Archive for August, 2006

Regarding piracy

Most people in the world today have their own small share of media piracy. Some just snatched a song very occassionally, while others are keep downloading, and downloading and downloading constantly…

RIAA and MPAA is trying to protect their client’s interests by educating the public about copyright law, and (especially RIAA) by throwing some lawsuits. Many people online are trying to justify their piracy habits by saying that RIAA/MPAA and their clients already have lots of money and a bit of piracy won’t hurt them. Even if this might be true, it is besides the point. Stealing is stealing and the copyright law has a reason to exist, as it exists in most countries.

My only problem with the whole thing is that how society clashes with finances. What I mean by that is this: I know many people here in the Bay Area who never pirate. But they have a tripple-figure salary per year. People in Greece make $15,000-20,000, but they still have the exact same need to listen to music. They are modern people and society has created a way of life where people listen to popular music, watch TV, buy DVDs. For most of these people, piracy is probably their only way out of this artificially-created “need”.

This is where RIAA needs to slow down a bit: from one side they advertise everywhere about new records and they have created a way of life where stars/actors/movies/songs are part of our everyday life, and on the other side they prosecute people who developed this need based on their advertisements but don’t pay up.

Make no mistake: RIAA is in the clear here. They have every right to prosecute people who steal their property, it’s just that things aren’t as black and white as the law would like them to be. This is very much like advertising how cool recreational drugs are, but prosecute poor people if they steal some of these drugs because they don’t have the money to buy them from the dealer. Entertainment is like a drug anyway, my analogy is not far off at all (stimulates the brain and you can get hooked to specific music).

I think my friend Vince has the right idea about things: he owns no television set, and he listens to free music (licensed under a Creative Commons license). Regarding popular copyrighted music, he just listens to FM radio (he never buys music CDs). He occassionally goes to the cinema, but it’s not the norm.

People might eventually need to “rewire” themselves regarding entertainment and find fun on freely available material instead of risking a lawsuit. “Having fun” is just a point of view anyway.

Consumerism: the illness of our times

You know, it really bothers me when I read ramblings of people who bought a certain gadget and then they write how terrible that gadget is and that they are going back to their previous gadget and are selling their current one. No, I don’t mean that consumers should not write reviews of their purchases (on the contrary), but when the consumer is getting pissed off about missing features that he knew they didn’t exist when he bought the gadget, why bother writing a rant? It was his fault in the first place. He shed real money for a product and he should have done his research before buying it.

Bernie wrote a rant on his blog about his Nokia E61 experience. The Nokia E61 is actually a nice phone (and it DOES have a good battery life, contrary to what Bernie says), but it does have other problems as I have written in my review. But the thing is, Bernie was not ranting about the real problems of the device (e.g. VoIP not working as advertised), but about why he couldn’t find this and that application that he was used to when he was having a PalmOS device.

I replied to his blog, but he never authorized my reply. Basically, all but two of his points are third party application-related. It’s all about software he can’t get in the S60 3rd Edition platform compared to PalmOS’. Well duh! The S60 3rd Edition platform exists for only 5 months officially (last April was the first phone released based on that platform), while the PalmOS platform exists for over 7 years. There are 30,000 PalmOS apps and about 50 S60 3rd Edition native apps available. Yes, this is a real problem, but if this person actually did some research before buying this expensive gadget, he would know all about S60’s limited application library. This is not a case of a reviewer getting a review unit to write an article and mentioning this problem, but this is a case of a consumer shedding real money for a gadget without doing proper research. It was a waste of his money, and instead of being pissed off at himself, he is pissed at Nokia!

The only point where he is right to shout about, is about the ports/jack connectors. Nokia does not use industry standard headphone jacks and mini-usb for charging and that sucks. But we can’t do much about it (eventually they will listen, just like Apple did with their proprietary connectors and slots over the years).

If you want to read a FAIR rant on a Nokia product, read Vince’s article on his newly purchased Nokia N73. He did find problems, but these are problems exposed AFTER you actually have the phone in your hands and you try to make it work, and NOT about non-existant features that you knew beforehand that they weren’t there.

Personally, I don’t buy most gadgets. I have a closet full of them, but I don’t buy them (except if they are over a certain price point in which case I usually pay the difference). I am given most of them for free so I can write reviews about them. But when I actually decide to buy a gadget with my own money, it’s gotta be pretty perfect. The last gadgets I actually bought was the iPod Mini, 1.5+ years ago and the Canon A700 last May. And heck, I even got major discounts for both of them (about $50 on each)! When it’s about paying the full price, I research deeply before I buy something.

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The mobile Internet: Are we there yet?

C|Net News.com published an article on the state of Internet on mobile devices today. In the article, it is said that in order more people to use the internet via their cellphones “more-sophisticated handsets, improved mobile browsing technology and increased coverage of high-speed wireless networks” are needed.

Personally, as a web developer and a mobile user I disagree. But let’s take the article’s statement apart:

– more-sophisticated handsets

Why do you need anything more sophisticated than a QVGA cellphone? The web developers could have made sure that their mobile version of their site works on such a screen resolution. If the browsers’ fonts are not huge (like on some RaZR phones), then there is no reason why a good looking, well-designed site couldn’t have its full functionality render well on a mid-range phone. OSNews has 95% of its functionality on its mobile version, and the rest is not there mostly because I am lazy rather than any major technical roadblocks.

– improved mobile browsing technology

Why do you need Javascript and full blown CSS 2.0 support? I do everything I need to do with plain cHTML. It works, and it works well. I don’t understand people’s infatuation trying to use the latest and the greatest technologies without thinking memory, cpu and compatibility constraints. It almost seems that these people are more interested in squashing their own hunger for “cool stuff”, rather than offering a solution that actually works with most browsers including legacy ones. Sure, some Ajax and JS might be a good addition in a few years (Opera Mobile and Nokia Webkit already offer it, but together have less than 5% of mobile marketshare so far), but I don’t see the current browsers being useless just because they don’t have yet these features. Mobile browsing technologies right now are comparable as to how desktop browsers were 6-8 years ago. And I could do a lot of things back then too. I don’t perceive my desktop experience in 1999 as bad. In fact, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the mobile experience I get today.

– increased coverage of high-speed wireless networks

You need nothing more than EDGE (22 KB/sec). And even plain GPRS (4 KB/sec) is enough for most things designed the right way. Take osnews’ frontpage for example, it’s just 28 KBs (including images) and it has the right length for a cellphone screen (so you don’t scroll endlessly). OSNews loads on an EDGE phone in about than 2 seconds. Do you really need more speed than that? Not if mobile autodetection was a standard and full-featured mobile pages with a nice design were the norm.

It is true that people want to have access to the same information on their mobile phone as they do with their desktop browser. But this can be done easily if the web developers were more careful of what they are doing and if a standard way of mobile browser autodetection was in place for the past 8 years. You see, the current mobile browsers are trying to re-layout existing web sites to look good on small screens. I firmly believe that this is a waste of time (and CPU). No matter how good your algorithm is (usually it’s not), the result will never be as good as the desktop experience or as good as a specialized mobile design. So, scrap that re-layout crap and focus on making your browsers bug-free instead and at the same time evangelize how to autodetect your browser and help web developers to offer mobile-optimized content.

And no, CSS-based layout is out of the question for 90% of our current mobile browsers. And don’t forget that when you create a “handheld”-based CSS layout, your FULL sized images of the desktop “screen”-based CSS layout is ALSO loaded. So for example, if your web site’s front page is overall 400 KB and seemingly your handheld-CSS is about 50 KB, the rest 350 KB will also be loaded, but it just won’t be displayed. 400 KBs of web data is enough to CRASH most phones, let alone actually render that beast of a page. This is why mobile-optimized pages must be created instead in cHTML or XHTML and not use CSS for layout, but only for optional beautification. At least until 2010, until more handsets have more memory and more browsers support CSS the right way.

In my opinion, the whole blame for the current crappy situation goes to W3C. They did not create a standard at the late-90s to ease the auto-detection of mobile browsers as I have explained here the other day.

In conclusion, there is no way out in the current mess. No matter if .mobi takes off, or if browsers get better, the same kinds of problems will still exist simply because 99.9% of the web developers don’t care about mobility. It’s like the chicken and the egg problem. The only way out is this, that it might be ready in 10 years or so. This is a foldable LCD that eventually will reach large resolutions, and in color (currently is monochrome, and just in QVGA and without animation support). Until then, the debate will continue, and consumers will not be using the mobile internet as much as they could.

New mobile site for MobileBurn

Michael Oryl worked hard the past week to deliver a new mobile site (with mobile browser autodetection) for MobileBurn.com. I helped out a bit by giving him a pointer towards autodetection and general design tips, but he did all the hard work. The site looks great and works wonderfully on my mobile browsers.


MobileBurn on the Openwave 7.0 browser

A few months ago I helped out with AmigaWorld’s mobile autodetection too. It’s cool to have more and more sites automatically redirect to their mobile content, because there are cases where many non-smartphone cellphones would reset or freeze if you first try to load the desktop page in order to find a mobile link manually. This is the one thing that most “webmasters” of big sites that do have mobile content don’t get (e.g. mobile.news.com).

Mobile-friendly version of our blogs

I just applied the MobileQuo 1.1 version on Thom’s and my blog, and so now our blogs are mobile-friendly. From time to time though there will be some broken images though, because Blogsome does not allow hot-linking to images by an external server (not even for RSS requests). I might need to figure out a way to remove the images from the rendered RSS source, but this requires some pretty advanced regexp functionality, and I am no good at that.

Anyways, in case you are interested, here are the two bookmarks optimized for mobile devices:
Eugenia’s blog: http://eugenia.co.uk/eugenia.php
Thom’s blog: http://eugenia.co.uk/thom.php

My new Linux phone arrived

Expect next week on OSNews a review of my new phone (arrived this morning from HK), the Linux-based Motorola ROKR E2. I actually like it very much so far, although it could have been better.


You gotta love OSNews’ mobile version, looks great and it autodetects mobile browsers.

Namely, it uses a slower version of EDGE (16 kb/sec), it is not quadband, it has no published SDK to write native apps or a theme creator app, the UI could have been a bit more polished, you can’t shoot QVGA video, the camera shoots very fuzzy pics and Opera 8.50 has the same bug as in my Sony Ericsson M600i (images don’t resize down when in “Fit to screen” mode). Overall though, I think it’s a very nice music phone, and definitely the best Linux phone I have ever used. More next week.


TuxTops.com’s mobile page also looks good

Here is its user agent btw, for those who are interested in mobile web design via autodetection:
MOT-E2/R564_G_12.02.32P Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Motorola ROKR E2) Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1 Opera 8.50

Regarding genetic engineering

I was watching a documentary on the Science Channel this evening about deep space travel in the next 100 years from now. Apparently, in order for humans to survive the long term trip and be able to colonize a semi-habitable planet, some genetic engineering may need to take place. From prolonging life to the ability to fall into suspend animation, but also even changing the physical appearance (they brought as an example the fact that the cockroach shell is a good shield against cosmic radiation). At the end, the scientists talking in the documentary very enthusiastically mentioned that the human race must fork and create a new sub-species depending on the kind of planet that they are destined to colonize.

So how ethical is this? According to the scientists it is the only way, because emulating the Earth conditions as we see on scifi shows is pretty impossible for more than one reasons. But I am sure, according to religious or everyday people, something like this would be out of the question. They would not approve the creation of a modified human being to have a shell, or to have claws, or to have a full-body fur or to be able to withstand heat.

What makes a human, human? Is it the genes, the intelligence, the “soul”, or all of the above? And so what if the new species is not 100% human? Do we have the right to play God? Think that mutations happen everyday naturally before you answer though.

My personal position is that there should not be important genetic engineering taking place if there is no major reason to do so and only allow it for those who need it to survive (like the space travellers would). But then again, we never asked these new human beings if they wanted to be different in the first place… We took the decision for them. But then again, the personal needs are not as important as the continuation of the species and life, and in a few hundrend years it might be critical that humans might need to find a new place to live (cause we have consumed most natural resources already and we have overpopulated Earth). These are important reasons and so sometimes we might need to bend the ethical rules a bit in order to allow a PART of us continue living.

Before watching that documentary I was not very fond of genetic engineering, but now I think that it indeed has its uses. Like with any technology, it’s how you use it.

SciFi Channel Becomes SurgeTV

This is just sad. SciFi Channel now changed its name to SurgeTV (update: apparently false info) and has changed its focus from sci-fi to mostly crappy entertainment of “Catch/Kats” wrestling. Sorry, I just don’t find wrestling entertaining. I find it stupid.

And while I am not a huge fan of any of their original scifi series (I watch Eureka some times though, when I don’t forget about it), I must say that I felt bad that they announced that they will axing Stargate SG-1 after having advertised so heavily its 200th episode. For a month now they were going on and on and on about the 200th episode, it aired on Friday, and on Monday morning they announced that the series is over (obviously a decision that was taken long before it got announced). In other words, SciFi Channel “played” the fans of Stargate SG-1.

Even with their crappy and cheap scifi series, it was an oasis for anyone who is a geek. But now, there is no such geek channel on the US TV. As Zonk on Slashdot very well wrote: “The market is now wide open for a ‘real’ nerd network.” Like the great arm chair CEO that I am, I would put such a great line up! From good scifi original series, to documentaries, to many older Scifi series that SciFiChannel never aired, to computer games and industry news…

Regarding digital photo frames

I just published a review of a digital photo frame at TuxTops. You know, in the beginning I thought that they don’t really serve any real purpose and that they are just gimmicks. But after actually using one (even with all its problems as mentioned in the review), I now find them pretty cool and useful. My JBQ actually liked it very much, because he is now able to show off some of his best pictures to his friends without having to print them, put them into a photo album and pass it around to all guests one by one and re-explain over and over how he took a specific picture.

Sure, you can hook up a digicam to a TV, but it’s really not as a good solution in terms of respect to your guests. You see, an 8″ photoframe is a neutral multimedia device that can be hanged on the wall and the guests can decide if he/she wants to have a look at it or not. But if we turn ON our big-a$$ 55″ Sharp HDTV in our small living room, the guests will have no other option but to pay attention on the TV. And this is terrible hospitality. This is the main reason why a digital photo frame is a great home device (and Christmas gift), especially if you have some good photographs to share.

Diet Recipe: Diet Man’s Meatballs

The original meatball recipe mandates for bread crumbs, but this is a bad idea if your target is a very low calorie diet. Instead, we will be using some veggies to add to the meatball’s quantity and to achieve 200 calories for this dish.

Ingredients (for 1)
* 50 gr fat-free veal ground meat (50 cals)
* 120 gr diced tomatoes in a can (25 cals)
* 30 grams of Ronzoni pasta (100 cals)
* 50 gr mushrooms (10 cals)
* 50 gr zuchini (10 cals)
* 2 sprays of 0 calorie non-stick spray (0 calories)
* 1 onion
* 1 clove of garlic
* a bit of parsley
* salt & pepper

Execution
1. Finally chop the onion, garlic, parsley, zuchini and mushrooms. Their pieces must be very small (alternatively, you can blend them).
2. In a big salad bowl place the veal ground meat and sprinkle salt & pepper on it.
3. Add the ingredients from step 1 and start work it with your hands until the mixture seems to be as one. Create small balls.
4. Cook the pasta according to its package directions.
5. In another pan, spray twice with the non-stick spray and stir-fry your meatballs until slightly brown. Then, add the tomato sauce and a cup of water.
6. Stir a few times, cook until the meatballs are cooked through and the tomato sauce is thickened. Serve hot along side the pasta.