All posts by George Ou

Currently the Policy Director at Digital Society, George Ou was a Senior Analyst at ITIF.org. Before that, he was Technical Director and Editor at Large at ZDNet.com and wrote one of their most popular blogs “Real World IT“. Before journalism, Mr. Ou was a network engineer. He built and designed wired network, wireless network, Internet, storage, security, and server infrastructure for various fortune 100 companies. George Ou is also a Certified Informations Systems Security Professional. CISSP #109250.

Embedding videos the old fashion way

There was a time when I embedded web videos manually by uploading the video file to a server, and then wrote some HTML embeded code on the web page to show a video.  Then came YouTube which solved one of the biggest problems which is server bandwidth, but they insisted on transcoding the uploaded file before they’d show it.  What this meant was that I had to upload at a significantly higher bitrate so that the losses will be minimized but that is a very time consuming process on a ~400 Kbps upstream connection with HD video files.

So now I’ve decided to try a little experiment using DropBox.com’s public folder feature and some HTML 5 “video” tags.  Below is a 1440×1080 video clip I encoded using H.264 High Profile level 4.0 at 2.2 Mbps for the video stream and 128 Kbps AAC audio.  The bitrate is what YouTube would probably give me for their “1080P” stream but I would have likely had to upload at 5 Mbps for a starting point and that would take a lot longer.  Using this method, the end user sees the original encoded video with no intermediate transcode step.

You must have an HTML5 capable browser.

Unfortunately, the WordPress graphical editor will screw up the raw embed code so I have to edit the post using raw HTML. Javascript apparently doesn’t support full screen. Free solutions like Video JS will support browser full screen (you still need to push F11 for true full screen) but the video doesn’t play back smoothly in Chrome. Furthermore, this still won’t work in Internet Explorer 9 or Firefox 3.6.23 which is frustrating. The good news is that the videos are easy to download, though it’s possible to download flash video (without DRM) as well using extra plugin tools.

There is another alternative which is to go directly to the download link. Opening that link in Internet Explorer will open Windows Media Player which has the lowest CPU utilization and highest chance of smooth playback on lower end devices like netbooks. That will do full screen for sure. Or we can use the Windows Media Player plugin which is really going old school, but that too has the benefit of smooth video playback, but may not work on Macs and Linux devices.

‘Pentium’ branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268!

UPDATE 9/2/2011 – The deal is alive again.  I bought one and it is a reasonably nice screen and keyboard.

Here is a Lenovo “Pentium” branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268! at Fry’s (Silicon Valley, don’t know about other regions).  That’s a little too good for me to pass up as my old wooden computer experiment is barely holding on from bit rot.  This thing has an Intel B940 dual-core processor that is a 32nm Sandy Bridge microarchitecture chip with all the power saving features of an i3 processor.  Hyperthreading is disabled though.  Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium license.  No HDMI port but c’mon, $268 is rock bottom prices.

Note that these deals will likely be gone in the morning so hurry up if you want one.

This should make you wonder why 10″ tablets should sell for $500, or even $400.  Those IPS displays and capacitive touchscreens are expensive now but they’ll have to come down in price as tablets push those components into the mainstream.  This laptop is obviously nowhere near as portable as a tablet, but it will make a nice luggable device that will primarily be used at home plugged in.

UPDATE – Damn it.  Fry’s reissued a Friday ad on Sunday and a bunch of people there were asking for this and they didn’t have it.

Google Android 6 stage update process

So I bought a new HTC Nexus One (brown with US warranty) last week and it came with a custom Vodafone UK ROM with Android Kernel Version: 2.16.405.1 CL223106 release-keys.  Unfortunately, this particular firmware prohibits any OTA updates or even manual updates and it was a nightmare trying to track down the problem.  Luckily I fell upon this user comment on Amazon’s website which led me to this page explaining the upgrade process which calls for a 5 stage process to get to Android version 2.3.3 which allows you to run the 2.3.4 update.

So to summarize, the upgrade process goes something like this where each stage took about 5-30 minutes (depending on download time).

  • Downgrade to 2.2 build FRG33 using passimg.zip method
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83D
  • Upgrade to 2.2.2 build FRG83G
  • Upgrade to 2.3.3 build GRI40
  • Upgrade to 2.3.4 (Google announcement here)

With an upgrade procedure this onerous, no wonder so few devices are running newer versions of the Android Operating System.  The result is that there is an immense level of Android fragmentation leaving 99% of the devices vulnerable to a serious security flaw in the ClientLogin API.  ClientLogin was apparently designed without any encryption such that AuthTokens are transmitted in the clear.

The market share for non-vulnerable versions of Android OS might be a little better than 1% now but not much better according to Google’s statistics.

Image credit: Google

The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

Apple’s 3.5″ tablet costs $749

Apparently, Apple’s 3.5 inch tablet with 3G and phone capability (what Apple calls their “iPhone”) with 16 or 32 MB storage costs $649 or $749.  These devices are nice, but it’s against my principles to pay that kind of profit margin for a device like this.

If I was in the market for a phone and data service contract that subsidized it, I’d wait for the next model.  This timing just doesn’t seem right.

Angry Birds for Chrome browser review

I just noticed that they now have Angry Birds for the Chrome web browser for free.  I own the $5 version for the Intel App store and wanted to see how this version compares so here are my impressions.

The good

  • It’s free.
  • Installs very quickly with a few clicks.

The bad

  • No full screen mode.  Even the “HD” version plays in a relatively small window on my desktop.  Maybe if this were a netbook with limited resolution and you hit the F11 key for full screen browse mode, it might be more full screen but it’s not a true full screen mode.
  • Introduction videos look a little lossy in quality compared to any other version.

The ugly

  • Game play is noticeably jerky even on my quad-core Intel Nehalem desktop system.

Compared to the Intel App store version, the Chrome version is vastly inferior in graphics quality and game smoothness.  I don’t know if there will be more maps available for the Chrome version, but the Intel App store version seems like a ripoff compared to the free Android OS version because you don’t get all the levels.  Moreover, the Intel App store version now crashes on my Netbook and Notebook and that’s after a complicated install process where you have to install the Intel App store which requires a bunch of junk to be placed in your OS startup.  So it’s all a mixed bag and the best experience seems to be on the Nook Color.

Hold off on Intel Sandy Bridge for a month

Intel found a problem last week with the new H67 and P67 chipset used for the Sandy Bridge processors and decided to halt shipments last night.  The problem will be resolved by the end of February so hold off on the Sandy Bridge system purchases until the motherboard chipset is resolved.  Apparently the problem involves a slow degradation of the four 3 Gbps SATA ports but not the two 6 Gbps SATA ports, and it only affects 5% of the chipsets after 3 years of typical usage.  Doesn’t sound like a serious problem, but you’re better off waiting for a fixed chipset.

Actually, you won’t have a choice but to wait since the motherboards have already been pulled.  Newegg has already yanked all the P67 and H67 motherboards and we probably won’t see products until end of February or possibly as late as April for volume shipments.  This basically means a halt to all Sandy Bridge products since there’s no point buying a CPU if you can’t get a motherboard for it.  If you already have an H67 or P67 motherboard, I would ask the vendor for a recall and I’d expect them to send me a replacement.

Put the scroll bar out to pasture already!

Put the scroll bar out to pasture already!

Once you’ve tried finger based scrolling on smartphones and tablets, it makes you realize how antiquated the Desktop User Interface (UI) is, especially the scroll bar. A plugin called “Wet Banana” adds mouse drag tablet-like scrolling but it’s about time all desktop operating systems get a UI upgrade.

Update:

Actually, an alternative to implementation at the OS level is to implement this feature into the mouse driver!  The user can immediately use this in every application that supports the standard scroll functionality of the existing scroll wheel.  Windows Explorer, Microsoft Outlook, MS Word, or any application will work with a mouse driver.

The scroll wheel on the standard mouse already has two methods of scrolling in Windows.  One, you can roll it.  Two, you can press down and toggle the speed and direction of the page panning.  But neither mode is as intuitive as the Wet Banana plugin where a user flicks it in the desired direction with the desired speed to make it glide until friction stops it or until the user puts the brakes on.

I’ve asked Jedediah Smith and various operating system makers (or anyone) to create a custom Windows and/or Linux mouse driver?  Replace the traditional functionality of the scroll wheel with the exact same physics and behavior of Wet Banana.  The existing mouse driver already has the ability to control the scrolling, direction, and speed. It just needs a better human interface.  I hope someone will meet this need.

Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ i5 2500K plus mobo for $280

Wow, Micro Center really has a great bundle deal on the new Intel “Sandy Bridge” i5 2500K quad-core unlocked CPU and GA-P67A-UD3 LGA 1155 P67 ATX Motherboard for $280!  These new CPUs are the newest and most advanced consumer CPUs to date.

Note that this price is for in-store pickup only, but they still offer some great non-bundled deals.  Any of the “K” designated models are multiplier unlocked which is the only practical method of Sandy Bridge overclocking.  Base clock overclocking is now impractical because everything is tied into a single base clock and it forces too many components to run in overdrive which severely limits the degree to which you can boost the system.

This particular “P67” motherboard is needed to support memory and CPU overclocking (and apparently no HDMI, DVI, or VGA out even though the CPU has the GPU built in).  The “H67” motherboards support graphics overclocking.  Both support the integrated on-die CPU graphics of the new Sandy Bridge architecture.  And for those of you new to “Sandy Bridge”, here’s a good primer on the new architecture and review.

This particular bundle is great for power users without the need for an additional graphics card as the on-die GPU built into the CPU is as powerful as an entry level discrete graphics card.  Gamers will use this system with a high end graphics card for the best gaming performance.