ABC Playback and quotas

"Sam" comments on Stigherrian's blog about some of his ABC Playback feedback. In particular, he points out that the video is highly compressed because they're mindful of "download caps that the public has to contemplate". There is a solution for this.

Download caps in Australia are a response to the high cost of transit bandwidth. They're a principle that is easy to understand by consumers, but actually bear only a passing relationship with the actual costs of bandwidth. Bandwidth is actually more usually charged, at wholesale level, based on the size of fixed pipe or a pipe's average utilisation. So a gigabyte of download from a consumer is only a cost if it happens at a time when the pipe is under heavy use. Hence the "off-peak" bandwidth allocations from some ISPs.

Now the majority of these costs are for international bandwidth, but the difficulty of determining whether a given chunk of traffic is interntational or local bandwidth, explaining this to consumers and the inevitable disputes led to bandwidth just being charged in a single block. To enhance their offerings, some ISPs offer "free" bandwidth for specific resources, generally ones that are hosted on cheap bandwidth and don't consume any international bandwidth.

The actual bandwidth costs are on a descending scale that looks something like this: international, national (other network), national (own network), ISP's own data centre(s), peering links (but note Telstra refuses to do this), exchange to consumer. So one of the cheapest sources of bandwidth is free peering links, and the ABC sensibly does do such peering.

So the solution here is actually quite simple. The ABC needs to peer with ISPs in a free and open manner, ideally in at least all the major capital cities. The video downloads that will be supplied when ABC Playback is eventually launched would then be a "value add" for ISPs that want to supply it for free.

The BBC has done something exactly like this, though they don't have broadband caps in the UK so it was actually done for rights-management reasons. That way the Beeb can be sure that a consumer ISP service is actually supplied to a UK address, meaning the person has (theoretically) paid the TV Licence fee and so is entitled to the media.

Now there's a problem here that I haven't mentioned. Due to The Chaser vodcasts' popularity last year, the ABC started using Akamai's content distribution network to distribute their multimedia content. This caused my ISP, Internode, to stop including this content in their "unmetered" offering, because they can't distinguish between ABC content and other Akamai-hosted stuff.

It shouldn't be too difficult for the ABC, ISPs and Akamai to come up with a solution, and by offering it on the same basis to all ISPs, there's no conflict with the ABC Charter. It would also mean that the ABC can make available vastly better-quality streams, and be pretty sure that the downloader is Australia-based.

So how about it Auntie?

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree

Goldfrapp - Seventh Tree album cover

Dance music's sexiest forty-something has come out with a rather... different album this time around. It's kinda like Joni Mitchell or Tori Amos in parts, with the occasional Sergeant Peppers flick. Weird.

Its not unpleasant, but it's a bit dull. Holly likes it. I initially wasn't sure and kept listening, hoping something would jump out. It didn't. So while I don't dislike it, it just doesn't have anything to hook me.

If you're expecting stomping high-camp techno romps, you'll be disappointed.

I hope this doesn't mean her live shows will end up being much more serious. Girls in bikinis with moose antlers and horsey tails. Now that's a live show!

According to Metacritic I'm something of a minority with my opinion here. Then again, I think Radiohead are one of the most tediously derivative acts ever. Yet I love the stuff they're derived from, like King Crimson. And Radiohead have sold a few records. Then again, so has Delta Goodram.

Seventh Tree is bound to ruffle a few electro-feathered fans, but's no denying it's a venture that sets the pair into new experimental territory.

Goldfrapp have shed the sex-Moroder-robot-Bolan-fuck-disco like a used condom and re-tooled themselves as a whimsical psychedelia and pastoral folk outfit for the disappointing Seventh Tree.

Seventh Tree, though in some respects an organic redrafting of the autoerotic Goldfrapp template, picks up where Supernature left off in its setting of the controls for the heart of the mainstream, and misses badly the slickly subversive tone that lifted the band from the realms of coffee table mediocrity.
Drowned In Sound

Recognition at last!

Massively brained

Finally, someone has noticed that I can never find hats or bike helmets to fit. The reason is obvious. I'm massively-brained, according to Stigherrian.

Next step: forming the "massively-brained" support group, with an online shopping service for the larger-endowed cranium. I can just see the spams now: "Impress her with your massive... Sudoku score"?

Mitre 10: You suck

Conversation had with a clerk at Mitre 10 (large DIY store chain in Australia) on Saturday morning:

Me: I'm after some 50mm 6 gauge screws with pan heads, stainless steel.

Clerk: (looks around the shelves a bit) No we don't have that. We've only got what's here. You probably need to try a specialist fastening store.

Me: What you mean like a hardware store?

Clerk: ...

WTF is Mitre 10 if not a store where you'd expect to find screws in various incarnations? How difficult would it be for them to have a small cupboard with many small drawers stocked with every imaginable type of screw? The profit margin on screws at retail must be enormous, so you'd think there'd be an economic incentive.

Mitre 10, you're no more than a jumped-up $2 shop these days. You suck!

The Social Services

Social Services band photo

Peter Moore got me into the blog Swedesplease which is all about Swedish indie pop music. I figured I could find some interesting music, after all The Shout Out Louds are Swedish.

Much of the music has been kinda ordinary, but the hit rate has improved after they introduced me to The Social Services, introduced as a "Swelandish" band. Two thirds Scottish, one third Swedish. Beautiful, melancholy tunes in exactly the kind of style I love in indie pop.

Unfortunately, they're clearly new to this marketing thing. There's no point marketing if people can't buy your product. How the fuck do I buy their album?!?!? I know it's called "Six Feet Above The Ground" but that's it.

Come on guys, it wouldn't be that hard to set up a PayPal account and a rudimentary online ordering system that ends up with downloadable mp3s. It'd do for me!

Rotisserie chicken, by necessity

rocking out on Guitar Hero

Last night we had a few mates around for dinner to celebrate the bathroom being done, and thank our hosts who put us up while our house was without a toilet. I planned to do a roast chicken with all the trimmings, but hit an obstacle very early. The oven doesn't work any more! Feels to me like the linkage between the lever you use to spark and initially start the gas has disconnected with whatever it's supposed to connect to. Bugger!

So, I sat around thinking about alternatives and eyed up the barbecue. It's one of those enormous six burner jobs, donated by my uncle who isn't living in a place big enough for it. It also came with all the bits for a rotisserie, but I'd never got around to trying it out. Solution to our little problem!

So I threaded the chook on the rotisserie and put all the baking trays with vegies around it. I quickly worked out what the extra little ring and screw thing were for -- they're to keep the meat attached to the prongs at the other end, as otherwise you end up with a spinning rotisserie but not a spinning bird.

The result was actually really really good! One of the tastiest roasts I've ever done. The chicken was a little overcooked, but the barbecue flavour made up for any imperfections there. The vegetables were spectacular! Crispy potato skins but not dry inside. Lovely charred pumpkin. Caramelised onions and garlic. Yummy!

Amazing what you can do when you're forced to improvise.

Bathroom done (almost)

Bathroom photo

Well we're finally done on the bathroom, but for two small jobs. I need to paint the door, which I'm doing today, and we have to put up the shower screen. The wall to which we're attaching the shower screen is just a cavity wall, and of course the studs are not where the screen has to go. So we'll have to open up that wall from the other side and put in a structural stud to hold the (bloody heavy and pivoting) shower screen.

So it's pretty much done! We toasted it with some mates last night and some nice Chandon NV. Thanks Matt, Maz, Mikey and Leonie for putting us up while we were toiletless. Speaking of toilets, have a look at this lovely unit:


Right, I'm off to put the first coat on that door.

ABC Playback shouldn't be hard to hack

Despite ABC Playback being touted as Windows/Mac support only, it should be pretty easy to hack up. Looking at it on Windows this morning with the trusty Live HTTP Headers Firefox extension switched on, I've grabbed what seem to be the important URLs, which are XML files.

The actual interface is embarrassingly tedious. They've tried for the latest and greatest in Flash crappiness, which probably means it'll be slow as a dog on a low-end computer. Fortunately, the data is passed through XML, so it'll only be a short time before someone writes a MythTV plugin to grab, parse and play.

There's a channel list, which corresponds to the three channels: ABC CatchUp, ABC Real and ABC Shop. Loading up one of the URLs given for a channel, you get a listing of the content on that channel, including where to get the file. Seems to be you need "rtmp://" and then the bit after.

So, despite being annoyed they're blowing our money not supporting all operating systems and instead building crappy Flash stuff, we should be able to bend it to our will.

Google Transit includes Perth

Google have launched Google Transit support for Perth's public transport system.

Hopefully, and it would seem likely given they're based in Sydney, they'll start work on the appalling Sydney transport system timetables. The "Plan Your Trip" functionality isn't bad, but the timetable display across the various agencies is insane. I fail to see that when you go from the 131500 site and select a train station (say, Stanmore) and want to see the timetable, you inntead get a list of all the train lines. For the record, Stanmore station is services by two train lines: Inner West and South. WTF? Oh but they, handily, provide exactly the same dropdown again in the top-right, which this time tells you which line services your station. Joined up government.

Then when you drill down into the timetables, instead of anything resembling sanity -- say, defaulting to "when is the next train", you get... an HTML rendering of the printed timetables. And do you think it might be customised to only show the trains that stop at your station? Oh no, you get to know exactly when there'll be an express train whizzing through your station.

Who the hell are the people that wrote this crap? Do they even use public transport? Have they ever tried to use their own site? Unbelievable!

Screen scraper writers, start your engines.