Anything goes, but mostly about computers, science, technology, entertainment, sports and personal issues.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Mp3 Player

Psst, wanna buy an Mp3 Player? There’s so much choice out there, depending on needs, taste and budget. Surely iPod and its derivatives comes to mind. But not everyone like (or have enough money to buy) an iPod. Then, what other brands of Mp3 players which is worth considering.

In the world of Mp3 Player, there are few outstanding brands to name a few. These includes iRiver, Cowon, Samsung and Creative. The first three comes from South Korea, while the last one is from a Singapore based company known in the computing world as the producer and pioneer of the SoundBlaster line of sound cards. Indeed there’re more lesser known Mp3 Player brands out there, mostly cheap ones straight from Chinese mainland factories.

First you have to choose which type of Mp3 Player you need, do you need extra large capacity of Mp3 Player which runs on small hard disk? or do you need to have a skip free Mp3 Player suitable for workout which have flash memory inside? For the first category, there’s a lot of option, mostly iPod ($305-$425) and its derivative (except Nano and Shuffle), and the Zen series from Creative ($205-$310).

But if you wish to have a flash based Mp3 Player, there’s the iPod Shuffle ($95-$125) and the iPod Nano ($200-260). But if you don’t like the iPods, then there’s always players from Creative. Unfortunately Creative have these many types of players, but I choose to discuss just two which is worth mentioning: the Muvo V200, the Muvo Micro N200 (which were rebranded as the Zen Nano Plus).

For the 256 MB capacity, the V200 costs just $61, while the N200 costs $76. The Zen Nano Plus starts from 512 MB which is priced at $95. The 512 MB V200 is just $88, while the N200 (which you should avoids since it’s practically the same as the Zen Nano Plus) is priced at $99 ($4 higher for the almost the same thing but the brand).

The difference between those three as follows:

  1. The V200 has no line-in input for recording, while both the N200 and the Zen Nano Plus have. But don’t expect the line-in recording to be a near perfect solution for converting all audio from TV, CDs, Tape, Vinyl to Mp3. They’re quality is just average compared to most good soundcard in the PC.
  2. The V200 has a direct USB connector, while the N200 / Zen Nano Plus have to use standard USB cable like used in most digital camera. So the V200 eliminates the need to bring about the USB cable, but for digital camera users though this is not a problem, since the same cable can be used.
  3. For the fashionistas, the V200 is available only in white color. The N200 is available in 8 colors, and the Zen Nano Plus is available in 10 colors.
  4. Price (indeed, read above).

For the same or lower price, the V200, N200, Zen Nano Plus beats the iPod Shuffle hands down, for the extra neat features. The shuffle is without any display, no FM Radio, no line-in recording, and no drag and drop features (you have to use iTunes or some serious hacking). The V200, N200, and Zen Nano Plus has all that, with cheaper price.

Although the iPod Nano has color display, it still lacks the FM Radio, mic or line-in input for recording. The only advantage of the iPod Nano over the creative bunch is its ultra coolness of its design, Creative just beats them in features and price. Perhaps Apple wants to have incomes from licensing to third party iPod accessories manufacturer.

Final words: Shuffle lost in everything to Creative Mp3 Players, but the red hot again Apple iPod brands and design give the iPod Nano a little lift. For users who favors features and value over design, just stick with Creative.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Kompas Journalist a World Class Math Genius (pun intended)

Kompas, the biggest daily in Indonesia, seems to have an expert mathematician in its ranks. The latest proof, at its article dated 17 October 2005, titled “Juventus Tak Terbendung” (Juventus Unimpeded), the writer (initial Yes) desribes his ‘innovation’ in Math. In the fifth sentence from the article, it is said “… Juventus … AC Milan, has eight points gap.” And at the eight sentence, “Only a win and a three points gain can make AC Milan cut the gap with Juve to six points.”

From those sentence, the conclusion is a ‘new’ Math, ie. 8 – 3 = 6 or 3 +6 = 8 q.e.d. and Bravo!

But wait, Mr. (assuming a male journalist) Yes is not content with his new discovery. He’s even able to do an encore!

The next morning, the ‘new’ discovery is repeated to convince the reader. At the Kompas article dated 18 October 2005, titled “Pukul Cagliari, Milan Tempel Juventus" (Beating Cagliari, Milan Close in on Juventus), Mr. Yes proudly wrote on the second and third sentence, “With that win, AC Milan follows the current leauge leader, Juventus, with 16 points. This AC Milan points is just a six points difference with Juventus which had 21 points, the result of seven wins out of seven matches.”

So the “new” Math is proven to be applicable to different numbers, ie: 21 – 16 = 6 or 16 + 6 = 21. q.e.d.

So it is proven legitimately the ‘new’ Math of Mr. Yes. If only there’s a Nobel Prize for Math, than Indonesian can be proud, since we have Mr. Yes who can be a strong contender for the prize.

Once again, congrats to Mr. Yes for the discovery of the ‘new’ Math. Bravo!

Included is snapshots of the Italian Football Leage Table, week six and seven which correspond to the two article.

Tables: Italian Serie A (Top 4) 2/10/2005

Team GP W D L Pts

  1. Juventus 6 6 0 0 18
  2. AC Milan 6 4 1 1 13
  3. Fiorentina 6 4 1 1 13
  4. Inter Milan 6 4 0 2 12

Tables: Italian Serie A (Top 4) 16/10/2005

Team GP W D L Pts

  1. Juventus 7 7 0 0 21
  2. AC Milan 7 5 1 1 16
  3. Inter Milan 7 5 0 2 15
  4. Fiorentina 7 4 1 2 13


Monday, July 18, 2005

Harry Potter 6: the Half Blood Prince

(warning: Spoiler ahead, for those of you who haven’t read the book 6)

Just at 2 A.M., I finished reading Harry Potter 6: Half Blood Prince. Although I peek a little (of the end) and due to the tons of clue, speculation on the Net about the impending death of an important character from the book, It’s still a shock that miss Rowling have the heart to kill the character anyway. As usual (I mean like all the other HP books), the last third or quarter of the books always grips you, making the book hard to put, unlike the early or middle of the book.

So since 11 pm, I speed read the last part of the book, and I finished it about 5 minutes from 2 in the wee hours. Although a bit relief, but still left some anxiety, what will be book 7 like, if Harry really not coming back to Hogwarts. OK that’s it, I’m due for some sleep afterall, hahaha.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why Apple migrates to Intel

After Apple announced the change of its processor from PowerPC processor chip to Intel made processor, many question arose, such as which kind of Intel processor will Apple use. From the wide range of Intel processors, there’s some probable answers. Indeed, Apple is said to be interested with the Pentium M processor which are for notebook PCs, especially the code named ‘Yonah’. This is due to the low consumption of power of the Pentium M and slight heat it dissipates. That means it’s suitbale for use in Apple notebook like the iBook or even the PowerBook, or the mini desktop Mac Mini. For performance, surely the Pentium M is fast enough. The fusion of Pentium M Speed and friendly OS from Apple will attract many PC users bored with Windows and its malwares.

Yonah is planned to have a dual core processor in a single chip, which will increase its speed and performance compared to its predecessor. But it seems that the dual core Yonah is just for the desktop PC which is more tolerant to heat and don’t mind quite a sum of electrical power.

For notebook, single core Yonah will be available for a lower price. For the red hot Apple desktop migration, the Mac Mini, it might change its processor to the Celerons from Intel. The low cost Celeron still show decent performance for everyday task like word processing, simple spreadsheet / database, music/video playback, and accessing the internet. But for more serious jobs like photo/music/video editing, the Celerons pale compared to other pricier Intel chips.

Small Size, but Great Achievement

I’m really proud with Johny Setiawan's recent achievement. Albeit we were never really close friend, but we went to the same Junior High and High School. Although he’s quite small in size (especially in Europe), but his achievement is not only good for the nation, but already world class.

Still, the Johny I know is still the humble and low profile Johny, just as I knew back then.

He’s an Indonesian who brave the risk by taking a strange subject for most Indonesian, that is Astro Physics. Since then, he seems certain of his choice, although he knew almost impossible to apply his science in Indonesia.

OK, that’s enough for an introduction, now let’s see what’s his newest achievement: A discovery of an extra solar planet (that is planet from other star like our sun). This planet, called HD 11977B orbits a star named HD 11977A in less than two years period. The star itself is a giant star about twice the size of our sun. So the HD 11977A is considered as a medium mass star, which are known to have an orbiting planet which is smaller than the star itself.

Since 1999, the Astronomic team from the Max Planck Institue for Astronomy (Heidelberg, Jerman) which includes European and Brazilian astronomer; had observed the movement of the star HD 11977 A. They used high resolution FEROS spectrograph which are mounted on the 2.2 meter teleskop at the ESO Observatorium - Las Silla, Chile.

By using the doppler effect principle, the astronomic team which are lead by Johny observed the doppler shift of the star. If the radial speed observed is certain caused not by star activity (star spot), then it’s a proof that a sattelite or planet is orbiting it. It can then be calculated the mass of the planet orbiting the star. In the HD 11977 B case, the mass is certainly within range of planet mass limit.

This method is quite good, so far there’s 135 planets which has been detected using the method. The discovery of HD 11977 B becomes special since the mass of the star HD 11977 A is between 1.5 to 2 times of the mass of our sun. Star that size is rarely observed thoroughly to search for extra solar planets. HD 11977 B is the first planet found orbiting such stars which are measured thoroughly by spectroscopic measurement of spectral lines.

Furthermore, HD 11977 is a star 50 times brighter than our sun. Usually a much bigger star is required to have such level of activity than our sun. So the search of planet around giant star is considered much harder because the spectral lines must be analyzed precisely to avoid wrong interpretation of the variance of the radial speed.

The discovery of HD 11977 opens a new era in extra solar planets, where the star is more massive than Sun class star. The result gives important information about planets formation. How a planetary system with medium sized star or even giant star can still happen. What and why is not fully understood or explainable at this moment. The discovery of planets around a giant star is important to understand the evolution of the planetary system. For example, it’s still unknown how long a planet can survive, after the star used up its hydrogen ‘fuel’.

Once again, congratulations to Johny Setiawan and his colleague from the European astronomer team for their recent achievement. Surely the achievement of a young lad from Indonesia can be an oasis for the struggling nation. Hopefully Johny’s achievement is not the last for all Indonesian, but can be a jumpstart for other young Indonesian to follow his achievements in other subjects in the International level.

Who is Johny Setiawan?

He’s still young, but his discovery is world class. He’s born in Jakarta, on 16th of Agust 1974. This young man which still retains his Indonesian citizenship is still single. His parents still lives in Indonesia, while his sister also studies in Germany.

Before ‘migrating’ to Germany, Setiawan finish his high school at the Fons Vitae 1 High School, in Jakarta at Juni 1992. He finish his pre-studies at Studienkolleg Ruprechts-Karl-Universitat, Heidelberg pada Juli 1993. Setiawan is now a Post-Doctoral Scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Astronomie, Heidelberg, Germany.

Again, Copyright Issue

In a few cities in Indonesia the authorities search and sweeps the Internet centers to check the use of pirated, illegal or unlicensed software (Kompas, 6 June 2005). Software which mostly made in USA becomes the backbone of the Internet center business, especially the operating systems which runs the computer. The Internet centers operators are mystified about the sweeping problem.

Even in Amerika, for every software without legal license (the so called EULA - End User License Agreement) found in a search by the FBI agents equals to a $100.000 fine. So for an illegal (Microsoft) Office means a maximum fine of $100.000, if there’s also illegal (Adobe) Photoshop found, then it means another fine of $100.000. Although there’s means of settlement, but surely the settlement can’t be cheap.

Surely a search with the purpose of finding illegal software is done by the Federal Authorities with permision of a judge or the court. The fine or settlement mostly comes to the agency that supervise software license like BSA (Business Software Alliances) and SIIA (Software and Information Industry Association). Hence, every successful search can be a nice incentive for those two agencies. Indeed, the salary of the president of SIIA is quite a sum, to the tune of hundreds of thousands dollars per year. Every year BSA can get millions of dollars just from settlement of fine charges from search in companies, non profit organization, even government agencies. The success of BSA and SIAA comes mostly from insider tips in the company or organization. That is due to BSA ad in American media with the slogan “Get Your Boss, Report Use of Pirated Software”.

Meanwhile, internet center operators in Indonesia are busy finding ways to survive. While some considers moving to open-source software or GPL (general public license) software. Even when it’s free, GPL has terms that must be observed by its users. It commands that every user has every right to modify, improve the software as long as the source code is made public. Access to source code is essential to the terms of use of GPL software. So the Internet center operators can freely use the GPL software and doesn’t break any law whatsoever.

The rest of intenet center operators try to buy original licensed sofware, albeit with discount plea because the price is just too costly for them, even can match the price of the computer itself. Even this still left some problems, because in the licence, or EULA, there’s an article that said that the software is not allowed to be rented, which can means renting program for accessing the internet which is done by the internet center operators. Although there are legal agreement between the association of indonesian internet center operators with one software companies (Microsoft), it still doesn’t guarantee that all commercial software in the internet centers are legally licensed for public or commercial use. Add to that the fact that the indonesian authorities still lacked even general knowledge about this subject.

In the computer industry, big commercial software companies is dominated by American companies. The biggest is indeed Microsoft, followed by (not in a certain order) Adobe, Symantec, Autodesk, Computer Associates, Novell, Oracle, Sybase, etc. One non American company which slips by on the list is German based company, SAP AG. Incredibly, all these companies never really sold their products to you, me or anyone else who used their product. They’re just basically lend, rent, (by their terms, giving or selling license) to consumers to use them in a certain strict condition.

Some certain strict conditions includes:

  • You have no right to sell, lease, or transfer the product of software (even when it’s free) without producer’s consent.
    This means the producer wants to control how you use their software. In other words, I can sell my computer to other people, but I can’t sell the software in it. Even when I can, there might be certain price fixed for the software. This is not a new idea. In early 20th century, a book producer in America attempts to sell a book with a license that said, “This book cannot be resold lower than $1”. With an average book price of $1, this license can kill the used book market instantly. Indeed the American Supreme Court bans this license and other attempts to limit the use or resale of the product for the masses. If only the license survives to this day, libraries will be illegal, and the used book store will not exist now. The Supreme Court should also ban software contracts like the EULA.
  • Consumer have athe right to use the software product in only one computer.
    This is like buying a screwdriver for screwing just one screw or buying a book which can be read by just one person.
  • Consumer have the right to make a legal copy of the software as long as the user is the same user.
    In Microsoft Office 95, consumer still permitted to make and run one copy of the software in the home or the office as long as it used by him/herself. This is just like buying a book which can be read at home or the office, as long only the same person who read it (book by nature are not easy to copy, as fast or as cheap as copying a program). But in the next versions of Office (or other Microsoft software afterwards), this kind of license vanished without a trace.
  • There’s also a per user license, ie. a license that sticks to a person not to a computer.
    A computer user or a license owner can make many copies and run in as much computer, as long as the user is him/herself. This is like buying a book which can be read anywhere, as long as only you yourself who read it.
  • Many certain software, mainly mainframe software is sold in annual basis.
    You buy a license of the software and you can’t use it again after a year. You have to rebuy or renew the license every year for its latest version, even if you’re satisfied with the old version. Imagine if book publisher impose this rule. Dictionary publisher will charge you every year. The gallery where you buy a Picasso reproduction will charge you every year for a ‘viewing fee’.
  • Once, a license of the McAfee Antivirus program prohibits the user to write a review without McAfee written consent.

In truth, the software license itself contains some problems, such as:

  • Software products should be sold or a sale transaction, not a rent or lease or licensed transaction occuring today. According to Profesor Ray Nimmer of the University of Houston, there’re difference between licensing and sales which call itself licensing, as quoted from his text called ‘The Law of Computer Technology’ page 1-103: “Ownership of a copy should be determined based on the actual character, rather than the label, of the transaction by which users obtained possesion. Merely labeling a transaction as a lease or license does not control. If a transaction involves a single payment giving the buyer an unlimited period in which it has a right to possesion, the transaction is a sale. In this situation, the buyer owns the copy regardless of the label the parties use for the contract …. The pertinent issue is whether, as in a lease, the user may be required to return the copy to the vendor after expiration of a particular period. If not, the transaction conveyed not only possession, but also transferred ownership of the copy.

    It means that when you go to a computer store to buy a legal program, paying some money for it, and taking it home, using it and never have any contact with the producer, then you’re not buying a license program, but you buy the program. Since basically a software product is not a product which has to be returned to its original owner after the end of contract period, than the software must not be sold by rent or license but in a sale transaction which is final.

In comparison with a book sales contract, imagine, if the next time you buy a book which has the following contract / rule:

“You have a LICENSE to use this book. You DO NOT buy this book. By opening this book, you AGREE with the terms of conditions. Only ONE person may read this book. Once the book is read by one person, only that person can read this book as many as he/she please, until the expired date of the contract. Under no condition this book CAN NOT be lent, sold, or given to any other party or library. untuk menggunakan buku ini. This book is sold as is, and you have no right for replacement in any kind for any product damage or defect which is not the responsibility of the publisher. This license expired 180 days after you buy this license. Once the license have expired, you must destroy this book, or you can send the book back to the publisher to help save natural resources by recycling this book medium.” (Recycling means putting it back on the rack of the book store so other people can buy, er, license or rent / lease the book)

  • All transaction between two parties must be agreed by both sides. If only one side who knows the terms of the contract, than a one sided contract has occurred, which means forced contract. The terms of contract should be known before any transaction happened, not after any transaction happened. All software today has a one sided contract, because consumer are forced to agree to the terms of the contract after transaction (or post sale disclosure terms). So consumer who open the shrink wrap of the software or inserting the program medium (like diskette, CD, DVD or any other medium) into the computer, running the installation program, and then there’s an option to agree to the terms of contract (if the contract is not agreed, the program will not be installed).

Two Summer 2005 Shock from Mac

First Shock: Fantastic Mac Sales Growth

At recent Mac Software Developer Conference, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer announce that unit sales of Mac increase by 40% in the last year. That’s one hell of fantastic number in an industry where average growth is just 12% p.a. What does this number mean? It’s known that Apple only has computer global market share of just 3%. Apple sold about 3.5 million Macs last year, meaning the global computer market is about 115 million units.

With 12% growth, global computer market will be about 130 million units in 2005. And with annual growth of 40%, Apple will sell close to 5 millions Macs. That means Apple can get about 4% of global computer market in 2005. If this trend continues, in 2006, the global market will be about 145 million units, and Apple will sell about 6.8 million Macs. Then, Apple market share will become something like 4.7%. The year after that (2007), the global computer market will be about 160 million units, while Apple might sell about 9.6 million Macs, or about 6% market share. Of course, everything can change at will, since there will be a migration issue to Intel Chips starting 2006.

Second Shock: Apple Migrates to Intel

According to Jobs, there’s no future in PowerPC architecture (the chips used on Macs today). Jobs even said that Intel offers lower consumption of power than PowerPC (even when PowerBook baterry life is longer than average Intel based laptops).

Jobs announce that Apple will launch Macs with ‘Intel Inside’ in a year from now, and finish the transition by June 2007. At the same time, Jobs said that Intel offers ‘brighter’ roadmap than IBM did. It’s interesting when Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo went to IBM for their game console.

Apple have been developing OS X for (Intel) x86 chips in the last five years. Jobs shows OS X running on a Mac running on Pentium 3,6 GHz. Not only Apple has develops OS X for Intel, but almost all oher application has been redesign for both hardware systems.

Apple developet toolkits, Cocoa and Xcode, will make the porting of existing programs to the new hardware become much easier for Mac developers. Xcode 2 supports ‘fat binaries’ or codes that runs on both two different hardware architecture. Jobs try to convince Mac users that Apple will not leave Power PC Mac users behind. Apple software will continue to support PowerPC for a really long time. Part of the strategy is what is called ‘universal binaries’ or MacIntel version for ‘fat’ program for Classic Mac OS which has 680x0 code (for pre PowerPC Macs) and Power PC code (for Mac today).

Why Mac moves to Intel? Because Apple CAN!

Two reasons of Apple big decision:

  1. Most probably Jobs is fed up with Ibm because broken promise by IBM of 3 GHz G5 chips which never came about. Jobs, basing on IBM projections, already promised that speed on Power Mac G5 to come around mid 2004. But even in this time in 2005, PowerMac G5 still tops at 2.7 GHz. That’s still 10% less than what’s promised for last year. Even if according to Moore’s Law (processor chip doubles every 18 months), G5 speed should be by now approaching 4 GHz. What gives? Certainly IBM has a few production problems, mostly chip yields that is not so good (chips are not so perfect, or the speed is not as fast as predicted). Other than that IBM is developing new chips for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, all console game makers. The three companies is expected to order about 20 million chips per year. So economically Apple which only sell about 3 to 4 million Macs per year is not a big customer for IBM (in the near future). So IBM really has the technology that might supply Apple needs, but more importantly IBM doesn’t mind losing Apple in the future.
  2. Second reason is because Apple simply can. Pentium architecture has gone a long way since the 80286 chips used on DOS based PCs, in the era of early Macs. Pentium 4 performance are really on par with G5. Intel even offers more choices of types and speed of processor (like the Celeron line, for the entry level market). Apple secretly ports OS X and other Macs program to Intel hardware. Indeed, Next OS, the basis of OS X already runs on Intel before Apple acquire Next and Jobs.

Whatever the real reason, the final real world performance is good enough to be decisive, so that Apple is willing to migrate their whole computer line to Intel side, which has become industry standard. And it’s sound economically too, although I believe that Apple will pay higher for Pentium chips than IBM G5.

We’ll see interesting issue in the coming months and years:

  • Will MacIntel model use Celeron or Pentium, or even 64 bit Intel chips?
  • Will Intel add a processing unit to Pentium chips to enable a good AltiVec emulation.
  • Or will programs that used AltiVec will show slower performance?
  • What’s the difference of MacIntel with Windows PC architecturally?
  • And how long until someone found a way to emulate MacIntel architecture in standard (non Apple) Pentium or AMD PCs so that users of Windows and Linux can run OS X without having to buy a new MacIntel?
  • Can Apple put the red hot Pentium into a Mac Mini without resorting to noisy fans?

Other Important Mac / Apple Statistical Data:

  1. 1 million customers get into Apple Stores every week.
  2. iPod dominates Digital Music Player market share of about 76%.
  3. Apple Internet Music Store, iTunes has sold more than 430 million songs and dominates the legal Internet music sales market share of about 82%.
  4. Apple has sold 2 million of Tiger (the newest Mac OS X version 10.4), and it’s been used on approximately 16% in all Macs. (next OS X version is code named Leopard)