Hard News by Russell Brown

Geeky Thursday

Righto: I defy any member of the Mac faithful not to get in a lather about this. It turns out that Mac-hacker Scott Knaster has, for 21 years, been holding on to a Betamax videotape of the event at which Steve Jobs introduced the original Macintosh. The launch has been extensively described by various Apple historians, but to find that it was actually captured on video - and that that video still exists - is, well, miraculous.

The German company TextLab helped clean up the video and it has released a 20MB excerpt that you can get here. The moment where the Mac talks is as electrifying as past descriptions suggest.

A new Salon story pegs the Mac revival not just to the success of the iPod, but to a growing weariness in the Windows world of fending off the plague and pestilence of spyware, adware and and viruses. And I'll tell you: it freaks me out. Last week, I made the ill-advised decision to try and fill in a Friday on which not much was going to plan by buying some cheap Wi-Fi gear and hooking up the PC in the kids' bedroom, which has hitherto been safely offline.

What a palaver. It turned out, after hours of messing about, that the USB Wi-Fi adapter I got at Dick Smith's (where, in comparison to the nearby Noel Leeming Computer City store, the staff did at least have a passing familiarity with the products they stocked) was selling with unsigned drivers that simply would not install properly in Windows XP, even after I ignored the alarming the-sky-is-falling messages thrown up by Windows. I lugged the PC down to the office and connected it to the Internet via ordinary Ethernet - at which point ZoneAlarm started freaking out every five seconds, and blocking "access attempts" from my own router. Then Windows Update failed after encountering an unspecified error.

The built-in XP firewall did, at least, ship with ports enabled for Blizzard Downloader (I found the ZoneAlarm slider-control approach to security management extremely irksome), so I was able to download a 50MB update for World of Warcraft (the main reason I wanted to get the PC connected was so the kids had another computer, other than mine, to play WoW on), but then Windows declared file corruption and refused to install the update. It subsequently changed its mind, but then WoW failed to load properly on launch, and was unplayable. Guess I'll have to start again on that one.

This isn't some cast-off PC: it's a fairly new Acer 2.7GHz P4 with plenty of memory and a decent video card. Anyway, I've had to give up on the project for now: the flat-panel monitor has developed a fault, a courier has picked it up and I'm waiting for news. I really can't help but compare it to my iMac G5, which cost roughly the same money and has been little other than a delight to own. It can also be easily configured for various tasks without the intervention of obfuscatory "wizards", and I have updated its system software several times without incident. Everything I have plugged into it has just worked, goddammit.

Further on the geek front, on my 95bFM Wire yesterday I talked to Richard Hulse, who is leading the Internet project at Radio New Zealand - and I'm pleased to report that the situation is not nearly as dire as Dubber thought it to be.

Firstly, the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand has been prepared to negotiate on a licence for Internet transmission of its members' works. It would seem to have been slow going in comparison dealings with APRA, which is eminently practical on these issues, but I'd very much expect it to pick up when the new RIANZ chief executive, Campbell Smith, takes up his position in March 1. (I contacted Campbell, and he replied, justifiably, that he was presently in Brazil, "with no real interest in anything other that caipirinhas and learning how to samba without looking like the rigid-hipped white man that I am." (WTF is a caipirinha anyway?)

On the downside, it may be that such licences as are granted may initially apply to access within New Zealand only (this is the case with the Enzology series currently available on the RNZ website). The irony, of course is that the very people who can't get this stuff via ordinary radio are offshore (a Public Address reader stationed in Korea was very disappointed to discover he couldn't listen to Enzology, and I'm sure there are others).

Next: technology. RealPlayer format is off the agenda, on account of its crazily expensive server licensing scheme. The two formats embraced by RNZ will be Windows Media and MP3 streaming, with the open-source Ogg Vorbis possibly to be added down the track (which should please the geeks).

Live streaming: RNZ has only been funded to provide "audio on demand" rather than a live stream. This, I think, is a result of board decisions going some way back, on the reasoning that the vast majority of New Zealanders could already hear National Radio by conventional means. I pointed out to Richard that quite a few people were actually listening to us speak in places as far away as Chile and London, live on the Internet. He readily acknowledged that RNZ receives regular communications from expats asking for an international streaming service. A full-time live stream has not been ruled out in the future - but it's currently not a priority. Downloadable, rather than streamed, files are a possibility in cases where RNZ wholly owns the copyright in the work.

Bandwidth: better news than had originally been thought. There will be 128k streams available.

Progress: the content management system has been built, and some new elements are available, but the full site revamp won't appear until at least April. I'm actually quite impressed by the way style sheets are being used to present good-looking pages that can default back to very basic pages that comply with government accessibility guidelines. Other government agencies would do well to look at what RNZ is doing here.

This doesn't mean that Dubber's philosophy is wrong, or that RNZ shouldn't push copyright holders harder on behalf of the rest of us, but the situation is a bit better than he thought.

One situation that has not been at all good is that relating to my Wired Country Internet connection. Ever since the company announced that it was capping its wireless service at 30GB per account per month, it would seem that every BitTorrent user on the network has been downloading their favourite TV series 24/7 - and slowing my whole sector to a crawl as a result. It was naïve of Wired Country to allow its client retail ISPs to even offer the service as a flat-rate one. I presume things will improve on or before the deadline for the new cap on February 16, but in the meantime I'm very grateful to have kept some DSL redundancy so I can actually do my work.

And, finally, truly stunning stupidity from an Australian judge, who has called for has called for the Internet to be purged of any material likely to prejudice a trial, to prevent jurors conducting their own investigations into cases they are sitting on. Yes, really. Justice Virginia Bell recommended that to prevent jurors from researching cases online, Crown prosecutors in any pending case should "carry out searches on the Internet and, in the event that prejudicial material is identified ... request any Australian-based website to remove it until the trial is completed."

PS: This from Christiaan Briggs. United States officials declared themselves "heartened" by a strong election turnout in the face of violent reprisals from insurgents. The turnout was described as a "keystone" in the President's plans to encourage constitutional processes and deemed likely to allow the new government to act with a "confidence and legitimacy" long lacking. Iraq, 2005? No. Vietnam, 1967. Wow.

PPS: Dubber - who clearly never sleeps - has provided a really good update to his original post, in light of yesterday's interview. There's also an MP3 file of the interview (pardon all my umms and ahhs - I had no time to script any of it yesterday, and only got the station at about 11.59am for a noon start) posted by, well, someone …