Wednesday, 29 October 2008

IView and PlayStation 3

The new 2.5 firmware for the Playstation 3 included some level of Flash 9 support - which opens up quite a few of the sort of sites which one might want to access from a TV connected device. One of these is the ABC's Iview product - which is like a DVR of the last couple of weeks of some of the ABC's TV. I have no idea if it works outside of Australia.

There is a little trick to getting it to work on the PS3, but once that is done, it seems to work ok. The first time you go to, you need to check the 'do not show this again' thing, and then restart the machine (not just the browser). Then the next time you open it, it should load up ok - although it can take a little while to get going. Viewing other flash sites in a given session also seems to upset it sometimes, but again a restart should get it working again.

It is a bit slow though. At the full resolution at 1080p, it barely works - infact I got no video at all. At 720p it works, but is a bit jerky, 576p is a bit better, but it's a pain since you need to change the resolution of the whole machine, not just the web browser, and 576P looks pretty bad on a HD TV. Another tip - if you change the 'Resolution' setting in the 'Tools' menu (the actual layer on which the browser content is rendered internally), to -2, it speeds it up further, but at a cost to the video resolution. Still, either way it is fine for watching non-action content such as news and talking head shows. I think Sony need to throw some more effort at the video codecs and flash player, since the CELL should be more than capable of running at least the video at full speed. It would be nice if they implemented 'full-screen mode' too - currently you have to zoom and maybe fiddle with the view a little to get it to show nicely. Perhaps a '-3' setting for the Resolution setting when in 1080p mode could help too, and just scale things up - rather than forcing one to reset the display on the whole system.

The menus themselves are unfortunately all done in flash - which means that although they 'look nice', you need to use a mouse pointer, and can't 'cursor-key' between links as you can on HTML pages. This is mostly just an inconvenience when using a controller, but in some cases it breaks the interface. The widget set they use is a bit shitty, for example in the full programme listing you can only scroll by grabbing the handle in the scroll-bar widget -- which is far to coarse and you cannot get to every item in the list. It would be nice if they had a simpler, alternative interface that didn't do all that pseudo-3d shit and background animations as well - all it does is make it a pain to use. The video quality itself is pretty low - well on a big tv it really shows anyway. It's probably comparable to 'high quality' mode on youtube (when the source material is broadcast quality) - it's ok and quite good for talking heads, but action and pan shots are joltingly difficult to watch. Certainly things could be improved - but it is a nice little addition to the free services available. At least until we get PlayTV over here. Perhaps Sony can try to work with the ABC a little, as they seem to be doing with the BBC's IPlayer, to help improve performance and the accessibility from a controller interface.

Another issue -- iview traffic is all metered for almost all ISP's -- unlike the older ABC video content which most decent ISP's graciously provided as un-metered traffic. This is because of the unfortunate use of Akamai for their content delivery -- I find it somewhat surprising and quite disappointing that the ABC would turn to an international service provider for an Australian service, rather than a local company. There should be plenty which are more than capable of supplying the technology required (Akamai was probably seen as a quick and easy solution - but time will tell if it was a good one). They say they are working on a way around this, but while they use Akamai it sounds like any solution will be flakey (as in iiNet's case it seems, according to whirlpool), and/or costly for ISP's to implement - so they may not do it. I guess we'll all find out soon enough. Although on the other hand, if you have a decent ISP, and aren't using your connection to download movies and tv shows, you probably have the quota to spare. And if you are, you probably aren't interested in iview anyway.

Monday, 27 October 2008

State of Indignance

I'm still around. I haven't been doing anything particularly interesting of late and the copious news and blog reading I've been doing has made me too angry and aghast to feel like posting much.

Recently one of my uncles died - at 98. Very impressive feat, he had a large family and strong ties to his community and was an all-round nice bloke. Not that I've seen him for a long time, but the family used to visit when I was a kid. I hadn't quite realised how tied into the church his family was. It was interesting to see the role that the Church played in forming and bonding his community together. It got me thinking that maybe this church thing isn't such a bad idea after-all. But then during the sermon it veered off into dreaming about him enjoying his after-life, and it just felt sad, all of these good people believing in a silly fantasy. Although they did celebrate his wonderful life as well, the emphasis on the after-life seemed both unnecessary and childish.

But apart from that, it got me thinking about how church and community goes together. He was part of a small country town in a productive part of the country (even drought years aren't so bad there generally). In such a setting where most of the community knows each other, I can see a church as being a quality way to help people socialise, and provide some common ground to bind people together. But does this work in a larger town or city? I suspect it does not scale very well. And like many other things, the scale of humanity has out-grown these ideas, and it is probably time we moved on. Which society is doing anyway, as reflected by census results.

The US election. Wow. That's been quite an interesting one to follow. Normally I am not to fussed about American politics, at least to the level of following an election campaign (even when I was in the USA in 2000, or was it 2004), but this year something has been different. Certainly there's no shortage of `character' in the players this time around. Which makes for some interesting opinion pieces out there. The hate and racists fuelled republicans really seem to be coming out of the wood-work, encouraged in large part by the divisive wedge politics the right loves to play with. And I think like many, the prospect of an educated and thoughtful new face running the USA for once (during my life-time) is an intriguing prospect. And really, for the sake of humanity, I think all the rest of the world is hoping for an Obama victory; McCain is one angry, grumpy old man who is likely to do anything in a fit of rage, or just die of old age, and Palin just wants to estabilish a fascist theological state and probably help accelerate the apocolypse (and all that before dinner with the family). Of course, with the (world) economy in such a mess, victory may be a bit of a poison pill, but there isn't much choice. Another point of interest is how voter-disenfranchising activity is even remotely legal or tolerated or even considered in the first place. What sort of a fucked up `democracy' is that?

Ahhh the world ecomony. Hasn't affected me at all yet -- apart probably, from a bit of super which didn't make money even when things were going well. So again, fascinating to follow the ups and downs of the stocks and whatnot. I can't really add much to the teeming cesspools of comment already out there -- much of which I have read -- only that how much it sucks that at the end of the day, the rich will get richer and the poor and middle will pay for it -- again. A few new regulations and some hardship for a few years -- until the cycle repeats itself. But while capitalism reigns there is little choice -- not everyone can be rich, so plenty have to be poor. At least while the rich get unfair electoral representation (i.e. can bribe officials).

Where is the world headed I wonder? It is easy to get pessimistic. Even without the threat of global warming things are not looking terribly rosey. With the world population continuing to rise unabated, with land continuing to be degraded beyond use, the sea over-fished, toxins and contaminants continuing to build up in the food chain, water being poisoned or hoarded, personal greed continuing to trump national welfare, is there really a bright future for humanity? I think an area to watch in the next few decades may be India -- as a representation of the problems to be faced by the entire world, particularly over population, pollution, religion fueld ignorance, wealth disparity.

Add global warming and things could really get nasty. I read a few sceptic and science blogs, and it is surprising how many of them are overly sceptical of global warming (sceptical should mean require hard proof, not just being universally cynical), or don't see it as an issue to be concerned with to the point of regulation or spending money. Maybe in England some nicer weather isn't seen as such a bad thing, even if it means wilder and more frequent storms occasionally. But there are going to be some pretty nasty consequences even for them (disease spread, costlier food), and the risk and cost that we are trying to fix something we had nothing to do with pales into utter insignificance against the risk and cost of not fixing something we actually caused.

And the more mundane. Work continues to be pretty dull. Mostly writing little data importers, and doing a lot of manual data verification and manipulation. I haven't had to write any really new code for months. I tell you what though, Microsoft products and their proprietary file formats have meant a lot more work for me, and a lot more frustration. Where I can, i've moved to using simple CSV files for most data files. Apart from being trivial to read and write, they are also bloody fast! But excel has to make using any `non-native' file format a right pain in the arse. To just save a file in CSV format takes 4 extra clicks, and it still warns you when you close the file that you haven't saved all changes -- even if you have. So a big F.U. goes out to B.G. the big C for helping to make life more difficult for all of us with your crappy tools and shitty file formats.

Haven't bee playing many games either. I got to the last battle in Rogue Galaxy but can't be bothered finishing it (lack of save points). I'm pretty pissed off LBP got delayed, particularly as it certainly looks on the surface to be pandering to irrational beliefs of a random internet poster, but i'll keep those thoughts to myself, at least for now. I just hope this doesn't indicate a predisposition to censor `offensive' content once the service goes live. And speaking of censorship, that idiot Conroy should go for trying to bully Mark Newton for stating the obvious about the ludicrous scheme to filter the entire Australian internet.