Posts Tagged ‘media’

Bean had?

Jun 9th, 2009

You may have noticed reports in several newspapers and tech sites today of the Heinz Beanzawave, a USB powered microwave. In total, according to Google News, the story appears to have been covered by over fifty different outlets including the UPI, CrunchGear, Cnet and the Daily Mail. Not to mention a number of popular blogs, such as BoingBoing. While some of these articles have users raising criticisms in the comments, none of the news sources I checked bothered to run a critical eye over the story. (If you find one, please post it in the comments so the good guys can get some acknowledgements.)

The news seemingly originated from a press-release form the ‘Microwave Association,’ working in association with Heinz. Unfortunately for fans of beans and fancy USB gadgets the story appears to be, well, a load of old beans1.

Even a quick critical eye will spot some key flaws. The average modern microwave has an output of 850W, with even weaker models outputting at least 650W. By comparison, the USB 2.0 standard provides a maximum current of 500mA, at 5V; which works out as a maximum power output of just 2.5W2. The former figures should be familiar to anyone who has cooked something in the microwave, as the output is printed on the front, and you are expected to adjust cooking times accordingly. The latter meanwhile should be obvious in part to anyone who has hooked up a printer. While simple devices like mice can obtain sufficient power from a USB socket, the same can’t be said for more power-hungry devices such as printers, which need their own power supplies. Indeed, the power supply units of most computers aren’t certified to deliver 850W of power, with possibly only high quality gaming rigs fitted with a hefty enough PSU; even then, powering a microwave would leave scant remainder for the processor and graphics card.

So we’ve already seen that such a device would have to operate at a significantly lower power output than most modern microwaves. Such a device would be unlikely to be marketed as a novelty, and instead would be positioned to replace most standard microwaves. However is it possible that such improvements have been made, and we are in fact looking at vastly superior technology. In short, not likely, unless they have also managed to break the laws of thermodynamics in creating this miracle microwave.

In demonstrating how truly impossible their claims are we need to consider some physics.

The specific heat capacity of a substance is used to describe how much energy is required to raise its temperature; for water, this is given as approximately 4.2 joules per gram per kelvin. This means that for every gram of water, you must supply 4.2 joules of energy, to raise the temperature by 1 kelvin, or 1 degree Celcius3. Therefore, for a 200g tub of beans (which we shall approximate by assuming it is all water.) it takes 4.2 x 200 = 840 joules to raise the temperature by a single degree.

So how does this translate to our microwave? Well fortunately, the measurement watts tells us how many joules of energy are transferred each second. In other words 1 watt = 1 joule per second. So if we are to assume that our microwave is 100% efficient, that all energy it uses goes directly into heating the beans, we can discover how long it will take to deliver the required 840((And here is a good illustration of the inefficiency of standard microwaves. As by this calculation the beans should be ready in just under a second.)) joules to raise the temperature of the beans by a single degree. Simply divide 840 by 2.5 and… oh dear… 336 seconds. Five minutes, 36 seconds to warm the beans by a single degree. If you want them boiling hot4, then you are going to be waiting over 7 hours.

What bothers me most about this story isn’t the dubious nature of the original press-release. It was clearly constructed by marketing bods in an attempt to gain free column inches. In that respect it worked, and I’m only adding to the effect by writing this. What bothers me is the way the press regurgitated it, unthinkingly, unquestioningly, delivering advertisements as news. Not only this, but it is clear that in most cases, they didn’t even stop to pass a critical eye over it. This isn’t just churnalism, this is factually incorrect churnalism. When the media sacrifices its credibility in terms of fact checking, and ends up falling slave to marketing, what does it have left? And when we lose one of the key methods of fact distribution, of investigation and exposure, what do we have left? Blogs and citizen journalism go so far, but an effective and trustworthy media is is important for everyone; this story is only one of many that makes me wonder how much of one we have left.

I have already contacted the Microwave Association in the E-mail provided in the press-release, and have invited them to respond. I’ll update this entry as soon if I hear anything from them, and leave the comments open if they wish to contribute there. (Although I encourage you do do so via my E-mail, as that way I can be sure the response is genuine. Also, please bear in mind that comments from new users will be held for moderation, and may not get published immediately.)

  1. See, you don’t have to be part of the tabloid press to make terrible puns []
  2. Power is the product of current and voltage []
  3. The scale of Celcius and kelvin is identical. Only the position of the zero position changes, with 0 kelvin being equal to -273.15 °C []
  4. Assuming room temperature 20 °C and a boiling temperature 100 °C []

Charlie Brooker to do Gameswipe?

May 6th, 2009

Its looking likely! Earlier today, newspaper columnist, television presenter and all-round misanthropist Charlie Brooker gave hints that we mad soon be seeing a series of ‘Gameswipe.’ In a tweet on his @charltonbrooker Twitter account, Brooker asked for the following:

Worst videogame bosses ever? Email yr suggestions to gameswipe at zeppotron dot com. Make what you will of that email address.
10 minutes ago from TweetDeck

Brooker is no stranger to games journalism, as his career began back on the pages of PC Zone. He has also regularly mentioned various computer and video games in his column in the Guardian. The E-mail address also appears to be associated with Zeppotron, the production company behind both Newswipe and Screenwipe.
Brooker’s recent satirical and biting look at news coverage in the form of Newswipe was absolutely fantastic, both hugely entertaining, and damning in its criticism, proving to be one of the only television programs for which I will bother setting an alarm.
Exactly how the *wipe format will be adapted to gaming is unclear, as both Newswipe and Screenwipe focused heavily on the past week or so in television/news, an approach which is unlikely be be so suitable for the slightly slower moving world of gaming. Thus its possible that we shall be looking at a one off special episode, or a short series taking a more general look at gaming; certainly the E-mail request somewhat suggests the latter.

Edit: Wow! I should post breaking news more often, this post is only twenty minutes old, and its already brought in a load of visitors.

A Collection of Thoughts

Apr 26th, 2009

A few thoughts this week, mainly as none of them were substantial enough for a full blog post.

Swine Flu

Jumping in first on the topic which is most likely to generate general interest, I’d once more like to point people at the post I wrote covering the H5N1 virus. Anton Vowl, over at ‘The Enemies of Reason’ also has a bit to say about the way the media are treating the incident, namely: Aaaargh! We’re all gonna die! Noooooooooooo!

Still, I suppose it makes a break from everyone being unemployed and moneyless.

Geocities

This week I joined many other internet geeks, reminiscing about Geocities. This week Yahoo! announced that it would be closing the long running web host. In the mid to late 90s, Geocities provided the free, simple to use web space which played host to many a first website, including my own.
earthro_e0
The sites were, on the large part, terrible. They had garish textured backgrounds, which made it difficult to read the text, and which often had noticeable seams, or induced stereoscopic effects. Animated gifs were used unnecessarily, with no concern for anti-aliasing and annoying, repetitive midi files played automatically in the background. Some text would blink on and off,whereas other text would scroll incessantly.
Most of these crimes against web design are long since extinct, confined only to MySpace and a few unread blogs. Sure, garish talking flash ads still do their own part to ensure that the web is that bit more annoying to surf, but they are an external influence, not something added directly by the site owner. In the Geocities era it was still terribly annoying design, but it was OUR terribly annoying design, and part of me will be sad to see the back of it.

New Phone

This weekend also saw me upgrading my phone, as well as spending several hours trying to convince three that I really didn’t need two accounts with them. I realise that I should probably have followed their usual upgrade protocol, but the handset I wanted wasn’t in stock, and at the time they implied that meant I’d have to choose another handset. Turns out I could have still chosen the handset I wanted; it would just have taken a bit longer to arrive. When I tried to close the old account they decided to explain all this to me, and encourage me to take the new handset back, to allow me to obtain a new, identical, handset in its place, with all the heading off to strange delivery depots that this entailed. Sure I could keep my number, but considering that I had already sent out masses of text messages giving people my new number, this no longer seemed like such a benefit. I was also unconvinced by the fantastic benefit of the loyalty points I had accumulated, when I realised that the 32p per month saving on my tariff seemed to mysteriously match up with the 2.5% reduction in VAT, which three don’t remove until the final stage of the billing process. It took me a while to convince the ‘customer retention program’ of this, and involved being on hold for an hour to an empty office. Thanks three.

The main reason I was upgrading was to take advantage of an included data-plan, without any increase in my monthly payments. The ability to access the internet on the move would be incredibly useful for things like Google maps, price checking, and of course, twitter. As an added benefit, three also offer unmetered Skype traffic, , which is bound to prove useful.

When I entered the store I was interested in looking at the INQ1, which the three brochure had advertised as the only phone on the plan. The handset looked functional enough, and felt solid in the hand, but I was a little bothered by style, which felt as though it was aimed at a market a good few years younger than me. There was also the concern that many of the features were very embedded in the phone, and although accessing facebook while on the move is a nice feature, I’m not sure that I need it tied in to the very centre of my handset.

Instead I went for the more adult looking Nokia E63. I’ve had good past experience with Nokias, and hoped that the Symbian operating system would prove a bit more flexible than the INQ1’s proprietary system. The WiFi support in the E63 will also be a nice feature to take the load off my, admittedly huge, data allowance.

I had mistakenly believed that the E63 had an inbuilt GPS reciever, after misunderstanding an entry in the menu. However, on subsequently playing with it, I have discovered that its Mobile mast triangulation system is stunningly accurate, and Google maps was able to place me at the correct corner of a crossroads.

Political Compass

Apr 22nd, 2009

I first played around with the political compass a few years ago, and was vaguely worried that I may have betrayed my old self, and have darted to the far right without quite realising it. As it happens I haven’t, and indeed I think the score is somewhat more extreme in the other direction than it had been previously.

Your political compass
Economic Left/Right: -7.88
Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -8.62
Political Compass

Now in practice of course I realise that asking everyone to march to my drum would be ineffective, impractical, and immoral. While I’m not prepared to indulge every contradictory philosophy, finding some abhorrent, and still others mutually exclusive, I realise that expecting everyone to become raging liberal-lefty is not going to work in political terms, or even practical terms. As a result were I ever to become a mainstream politician, I’d probably have to take a bit more moderate a position. This is probably why I’d never be a mainstream politician.

There are also many points raised on which my opinions are far more nuanced than a four point scale will allow. I don’t think this changes my idealism in my approach to them, but believing something is a good idea is still fundamentally separated from knowing how to implement it. I also realise that any ideas I may have will almost invariably need to work in our current social climate, and complete political upheaval required to achieve some ideals will cause more problems than it solves. While I may be less than enamoured by the pandering to popularism democracy results in, I’m far less keen on many of the alternatives which have been seen. I may very well love everyone to live governed by rules of sunshine and happiness, but unfortunately I fear that the rules of Kalashnikovs and power would find a way to take hold.

One question intrigue me, and I’m not sure I see it as a left-right argument.

There is now a worrying fusion of information and entertainment.

The question itself could be interpreted to apply to many facets of the modern entertainment and information industries. I’m currently a big fan of Charlie Brooker’s Newswipe, but should that push me more to agree or disagree? The program is entertainment undoubtedly, but also informative, but paradoxically one of its prime thesis is to attack the way in which the news has allowed the need to deliver facts to be hijacked by the need to entertain. Is there hypocrisy in this situation? Secondly, infotainment has been one of the primary driving forces of the web and internet, with sites like Wikipedia being both methods of entertainment and sources of information. While I think letting entertainment get in the way of your facts is a Bad Thing™ I don’t think I could say the same for the reverse, although perhaps the end result is inevitable.

Spotify – First Impressions

Mar 5th, 2009
This review is based on early impressions of a beta product. It should not be taken as representive of the final product, and it is likely that my cursory examination have caused me to miss a few important features. Also, while very critical in places, it should be pointed out that I am VERY impressed with Spotify, and my criticisms are largely to reflec the way I hope it develops in future versions.

I’ve just started playing around with Spotify, a service which would seem to hit the ‘too good to be true’ warning, and would have done so if I hadn’t seen it covered in the mainstream press.
Spotify Screenshot
Spotify is a free audio player available from www.spotify.com. Unlike other audio players, such as winamp, iTunes1, Media Player or Songbird, Spotify will not limit you to playing just your own music; it will allow you to play any music. Well, any in its library, something which I’ll come to later. While this may sound like a dodgy file-share front end, it is in fact legitimate, fully legal and licensed. The service is ad supported, although so far they appear to be less regular, and less annoying than radio adverts. You can’t skip them, and they pause if you mute your system. However, if the ads annoy you, and you decide you want to go ad free, you can do so for £9.99 a month.

The interface is clean, fast and smooth, especially in contrast to the positively clunky Songbird. It’s styling are clearly inspired by Apple, although the window doesn’t look out of place on my Windows system. Its easy to search for and find tracks, however the interface feels a touch limited at times. For example, if I search for tracks by Queen it successfully finds 4862 tracks, these cover the band, other bands with the word Queen in them (eg. Queen Latifah) as well as albums and tracks containing the word Queen. At the top of the search it provides links, which look as though they should narrow your search, but instead link you to a page about the band/album. This detail is a nice addition, and you can add tracks from these pages, but it can make searching a touch cumbersome. Fortunately it is possible to write quite detailed search strings, and gain control that way. It is also the case that once you have sorted your search results, new results are no longer appended to the bottom. While this is understandable when it comes to maintaining the sort, it could cause problems if your track makes a later appearance.

The interface also has limitations when it comes to playlist management. It is possible to get a track playing in two ways, double clicking it, or queuing it to the playlist. The former begins it playing immediately, and adds the remainder (or a subsection thereof if there are lots of results) of the current search to your playlist in a greyed out fashion. These will be played automatically once the currently playing track has ended. However any tracks that you add manually following this will be highlighted in white, and added immediately after your last manually queued track, or whatever is playing currently. This behaviour is excellent, as it allows for a quick dive into a genre or band, or more careful queing up of songs. The interface also allows you to easily re-order playlists, including bringing the grey, automatically queued tracks to the front, or middle, of your manual playlist.2 However it is not possible to modify this automatically generated playlist, meaning that if I notice it has queued up a track I don’t like, I have to wait for it to play and skip, rather then removing it from the playlist. However this approach does allow one to be listening to, say, a random selection of Rock from 1960-1980, and then easily add a track of interest to begin playing immediately after whatever is currently playing, or at least after the last manually added track.

Spotify will live and breathe on the diversity of its library. Limited selections is a major issue with many digital music retailers, and Spotify suffers similarly. While I was able to find any Queen song I so desired for instance, the selection of Pink Floyd was limited to a few covers and tribute bands.3 Some bands sit in the middle of this continuum, with the odd few tracks being picked up due to collaborations, of compilation albums. I imagine this situation is one which will improve with time, but as it currently stands Spotify will not be replacing many people’s media libraries. However, it is far from a useless selection, and includes a mix of mainstream and Indie labels. A nice touch is that the library also includes a few interviews and other shows, which are sorted into suitable categories and thus will occasionally crop up in automatic playlists. I haven’t yet found out if it is possible to control whether this happens or not.

As well as the few limitations of the library size, it also has a few problems with annotation. For example, clicking the screenshot above and you’ll see that it classes Atomic Kitten as rock, which seems a bit of a stretch, even for categories which are often subjective.

So how does Spotify compare to something like Last.fm? Well firstly Spotify give you far much more control over what you are playing, and is far less dependent on having a browser. It makes it theoretically possible to use Spotify to entirely replace your music library, a task for which last.fm is neither designed nor suited. Both feature mechanisms of being introduced to new music, although only Last.fm’s system dynamically responds to your tastes. Spotify doesn’t even allow you to rate tracks, and I feel it could gain significantly by replicating Last.fm’s Love/Hate ratings, allowing you to completely forbid tracks, or make them easy to find in future. While it is possible to add favourite tracks to a playlist, a favourites system would allow users to easily find ‘my favourite 1970s Rock tracks’ for example. The other major area is the social side of things, one in which spotify is surprisingly lacking. While it is possible to share music and even colaberate on playlists, this is all achieved outside the Spotify player, and even the website. This isn’t perhaps a failiure, but does seem a surprising oversight in this age of social media. However it is possible to scrobble Spotify tracks to Last.fm, so ther use of one certainly doesn’t preclude the other. Overall though the two systems currently perform different functions, last.fm being a site for discovering new music and sharing what you are interested in, while Spotify is attempting to replace the local media library.

One final feature I feel could benifit Spotify is support for local media libraries. While its eventual goal may be to entirely replace local media collections, or at least digital ones, it is not there quite yet. This feature would encourage people to abandon their current local media players more regularly in favour of Spotify, and would also help ease bandwidth for tracks which are already stored locally.

In summary, Spotify may very well be the future of digital music, but that future isn’t quite here yet. However, Spotify is still in beta, and makes a very impressive present.

  1. Which annoyingly I keep Malaproping on and calling iPlayer. []
  2. I realise this talk of automatic and manual playlists is confusing. What I’ve dubbed the automatic playlist is a list of songs cued up through selecting a radio station or by double clicking a track in a search result. This playlist is greyed out and located at the end of any manually queued up tracks; it will only begin playing if it gets to the end of the manually queued playlist, and will automatically extend itself using the same search parameters if it nears the end. []
  3. This does’t actually appear to be a label problem as EMI, Sony, Warner, and Universal are all signed up, among others. []