Wednesday, February 08, 2006

IBM's Cell Processor on a Mac

There's been a lot of news lately about Apple Computer's switch from IBM's PowerPC processor to Intel's family of processors commonly seen on Windows PCs. For years, Apple's advertising touted the PowerPC as superior to anything Intel could provide, yet, just last year, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced that they would abandon the PowerPC platform for Intel's offerings, stating that Intel's processors and their roadmap for the future was much better suited to Apple's power needs.

January of this year, the first Intel-powered Apple computers were finally available, and Mr. Jobs, in his usual, colorful manner, promoted the power of Intel's new dual core as being vastly superior to the PowerPC it was replacing. There's no question that compared to the PowerPC G4 processor offered on Apple's current notebooks, Intel's offerings are monumentally faster, but are Intel's processors superior to the 64-bit G5? Hmm. Though the new iMac computer has been used as a point of comparison, it's not necessarily a fair one, starting with the fact that this new, Intel-powered machine uses a dual core processor versus the old iMac's single core (like having two processors versus one). It also has a more powerful bus, graphics card, etc. Yet, even with all these upgraded advantages, real world tests have proven it's not quite the "twice as fast" that Apple claims, and this is looking at applications optimized to run on both systems, as PowerPC applications run unacceptably slow on this new iMac, slowing the entire system to a crawl.

Microsoft released its new Xbox 360 video game system in November of last year, abandoning the Intel processor for a shiny, new multi-core PowerPC (not unlike the multi-core G5 in PowerMacs). Nintendo will release the Nintendo Revolution video game system later this year with a PowerPC processor. Sony, which will release it's own Playstation 3 this year, has also chosen to use IBM's PowerPC, though the Playstation's will be a special, souped up version, developed in a collaboration between the two companies and Toshiba, called the Cell processor. With all the next generation video game platforms migrating to the PowerPC and Microsoft going so far as to abandon Intel for the PowerPC, are Intel's offerings as good as Apple claims on the desktop high end, particularly when compared to the 64-bit, Dual Core G5? Perhaps not.

This is an important question for all those companies, scientists, and what not, that recently abandoned the Intel platforms they were using for Apple's PowerPC servers and desktops. The current, top of the line Power Macintosh system from Apple uses two dual core, 64-bit G5 processors for a total of four processing cores. Wether or not Intel's offerings are able to match that system's power, has yet to be seen as no professional, MacOS desktop system has been announced yet, but it begs the question as to whether Apple truly made the right decision on the high end.

Mac Cell

IBM officially introduced its Cell processor products today, demonstrating some real time demos of satellite driven landscape renderings and touting the power this will give to scientists and all those on the high end of the processing spectrum. A lot of coverage was given to the applications and the capabilities that this processor would give to end users. Many had speculated in the past, particularly before Apple's Intel announcement, that the new, PowerPC/Cell driven, video game consoles could have something to offer back to Apple in terms of games or power, particularly having something like the Cell processor to compete with the Intel world. We know that's not possible anymore, but...

...during IBM's announcement, I couldn't help but notice that the Cell processor demonstration was running the MacOS! Here it was for the world to see and bask in its incredible power, and leaving the entire world of Mac users to wonder what an Apple-Cell world would have been like. Rumor has it that Apple is collaborating with Intel, leveraging their PowerPC knowledge to design a new, more powerful high-end processor that could compete with the likes of Cell. This remains to be seen as do the new professional level Macs with Intel.

Until that time, I'll continue to wonder, what a Cell driven Mac world would have been like.
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Friday, February 03, 2006

iPod Video: Where's the beef?

When the iPod with Video came out last year, I was one of the first to run out and buy one. I'd been wondering when they would finally include the capability, and was more than excited with the initial result. Also, there was a bonus, iTunes video content. Pixar was the first to include content in the form of their famous, Oscar-winning shorts, and of course, Apple began selling music videos as well. I couldn't wait for the moment in which TV shows and movies would begin to show up, and I didn't have to wait long as Disney and ABC quickly added content to the store. Their content was weak, but included the top 2 shows, and a couple of others. Not long after, NBC hopped on the bandwagon and it seemed like this would be the start of a boom of digital content similar to what happened with music. Not quite.

Six months later, except for a couple of exceptions, the iTunes video store is looking like a network dumping station, and a very light one at that. NBC has added such wonderful shows as: Knight Rider (which we all know will be a hit in Germany, though it's not available at the German store - more on this below), the A-Team ( "I pitty the fool" who spends money on this garbage), The Munsters, Adam-12, Dragnet (Just the facts that NBC can suck), Law and Order, etc. In essence, there's a couple of newer shows, and a bunch of old has been shows. Where's Friends? Seinfeld? Frasier? Cheers? On the positive side, they have the most shows of all. ABC may have been the first out of the gate, but it was only recently they added a couple of more shows. Their original lineup, though including Lost and Desperate Housewives, only added the already cancelled but excellent, Night Stalker (a huge disappointment if you enjoyed it because they didn't include the unaired episodes). Also, where's the WB and its famous cartoon shorts and series? And well, let's not even mention the brilliant idiots at CBS, who are not only absent from iTunes, but have recently claimed to want to distribute their content themselves (at similar prices but with viewing limits). There's one major thing that no one can complain about, at least with the iTunes content ( and particularly for Battlestar Galactica crackheads like myself - the only SciFi show included so far), and it's that the latest shows are posted the day after they air for you to purchase at $1.99 a piece (more on prices below).

You'd think that the networks would be salivating at this new source of revenue, and how it could add to their bottom line, particularly for older shows no longer in sydication. Also, it could bring to the attention of viewers less popular shows and what not. I for one am a perfect example, as I did not have a good first impression of the new Battlestar Galactica series. Everyone I know swore by it, but after watching an episode, I remained unconvinced, unconverted, and unsold on the idea of watching it again. Yet, when they put the complete mini-series and both seasons on iTunes, for a measly $2 USD I was able to give it another go. It turned out that the mini-series was so addictive, that I bought both seasons, and can't wait for the next episode to be posted every week. Also, this can push DVD sales, as iTunes video content is in an iPod compatible format and therefore subject to iPod sizing, which though looking acceptable on a television, is nowhere near the pristine, perfect quality brought by the DVD version. This means, people will pay twice for the same content, though the more saavy amongst you will read on in order to save some money.

Broadcast networks, like the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) before them, and all the others, are completely clueless, and in fact encourage piracy by making their content unavailable on services like iTunes, Google video, and what not. People want their content. If they will not sell it to them, people will find a way to acquire it. Later, they'll be crying about and looking to spend their dwindling fortunes on, piracy and the pursuit thereof. This could all have been prevented or at least partly thwarted.

The missing beef

In all this babbling about video and content available or unavailable at the iTunes Music Store, I have only spoken directly about the United States store, which also happens to be the ONLY store to offer Television shows. There are 21 localized iTunes stores and only ONE (the U.S. store) offers shows at all, whilst nine (including the U.S. store) offer music videos for sale along with the small group of Pixar shorts. This means that twelve offer NO video content whatsoever. If you happen to be one of the millions of iPod with video owners outside of the U.S., there's officially NO content for you. What will you do? Steal it, or convert content you own, of course. This is a major mishap, and has had me wondering where's the beef? for the rest of the world anyway.

The shows are available in other languages already, on DVD and in local broadcasts. You see them everywhere when you travel. So, why aren't they available for you to purchase at those stores? This brings me to a basic thought, and correct me if I'm wrong, but who fuels piracy? Bastardly users or mysterious and bearded pirate cartels wearing eyepatches and a parrot on their shoulder? Of course not, it's the content providers who provide NO legal means for you to fill your lovely new iPod with the content that you love.

What's in the cost of beef?

Another interesting point is the pricing of those few precious videos available outside the U.S. Their standard cost in Euros is 2,49 € per show in the few select countries in Europe that have such a priviledge. This is $2.99 USD at today's exchange rate, whereas the standard price at the U.S. store is $1.99 USD. Yes, a lot of those countries are taxed up the cahoot, but you'd think that content providers would look to be fair and equal, and try to at least reach some parity between the pricing throughout the world, particularly when we're talking about digital content. The content is already there and in the local language, so what's happening here? Part of the point being missed by these providers is the point of the internet itself, the fact that, because it's digital, you can sell it to anyone anywhere at your own personal local price. The distribution is worldwide and unlimited. Let people have it, and for $1.99, charged directly to their credit card, the exchange rate will be automatic and everyone will be happy.

Cutting the meat yourself

Sure, our need for instant gratification will have us jumping at a specific series or another, but others, we might already have on DVD or may wish to wait for. Since you'll also want to have these on your iPod, and for those who have NO digital content available for purchase, there are a number of programs that will do the conversion for you. The latest version of Quicktime allows you to convert your content to iPod format, but doesn't allow the conversion of protected content such as DVDs. In the U.S., it isn't illegal for you to back up a DVD you already own because of fair use laws, but it is illegal for software makers to provide the tools under the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998). Thanks to the global power of the internet, these tools are available from where it's actually legal to produce it. A simple search in Google for "DVD to iPod" will yield plenty of options for your favorite computer platform.

One of those available on the MacOS platform is Handbrake (free download). With a single click, you can have your DVD on your iPod in a couple of hours. There are many options available for this process, some simpler than others, some free, some not. My personal favorite on the Mac is Handbrake, but others may be better. Find one you like for your platform, and go fill your shiny new iPod with the content wasting away on your shelf, that could be better served on the road with you. (Handbrake is also available for Linux and Windows)

The final beef

Though I don't condone piracy, it's hard to condemn those who download these shows when they're not even available legally. Many studios complain that piracy is rampant in some of these countries, yet, they don't provide legal alternatives either, or price them competitively at that (99,00 € for ONE season of Star Trek). The iPod video has been out for 6 months, so, where's the content for these markets? The iTunes Music (and now video) Store has proven that people want to pay for content, so get with the program TV execs, and give us the beef we want, else our beef will be with you.

Some additional information:

Apple Computer - makers of our favorite portable player, the iPod.
DMCA - view the Digital Millenium Copyright Act in pdf (requires the free Acrobat reader)
DMCA opinion - The DMCA has many detractors. Here's one.
DMCA Overview - information on the DMCA at Wikipedia.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Pre-owned babies for sale

Pro life activists have been marching once again in their annual round of protest against Roe vs. Wade and those who believe women should have a choice as to what to do with their own bodies. This time, the mood has been quite different though as Mr. Little Tree has been directly offering moral support in the form of "we will prevail" speeches and what not. With judge hALITOsis about to give America his own form of tooth decaying freshness, as his approval seems imminent, the pro lifers have been patting each other on the back over their grand victory in favor of what they now call the pre-born.

Seeing as that seems to be their new slogan, "Justice for all – Born and Pre-born," utilizing the whole pre-owned, pre-played concept, I've decided here to propose a new slogan for the Pro-choice movement to counteract this "bible toting" (and unfortunately not bible reading) gang of overzealous religious freaks led by their newborn prophet who's as Christian as Hitler was Jewish. It's "To protect the pre-born, you must buy pre-owned." With this new slogan goes a new proposition, sort of a middle ground between both camps. It’s very simple.

The pro-choicers can continue to go to their abortion clinic, but instead of having an abortion, they will inscribe in a pro-life, pre-owned baby list. This matches their pre-born baby automatically with a pro-life member, who will in turn pay for and care for the pre-born baby in question, once he or she becomes a pre-owned one, as well as a fee for the arduous task of carrying the pre-born life to term (i.e. the $10,390 adoption credit per child from your tax form plus all birth and term year costs plus an additional 40% of that for the emotional distress). This would compensate pro-choice advocates for their sacrifice, and satiate the pro-life camp's desire for pre-born babies to become pre-owned.

In considering this resolution to the problem, I forgot to consider the amount of pre-owned children that are still waiting for an owner in the U.S. and around the world. Well, all pro-life advocates must now take responsibility and put their money where their march is in this as well, by entering a matching lottery system that will match an advocate with an orphaned or homeless child ending any and all need for orphanages and homeless shelters for children. This would not only save the children, but save the nation as well, transferring the millions of dollars currently spent on this issue to a more important issue: protecting the burning bush and the incredibly "pro-life" and "Christian" message of death around the world. Their post plan slogan: "Fuck with our oil, we'll pre-kick your ass."

Final Note: If you truly want to be pro-life, be anti-war, anti-violence of any kind, anti-abuse, anti-pre-emptive strikes, etc. etc. If you truly want to stop abortion, then promote safe sex, give your kids depo-provera injections, or condoms. Educate the masses and abortions will only be necessary under circumstances such as rape and what not. Love the born more than the unborn, and more will wish to bring the children into the world instead of fearing it. Abortion should be in the hands of educated men and women, as an educated and legal decision, not as a backwoods, medieval, dangerous proposition bred of ignorance and fear. This is why it became legal, and things haven't changed any since then.

In summary, a well placed condom can save a life, so, pro-lifers, how 'bout giving them out at your next rally? :)

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