Archive for November, 2006

OLPC, Again

I downloaded a recent bootable OLPC image and ran it on VMWare Player. The custom UI is disgusting, in terms of usability. It just ain’t good. And I am not talking about the “client” apps (Abiword, PenguinTV, Gecko, Gaim), but the Sugar shell itself is just not as easy and self-explanatory as it should have been. And why the hell the Squeak UI needs to be there? Squeak was hip in the ’90s with their “object” programming, but it’s pretty useless today. Not only that, but it’s extremely ugly and the UI is notoriously difficult to figure out most of the time. I maintain the opinion that Sugar is a big mistake, Squeak UI an even bigger mistake and after actually using the whole package, I believe this even more firmly. And don’t give me that “it’s still beta” shit, the basic Sugar UI ain’t gonna change all that much in production.

OLPC running Squeak

They should have modified Gnome’s UI to be more focused to what they wanted to do, instead of creating this toy. For example, they could remove all of the gnome-applets (only leave in the volume and networking notification items) and Nautilus (replaced by the “presense” bg), put the taskbar in that single gnome-panel at the bottom of the screen, and have icons with mouse-over explanation to launch the various apps needed on the left of that panel too. Alternatively, they could rewrite a less-heavy gnome-panel (so they don’t have to use HAL, DBUS and other stuff that usually gnome-panel requires and eats lots of memory). I don’t see how this is worse or more difficult to use than Sugar (which has hide-out menus that are only enabled via special keys in the keyboard or by moving your mouse cursor in the screen corners — not obvious at all). It is easier to do, will cost less money, and it will be closer to real-world computing.

OLPC mockup

Regarding gaming console web browsers

It’s really a difficult choice to decide if I want to offer the mobile version or the full desktop version of OSNews to console users. You see, all new gaming consoles come with a full web browser now. Problem is, you can’t know if the user uses HDTV or SDTV — the resolution information is not recorded in the ‘user agent’. If the user uses plain SD, it makes sense to serve the mobile version, but if the user uses HD, depending on his TV’s screen size, it might make sense to serve the full desktop version.

I guess this is something I will have to test first myself after we manage to buy a Wii or a PS3. Twice we got to Fry’s to get a Wii, and twice we failed to find one (supposedly only PS3 had shortages). For PS3, here is its ‘user agent’ btw according to a Japanese web site: Mozilla/5.0 (PLAYSTATION 3; 1.00)

If you have a Wii or an Xbox360 or a Sony Mylo or an Archos 604-Wifi, please visit this page with their browsers and email me their ‘user agents’ displayed in that page. Thanks.

Update: Found Wii’s UA: Opera/9.00 (Nintendo Wii; U; ; 1038-58; Wii Shop Channel/1.0; en) and XBox’s UA just has the word “xbox” in it, so it’s easy to autodetect. I still need the UA info for Mylo and Archos though. These two devices both run Opera Mobile, but Opera’s marketing people that I am in contact with are useless for this kind of information.

Update 2: Mylo’s user agent is: Opera/8.02 (Qt embedded; Linux armv4ll; U) [ja] SONY/COM1

Update 3: Archos 604-wifi’s user agent is: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; GOGI; Linux armv5tejl) Opera 8.5

Seafood-bean salad

If you live close to a “Whole Foods” store, get your a$$ in there and buy some fresh seafood salad (octopus, calamari, shrimp, clams, mussels, squid in olive oil & vinegar sauce) found at the side of their fresh fish aisle (prepared in-store), and a can of WestBrae Organic Bean Salad. Put the beans in a strainer and let cold water run over them, then strain that water away. Cut the seafood in smaller pieces. In a big salad bowl mix well the seafood with its sauce, beans and some lemon juice, serve cold. Overall, the dish will feed two and it will cost just about $7. It’s delicious and one of my favorite dishes, ever.


Digg’s comments voting code probably has some holes that some people exploit. Everytime I post something (anything really) on a story that hits the front page of Digg, I get moderated in no-time down to -10 or -12 or even -20. Whoever knows how to exploit the system, doesn’t like me for obvious reasons (for those who have followed my articles over the years will know of the foes I’ve made for speaking my mind). On Slashdot I have even more foes than on Digg but the system is not easy to exploit, therefore my comments are not getting moderated down in this manner (in fact sometimes are moded up).

Will the OLPC interface ruin computing for millions of kids?

I was reading this and this, and I must say that I agree. By not including a normal computing interface on these OLPC laptops, the kids of the third world won’t learn to use a computer, but they will learn to use something virtual and superficial. They might be able to do their homework with these laptops, but they won’t learn to use actual computers.

Make no mistake, the Gnome libraries are running normally below the “Sugar” interface, so this was not a decision by Red Hat to simply make the UI faster. It was in fact a misguided decision to make the interface more “kid-like”. Which is a bad decision for the future of these kids, because if they ever get real jobs or real computers, they won’t be able to use them, cause they won’t understand them how that UI works. They would be confused as hell.

If Red Hat was concerned about usability problems with Gnome and that was what drove them to the creation of the Sugar interface, they should have spent the time to fix the Gnome UI, so we would ALL be benefited from that work.

iPod DVD ripping request rejected

The US Library of Congress has rejected a petition that would allow US iPod users to copy their movies to iPods and other devices.”

F*cking sucks.

I don’t have a problem re-buying a computer game for different platforms, because there is usually serious testing and porting going on, but for a movie, it’s a simple conversion that takes about an hour of work. MPAA should not have the right to request from us to re-buy a movie for a different format.

The suckage of mobile operators

One of Google’s senior executives has criticised mobile phone operators for trying to prevent their users from accessing Internet applications.”

While many operators have blocked services, sites and even hardware phone features from their services, the latest is T-Mobile’s GPRS which stopped working with Google Maps. T-Mobile is known for offering a cheaper unlimited data plan compared to its competition, but I guess, it’s cheaper because they don’t really let you use it. Many of its subscribers have problems with VoIP, and now, Google maps.

Liberated Films

Here is a very good resource of professionally-made Independent Film Making (instead of having all that badly-done user-created content at YouTube). All streamed movies are free to view.

Regarding IPTV

I received a press release email last night from MatrixStream, a company that specializes in IPTV solutions and located just a few blocks away from my home (I might pay them a visit to do a feature article on them). Maxistream has developed streaming servers, h.264 real-time encoders, client 1080p hardware, software clients — the real IPTV deal. I happened to think of HD IPTV quite a bit in the last few weeks. I think that’s one of the sectors where business will be growing a lot in the next 5 years or so.

In association with MaxiStream, a new company called myTVPal was formed and went public this week. It currently runs a free trial that let’s you access 700 TV channels from around the world. About 20 of these channels are HD (720p, 1080p) or EDTV (480p). You have to give them your personal details to download their player and login with it (a bit extreme IMO). Anyways, I did so, and here is what I found out so far:

Their h.264 encoding is aggressive on their HD channels. It feels like a VGA video resized to fit the screen (along with the visual artifacts that comes with such resizing) rather than real HD. However, as a tech person I understand their technical limitations (bandwidth costs money). The good thing is that playback starts almost immediately, it’s very impressive to see buffering going so fast for HD content! What I really didn’t like though is that their HD channels are just not smooth on their software player. I tried their player on my hyperthreaded P4 3.0 GHz with 1 GB of RAM and a 800 KB/sec Comcast cable connection. There are dropped frames with 720p playback and almost no frames rendering with 1080p content. The dropped frames don’t even make sense to be dropped because my PC does not max out its two CPUs (it goes up to 44% of CPU usage on 720p) and there is no bandwidth problem on my side. The dropped frames look more like a bug on the software player rather than out-of-processing-power or bandwidth problem. The problem does not exist on EDTV channels though, where the CPU uses just 15%. For 1080p content I get 1 frame per 20 seconds or so (much slower than how QuickTime performs), and yet, my CPUs never go above 60% of usage. This is something that Maxistream and MyPalmTV must fix on their software player before they go live with this whole idea.

Anyways, the point is that this can be done right. The technology exists and it’s called h.264. Personally, I don’t need 720p or 1080p resolutions, which take away so much CPU power. What I want instead is IPTV channels with 480p EDTV/HD resolution (848×480) that have a less aggressive encoding. A properly encoded EDTV signal is way better than a poorly encoded HD signal, and while the bandwidth consumption might be similar at the end, CPU on the client machine won’t go off the roof. And this has value for the customer who might want to browse the internet or reply to some email on his second monitor while watching IPTV on the background of his first monitor (that would be my user case in fact).

If I had 200 million US dollars (minimum required) I would create a new studio production company in Tijuana, Mexico — just a 2.5 hours drive south to LA. I would employ Mexicans to handle most of the technical aspects of the work and talented but unknown (mostly) American actors who would commute a few times per month between LA and Tijuana to shoot original, high-quality IPTV series. To shoot a single episode today of a good TV show you need between 800,000 and 3 million US dollars. In Mexico, you can do well with $300,000-500,000 per episode if your actors are not demanding and you manage to employ talented and creative people. Monday to Thursday are the big days regarding TV viewing, and primetime is between 8 and 11 PM. This means 4 days with 3 shows per day equal 12 original TV shows per week which would collectively cost about $5 million altogether (and maybe two half-hour sitcoms for Sunday at 8 PM). Commercials would be served to the viewers like on normal TV, but with the ability to serve different ones depending on the IP address of the viewer (with clickable links for each advertiser’s site).

Then, distribution would be via the internet on a variety of devices and resolutions. The company must develop and offer their content any way they can, and this means standard h.264 streaming clients (preferably open source and QuickTime should also work) for:
EDTV 848×480: Windows 9x/XP/Vista, OSX, Linux x86/PPC, FreeBSD, Sony PS3, XBox360, Wii.
480×272: Sony PSP (a deal with Sony via firmware upgrade), Archos 604 Wifi (via firmware upgrade) and desktops with lesser bandwidth or bigger CPU constraints.
320×240: all 4 Symbian UI versions, WinMobile, PalmOS, Linux/S60/Blackberry phones with Real Player streaming feed, QVGA cellphones that can stream MP4.
176×144: Cellphones with 176×220 resolution and MP4 streaming capability. Maybe a Java client too for best cellphone compatibility.
Web Client: 320×240 Flash player, viewable on the studio’s website front page (auto-connect and playback to try to hook viewers immediately upon visiting the site for info).

The 3 original shows of the day must rerun 3 times a day. Once when it’s primetime for Japan/Australia, second time when it’s primetime for mid-Europe & South Africa and once for Canada & USA’s Mid-west. This way, you capture most of the Internet (tech-oriented) users who actually have the bandwidth and the means to view your content. Each primetime timeslot holds two shows per year, with 18 episodes each. That’s 18+18=36 weeks, plus 12 weeks for the summer that it will mostly be hosting reruns, plus 4 holiday weeks with reruns (these weeks are low-traffic so it doesn’t make sense to broadcast new episodes). Overall, that’s 18+18+12+4=52 weeks.

The rest of a typical broadcasting day you can have tech-related shows (e.g. hardware, game reviews), live magazines, scientific documentaries licensed from Discovery or Science Channel, some global news twice a day and older classic TV shows that come for cheap to fill up the schedule.

Now that I’ve said all that, let me also note that I don’t have $200 million for such a startup. Some ideas require money before you can realize them and no venture capital has so much money to give away — even if they might wanted to. :)

We love Cloud

The super Filipino-Hispanic dancer Daniel “Cloud” Campos.