Technology

Sky to offer free broadband

Oliver Brown
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I read in the Metro that Sky may be offering free broadband to it’s “top subscribers” in a move similar to Orange’s. Personally a shame for me since we probably qualify as a top subscriber (with all the Movies and Sports). ADSL, broadband, Sky, Internet, Orange

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More free broadband from Orange

Oliver Brown
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Now Orange (new owners of Wanadoo) are offering free broadband. It’s essentially the same setup as TalkTalk but more expensive and with a more limited service. If you have a £30 a month mobile contract with Orange you get free broadband with 2GB transfer a month. Although that isn’t as good as £20.99 a month and 40GB that TalkTalk give you, you do still get the £30 a month mobile phone contract so it could still be better for many people. OF course the advert should be banned for the same reason the TalkTalk advert was banned in theory. Or more correctly, the TalkTalk one should be unbanned… But only 2GB a month? TalkTalk, Wanadoo, broadband, ADSL, Internet

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Schild’s Ladder by Greg Egan

Oliver Brown
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Greg Egan is a “hard sci-fi” author. Hard sci-fi is a vague term referring to science fiction with a strong founding in complicated, plausible (if not real) science. He released a few really good novels that deal with several recurring themes including people living entirely as software (and the interactions between such people and those with bodies) some of the issues surrounding duplicating people if they exist as software and some exotic possibilities for life (some not even based on the idea of particle interaction). That last part is mainly what is expressed in Schild’s Ladder - life existing based on the myriad of possible interactions between different quantum theories that are found to exist in what is originally thought to be a super-stable vacuum. Sounds confusing (and in points it is) but for anyone interested in technical mind bending sci-fi, it’s a must read. Then go read Diaspora, another book of his following similar themes. reviews, book reviews, books, authors, sci-fi, Greg Egan, science fiction

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Windows Media Center with a TV tuner

Oliver Brown
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My TV tuner arrived yesterday :) Installation and Setup Installation was straightforward - after putting the card in just pop the CD in and let Windows detect it as normal. It didn’t even have to restart (which is good because it installed drivers for about 6 different devices (audio tuner, digital TV tuner, analogue TV tuner, MPEG encoder etc.). Then on to the MCE setup. Lots of questions, most of which had the correct default value so lots of clicking “yes”. The only sticking point is it asks you which transmitter you want to pick up if you choose to use the digital (Freeview) tuner. The first one I selected resulted it bad picture quality and a bunch of missing channels. I went through the setup again and chose a different one (I had a choice of three) and got much better results. I say much better. Unfortunately a couple of the channels I especially wanted were still unwatchable, specifically abc1 and ft n. This isn’t really a problem with the card - the TV aerial going into my room goes through a large portion of the house first so signal strength and quality is an issue. I decided not to bother trying to fix it since we’re about to order Sky+ with multiroom which will eliminate the problem. Electronic Program Guide It’s really cool at recording stuff :P The only other DVR system I’ve used is Sky+'s and I have to say MCE is a lot better. The best feature is it smartly looks for alternative showings in case of clashes. Which is cool since most programs are repeated at odd times on other channels (ITV and ITV2, Sky One and Sky Two etc.). It can also be set torecord new episodes only or new episodes and reruns. Missing features The most notable missing feature is the ability to properly handle two tuners. All the documentation says it will hapily use two tuners allowing you to view one program while recording another or record two things at once. You can even get a TV card with two analogue tuners on board (Hauppauge PVR 500). Unfortunately for it to work both tuners need to have the same channel lineup. Which is a shame. If they sort out that ludicrous limitation (other PVR software I’ve seen doesn’t have that problem) then I’ll get a second TV tuner and have on connected to Sky and one connected to Freeview giving me an overlap on about 30 channels. Missing review Te one big thing that I haven’t been able to test is the IR blaster. The card comes with a cool box that transmits infrared signals to control set top boxes (like Sky). Once I get Sky I’ll let you know how it goes… TV, media center, Windows, digital TV

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WinTV TV tuner despatched

Oliver Brown
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I’ll be able to extend my short Media Center review into something a little longer and more useful when my TV tuner arrives :) I ordered the Hauppuage WinTV HVR 1300 MCE Kit from Overclockers (the place I got the second video card from). HVR stands for “Hybrid Video Recorder” - it has an analogue and a digital tuner (although it can only use at once I’m assuming). This means I can watch Freeview until I get Sky plugged into it. A few notes about buying TV tuners for MCE. First, get one that is MCE compatible - a lot aren’t. Second, decide whether you want a “kit” or not. The kit versions come with a remote, an IR receiver and an IR transmitter (to allow the computer to control a set-top box). To get the full benefit from MCE you should really get the kit versions. Finally do you want internal or external. The internal (PCI) ones tend to have more connections than the external (USB) ones. But if you just want to plug an aerial in (or you using them in a laptop), the external ones are fine (and obviously don’t require fitting). Windows, Media Center, PVR, DVR

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Internet Explorer 7 Beta 2 review

Oliver Brown
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Well since I tend to use Firefox here at work I figured I could install IE7 without too much risk. And I must say it’s actually quite good. Initial impressions The most obvious feature is thye really minimalist chrome. The back and forward buttons are a little smaller and now to the left of the address bar; refresh and stop are to the right and then underneath that are tabs. By default there is no application menu (File, Edit, View etc). which strikes me as odd. But to the right of the tabs are other buttons to do common things that you’d normally use the menu for. Speaking of opening new tabs, there is a special thin blank tab to the right of the others that you click to open a new one. Conditional tags IE has a special feature called conditional tags that let you specif markup just for IE that other browsers ignore. This doesn’t seem to work in IE7. Unfortuantely this means a 1px rendering error is present on my blog. The irony being I’m assuming it’s been taken out because they think they don’t need it anymore… Zoomin The zoom feature is snazzy and most of all, actually works. It scales everything properly and still renders text as vectors. Even better is that the tab preview (thumbnails of all the tabs) just use zoomed out versions of the page. This means the thumbnails are completely live. Well almost. It seems you get snapshots of plugins (although they work fine when viewing a normal zoomed page, not the overview thingy). It also works with the dev bar add on I installed. Tabbed browsing New to IE and probably the most requested feature (beyond standards compliance :P). And it works. There are some subtle differences between it and Firefox which will take a little geting used to. For example IE puts the cross to close a tab on the tab itself instead of on the right. And newly opened tab appears immediately to the right of the currently opened one instead of at the end of the list. Acid2 The acid test was invented to test a web browsers CSS standards compliance. Acid2 is it’s sequel. Well IE7 fails the Acid2 test miserably. I mean it’s truly awful. In Firefox and Opera you can at lest tell what you’re supposed to be looking at. Opera, browsers, Microsoft

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Rewriting binary prefixes

Oliver Brown
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Computers work in powers of two. This is because everything in a computer (well possibly not quite everything) is stored as 1s and 0s. As a result, any large numbers used in computers were generally expressed as powers of 2, the most notable is 210 = 1,024. This was close to 1,000 so it gained the metric prefix for 1000, kilo. This allowed people to think of 1 kilobyte as “about 1000 bytes” - The difference was only 2.4% Of course as the prefixes got bigger, the differences got bigger. 1 megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes, off by 4.9%. Go all the way to a terabyte and you’re off by almost 10%. 10% is noticeable. The place you’ll notice is when you buy a hard drive. Hard drive manufacturers advertising using true metric prefixes (so 1 megabyte is 1,000,000 bytes). Windows on the other hand still reports in binary meaning the number on the box is smaller than the number you get. In fact Iomega used to put a warning saying so on their Zip drives: “1 megabyte = 1,000,000 bytes. The amount reported by your operating system may differ”. A solution was found, although it has own problems. Amendment 2 to IEC 60027-2 was published that standardised the metric prefixes to have whole metric meanings when referring to computer data. The binary versions would be given new names with “bi” in the middle for “binary”. This meant 1024 bytes would become a kibibyte - kilo binary byte. Well my first reaction is they sound awful. There is another problem that 1024 bits is a kibibit - kilo binary bit. This is ridiculous since a bit is binary digit (kilo binary binary digit?). Aesthetics aside they would solve the problems and I think would be a good thing for the average consumer since k not meaning 1000 is just confusing. Except of course their use is wildly inconsistent - so much so to render the exercise pointless. Windows doesn’t not use the new notation for binary prefixes, memory manufacturers (RAM) don’t use it. Storage manufacturers use the new notation for metric prefixes. Random people on the internet occasionally use the new notation for binary but most don’t. There are other issues with the system overall that add to the confusion. Metric prefixes are in lower cases for small magnitudes and capitals for large magnitudes. Except for k* which has mysteriously stayed lowercase. You should use kg, not Kg for kilogram for instance. Except they’ve decided the symbol for kibibyte should be KiB. And then there are floppy disks. How much data can a floppy disk hold? 1.44Mb of course. But what kind of megabytes? If you said a binary one thinking that they’re old, you’d be wrong. If you said a metric one thinking they want to overquote their size, you’d also mysteriously be wrong. The truth is the 1.44Mb on a floppy disk is to prefixes what “television” is to classicists.** The actual capacity of a HD floppy is 1,474,560 bytes. Using “official” notation this is 1.474560 MB or 1.40625 MiB. So where did they get 1.44 from? Well 1,474,560 is actually equal to 1440 KiB (1,440 old kilobytes). In case that confuses you too much that means they used both style of prefixes, at once.** It almost makes sense. You could use the odd notation of 1.44 kKiB (1.44 * 1000 * 1024 bytes) but they just figured that two ks make an M. Well they do, but a k and a Ki don’t. * Okay, technically hecto (h) and deca (da) are also in lower case but don’t think of using them in computers. daB = 8 bytes? hB = 128 bytes? ** A classicist is someone who studies “the classics”. That would be ancient Greece and Rome (and therefore ancient Greek and Latin). Television is made of two words, “tele” meaning “far” and “visus” meaning “vision”. The problem is that “tele” is Greek and “visus” is Latin. Incidentally, a pure Greek for “far seeing” could be “telescope” and “ultravision” is fairly close for Latin. SI, MiB, KiB, MB, kB, prefixes, binary, metric

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Talk Talk and Sky by Broadband

Oliver Brown
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Sky offers movies and sport content to subscribers with a service they call Sky by Broadband (clever name). The downloaded content is DRMed and you can only keep it for 28 days but it’s good quality. The interesting thing is it uses a private peer-to-peer to distribute it. It’s a smart move by Sky since it saves them lots of bandwidth. I was worried about whether TalkTalk would limit Sky by Broadband. It all depends on their reasons. If they truly have bandwidth problems then they should since it’s quite a large consistent bandwidth hog (since even after downloading it can continue uploading). If they actually just want to limit illegal behaviour with P2P file sharing then they’ll leave it alone since it’s legit. Well yesterday I left my computer on all day (I wanted to try Orb from work). I didn’t realise that closing the Sky program didn’t actually stop it downloading. When I came home all the movies had downloaded (my bandwidth usage was up to 5 gigabytes for the day). Not only that but my download speed had stayed consistently at about 250 kb/s. Since my router is reporting my connection as 2.2Mbits/s that’s almost full speed. In the middle of the day. So it seems TalkTalk don’t (yet) limit Sky by Broadband traffic. Of course it would be easy to reach their 40GB a month limit doing that every day… BSkyB, broadband, TalkTalk, ADSL

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Some very silly domains…

Oliver Brown
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Ever heard of Internationalised Domain Names? They allow you to register domains with non-Latin characters (i.e. Unicode). They actually do a bit of cheating but I’ll let you find that out. In the meantime check out these interesting addresses showing that just using Chinese or Arabic characters is not the limit IDNs. http://www.®.com/ http://www.©.com/ http://www.€.net/ http://www.☎.com/ http://www.♬♬.com/ Quick warning, they don’t work in IE without a plugin and to see them in their true glory you need Opera… browsers, Unicode, Punycode

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