At least, according to two sets of observations, accepted for publication in peer journals this month, conducted using different methods. One project tasked with surveying the galaxy was called "WiggleZ" (and who says scientists don't have a sense of humour?) This is exciting stuff:
One type of observation used by the astronomers involves measuring a pattern in how galaxies are distributed in space. This pattern is known by the term "baryon acoustic oscillations".
The second type of observation involves measuring how quickly clusters of galaxies have formed over time. Both of these techniques confirmed the existence of dark energy and the acceleration in the expansion of the Universe.As the BBC article says - once again, Einstein was right. He's got to stop posthumously embarrassing the naysayers, they'll never have the courage to build themselves back up before being proved wrong once more!
An incredible achievement for a comparatively rudimentary satellite - really quite remarkable that it's still reporting back, after all these years - and it's about to go interstellar. Mind: blown. Truly venturing forth into the unknown...
Voyager 1, the most distant spacecraft from Earth, has reached a new milestone in its quest to leave the Solar System. Now 17.4bn km (10.8bn miles) from home, the veteran probe has detected a distinct change in the flow of particles that surround it.
These particles, which emanate from the Sun, are no longer travelling outwards but are moving sideways. It means Voyager must be very close to making the jump to interstellar space - the space between the stars.Full article, with Dr. Ed Stone audio interview and graphics: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11988466
Back in 2007, ThoughtYard.com published a maths-heavy essay analysing the problems associated with torrent trackers, a surfeit of generous seeders and the big problems faced by new users (i.e., leechers) trying to improve upon their low upload:download ratios...
In the file-sharing community, balance is everything. If everyone contributes, the system works, and everyone is happy. Community generosity leads to high-speed transfers and high availability. But not everyone is generous. Some people are downright grinchy when it comes to sharing. And that really pisses people off. So people make private communities to keep out the grinches. But how do you decide who to let in?
The primary method of weeding out the trash for most torrent sites has almost universally been the invocation of a minimum ratio requirement. The reason is obvious: everyone should share the responsibility of uploading. The problem with ratios is that they don't really solve the problem, and are actually contrary to the idea of file-sharing.
In fact, ratio systems can actually create problems and invite leeching. On this page I'm going show mathematically why it is that ratios are a bad idea.
Then I'm going to talk about alternative solutions that actually keep out the bad guys.
The article goes into an immense amount of depth, but it's still understandable even if you haven't lived, breathed and eaten Internets for the past decade. If you've ever wondered what the biggest problems are, as faced by some of the most popular private trackers, this is a recommended read.
As an update, since 2007 a few new trackers have sprung up or gained popularity (sites like TVTorrents, What.CD etc) - What relies on a traditional ratio scheme, but has fairly generous grace periods (based on the amount downloaded) for people to attain a higher ratio through either uploading new material or sharing sufficiently to improve it. TVTorrents has a credits system with no immediately observable ratio - you can run your credits down to 0 Megabytes, and then seed until you have an almost infinite amount of Terabytes in credit. If you dip under the 0 limit sanctions can be imposed on your downloads, but it's a much more lenient system - not as much pressure from keeping your ratio up around 1.0 - and I think it works rather well.
BitTorrent and its successor will be used eventually for content distribution on a mass scale, and there may even be economic models based on who is/are the most prolific sharers amongst the community of their peers. How the models adapt to take into account the inherent inequalities in Internet connections and contrasting abilities to share will be something very interesting to observe.
The (now-orphaned) article is thankfully still available on the Internet Archive: http://web.archive.org/web/20070910054159/thoughtyard.com/twiki/bin/view/Main/TheProblemWithRatios , and CodingHorror has some related discussion.
After GrandCentral was subsumed by Google, much ado was made about Google Voice. Their service is still unavailable in the UK (unless you're happy using a US number and circumnavigating their geoIP checks for registration) - so until then, UK customers are left out in the cold. Anyway, some people would prefer Google to not have a strangehold on yet another aspect of their life, and this is where other companies have stepped up to the fold. Apple's Visual Voicemail is great for those with iPhones, but it's not for everyone (I would rather eat a sock than own an Apple handset). Some people own Android, SonyEricsson, Nokia or WinMo handsets - they've had just about no choice but to use their carrier's supplied voicemail (which is invariably an awful experience).
...however, this wasn't to last - enter Hullomail. In 2008, the UK company decided to take their existing technology (which they'd been developing and marketing to companies and telcos from around 1999) and make it available to the general public. Today, it's available to US and UK mobile customers, for free, as long as your carrier doesn't charge you for diverting your incoming calls to their voicemail number (my mobile network, T-Mobile UK, was the last carrier to charge for the call divert, until a very vocal campaign made them change their minds in 2009). MobileIndustryReview recently published a useful recap of HulloMail's service from when it first launched in 2008, including a video featuring the head honcho, Andy Munarriz.
On Thursday (7th of January 2010) they announced the launch of their iPhone visual voicemail app - obviating the need for iPhone users to utilise IMAP to access their HulloMails and send short 'Hullos' to each other without placing calls or sending SMSes, another handy step up for the service. As only O2 (the first iPhone carrier in the UK) currently provides visual voicemail to its customers, customers on the more recent carriers offering the device - Vodafone and Orange - will find this a particular boon, just as the Android handset users have been able to enjoy with their own HulloMail app for some time now. BlackBerry users also have their own app - Windows Mobile users (myself included) have to put up with m.hullomail.com or IMAP access, which isn't so bad when push comes to shove (geddit?)
Their web site has a set of preference pages into which you have to enter your various email and personal account details - a little clunky to say the least, especially as there's no "quick setup" or "wizard" option available. After a few minutes of entering details, you're up and running, but it's not quite as shiny an experience as it could be. (see screenshots later in article)
Some proper headway has been made by HulloMail, and it's becoming a force to be reckoned with in the nascent field of third-party voicemail services. However, HulloMail aren't the only people competing for this market... Founded way in February 2005 and discussed with some fanfare in the tech media, Ribbit started off in Silicon Valley. After a fair while developing behind closed doors, it's today owned by (shudder) our beloved British Telecom, having been acquired for the princely sum of $105 million. In early January, they began to send out their latest round of invites to the closed beta, and I jumped at the opportunity to compare and contrast.
What Ribbit offers incorporates HulloMail's core offering, but they bill themselves as a much larger service. As well as integrated corporate offerings, its new public service, Ribbit Mobile, has a similar premise to HulloMail: voicemail management and email/SMS reporting. Where Ribbit Mobile differs is that it also offers Google Voice-esque features; dynamic and simultaneous call routing based on rules using their own 'softswitch' technology, voicemail transcription (using either machine or PhoneTag-assisted human interpretation).
Cheaper outbound calling is also on offer (using Ribbit's SIP service), with the aim of allowing customers to dial a local or national gateway number to route the call via Ribbit's network for the international leg at a significantly reduced cost / for free. As well as SIP, they have XMPP, Skype and Google Voice support - and an API integratable with Adobe FLEX, allowing end-users or developers to implement their service alongside existing systems (and this is where they're hoping the big draw will be). Alongside this, Ribbit can query your Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts for incoming callers' details - something they've deemed "Caller ID 2.0".
Ribbit Mobile's currently in free private beta - I'm trialing what will eventually be the Pro package - but I'm sure at some point this year they'll decide to slap some pricing onto it (given that they already proclaim Ribbit Mobile to have a "$30/month value", although there will be a free option available too).
Whilst their service is larger and more sprawling than HulloMail's, both are still trying to share the same market niche to an extent. Having given HulloMail a spin, I've recently been evaluating the Ribbit Mobile beta and on the whole I'm fairly impressed with the implementation.
(Unfortunately I noticed that - on T-Mobile's 2009 Combi tariff, at least - they were charging me for the voicemail divert, which is a little discouraging given it's a London number. A conversation to be had with TMUK in the future, but that's another story for the moment.)
The interesting thing here is market penetration, to use a (much-hated) business term. Ribbit, for all of its features, has a massive featureset. HulloMail has just one core service - better voicemail management. Ribbit is still too lengthy for regular people to configure - even with the on-screen step-by-step guide (which did have some nice realtime checks and callback features) I still had to spend five minutes setting it up. Likewise, although it took only a couple of minutes to provision the SIP service on my VoIP handset, I'd wager most people wouldn't even realise the service was there (the connection details are only listed in the Preferences dialog).
The HulloMail site, main dashboard, options pages and a voicemail
(click for original size)
Which service is better, then? This is a tough one. If you're looking for an all-singing, all-dancing cross-platform monster, Ribbit might just have what you're after. For developers, it's a potential godsend with the API and FLEX support. Their mobile site (m.ribbit.com) offers a simple, lofo interface for people who want to use their handsets for account access. However, is it overkill for the regular customer? Perhaps. HulloMail, offers a single service and does it quite well; their web site is a little less complex (and a little simpler in design), and while they don't have m.hullomail.com set up to deliver a mobile-friendly portal, the core offering of voicemail is still nicely done. You can dial in on either a standard telephone number or use their web site (or your IMAP inbox if you've configured), just like you can with Ribbit.
- IMAP synchronisation - you receive a copy of every voicemail
- Email and SMS alerts of missed calls and new messages
- Web- and email-based message retrieval, playback
- UK- and US-based access numbers
- Visual voicemail apps for iPhone, Android and Blackberry
- Google Mail and 'phone' integration for contacts ('phone' doesn't work for me)
- Easy to follow guides for setting up divert service
- Slightly clunky web site
- Full automated call routing (depending on predefined rules and devices)
- Intuitive initial setup, aided by realtime onscreen guide and checks
- Flash-based web dashboard, with pleasing display of voicemails/missed calls
- SIP service for advanced users
- API for developers, Flash FLEX support (and more)
- More flexible email/SMS notifications for missed calls & new voicemails (a little buggy still)
- US- and UK-based access numbers for the oldskoolers
- Ability to place call via PC using Flash dialer
- iPhone app available
- Ability to scrape contacts from existing social networking accounts (a little wary of this)
- Transcription service, automated or human-assisted
- Email synchronisation to (optional) multiple accounts - for all or selective categories of update (missed calls, transcriptions ready or audio attachments of voicemails in one of several formats)
From a side-by-side feature comparison on its own, Ribbit wins. However, is this enough? Will Ribbit stand the test of time and make enough ground in the near-vicious B2C sector to become the de facto choice for regular users? They're making no headway whatsoever at the moment whereas HulloMail has a comparatively massive headstart.
This is where I start to question their potential market penetration - I believe it'll hinge primarily on which features they decide to include in their various packages once they make them available to the general public. Now more than ever, people are incredibly price sensitive. I would not be willing to pay $30 for the Pro package as it stands, it's simply not worth $30 a month to me. If they offered discounted international call routing on a Pay As You Go basis, I might use that - but again, a monthly commitment would not make it worth my while.
By contrast, I think I'd be willing to pay a couple of pounds a month to HulloMail to use their service - it's fairly nicely presented, easy enough to set up and use (although it could do with a few more improvements for the initial set up process) but more importantly for me, it's from a truly independent British company which feels more end-user-centric.
There's still scope for both services to adapt a little for the direct market - some intelligent call management would be a perfect addition for HulloMail down the line, and likewise some clever pruning of the Pro package would result in a service from Ribbit which might pull in a good deal of international customers (there's a vast, largely untapped market of customers who are living in the UK for just a couple of years - students for example - who regularly call overseas, and at present either buy calling cards or use MVNOs like Lyca Mobile to get cheaper overseas call rates).
My final verdict for now? Well, it's tough to call it at this early stage, but unless Ribbit pulls something out of the bag and makes their service hugely desirable for Joe Public, people are going to gravitate towards HulloMail simply due to their established track record in hosted voicemail. The lack of a paid offering does worry me somewhat - the mantra of YGWYPF has never been more present in the online world - but hopefully they're signing enough deals with telcos and private companies to subsidise the cost of their B2C offering. Even better, I'd love to see the telcos offer a HulloMail-esque service as part of their tariffs, either as a standard feature or 'nicely priced' bolt-on.
My opinion is also largely based on both companies' observed goals; Ribbit seems to be a little rudderless at the moment, building an excellent platform and service but aiming for all customers with no coherent portfolio. By contrast, HulloMail appears stable, mature and established in the voicemail 'market' (if there ever was one). If you get a chance to evaluate both services, please do - you may find you prefer one over the other. However, for the time being at least, I'll be sticking with HulloMail for my voicemail management. (I strongly suggest you give both a spin and see which fits you best, though.)
Do you have an opinion on this? Do you know of any other third-party voicemail service which you'd like to see compared here? Drop me a comment and let me know.
Another milestone for Google today as its Chrome browser has officially been released as beta for Mac users! I have a feeling this will quickly become one of the main browsers of choice for when I'm forced to use a Mac at work. Take a look at this screenshot of the main interface (click image for higher resolution):
A full review and comparisons with the Windows version coming soon...
With a forthcoming EP on the cards, recent events could prove to be another masterstroke of marketing genius from Radiohead - or at the very least, a nod to the darknet release scene which has been around since the days of BBSes. Either way, one band is once again making waves across the Internet...
It hasn't escaped many people's attention that a new Radiohead single, "These Are My Twisted Words", was leaked onto the web on the 14th of August. One of the first places for it to crop up was on the private BitTorrent trackers; What.CD's entry for the track currently has over 2,400 discrete downloads of the .torrent.
The filename of the track itself? "01-radiohead-these_are_my_twisted_words-(advance)-2009-woi.mp3". "woi" stands for WallOfIce, as detailed in the release's accompanying nfofile. (update: what appears to be vaguely official artwork can be seen on @Yussavoice's twitter profile background...)
Of course, the band has remained staunchly silent on this development - and the silence to some has been a deafening confirmation that they're behind the whole thing. Of course, almost immediately after the track's leak, the release was analysed and dissected by RH fans all over the world. The article on GreenPlastic documents just how many people picked over it with a fine toothcomb, as well as the original author putting forward some of his own theories as to what exactly this 'release' means in terms of marketing and advance notice of a full-blown release.
Radiohead have stated in the past that they won't be doing more full albums for a while, as mentioned by AtEase. York himself said;
“None of us want to go into that creative hoo-ha of a long-play record again. Not straight off. I mean, it’s just become a real drag. It worked with “In Rainbows” because we had a real fixed idea about where we were going. But we’ve all said that we can’t possibly dive into that again. It’ll kill us.”
Although some have dismissed the EP launch as mere hyperbole from AtEase, I believe it could be quite the opposite. Personally, I'm in agreement with the consensus that this is actually a legitimate 'leak' by the band, as the facts are stacked in favour of this once they are examined closely. Why? Well, let's examine the facts:
- The release is tagged with a "-woi" groupname, but no prior evidence of this group's existence is available across the Internet, even when using the pre search engines
- Using EncSpot, the encoder is shown to be a VERY old encoder called GoGo (a variant of Lame, and not pure Lame itself which the scene rules mandate), as well as having an ID3v1 Genre tag of "Blues"
- The domain WallOfIce.com conveniently points to the W.A.S.T.E. store (more below)
The metaphor is strong with this one: not only does this leak coincide with a rumoured EP launch next week, the name "Wall Of Ice" has been interpreted by some to be a veiled xkcd reference, where the cartoon strongly mirrors the band's apparent own sentiments towards the record industry:
If this isn't enough for you, the domain WallOfIce.com (which redirects to the W.A.S.T.E. store) was created on the 14th of August - the same day as the track's leak - and has the registrant's whois information clearly visible:
Contact: Reshad Bashir () +31.0645252730
Address: Raaigras 271, Leeuwarden, 8935 GD, NL
Reshad Bashir is a sysadmin for Versio, so he (or his company) has registered this domain on behalf of someone and his details have been put in there. Stereogum's already discussed this at length. No scene group member would be stupid enough to put personally-identifying details into a public whois record. Radiohead haven't registered the domain name directly, but it would make sense not to do so in order to stir up a bit more discussion and controversy over what it exactly means. Of course, this may all just be coincidence - someone registering the domain *after* the leak was made available on the Internet, and not done by the band - but it seems somewhat unlikely.
For the record, the most recent Radiohead scene release from an official group is a webrip of their Harry Patch tribute single: "Radiohead-Harry_Patch_(In_Memory_Of)-(Web)-2009-SiREx".
Summing up, these events can almost certainly be taken as proof once again that Radiohead are: 1) masters of drumming up Internet buzz, 2) completely in touch with their inner nerd, and 3) they 'get' the Internet a little more than some might think. They've always been in touch with their online presence; waste.uk.com was registered in 1998, nine months before even I had my own web site. Since then, they've overcome their signing to EMI, they've rapidly embraced the Internet and they've even conquered the question of variable pricing by just forging ahead and doing it off their own backs.
Now they're mimicking the release scene... Perhaps we'll see more future Radiohead releases leaked in the same way? They're certainly not the first band to leak their music via the Web, but it's quite clever of them to do it in such a way that it'll almost certainly fool those who aren't completely familiar with the usual behaviour of the MP3 release scene. Really, you can only commend the band for trying something new - this is guerilla digital marketing, and there's no telling just how much coverage they'll get from this once the mainstream media picks up on this. Personally I'll be very surprised if we don't see an EP release next week.
An aside: I have one problem with Radiohead's digital releases - if they're still using GoGo-no-coda, which is based on a version of LAME dating back to 2004, the sonic quality of their MP3s (even at 320kbps) is going to be vastly inferior compared to if they were encoded using the very latest stable builds of LAME. For this reason alone, I'll keep on buying CDs and ripping them myself (usually to FLAC).
(PS: if Thom / whoever encodes the MP3s for sale: drop GoGo! It's obsolete and the version of LAME it uses has been superceded. Get Frontah, drop in the v3.98 stable build of lame.exe into the Frontah working directory, and if you don't want 320kbps files, use the encoding paramters "-V1 --vbr-new" to encode your audio to transparent VBR files. Mmmm, sounding tasty!)
Update, 16/08/2009: someone at The Guardian has written a woefully mistake-ridden article on the same thing - and stupidly linked to the torrent on the private tracker what.cd as well. Read and enjoy: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/aug/14/new-radiohead-song