The Null Device


Some (mildly) good news in the US: the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has tossed out the Broadcast Flag mandate, ruling that the FCC does not have the authority to require that all computers or other devices capable of receiving a broadcast signal prevent such signals from being recorded without rightsholder-approved DRM. Mind you, that's not the end of it; the MPAA and allies will undoubtedly call in any favours they have from their pet congresscritters to ensure that (a) the Broadcast Flag is enshrined in law, or (b) the FCC's authority is extended to enable it to rule on such matters without judicial oversight; and the EFF and a few other troublemakers will step up to fight them.

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I recently picked up the Pet Shop Boys' Back To Mine compilation. It's the same deal as the others; a bunch of tracks selected by the compilers, mixed together into a seamless mix. The interesting thing about this one is that it is a double CD, with one disc selected by each of the Pet Shop Boys.

And they are quite different; Chris Lowe's disc is mostly italo-disco with some gospel and soul, whereas Neil Tennant's tends towards a cool, cerebral mix of contemporary classical and glitchtronica (and, indeed, the sort of thing you might expect to hear on Utility Fog in Sydney or one of the more avant-garde programmes on 3RRR). The one artist they have in common: Dusty Springfield (of course).

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The first MP3 player I owned was an Archos Jukebox Recorder. This was a relatively bulky unit consisting of a low-power CPU, monochrome bitmap display and notebook hard drive (20Gb, though it was easy enough to open it up and swap the hard disk for a larger one, at least until Archos started soldering their hard drives into cages of circuit boards).

Just under a year ago, I bought an iRiver H340; this is a smaller unit, with a more powerful CPU (Motorola ColdFire; it's powerful enough to decode MP3 and OGG in software, and someone has gotten an iRiver emulating a GameBoy), a colour display, two USB ports (device and host), and based around a smaller (1.8", i.e., iPod-sized) hard drive. Like the Archos, it could record to MP3, from a (crap) built-in microphone or line in (I think it even has a microphone preamp built in, unlike the Archos). However, it seemed to have one crucial missing feature: no real-time clock.

Why is that such a big problem, you ask? Well, when you suddenly record something on the go, how will you know what it is that you recorded later on? The files it makes are named VOICE001.MP3, VOICE002.MP3 and so on, which doesn't say much. There is no keypad, touch screen or other data-entry method to give them names either. Of course, if the device has a real-time clock, you can look at the timestamp of the file to see when it was recorded, but with no such clock, all files created get an arbitrary creation time such as midnight on 1/1/2002, so you're left guessing.

Mind you, now it emerges that the H340 hardware does have a real-time clock, just that the firmware didn't use it. I just found out the most recent firmware upgrade adds a clock function, displaying the current time, and adding sensible timestamps to any files recorded. Which makes the iRiver slightly more useful for things other than listening to music.

(Of course, the firmware is still annoyingly clunky when it comes to doing some things; though now that it is confirmed that there is a clock inside the unit, Rockbox can make use of it when it is ported to it.)

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Well, it turned out much as expected; Labour got back in, although with a severely reduced majority down by about 100 from 165, giving rise to speculation about Blair's leadership. The Lib Dems gained about 8 seats, going up to 59, though hopes that the Tories may wither away to third place were dashed, as the bastards got the lion's share of Labour's losses. One of the biggest swings against Labour was in the Welsh seat of Blaenau Gwent, where the Labour party machine tried to impose a centrally-selected candidate on the electorate, only to get trounced with a 49% swing by the now-independent MP. On a more ominous note, the we-are-not-neo-Nazis British National Party doubled its vote, and odious Stalinist-turned-Islamofascist George "I never met an anti-Western despotism I didn't like" Galloway took Bethnal Green.

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The election results are trickling in; Labour have retained a number of seats; the Lib Dems are getting significant swings (5-10%), though they're all falling short of unseating Labour. So far, Labour have lost two seats: Putney to the Tories (interestingly, Putney is an area popular with South Africans, who, as Commonwealth citizens, are entitled to vote, and who are said to be conservative on racial issues; I wonder whether this was a factor), and a Welsh seat to an ex-Labour independent. Exit polls say that Labour's majority may be slashed to 66 or so.

The BBC's election coverage seems quite similar to the ABC's Australian election coverage (the computer-generated bar charts and swingometers are there), though there's a carnival atmosphere that the Australian elections don't have, with elements of silliness and irreverence, such as a George W. Bush impersonator at the BBC's election party, and a computer-generated mockup of the party leaders racing down Downing St.

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