Wednesday, December 19, 2007

More On The Guitar Hero Debate

More on the Guitar Hero Debate


Review - BBC iPlayer Streaming Beta With Ubuntu and Firefox

As a Linux user the decision by the BBC to use proprietary Microsoft DRM for their iPlayer video downloading service came as very disappointing news. Seemingly many of the several million UK Mac and Linux users agreed with me and kicked up a fair stink over the issue. This lead to the BBC trust mandating that the iPlayer should provide support for all licence payers, not just those who run Windows.
The streaming iPlayer is the BBC's answer to the protesting OSX and Ubuntu devotees who want the freedom to catch up on last weeks Eastenders.
I will be testing it with Firefox 2 running on a fairly decrepit Ubuntu laptop to see if it offers anything for us beardy Linux users left out in the cold.
My first impression is how Mac like it all looks. I find it quite bizzare that BBC Future Media managed to come up with a platform that has the look and feel of an iPhone with an Apple referencing name which was incompatible with the Mac but I digress.
The page opens with suggested highlights you may wish to catch up on and a "Last 7 Days" button which causes a snazzy looking days of the week toolbar to fade into view. From there you can filter the content by network and time of day. The available programmes appear in a grid but unfortunately the interface truncates the title of the programme and doesn't offer the full title in a tooltip when the mouse hovers over the item. The only way to get to the full title of the content or a synopsis of the show is to click on it and open the video. There is no back button so if the content is incorrect you must start the search process again. Strangely if you click the "Last 7 Days" button once you've opened a video it opens behind the video and is effectively no use.
Once you have found your desired episode the interface is essentially a You Tube alike. On the plus side the video is 16x9 and looks relatively free from artefacts and the audio is 128Kbps which is perfectly acceptable for most purposes.
Unfortunately it has a lot to learn from the oft imitated but never bettered You Tube player. The time indication is grey on black and I find it virtually impossible to read. I could put up with the unreadable time code if it wasn't for two painful errors. Firstly the transport controls don't appear to work at all. If you attempt to move the play head it switches to a buffering icon seemingly indefinitely and secondly if you click the full screen icon it claims the feature is unavailable because my Flash player is not up to date when this is not the case. On the two programmes I attempted to watch both played to approximately half way through then faded to black and displayed the not at all helpful message "Something Went Wrong"before refusing to play further.

iPlayer is still listed as being beta software, but with a full launch planned on Christmas Eve it really should be in a better state than this by now.
As it stands the service would appear to be virtually unusable to the Firefox/Ubuntu user though I would be interested to hear what the experience of Windows users has been.

Despite all the problems I can't help thinking that more than just a conciliatory gesture to the Linux/Mac community the streaming player will prove to be the better way of accessing iPlayer content.
Throughout the history of TV the user experience has been that you get your show when you turn on the TV not the next day. If you Bit Torrent a show you have to wait, but at least then you have the option to keep it as long as you want and transfer it to your portable device/burn it to DVD as you require.
The BBC p2p service is rendered obsolete when you can easily download platform agnostic content unburdened with DRM from Pirate Bay. This method has the disadvantage of it dubious legal status, but could you imagine any court in the land punishing a licence payer for getting hold of content they were unable to watch through official channels because the content is crippled with proprietary Digital Restrictions Management.

I look forward to seeing how the service develops and matures over time but for now it simply doesn't function as it should.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Was C4s Mobile Act Unsigned A Con?

This Sunday the finalists of Channel 4's Mobile Act Unsigned were decided.
The four bands who made it to the semi-final were Hijack Oscar, Revenue, The Bad Robots and early drop outs in on a wild card Envy and Other Sins.
Throughout the competition The Bad Robots have been acknowledged as the best song writers and Hijack Oscar as the best musicians and yet Revenue (a band all the judges acknowledged are incapable of writing songs) and a band who were knocked out of the competition early on for being dull end up as finalists.
How did this happen?
Maintaining a sense of community involvement and excitement about the winners requires that the final comes down to a public vote. In the era of the X Factor the audience expect nothing less, but this is the last thing that the label want when they have a million quid riding on the winner.
The answer to this problem? ...

A ringer

Envy and Other Sins were parachuted into the competition the week before the semi final where they performed a mediocre cover of Video Killed the Radio Star. People who haven't been watching from the start probably haven't heard a single song they have written.
Even the public vote to reinstate them was a con. The 6 bands with the highest votes were brought back into contention, but when you consider that this was from a list of 12 with 3 still in the competition and one disqualified you realise that the judges got to pick who to bring back from a list of 6 of the 8 bands who were eligible. The only reason for them to be in the competition is to ensure whoever they are up against wins the public vote.
So why Revenue?
Two moments in the series might provide a clue. The first was when the singer managed to get Lilly Allen's phone number, but perhaps the most telling was the scene in the semi final where Simon Gavin informed the band that they had no song writing ability, but that was ok because he would find them a producer who could help them with that.
Excuse me what?
I thought what producers did was make recordings sound good. I think the what he was trying to say was "We can find you a Guy Chambers style hit maker who can write your songs for you".
So what do we get?
In the absence of a real stand out talent in the competition they have decided to go for a bunch of guys who aren't too smart, but they can guarantee will make it onto the pages of Bizzare in The Sun who they can sign to a shitty no money one album deal and write some hit factory songs for.
I'm hoping some kind of fluke happens and they get stuck with Envy and Other Sins, but I wouldn't put money on it at any odds.

Linky Love - 17th Dec

Rather than over posting with too many links I'm going to try bundling them up in a round up post. Let me know what you think.

I would love this story about an 11th grader at a US school getting detention for using Firefox, but I have the feeling it might be fake.
That said I do know a guy who's kid got computer literacy homework of finding out how to use features in MS Word and failed because they were using Fedora with Open Office!

I also love this story about the porn industry loosing money because of the popularity of adult You Tube variants if only for the fact that I'm imagining the poster for Home Taping is Killing Porn!

Boing Boing
is linking to a superb paper analysing the insanity that lead to Sony BMG installing spyware on users PCs.

Over on TDDO Spanners has been suffering after the dentist saw fit to sew his mouth shut!

Petition for Data Loss Notification = 25 Million Letters in the Post?

A petition has sprung up on the 10 Downing street site asking for mandatory notification if a company looses your personal data.
I think this is an excellent idea. There is nothing better than the threat of bad publicity to keep people honest.
As it stands if a company accidentally spill your data to a bunch of credit scammers their best course of action is just to hush it up.

Link via Boing Boing
Link to Petition

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Xubuntu for EEE PC

I run Ubuntu on my laptop and desktop and though the KDE based distro that came with my EEE PC does have some plus points I do miss that buntu goodness.
I haven't had a bash at installing it myself yet as most attempts I have read about seem to have fallen foul of the non standard WiFi and Screen.
Rather conveniently eeeuser have just released eeeXubuntu which includes some custom tweaks to the Xfce based Ubuntu variant to help it run on the EEE.
Xubuntu is a good choice for the EEE as it is considerably less intensive on system resources than GNOME or KDE based distros.
I'm not going to bite the bullet and install it quite yet, but I'll certainly be keeping tabs on progress with it.
I'm hoping Hardy Heron comes with EEE support built in but until then this looks like the best bet for buntu fanboys with an EEE.

EDIT: It would appear that eeeXubuntu is the work of one oasisbob rather than an eeeuser comunity project.

Bertrand Russell and Amputees

Recently I've been analysing and adjusting my beliefs somewhat (which you will possibly hear more about when I'm done) and as a result I have been reading (and rereading) a lot of Bertrand Russell including this thought provoking essay

I've also been reading though I haven't made enough progress with it to formulate much of an opinion just yet.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Homeopathy Cures AIDs (or not)

I've just been reading this article by Ben Goldacre.

I've always considered Homeopathy to be utter nonsense (Homeopathic medicines are just sugar pills and contain no active ingredient) but relatively harmless nonsense that gives the recreationaly unwell something to squander their money on in exchange for a dose of the placebo effect.

Recently however I have discovered that practitioners are recommending that people give their children sugar pills to prevent malaria, or as a substitute to the MMR vaccine (Measles has claimed its first child fatality as a result of the declining immunization rate BTW) and cure AIDs. I'm starting to come to the conclusion that it should be entirely outlawed, or at the very least that practitioners should not be able to refer to what they give as medicine, or a therapy and furthermore that people setting themselves up in a position of authority giving people dangerous health advise should be held criminally responsible for the damage they might cause.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Richard Dawkins Documentary

Link to a fascinating pair of documentaries by Richard Dawkins dealing with spiritualism and faith healing / alternative medicine.

One thing I didn't realize is that Homeopathy is being paid for with tax payers money which I find sickening.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Can Guitar Hero Make You a Better Guitarist? + Free Guitar Game

I just read this article by Rob Walker about Guitar Hero from the New York Times with some interest.

Since Guitar Hero III came out reviewers have speculated that playing might improve your axe skills or give you an advantage if you were to take up the instrument. The consensus seems to be that it doesn't, but I'm not so sure.

The little plastic buttons on a Guitar Hero controller certainly bear no relation to the demands of fretting, but the need for spot on timing is universal.

If you have ever listened to a beginner play guitar the first thing you notice is that they speed up on the easy bits and slow down on the trickier sections. This is the bane of guitar teachers lives and is the reason they bug you to practice with a metronome. Once you start playing with a drummer you suddenly discover that you have to start marching to the beat of another and your kick ass riffs suddenly start sounding a little sloppy. I know plenty of people who can wail on a guitar, but dry up and blow away when faced with recording to a click track.

In an example from my own life. I've been playing guitar for about 13 years (at one point for about four hours a day) but a few years back I was getting frustrated with my playing and needed a change so I started playing drums in a band learning as I went. Gradually my guitar playing slipped and I realized that my Strat had been sitting unplayed in its case for 3 months. When I dug it out something strange had happened. My technique had gone to shit and I found I got cramp after a few minutes, but my phrasing had come on in leaps and bounds and I had made the breakthrough that made me interested in playing the guitar again.

So do I think that Guitar Hero III could make you a better guitarist?

If you are a beginner, or your phrasing gives you grief then I think it can only have a positive effect.

If you are wondering what all this Guitar Hero fuss is about then I suggest you try out Frets On Fire. It's a freeware game which you play holding the keyboard like a guitar and you can get it here .

Orchestral Mario Galaxy Recording

The orchestral sessions for the Gutsy Garden theme from Super Mario Galaxy. A fair chunk of music from the game is recorded with a full orchestra, but you don't get the full awesomeness of it until you hear it being recorded.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Daddy Advent Calender

I'm running an online advent calender over on

I was thinking about cross posting it onto my blog but I'm going to find it hard enough to keep the thread updated let alone keep this place in step as well.