Notional Broadband Network smells of fail

So we've finally got the non-announcement of the winner of the National Broadband Network tender, and the winner is... everybody loses! Thanks for playing kids.

So instead of awarding the tender to the best bidder, or bidders, they've decided to go it alone and do it themselves. Because the last time we had a government telecommunications monopoly, that worked great. Low prices, great innovation. Why I even recall being told that that government monpopoly wouldn't investigate data faults until they reduced throughput to 300 bits per second. (Though that scenario is eerily close to the privatised government monopoly's treatment of faults that affect anyone except Telstra retail customers.)

You might expect the tenderers, who put enormous effort into scoping and costing their proposals, might be a little pissed off. Particularly given the government set them the pretty well unachievable target of 98% coverage, while they've set themselves the much more sensible 90%, meaning the NBN will cover the cities and large regional centres only.

Worse yet, the person in charge of the whole proposal is someone who has spent the last 1.5 years alienating the entire telecommunications industry. A man so unable to understand his portfolio that he can't even explain his plans to filter the Internet without constantly contradicting his own statements, and reacting to any criticism by claiming his critics are child pornographers. I would have a lot more faith in this project if they put someone competent in charge. Someone of the Lindsay Tanner calibre, rather than talentless backroom numbers hacks.

Next interesting part will be whether or not Conroy releases the expert panel's recommendations. I suppose that depends on whether or not it agrees with the decision he's had made for him.

I've got a very bad feeling about this whole project. Governments have a very bad record in building technical infrastructure, and of managing giant projects in general. Anyone who's been around telecoms in Australia from before the privatisation of Telstra will remember the ISDN fiasco.

The search for quiet

I've had some big hardware failures of late in my computer infrastructure. My previously rather good and quiet IBM Intellistation (dual Xeon) MythTV server's power supply died. The PSU, being IBM, is completely proprietary and so the machine is now essentially defunct. Real shame as it was a nice piece of kit.

I ended up buying a Dell Precision workstation as its replacement. This is another dual Xeon machine, but this one was rather noisy, with two big, loud fans drawing air over the CPUs. I tried replacing these fans (which required me to resolder the proprietary Dell connectors) with two 92mm Zalman fans and a potentiometer. Unfortunately these Zalman fans are absolute crap! The idea with this kind of mod is you can turn the fan speed down and get dramatically less noise while only slightly less airflow. These Zalman fans basically can't have their RPM reduced by anything significant, so they only run at full pelt, producing more noise than the fans they replaced!

Holly got the shits with this situation and authorised me to spend some bucks on the problem. Fortunately Danny had recently done all the research I needed and so I, somewhat cheekily, nabbed much the same setup as him. Only difference with my kit is a different, and cheaper, motherboard and a slower CPU. I also have the hard drives I need.

I'm still waiting on the power supply and passive heatsink, but as soon as they arrive we'll have silence again in the back half of our house. If this is successful, I'm tempted to build myself a similar box as my desktop.


Well it had to happen, I suppose. Julie was talking about using Twitter to find out the buzz around what your company is doing. And so I searched a little and intrigued me enough to sign up.

So you can now read my incoherent and depraved ramblings on Twitter. Yes I know, I'm a little slow, but it just seemed overhyped to me. We'll see how long I last.

Wikileaks hosts ACMA blacklist

The ACMA blacklist

Whoopsie, the inevitable has happened and the ACMA blacklist genie is out of the bottle. Gee we didn't see that coming! We can now all see what Conroy's great firewall of Australia will block, should he get his weird kinky Xtian fantasy of controlling the viewing of all Australians. As the two URLs added in March 19, the list is most certainly not restricted to child porn.

PS ACMA, this link is hosted on my own server outside Australia. If you send me something in writing, I'll remove the link after taking legal advice, though I'd like to test the theory that only a "link" (a href=?) is what's prohibited, not publishing a URL. And what about a photo of a URL?

Please remember people, when a government proposes censorship you should always be suspicious and be suspicious of any explanation they give. You'll get them rolling out all the discredited "studies" showing pornography/video games/hentai/photos of Pauline Hanson cause violence/rape/singlets/Pauline Hanson. These "studies" generally have methodologies of, say, putting someone in a room (with a one-way mirror) and exposing them to extreme pornography for hours on end, then being all surprised when they seem a little distressed by the experience. Unwanted pornography, particularly when it's things you're not into yourself, is distressing. But there's no evidence it causes any harm to people who aren't exposed to it unwillingly.

Small business web analytics

I'm writing a tutorial for a magazine about web analytics and its use by small businesses. I'd love to include a case study of how people use such tools. I use web analytics every day in my real job, but that's not a small business by any definition.

Anyone willing to have a chat (phone or email, as per your preference) and be quoted about their use of web analytics to help understand your small business's client base, improve your web site and make better marketing decisions? If you're in Sydney, there can be beer involved if you like.

If you're interested, get in touch and let me know a little about what you're doing.

JQuery and Drupal book suggestions?

I'm launching a new site for work in a bit over a week that's built in Drupal and with JQuery used extensively. So far I'm pretty impressed with JQuery, especially how you can string things together. So I need to bone up on these two things, especially Drupal which I haven't had a chance to penetrate beyond the user interface bits.

So anyone got any book suggestions? For JQuery I'd want something that's reference-style rather than anything written as a tutorial. Drupal I need something that introduces me to the basic architecture, and then is more a reference. I've found I never really go through tech books that have tutorials and exercises and the like, hence my focus on reference material.

And since I'm asking for book advice, let me give some too. If you ever need to touch JavaScript, go and buy JavaScript: The Good Parts by JavaScript guru Douglas Crockford. It's quite thin (150 pages) and succinctly says what's good, and what's bad, about JavaScript. It's essentially a "work this way and you'll avoid most of the bad stuff about JavaScript" kind of book. Essential reading!

Shittyrail claims ownership of timetable data

Apparently Sydney's Shittyrail government transport monopoly is threatening an iPhone developer who had the temerity of making their timetables more usable. This from an organisation whose web site presents its timetables in the brilliantly web-friendly format of just like the printed timetable. So assuming you know which lines you need to get to your destination, you then need to page through it to find the appropriate direction and time.

"RailCorp's primary concern is that our customers receive accurate, up-to-date timetable information," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

Which might be a good argument if their own timetable pages were updated with service disruptions, trackwork and other changes. They're not. Instead they plaster a notice over the timetable telling you vaguely about the trackwork. No reason, of course, that they couldn't make this information available to developers to expose to their applications.

I can see a letter to the minister and my MP coming.

IE6 must die

When the revolution comes, the developers of IE6 will be the first up against the wall. Joining them there will be the people at my work who haven't updated the desktop COE to a browser that isn't quite the spawn of satan.


MythTV and the Playstation 3: current state

So I've had a week or so playing with the PS3 and MythTV. I just posted this to the Myth user list, but I suspect some of the readers here would be interested in how it's going.

I'm attempting to use a PS3 as the frontend to my Myth system, replacing the silent, solid state SD frontend I used to have. My backend records from two DVB-t cards, so I'm recording. But I've encountered a few problems and I'm wondering if anyone else has encountered these, or has suggestions of lines of attack.

Ideally Sony would open access to the graphics hardware through the "Other OS" feature, and then I could just run native Myth. Unfortunately this hasn't happened so I've been forced to use the UPnP approach. This means there's a bunch of features missing, like commercial flagging and the ability to delete recordings after watching, but I can live with that. These other problems are more serious.

Solving these would make the PS3 a pretty damn decent frontend, especially for people wanting HD. When it works, 1080i and 720p look pretty damn spectacular. A PS3 frontend has the added benefits of Blu Ray playback, UPnP client (for downloaded video) and a games console to boot.

Transport stream support

The PS3 supports many permutations of MPEG Program Stream(PS), but only MPEG2 video with MPEG2 Layer 2 audio inside a Transport Stream (TS). Australian DVB-t seems to (sometimes?) use AC3 audio, so inside a TS the PS3 can't play it back. I either get the video with white noise sound, or it refuses to play back at all.

It seems my Myth setup sometimes produces TS, and sometimes produces things that the PS3 is happy with. Output from "file" looks like this. Interestingly, the files labelled "data" play back, but the TS doesn't.

Output from "file":
1020_20090221181900.mpg: data
1020_20090221190000.mpg: data
1020_20090222050000.mpg: MPEG transport stream data
1020_20090222190000.mpg: TeX font metric data (\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377\377

So the approach I've been looking at is demuxing the TS into a PS in a transcode job. I haven't succeeded yet, so if anyone has a nice script I'd appreciate it. Ideally MythTV would be able to do this as it records, because otherwise I can't really watch a program that's still recording and there'll be a bunch of hard drive thrashing that could be avoided.

What's strange is that my tuners are almost identical. lspci output:
03:0c.0 Multimedia controller: Philips Semiconductors SAA7134/SAA7135HL Video Broadcast Decoder (rev 01)
04:0f.0 Multimedia controller: Philips Semiconductors SAA7131/SAA7133/SAA7135 Video Broadcast Decoder (rev d0)

So I'm assuming the problem is due to Myth being relatively relaxed about the streams it produces, and really all it's doing is pulling out the appropriate TS from the multiplex and dumping it to disk. This is fine when mythfrontend (or mplayer or xine or whatever) is playing back, but the PS3 is a bit pickier about it.

So has anyone got any suggestions here? I'd love to find a way to get Myth to just product something I can play on the PS3, without having to transcode. I can post up some more diagnostic information if people want it.

Refreshing UPnP shares

It seems like the PS3 only refreshes listings from the UPnP server after being shut down and restarted. That means any recordings that kick off after you boot the PS3 don't show up. Anyone worked out a way to get these listings to refresh?

Playback stops with FF/RW

When I fast forward or rewind, playback doesn't restart when I press play. The play icon shows up on-screen, but the playback doesn't actually start. I have to stop and restart the playback to get it moving again. Weird, but not a show stopper I guess.

Playback while recording

Related to the UPnP share refreshing thing, if I watch a programme that's currently being recorded, it seems the PS3 takes the end time of the stream when first started, so it gets to the point where you started watching (as coming off the air) and stops. Kinda annoying -- it'd be nice if it just kept reading until the stream stops.