DRM Sucks (Battery Life)

As if we needed another reason to loath DRM, testing done at CNet shows that playback of audio files incorporating the dubious copy protection scheme can shorten battery life on portable players by as much as 25%! And just when battery life was getting to a level that didn’t feel like a total joke.

An excerpt:

“Those who belong to subscription services such as Napster or Rhapsody have it worse. Music rented from these services arrive in the WMA DRM 10 format, and it takes extra processing power to ensure that the licenses making the tracks work are still valid and match up to the device itself. Heavy DRM not only slows down an MP3 player but also sucks the very life out of them. Take, for instance, the critically acclaimed Creative Zen Vision:M, with a rated battery life of up to 14 hours for audio and 4 hours for video. CNET tested it at nearly 16 hours, with MP3s–impressive indeed. Upon playing back only WMA subscription tracks, the Vision:M scored at just more than 12 hours. That’s a loss of almost 4 hours, and you haven’t even turned the backlight on yet.

“We found similar discrepancies with other PlaysForSure players. The Archos Gmini 402 Camcorder maxed out at 11 hours, but with DRM tracks, it played for less than 9 hours. The iRiver U10, with an astounding life of about 32 hours, came in at about 27 hours playing subscription tracks. Even the iPod, playing back only FairPlay AAC tracks, underperformed MP3s by about 8 percent. What I’m saying is that while battery life may not be a critical issue today, as it was when one of the original hard drive players–the Creative Nomad Jukebox–lasted a pathetic 4 hours running on four AA nickel-metal-hydride rechargeables (and much worse on alkalines), the industry needs to include battery specs for DRM audio tracks or the tracks we’re buying or subscribing. Yet, here’s another reason why we should still be ripping our music in MP3: better battery life, the most obvious reason being universal device compatibility.”

Read their complete findings here.

Gareth Guestblogs on Nxtbot.com

I have been asked to be the first guestblogger on Nxtbot, a blog that the LEGO Company has set up to talk about their forthcoming Mindstorms NXT system and consumer/hobby robotics in general. I’ll be tryng to get some dialog going on various issues surrounding personal robotics today, so please drop by and chime in, if so inspired. Here’s an excerpt from one of my first postings:

“MIT’s Rodney Brooks has an adage (to paraphrase): A bunch of working “dumb” bots (i.e. robots w/little computing power that sense and react directly to their environment) is better than one broken “smart” bot (i.e. a robot that maps its world, plans optimal routes through it, etc).

“I propose a corollary: A robot that is actually on the market is better than a bunch of bots that are endlessly demo’d at trade shows. Look at the Hondo P3 and the Sony SDR-4/Qrio vs. the Wow Wee Robosapien and the iRobot Roomba. While Hondo and Sony keep parading around these perpetual demobots but never bring them to market (and Sony just turned the development lights out on Qrio), the Robosapien and the Roomba are proven market successes and are now several product generations in pedigree.

“NEC’s answer to the Honda and Sony demobots is the PaPeRo (”Partner-Type Personal Robot”). While it’s an undisputedly cute little rug-rover, and has enjoyed plenty of ink and electrons since it was first rolled out in 2001, it remains in the prototype stage and there is still no release date. If you ask me, I think there should be a “put up or shut up” statute for such prototypes. If you show off a prototype and it garners a bunch of media attention, and then you don’t bring it to market in, let’s say three years, you gotta retire it; show us a NEW concept robot. Hey, maybe that’s what Sony did on their own. The SDR-4/Qrio couldn’t cut the mustard, so they did the only honorable thing, they took it off the world stage and stopped teasing us with it. So, what’s it going to be NEC? The shelves of my local Target or the wayside on the road to Robotopia?

“And, in case you didn’t notice, the robots above that are actually on the market are of the “dumb bot” variety while the ones in perpetual prototypical stage are “smart bots.” Coincidence? We think not. Discuss.”

Pigging Out on Poo

While we’re on the subject of crap, we might as well mention the electric pig (a.k.a. the “electric mole”), a German-made robot that’s apparently in high-demand in Europe. It’s being used as part of the more cost-effective, environmentally-friendly practice of solar-drying sewage. The effluent is spread out inside of large greenhouse-like sheds for the sun to dry it out. The “pigs” go to work, stirring the “mud” to hasten the drying process. Once dried, the resulting material is virtually bacteria-free and can be more safely spread on farm-fields.

[Via Robots.Net]

GPS: Global POO-sitioning System

If you’re a pet curmudgeon like me, there’s nothing that makes you angrier than seeing a big steaming pile o’ dog poo in public (except maybe seeing the dog doing it and the owner walking away without picking it up).

Italian interface and service designer Aram Saroyan Armstrong has come up with a…ah… shitty idea for dealing with the menace of public pet crap. It’s a “mobile poop awareness and avoidance system” he’s dubiously dubbed “Pooptopia.” He explains how it would work on his site:

“On her way home from the market, Signora Pelle wheels her cart into a fresh pile of dog poo. Infuriated by the indignity of the situation, she takes out her mobile to document the uncharted poo and fires off pre-formatted SMS to local city officials stating “No shit is good shit. Enough with irresponsible dog owners!” with photo and GPS coordinates attached. The picture is then uploaded to the Pooptopia website where other angry Poogilantes gather to vent and crook fingers at the filthy pictures and lament over falling real estate value of their neighborhood on Pooptopia’s message boards. From the comfort of her apartment, Signora Pelle pecks on her keyboard, “Let’s show them we mean business!” She organizes a flashmob of Poogilantes and descend into the heart of their Pooptopian neighborhood to poolog en masse. Nearby at a city substation, a small squad of sanitation workers wheel out on specially modified Segways and head off to the new, large blip on their Poodar PDA screen.”

Okay, so maybe this guy has an unhealthy interest in pet excrement (and a penchant for corny coinages with “poo” in them), but it’s all a means for him to evangelize the potential for location-based Net-connected services and his ideas for making “service design” more entertaining.

[Via We Make Money Not Art]

Stanford’s Amazing Spinybot

While the Boston Dynamics’ BigDog quadraped has been getting lots of ink and electrons recently (and with good reason), we’ve been spending our time pouring over the work of the Stanford RiSE Project.

It’s so inspiring to see the evolution of the work that’s been done at Bob Full’s Poly-PEDAL Lab at Berkeley, UMich’s RHex hexapods, and the earlier Sprawl bots from Stanford. All of these designs were inspired by nature and insects’ and geckos’ abilities to climb vertical surfaces. Next stop? Climbing on ceilings. Woo-hoo!

Here’s a direct link to the Spinybot II movie.

[And if you haven’t seen the BigDog video yet, it’s definitely worth a look.]

Mexico’s Answer to Rocketman

In the latest issue on Make (Vol. 5), I did a profile of Rocketman, a mad inventor from Minnesota, who’s created all sorts of crazy flying and racing contraptions, most of which run on hydrogen peroxide rocket engines.

Now meet RocketBELT Man, an equally crazed Gyro Gearloose from Mexico. He runs something he calls Tecnología Aeroespacial Mexicana. Like Ky Michealson (Rocketman), Juan Manuel Lozano Gallegos (Rocketbelt Man) seems obsessed with slapping a hyrdogen peroxide motor on just about anything that’ll move or fly. The only thing he has that Rocketman doesn’t is an H2O2-powered helicopter belt (tho it hasn’t actually been built yet).

Read an article about Juan Lozano on the Popular Science website.

Online Video Download Utility

In response to my posting of the YouTube download tutorial, ST Patron Saint Alberto sent a link to this video download page which allows you to enter the URL for videos stored on YouTube, Google Video, iFilm, and elsewhere. You still need a Flash Video Player (FLV) or format converter to view the files.

EFF 4th Amendment Packing Tape

We can’t guarantee that this packing tape, emblazoned with your 4th Amendment rights, won’t earn you the unwanted attention of airport security, if you seal your luggage with it, but what’s a full cavity search when our Constitutional rights are at stake? As EFF Chairman Brad Templeton puts it:

“Now, if they want to search your stuff, they have to literally slice the 4th amendment in half in order to do it. Ok, it may not stop them but it’s a nice metaphorical statement of protest.”

The tape is US$8/roll and available in the EFF Store.

[Via Boing Boing]