Wednesday, January 16, 2008

High Definition Multimedia Content Anyone?

Does the latest generation of downloadable high definition (HD) multimedia content worth viewing and hearing in our dedicated HD-ready home theater set-ups?

By: Vanessa Uy

Nowadays, HD (high definition) multimedia content (audio and video) that can be downloaded from the net via your own home PC is of such quality that most of them-if not all- deserve to be viewed and heard in your existing HD-ready home theater system. If you’re like me – as most of anyone in the audiophile community- who thinks that your PC and home theater system should not mix (i.e. share the same outlet) because the former can degrade the performance of the latter must face a somewhat insurmountable problem. How to send that high definition movie -with the attendant surround sound data- that you legally downloaded from the net, from your PC to your home theater set up?

There are a number of systems in which you can deliver/send that HD content you have downloaded from the web. One of them is a relatively new technology - which uses your mains/ac line to send your data. Consumer devices that utilize this principle of sending data only came to the market near the end of 1997. So the ones currently available in your local AV/computer store not only works better, it’s likely to be cheaper as well thanks to almost ten years of progress. This has the advantage of avoiding the clutter that can be created when installing the necessary data-transfer cables. The problem with this system is that if you own a state-of-the-art home theater system, you probably bought with it a very good dedicated mains/ac line filter to maintain the consistently good performance of your home theater system while protecting it from electrical interference and lightning strikes. The same mains/ac line conditioner blocks the digital data that you intend to send down your mains/ac lines. Another way to send your multimedia data while avoiding the clutter of additional cables is via WIFI or wireless data transfer systems. The current generation of WIFI systems can easily handle the bandwidth required in sending HD multimedia content but will be easily vulnerable to signal interference especially if you use your mobile phone while using the WIFI system. If you want to maintain signal integrity while transferring HD multimedia data, Ethernet networks are a good choice. A word of warning though because these systems involve additional wiring if you are squeamish about the clutter factor. The latest “Cat 6” or category 6 high speed Ethernet connections are a good choice and could be a very good investment because of it’s future proof status. This is due to the fact that it can handle data transfer speeds of 10 Gigabits per second and anything faster is yet in the far off future.

I just hope that the circa-2007 PC and AV convergence will bear the fruits of a better audio and video quality that doesn’t cost the earth. Unlike the divergence of 10 or 15 years ago were hi-fi manufacturers have the luxury of producing and selling obscenely expensive AV equipment with impunity. Since all of our present media formats are digital in one form or another, convergence is inevitable due to the fact that digital data is both robust and universal.

Will “We7” Save the Music Industry?

Will Peter Gabriel’s “We7” make music downloads equitable for musicians, music lovers and record label executives?

By: Vanessa Uy

Slated to be launched on June 2007, Peter Gabriel – supported “We7” not only promises to please musicians and record label executives but also provide a legal and legitimate music download service that’s free of charge for those who have acquired a taste of Napster’s “poisoned fruit.” The music downloads on “We7” are free in the sense that music lovers and/or fans don’t have to pay a single cent to the site. The site itself uses the revenue created by the adverts on the site itself to pay the musicians and record label executives according to how often their “works” are downloaded. Another “Bolshevist” feature of this site is that users are encouraged to share the music that they downloaded to other music lovers so that they will also “fall in love” with “We7”. To me this is a far better proposition than Digital Rights Management or DRM.

Sound quality issues aside, the downloadable music phenomena on the web has the advantage of worldwide accessibility that is quantum leaps ahead compared to traditional music distribution systems like record stores-even specialist ones. For example: the freak commercial success of Ed McMahon’s “Star Search” alumnus Tracey Spencer during 1989 has been a boon to music lovers everywhere who are into the politically-correct-side-of-altruism message. But a follow up of something similar has been slow in coming. The posthumous success of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to American MTV audiences in 1998 was much delayed due to the slowness of traditional music distribution systems back then. Even though a handful of adventurous music lovers has been enjoying the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the US since the mid- 1980’s. If you seek to introduce a more adventurous variety to your musical taste, its much easier today via on- line music downloads. The Turkish-German R&B sensation Muhabbet became well known via the Internet. Muhabbet means to talk to each other in Turkish, has gained enough fame for his talent to be noticed. And now, Muhabbet has become UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador. Interested parties can contact Muhabbet at

I just hope that “We7” doesn’t forget the sound quality aspect of their site because as a legal music download site, sound quality can serve as a unique selling point for a site that supports the welfare of hardworking musicians and others in the music biz. As Peter Gabriel is a humanitarian-at-heart, the extent of “We7’s” benefits could put a major dent on extreme poverty. But for now, on line music download services like “We7” provides a level playing field for musicians anywhere in the world who are very talented but still lack the recognition they rightfully deserve.

Computer Therapy for Dyslexics

Now, treating dyslexia could only be a mouse click away courtesy of a concerned parent and a computer program of his own design.

By: Vanessa Uy

A decade or so ago, personal computers and surfing on the web were seen by conservative right wing Luddites as detrimental to the intellectual development of children. Now, the humble PC might serve as an important tool to cure the most prevalent form of learning disability: dyslexia. Dyslexia on average affects 7% of children around the world. The jury is still out on the exact cause, but current research points out to genetic markers that alter the brain’s biochemistry. This makes dyslexic children’s progress in their reading and writing skills a little more difficult than average.

Dybuster, a multimedia computer program designed to serve as a therapy for children with dyslexia. Originally developed by Markus Gross of ETH Zurich for his own dyslexic child. After achieving good results with his own child, Markus Gross did a “field” trial of Dybuster to a group of kids afflicted with dyslexia. On 20- minute sessions each day at home, the kids did their hands-on trials to the various skill levels of the Dybuster. When the kids go back to school the next day, a follow-up and evaluation of any changes to their rate of learning progress is done.

Dybuster shows statistically good results even after just 3 months of regular use. Positive training effects can be ascribed to the program say’s the educational experts evaluating Dybuster. The kids who tried out Dybuster fell in love with the program’s ease of use and the “fun factor” that it provides. Most of all, the kids are very grateful to the improvement in their reading and writing skills.

The beta version (trial edition) of Dybuster could even run on a relatively old PC on Windows 98, the type of computer commonly donated by aid agencies to schools in poor communities. So Dybuster could help lots of dyslexic children here in the Philippines.

The Computer and Hi-Fi Convergence

For as long as I can remember all of my audio buddies subscribe to the idea that computers are computers and hi-fis are hi-fis, and never the twain shall meet. Did recent technological progress and environmental issues conspiring to change even the staunchest audiophile's views?

By: Vanessa Uy

Back in May 2007, BBC’s Click featured a story on the computer industry’s efforts to improve the sound quality of their offerings. To me, this is a long time coming. Even if the computer industry only focus their R n D funds on surround sound, it’s still okay with me. The good news is that the computer industry reached a consensus that any form of data compression is detrimental to sound quality. To us audiophiles, this ranks with the world community’s consensus on the realities of global warming and climate change. From a telecommunications engineer’s standpoint, our current Internet infrastructure is presently the most efficient way to send digital multimedia data. It also has the potential to better itself in all aspects of quality as time goes on. Is the computer industry’s concept of high definition (HD) sound means just acceptable sound quality to us hardened audiophiles? Look at Sony’s SBM (super bit mapping) technology, we (the audiophile community) even wholeheartedly embraced it despite a failed promise in making CD sound as good as vinyl LP. All of this could kick- start a renaissance to most of the consumer electronic industry, but first let’s take a look back.

Back in September 1996, Audio magazines Corey Greenberg wrote a somewhat controversial article titled: “Shut the Hell Up Geeks” which was deemed offensive by the Personal Computer/internet enthusiasts at that time. For better or for worse, this article is only one of the few instances when the feud between audiophiles and computer enthusiasts got journalistic coverage. This feud, to me is even bigger than that between Bon Jovi and Metallica, which started in 1989 and reverberated throughout the Rock world till this day. I read Corey Greenberg’s article about three years ago, right about the time when I became interested in the audiophile universe. At this point in time, PCs came with CD “burners” as standard. And every time I copied/cloned a consumer grade original CD to CDR, the clone always sound inferior to the original. This only serves to prove that Corey Greenberg is right in pointing out the computer industry’s ignorance about the concept of sound quality. Note: I used Lunachicks CDs as a test case for copying. Their not locally released here. As Quentin Tarantino said back in2004 on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno: “It’s not piracy when you copy/clone music or movies of mine that is not locally released in your neck of the woods.”

In a few years since then, the computer industry has started to see the light – albeit slowly- on the merits of good sound quality. Creative, the company who brought PC audio recording to the masses with their “Soundblaster” has started a concept called Xfi or extreme fidelity. If this succeeds, the audiophile community can now buy the latest PC audio recording/playback systems in confidence knowing that ills like listening fatigue will be a thing of the past. Creative’s audio guru Darragh O’Toole, speaks out against the practice of data compression and its detrimental effects on digital audio sound quality. Data compression’s most obvious manifestation is the muted transients on recordings full of percussive sounds like cymbals and drums. I’m just glad that Creative: which is primarily a computer company supported Darragh O’Toole’s ideas instead of censuring. I wonder if Creative’s senior staff: are now composed of people who lived through the vinyl LP heyday and are nostalgic for the good sound quality for a consumer medium that it represents.

The 64,000dollar question is: “Why should we audiophiles – as a whole – give a damn?” If you live in a country like the Philippines, where the Estrada administration single-handedly bankrupted every specialist shops like mail order music stores with very good insurance coverage during the late 1990’s. Then the answer is a big resounding “yes.” Our local audiophile community is now feeling the guilt to that “preaching-to-the-choir movie” An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. To us its very over indulgent to hop to a plane to Hong Kong, just to buy locally unreleased albums/CDs by Lunachicks. Even though in the last three years I’ve planted about a thousand trees, I still choose to keep my carbon footprint as low as humanly possible. If this audio renaissance/convergence or whatever between the computer industry and the audiophile community is for real and not just a public relations stunt to patronize audiophiles and musicians. Then I may yet buy my first Internet downloaded album (I’m a Luddite-by-choice due to its present unacceptable sound quality). And in energy terms, this might only cost me a few watts from my photovoltaically charged batteries.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Dot Asia Domain Name: Kickstarting the Region’s Economy?

The age of Internet domain name real estate has finally arrived, will you be the next I.T. billionaire?

By: Ringo Bones

There’s a new domain name in our “Internet Town”, it’s called dot Asia (.asia). One of the latest lines of domain names that’s named after an actual geographic location. Looks like we used up all of those little Pacific Island nations as a source of domain names.

Interested customers to the auction have 6 months to register, so register as soon as humanly possible because these things go out fast. Registration for “dot asia” opened on Tuesday October 9, 2007. Protection wanted from cyber-squatters?

Back in August 9, 1995, nobody knew that the dot com boom that started then will eventually go bust five years later. Now, Internet entrepreneurs are more wary on the promise of easy money. Even experienced Internet domain name developers are forever mindful that their “South Sea” domains like Tuvalu’s dot tv and Tokelau’s dot tk might mimic the “South Sea Bubble Burst of 1720”.

To me, the IT / Internet / computer industry – after recovering from the dot com bust of 2000 - has done so much good to those fresh out of college looking for gainful employment, especially those living in the impoverished parts of the world. The industry could essentially fulfil the promise of the Clinton Global Initiative of keeping every batch of fresh graduates securely employed by creating new jobs – like domain name developers – every 5 to 8 years. If all goes well, this mission would be a piece of cake for the industry.

Domain Names: The Internet’s Real Estate Bonanza?

From the 1990’s “Dot Com” boom to the bubble bursting in 2000, are domain names the magic bullet that will restore investor confidence on the Web?

By: Ringo Bones and Vanessa Uy

Touted as the “Real Estate Market of the Future” in the middle of the 1990’s, domain names are now a billion-dollar industry, not only for the major search operators like Google and Yahoo but also to a new breed of Internet real estate developers. Domain names have since become the “bread and butter” of the on line marketing and on line advertising business. Having outgrown the “dot com” slump of 2000, domain name – the real estate of the web – have been delivering far greater returns compared to it’s real world counterpart as reported on For those of you who have the resources to invest in the domain name development business yet don’t know what it is, here’s a primer.

Domain name refers to the first part of a URL - (URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator – the unique address of any Web document that can be keyed in a typical browser’s OPEN or LOCATION / GO TO box to retrieve a document) – on to the first / where the domain and name of the host or SERVER computer are listed. This is usually arranged in reverse i.e. name first, then domain. The domain name gives you the information on who (the origin of) “published” the page i.e. made it public by putting that page on the Web.

In the 1990’s – when the Internet evolved from a mere “academic curiosity” to a telecommunications medium with a promising economic viability – the exclusive right to use Internet domain names became a highly contested issue. Enterprising individuals knew that there’s money to be made in these unique sequences of letters that are divided – by convention – into segments separated by periods that correspond to the numerical Internet Protocol Addresses that identify each of the millions of computers connected to the Internet. Because domain name labels enable packets of information to be sent to their specific destinations across the Internet, the commercial implications are not lost to the world’s various advertising agencies.

Domain name development profits does not only fill the coffers of unscrupulous entrepreneurs, but can also benefit an impoverished country because all countries are designated a top-level domain name on the Internet usually as a suffix to that country’s Internet Address. For example .be for Belgium, .hk for Hong Kong, .ph for the Philippines, .za for South Africa and so on. A number of these domain names have been featured on stamps. During the last few years of the 20th Century, a relatively poor Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu hit the jackpot when it received the .tv domain name, although initially Tuvalu’s citizens didn’t realize that they owned the most recognizable suffix of all, .tv.

Back in 1999, the .tv domain name gained “humanitarian / philanthropic” status when Jason Chapnik – a Canadian businessman- walked into a Tuvalu parliament meeting and pleaded his intentions to buy their domain name. After further negotiations, by the year 2000 Tuvalu decided to sign up with Chapnik to form a new company called Dot TV that’s currently based in Pasadena, California. Tuvalu owns 20% of Dot TV and received US$50 million from the lucrative deal which the country – via structured settlement – receives quarterly payments of US$1 million each over a period of 10 years. Tuvalu recently received a payment of US$18 million that instantly doubled the country’s GDP.

This sudden windfall of revenue allowed Tuvalu to achieve an economically independent status. Ever since gaining independence in 1978, Tuvalu could hardly afford the US$20,000 UN membership fee. It wasn’t until September 5, 2000 where Tuvalu could finally afford being UN’s 189th member nation. The domain name revenue enabled the various islands of Tuvalu the ability to upgrade their public infrastructure like roads, schools and water purification facilities. The upgrading of Tuvalu’s main airport to accommodate larger planes has allowed the country to export food for the first time in history.

Despite of the recently found wealth, the global community is now wondering whether Tuvalu can cope with the challenges of sea level rise due to global warming and the increased typhoons brought about by climate change with “dot com” funds alone. Is Tuvalu now in the front line for the global community’s battle against sea level rise?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Game Consoles Surfs the Web

They’re not just for playing video games anymore. The latest generation of video game consoles allows you to go to the web and even download the latest video games.

By: Vanessa Uy

By the time you read this, probably all video game consoles hitting the shops this summer will have web surfing capability. I’m coveting these “toys” for their high- resolution graphics and on shoot ‘em up games, where the tech guys finally learn how to make bullets fly the way “Mother Nature” intended, but our priorities may vary.

Nintendo’s Wii can download additional games from its own web site, so going to and fro to the computer shop might become a thing of the past. Microsoft’s XBOX LIVE web site supports the XBOX 360. The XBOX video marketplace web site is already available to US subscribers. More “mature” XBOX 360 users/owners can download your old favorite movies from the 1990’s via the sites back catalogue. Sony’s PS3 is also on line capable with it’s T9 predictive keyboard (an ergonomic nightmare for anyone over 25 years of age). The PS3’s open- network internet- browser can download movie trailers, a majority of which unsurprisingly produced by Sony Pictures/ Sony Media Corporation. As always download speed is slow via standard ISP lines. But I can safely conclude that this represents the serious attempts of the major video game console manufacturers to make their latest machines way better than their previous incarnations. By adding the ability to a new generation of video game consoles to go out into the wild blue yonder of the web may justify their somewhat exorbitant asking prices. I wonder how much of a price premium does it entails to make one of these babies sound as good as a Linn LP12 Sondek turntable.

Who Wants SPAM

No this is not the tinned meat variety that World War II veterans have grown to love, but the electronic/digital alter ego of the junk mail that litters our household mail- boxes.

By: Vanessa Uy

Even after 7 years into the 21st Century, fistfuls of junk mail are still being sent to our household mail- box. They are about credit card application offers, Publisher’s Clearinghouse type sweepstakes, and the most hackneyed of all is the “You may have already won millions of dollars!” type of junk mail. My eight- month- old e-mail account so far has been spared by the brunt of SPAM, the junk mail’s supposedly more evil digital twin brother. Is my on line life a charmed one? It’s still too soon to tell.

Calling SPAM as an e-mail version of junk mail is probably apt a few years ago but now, they had evolved into something that could seriously inconvenience our enjoyment of the technological fruits of the worldwide web. Traditional guises of SPAM are: An exiled Nigerian businessman who needs your help “unfreezing” his bank account. The improbable low cost surgical phallic enhancement. Viagra or other sidefil type drugs. These are the most common forms of SPAM that litter the inboxes of millions of e-mail accounts around the world, especially those that are active for more than three years according to BBC’s Click – a weekly program on what’s new on computers and computer related developments. More recently, creators of SPAM e-mails had “hijacked” important and or legitimate topics like an effective acne cure targeted at teenagers. This “show of desperation” could work because topics about acne are a “link bomb” to complexion conscious teens. Despite of this, should we be afraid of SPAM?

The truth is we should be especially those of the latest incarnation of SPAM e-mails. Pump and dump SPAM advertised stocks reaching your inboxes are more likely to be riddled with “malware.” Thankfully, our fears can be dealt with in a rational manner. An effective course of action would be is when you receive a suspected SPAM e-mail on your inbox is never ever click it. Clicking SPAM e-mails is like triggering an anti-personnel mine; the results are devastating especially to your e-mail account. If you are “unlucky” enough to have clicked the latest generation of SPAM e-mails, it takes over your e-mail account to send more of itself around like a virus. The latest generation of über-SPAM can access e-mail accounts by brute force methods. So as a precaution, don’t click or double click suspected SPAM messages.

For further protection, you can always download open-source/free anti SPAM software on the internet. Most of the existing anti SPAM software is distributed on-line for free by software companies. Just make sure the software / operating system you are using to run your computer – or the one in use in the internet café - are genuine. Company provided open source software doesn’t work with their pirated counterparts. Current SPAM filters in use is still effective for most of the existing SPAM variants out there, but they need constant revamp due to the constantly evolving nature of the SPAM threat. To me, SPAM is just one of the unfortunate by-products of the relatively lawless nature of the worldwide web and should be treated as such.