and asset sell-offs. What a bunch of agony to inflict on everyone. OK it has a cause, the Greek top managers have cheated, but to a large extent this was inevitable, they screwed the system because they could get something out of it, because the system was weak and badly managed. The euro does not, and will not work unless every country that uses it has an interest and deep responsibility to maintain it as a viable currency.

Postponing is not solving

And now we have postponed the problem but not solved it. We can all no longer live on ever increasing debt, national and personal. Seems to me that banks have been allowed to simply create money, due to their very low capital holding ratio to lending (German banks have 32:1, UK 24:1 and USA 12:1). But the lending is not secure, who can say whether some of the complex contracts that have been struck have little or no risk. They do, they have lots of risk as the sub-prime collapse has shown. And the way we are going is a terrible one, governments take our money, or print money or borrowed in our, the tax payers, name and bail out the casino banks. No!

It has been made much worse by the ridiculous lending of banks of one country to governments of another, France and Germany lent Greece huge amounts. Do they really think they will get paid back? I am sure they knew very well that their loans were not safe, but they continued to prop up a financial system that was institutionalised and weak. OK so blame the banks, but it is the laws under which they operate that have to be better. Our dumb politicians have to shape up and improve things. The weak Greece actions that have been taken are just to give some vague assurance to the casino banks that their lending is somehow safe. Huh! Non ci credo!!

This is all a stack of cards.

We have to find some principles for the euro zone, and some principles for the way the our financial system works. At the moment the bankers and the ECB are carrying on as before, and it is the people who are suffering. We are getting a raw deal. Our money is becoming more and more just casino gambling chips. And never let us forget that it IS our money, printed by the state and provided to US to trade with, not to bankers to gamble with. It is sovereign money.

We have been forced to mortgage ourselves up to the hilt to have a house to live in, at ridiculous prices; forced to accept worse pension arrangements - now even in the public sector in UK, since the private sector has already been raped. Real disposable incomes are falling, financiers and economists demand growth just to sustain the unworkable financial model.

We need leadership.

The UK is able to insulate itself a bit from the euro crisis itself, but things are pretty bad here too. I don't see any moves on the part of the UK politicians to grab the bull by the horns and give us our money back.

I have no solution

I do not have a solution, the situation is too complex for me. But I do know things are not right and have to be changed. Who will do it?

Great piece of software, audio analysis

I have to post this screen shot of the program Spectre. It is the best audio analysis program I have ever seen. It lets me see the signal levels, in three different monitors, and the audio spectrum. I have always been convinced that for good HiFi reproduction you have to have an audio bandwidth larger than the usual 20-20kHz that everyone quotes - based on that's what you can hear, so that's all you need. To reproduce the actual sound of many instruments you have to have a much wider bandwidth. Here you can see the signals way above 20kHz. Screen shot 2011 07 01 at 09 22 56 Spectre is running on my MacBook which is a great computer for audio and sound production, or reproduction. Have a look at these two recordings, on the left the BBC studio "Live" show from iTunes AAC download, on the right a 24bit/96kHz studio HD recording from Linn Audio, see the harmonic content above 20kHz! on the right recording. This is another reason why CD and iTunes AAC is an obsolete technology and needs to be upgraded.... Screen shot 2011 07 01 at 12 51 09Screen shot 2011 07 01 at 12 53 32