Monday, September 26, 2011

Don't believe the internet

Having its roots in the world of academia, there was a time when, if you read something on the internet, you could be fairly sure it was at least partly true.

My, how times have changed.

These days, thanks to the fact that the hurdles to publishing articles, comments, videos and even news stories have been lowered so much, a lot of what you read is far from true. In fact, sometimes it's just a deliberate attempt to deceive.

Several good examples of this have appeared recently all related to video which purports to show a huge NASA weather satellite plowing across the skies above Canada.

When this video and the claims made for it first surface online, a number of otherwise reputable news publishers latched on to it and reported that the satellite must have crashed in Canada. In doing so, they confused speculation for fact.

Later, once it was reported that the satellite had actually splashed down in the ocean off the West coast of the USA, that video and the early reports were clearly discredited. Some news organisations quickly retracted their initial stories or edited them -- by placing a question mark in the headline.

There were plenty of other faked reports popping up online, many like this one purporting to show the satellite crashing to earth nearby.

Eventually, most of the fakers have been exposed but this event does truly highlight the fact that, just because you read it on the Internet, doesn't mean it's true.

But why would people go to all the trouble of creating a hoax and misleading the public?

Simple... money!

The original video now generates revenue for the poster through YouTube's partner program and, based on the number of hits received so far, has probably put a princely sum in their pockets already. Unfortunately, in an age when it has never been easier to create such misleading material and never been easier to profit from it, the internet is becoming a huge source of disinformation.

What a shame.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Should we keep taking the tablets?

Tablet computing is the current "big thing", with every man and his dog rolling out new tablet PCs to sate the apparent demand.

The iPad is clearly the market leader but there are plenty of challengers to that crown, although none has come even remotely close to delivering the slick, polished, product that Apple has created.

The big question however, must be: Are tablets just a fad?

The answer is "yes and no".

What kind of answer is that?

Well the tablet is a device for "consumers" of information -- which most of us are.

The tablet (of any flavour) is best suited to viewing information created and posted by others -- rather than creating and publishing information of your own.

Yes, the tablet has a nice touch-screen which makes it kids-play to interact with the device but just try to knock out a 2000 word essay on a particular subject or edit some graphics with precision and you'll find that the tablet is far from the best machine for the job.

When you're viewing video, text or other material, you can point, swipe, pinch and gesture to your heart's content and the whole process is silly-simple but I can bet you anything you want, that content wasn't created using the same techniques.

Of course you can dock your tablet and plug in a proper keyboard and a mouse -- but then you've basically got a laptop -- except you've paid more than an actual laptop would have cost -- plus you don't have the almost limitless storage that a hard-drive offers.

Then there's gaming...

Apparently, one of the most popular uses for home computers is playing games -- I wouldn't know, I seldom have enough spare time to even contemplate installing a game.

There are tablet-based games but they can't rival the most popular genre amongst hardcore gamers -- the first-person shooter. Again, you could dock your tablet and plug in a joystick but even then, there just isn't the processor grunt to support those ultra-fast frame-rates and super-fast graphics that games salivate over.

But tablets are portable aren't they, you can't lug around a desktop PC and the average laptop is bulkier than a tablet so surely these are the best option for computing on the go -- aren't they?

Perhaps -- but if you're planning to move around a lot, you might find a decent PDA or mobile phone offers a better compromise between portability and performance. Even a small-screened netbook could be a smarter choice.

So I'm left wondering if, once all the iPad fever dies down, whether we'll see a drift back towards netbooks, laptops, hi-end mobile phones and PDAs.

Perhaps the tablet craze is just that -- a craze.

Or I (and HP) could be totally wrong of course.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Look out, it's raining gold (again)

Just last week I read the news that scientists now believe virtually all of Earth's gold and platinum reserves were deposited on the planet as a result of meteor impactsover a 200 million year period.

I guess that's pretty interesting -- but even more interesting (and worrying) is the fact that we're about to get another big lump of gold possibly dumped on our heads and it could arrive as soon as the end of the month.

What am I talking about?

Well NASA has warned that one of its satellites, worth a cool billion NZ dollars, is about to fall from the sky and plummet to earth in an uncontrolled fireball of flaming metal. Some of that metal will actually be gold.

The upper atmosphere research satellite is a 20 year old lump of orbiting space instrumentation that weighs an astonishing 6 tonnes and is expected to start falling earthwards within weeks as its decaying orbit brings it into contact with the upper layers of the planet's atmosphere.

Although NASA is working hard to downplay the level of risk to those over whose head this lump of metal is orbiting, they do admit that about half a tonne of the original six, is likely to make it intact through the fiery descent. If that lump of metal were to hit a population centre, the results would not be at all pretty.

But fear-not. Those NASA guys have crunched the numbers and come to the conclusion that there is just a 1 in 3,200 chance of anyone actually being hit by a piece of this falling satellite -- and even then, it might not kill them -- perhaps just inflicting a minor flesh-wound.

How reassuring ;-)

If you're still worried -- you can check out the official NASA advisory.

Some have predicted that Europe will be right in the middle of the possible impact zone but NASA simply tell us that there will be a "debris footprint" some 500 miles long and that the impact could be anywhere in a zone between 57 degrees north and 57 degrees south of the equator.

So, even if you didn't win Lotto this week, you might still be in luck around the end of the month. Who knows, a big chunk of gold could land in your back yard.

What should you do if this happens?

Well NASA say: "Do not touch it. Contact a local law enforcement official for assistance".

Yeah, right! eBay here we come! This lump of metal will likely be worth more than gold.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The dawn of a new era in media

The provisions of section 92A of the NZ Copyright Act came into force this month and serve to highlight the huge void between consumer demand and supplier delivery in the world of audio and video media.

On the one side, we have an antiquated business model that expects to be able to control in minute detail, exactly how, where, when and for exactly how much their product is sold around the world.

On the other, we have a tech-savvy audience who are not prepared to wait any longer than absolutely necessary or to pay any more than they have to in order to listen to or view the music, movies or TV programmes of their choice.

Personally, I think this law is a futile attempt to try and stop people from adapting to the way the Net empowers them to sidestep the tarnished and outdated distribution methods of the past.

With the appearance of IP-ready TV sets in ever-increasing numbers and the proliferation of IP-based set-top boxes, consumers are already gearing up for the new era in media distribution and, unfortunately for the old "stick in the mud" wrinklies who are presently running the media empires, it's adapt or die.

Even the most draconian of laws will have no effect if the public chose to disregard it in large numbers -- as will increasingly be the case.

Right now, there are a good number of people who use P2P networks to illegally download movies, TV shows and music and, despite the best efforts of the publishers and legislators, I see this number increasing rather than decreasing.

When regular TV viewers tire of the same old repeats, encore screenings and "classic revues" of the same boring oft-seen material, they'll power up their IP connection and seek out more interesting, entertaining and up-to-date content. Inevitably, some of that will involve illegally accessing material that is available via the internet.

Look for a massive boost in the popularity of anonymising proxy-servers which will give Kiwis and others outside the USA, direct access to the content on sites such as NetFlix and Hulu -- despite the most determined efforts of content publishers to quarantine content by region.

Look for new methods of distributing such content to appear online. Perhaps "drop-boxes" on anonymous servers or even public file-sharing sites, with access and decrypting details being distributed by secure email amongst approved lists of friends and associates.

If the publishers think they can keep their old model rolling much longer they are simply deluding themselves.

I'm betting that within the next five years, the whole planet will have, for the purposes of media distribution, become a single market and the Net will be one of the primary conduits.

Prepare for a paradigm change! It's coming whether the media moguls want it or not.