Digital Rights

While I’d quite like to get to a situation where I no longer own physical media (books, DVDs, CDs, etc) I’ve yet to find a satisfactory way to do this. Even if I could find all the content I want at a reasonable price an electronic copy falls short in some situations. For example, how exactly do you give them as gifts (I’m sure most of us give books and DVDs as presents fairly often)?

As someone who used to run a second-hand book website I also wonder about resell rights. A physical copy may well be more expensive (though rarely by that much) but you own that copy and are free to sell it on, thereby recouping some of the outlay, or donate it to charity so they can profit from it. Electronic copies are typically just ‘rented’ from the owner. Then there’s loaning a copy to a friend, something which I’m sure we’ve all done, but isn’t possible with electronic versions.

So it was with some interest that I read about Apple’s patent for a loan and resale system for protected digital content. Continue reading

Heroes in the Darkness

The atrocities carried out under the rule of Nazi Germany showed our ability for almost unimaginable cruelty towards one another and, probably for the first time, they were carried out with scientific precision.

Plenty of people inside and outside of Germany and the other occupied countries knew, or at least suspected, what was going on, though few could or did do anything about it.

We’re familiar with some of those who did. Oskar Schindler is perhaps the most famous due to Steven Spielberg’s film, but there were many individuals and groups who risked their lives for other people, not just Jews (Wikipedia has a partial list of those who helped Jews, while the most prominent are featured in a list of the Righteous among the Nations).

It’s perhaps not unsurprising that I’d never heard of the person celebrated in an email I received recently.  Irena Sendler was part of the Polish Underground, who helped Jews throughout the war. She focused on helping children, though she also produced false documents for Jewish families before that, and managed to save at least 2,500 children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Continue reading

The XP Subscription Model

The venerable Windows XP operating system is due to be completely retired in April 2014. First introduced back in 2001, it has stood the test of time, with many people still happily using it and holding a significant market share.

Microsoft obviously wants to move on and doesn’t want to support code that’s now well over a decade old. For many consumers XP is good enough though. Some are so familiar with it that the massive changes in Windows 8 forces them up a significant learning curve (and it’s an OS that has been criticised for its lack of usability).

So why keep turning over new operating systems? Apple’s OS X has been around about as long as XP and has required very few changes to the interface in that time. My suspicion is that, as one of Microsoft’s big earners, they need to keep producing new versions so consumers and businesses will keep buying them.

So I’m proposing an alternative revenue model for Microsoft, so they can keep updating XP into the future: subscriptions. It seems to be the way they’re going anyway, so why not offer existing XP users a £12 a year (£1 a month) subscription to keep XP? I’d guess you’re looking at millions of existing users, so while that doesn’t sound like much, it should be plenty to support a team of developers to keep releasing patches and updates.

Cool Factor vs Practicality

While I largely agree with Jason Kottke’s recent article on the MYO armband, I have to disagree with some of it, particularly this statement:

The Segway was another great idea on paper that failed in part because of human vanity. Segways weren’t cool…you looked like a dork riding one. You’re gonna look like a dork wearing Google Glass. You’re gonna look like a dork unlocking your car with a swipe of your Myo-enabled arm.

The Segway didn’t fail because it was uncool, it failed because it was fundamentally flawed and didn’t fulfill a need. Consumers are ruthless, it’s one of fundamentals of capitalism.

Launched in 2003, the Segway had a 15 mile range, way too short, and travelled at 12mph, way too slow. Then there was the fact that it cost $3,000 (£4,600 in the UK) which made it far too expensive for any consumer to buy as a bit of fun and it was royally legislated against. The only place you can drive one in the UK is on private property, for example, as it’s classed as a powered vehicle but it doesn’t pass the requirements to be used on the road.

So what you’re left with is a very expensive novelty toy, that’s why it failed to sell. Continue reading

I Want a Bigger Tablet

I was lucky enough to receive a Nexus 7 for Christmas. I’ve previously written that I didn’t see a market for 7″ tablets. That’s obviously been proven incorrect (I agreed with Steve Jobs and even Apple has gone back on his comments with the Mini).

Having had mine for several weeks I can say that, while the form factor is great for certain things (it’s very portable, easy to read books on and is perfect for single apps) it definitely isn’t perfect for surfing the web or writing content (I wrote some of this on my iPad using a Bluetooth keyboard). They basically work like a bigger-screen version of your phone (for checking email and the web) or an iPod Touch (for media consumption). (Which might explain the growth of phablets.)

To be fair, even my iPad is a bit small for churning my way through the hundreds of articles in the RSS feeds I subscribe to. What I want is a bigger tablet. A4 in size (or slightly bigger to allow for some chrome), which works out at 14″ across the diagonal. Continue reading

China Needs Airships

I go on about airships a fair bit but, despite the headlines, we’re still yet to see them steaming their way through the skies on a regular basis. Part of that might be down to cost (upwards of £300 million in some cases) and the fact that it’s an industry that is being reborn, so involves feeling the way.

One country that could afford those costs is China though, and it may need to. Its economy has been built on massive exports due to a large, cheap workforce that manufacturers most of what the rest of the world consumes.

That’s starting to change as rising transportation costs, greater use of robotics and, in the future, 3D printing mean it’s cheaper to manufacture in the country of consumption. Already ships are travelling slower to save fuel and sails are likely to make a comeback.

Airships aren’t exactly quick, but as fleets slow their ships down to around 17 knots (19.6 mph) to save fuel they don’t need to be greyhounds and as they can fly over land they can take far more direct routes. Continue reading

I No Longer Use the Power Button

I’ve written several times about how the long boot time on a normal operating system needed to be trimmed (I was looking at Windows, but it could have applied to any), especially with the rise of instant-on devices like tablets and smartphones.  I even installed a solid-state drive to speed up the process on one of my machines.

I’ve since built a lower-power computer, one that draws almost nothing when sleeping and now I only power down my PC when I’m away for a few days, otherwise it’s either on or asleep, never more than a mouse wiggle or random key-press away.

The reason for the change is simple: speed. Even with the developments in boot times, turning on a computer is still a long process.  Several minutes at least. I could have checked my email, news feeds and a ton of other stuff in that time on a tablet.

Using sleep mode means my machine is completely usable in a few seconds (almost as fast as a tablet but not quite) and I can put it to sleep in about the same time. It’s an area Windows 8 has brought improvements to (as it has to boot times). By the time I’ve entered my password on the lock screen the system has already checked my email and begun grabbing updates where it can so I don’t have to wait. Continue reading