Videocast questions?

Continuing on the multimedia theme, I did a video presentation for the TAFE section of the Australian Education Union a few weeks ago. I’ve always been keen on this as an alternative to air travel, and I got great help from the multimedia people in our faculty, but I’m still not sure how best to make use of this.

The videofile is here, but it’s 640 Mb, so I don’t suppose many people will want to download it. What’s the best way to distribute it so that lots of people can get access?

Update: Thanks to reader Peter Bayley a 58Mb version is now up on YouTube

Well, at least that’s settled

Looking back over the blog can be a bit dispiriting. Many of the arguments we are having now were being conducted, in much the same terms, back in 2002. There is, however, at least one exception, even if it’s a relatively minor one. When I started, I included a category “Mac and other computers”, planned to express my position as a member of the beleaguered but enthusiastic minority of Macintosh users.

I’m posting this in a Starbucks in Washington DC[1] and every customer in the store, including me obviously, is working on either a MacBook or an iPhone. That’s fairly typical of my recent experience, so I think I can safely say that this issue has been settled. Of course, now that Apple is no longer the underdog, there are plenty of reasons for concern about its corporate policies, but those are more related to issues like Intellectual “property”

So, this is the last post in the “Mac and other computers” category. If only I could say the same for “Boneheaded stupidity”.

fn1. Not the kind of place I’d ever go in Australia, but decent independent coffee shops are just about non-existent here.

Kennys on Superfast: Some quick responses

I’ve now had a look at the study by Chris and Robert Kenny, Superfast: Is It Really Worth a Subsidy?. Some immediate responses

* The study starts from a presumption that broadband policy is an intervention, which may be compared to a putatively natural market outcome. This assumption is clearly inapplicable to Australia, where Telstra used as a regulatory bargaining chip its monopoly position as the only plausible supplier of new broadband infrastructure on a large scale. The NBN was the only way to move forward

* The study finds a variety of reasons to discount estimates of the benefits of superfast broadband, without giving any basis for lower estimates

* (Very important, I think) The study lacks any sense of quantitative magnitudes. Looking at the (upper bound) estimate of $40 billion for the NBN, what would be a reasonable social return? Allowing for fairly rapid depreciation (say a 10-year lifetime) and a 5 per cent real rate of return, we would want a net service flow of $6 billion per year, about 0.5 per cent of GDP (the right measure in this case, since depreciation is taken into account). If we assume the network is implemented over 5 years, we need additional growth of 0.1 percentage points per year. The estimates criticised in the report are far higher then this

* While the report discounts various possible sources of demand (eg home nursing) it trivialises the obvious commercial benefits of faster and sharper video-on-demand, video telephony, immersive gaming and so on, and disregards the point that, on the basis of past experience, we can expect new uses of high-speed internet even if we can’t yet identify them

The wonders of the Internet

From my hotel room in London, I read this SMH report, headlined “NBN benefits ‘grossly overstated'” which in turn refers to a report by “British telecommunications consultant Robert Kenny and Charles Kenny from the US Centre for Global Development” released (in London, as it happens) a couple of days ago.

Five minutes with Google is enough to determine that

* the Centre for Global Development is a genuine and reputable thinktank, with no particular axe to grind

* Charles Kenny is not what you might call an Internet enthusiast, having written, in 2002, a piece entitled Should we Try to Bridge the Global Digital Divide.
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National go home from work on time day

It’s striking that we have to declare a special National go Home on Time Day, and also striking (to me anyway) that I have only just found time to blog about it. My own chronic state of overcommitment is more of a personal choice than an imposition from above, but I have to take constant care not to expect a similar overcommitment from the members of my research team. On the whole, Australian bosses and managers are failing in that obligation, or don’t even recognise it. Anyway, knock-off time is coming up soon, so everyone, head for home, beach or pub as the fancy takes you.

25 years of the Mac

The Macintosh computer just turned 25 Johnny Got His Gun move . I bought one of the original 128K Macs not long after they came out. I remember being reluctation to shell out $50 for a box of 10 400k floppy disks (these were the the 3.5″ type that weren’t actually floppy, and became standard on IBM PCs quite a few years later). I thought I was unlikely ever to need 4 megabytes of storage, so I got the store to sell me what was left in a box they’d already opened. And I was pretty dubious that anyone could really use the 512K of RAM offered in w the top-of-the-line “Fat Mac” which came out soon afterwards. It didn’t take me long to discover my error and upgrade.

I’ve owned just about every model since then**, and Macs have been a huge part of my life. I’d find it hard to estimate the increase in my productivity* associated with using Macs instead of typewriters or command-line computers back in the 1980s and early 1990s. This question was the subject of long-running religious wars which persisted until quite recently, but after the emergence of Windows it became pretty clear that the Mac style of computing was the only serious option, and that people who didn’t want to use Apple Macs for one reason or another would only have to wait a few years for the MS knockoff (next instalment, Windows 7).

For a while in the 90s, it seemed likely that Windows would prevail, but the return of Steve Jobs to Apple changed all that. Now, there’s a lot of talk that minimal net-based computers will take over, but such talk has been round many times before (smart terminals, thin clients and so on) and never gone anywhere. At this point in my life, I’m pretty confident Macs will be around as long as I am.

* That was before blogs which soaked up an awful lot of that excess productivity, though with lots of compensating benefits.

** Though not, IIRC, the Mac SE/30, listed here as the best Mac ever. At the time it came out, I was using a Mac II at work, and a much-upgraded original Mac at home.

The Day after Tomorrow

Reference to The Day After Tomorrow in the write-off and the subeditor’s choice of headline “Our world really will end”, made my latest contribution to the Financial Review a little more apocalyptic than I intended, but I suppose two days before an election is not the time for subtlety. And it’s very likely that unless we act soon to stop it, climate change will mean the end for large parts of the biosphere, including coral reefs, the Australian Alps, the Arctic, and a large proportion of all animal and plant species now alive.

You can read it over the fold. As I note at the end, I’ve also done a ACF report (Word doc) for ACF connecting the (fairly obvious) dots between climate change, more severe droughts and higher food prices.

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Too much information

I installed Mac OS X Leopard on my laptop a couple of weeks ago, and tried out the spiffy new Time Machine feature which does differential backups to a hard drive. On the first run, of course, it had to back up the whole machine and I was a bit startled to see that it was copying over a million files. Of course, lots of those are system and applications files, but my documents folder, which is mostly stuff I’ve created myself, has over 250 000 files. And today I got a message from Eudora telling me (not for the first time) that my Inbox could only hold 32000 messages.

I can remember when I knew, by name, every file on the computer, and what it did. It was not that hard with a machine (128k Mac) that ran off a couple of 400k floppy disks.

On the bleeding edge

I’ve been trying out various new technologies lately, with mixed results

My first attempt to present a paper using videoconferencing from my desktop Mac came to grief as a result of software incompatibilities, so I’ll be using standard videoconference methods again, to present a paper on Urban Water Pricing to a seminar at LaTrobe Uni, Albury-Wodonga, on Thursday. I’ll get started earlier next time and see if I can’t get these problems overcome.

During my recent visit to Canberra, I hired a Prius, which was an interesting experience. A few random thoughts about implications.
* I was particularly struck by the way it sits silently at traffic lights, and more generally how much quieter it is, most of theh time. than a standard car. That alone would be a big plus in a move towards electric cars.
* As this piece in Salon points out, a hybrid is not necessarily more fuel-efficient than smaller conventional cars. Then again, you can save even more just by driving less. The more options there are the better. I expect the price differential noted in the article will decline over time as production volumes increase.
* Looking at how easy it would be to switch to hybrids, I’m more convinced than ever that a peak in oil production (which may already have been passed) will not been the end of industrial civilisation as we know it, or even a major change in our way of life.
* s regards the more serious problem of global warming, a hybrid still uses electricity, so the gains aren’t as great. Still, many small reductions add up to big reductions Reader canberra boy points out that the Prius is not a plug-in hybrid as I thought . Rather the battery is recharged entirely by regenerative braking or, when that falls short, by the engine. As usual, Wikipedia has the details

Finally, I upgraded my Mac OS to OS 10.5 (Leopard), and am a bit grumpy. It seems as if it went smoothly for everyone but me, and in fact I nearly always have trouble with system upgrades. But, in between I really love my Mac, and my experience running Windows XP under virtualisation has only confirmed me in this.