Paris takes on Ubuntu in techno celebrity clash

Well, not really...

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Letters Dell's sales and marketing team makes like the boss and chooses to put Ubuntu on its desktops and laptops. You're all delighted, we're sure:

Three cheers for Ubuntu! Three cheers for Linux and open source generally! Three cheers for De....ermm...nah! Yes it's good that a big player like Dell have dipped a toe in the Linux pond, a small but significant step for open source.

However do you know anyone who is both sensible enough to want Linux on their PC and silly enough to want a Dell PC?? Ok maybe a Dell laptop - I'm not a huge fan of laptops so I wouldn't know, but every time I look inside a Dell desktop I think: "Ah yes, that's how they sell them at that price and still make a decent profit!"


A petition on Downing Street's e-petition website which called for fairer pricing of Microsoft's Vista operating system has been rejected. Not surprising really, but it was worth a shot. Not much in the way of considered opinion from you on this one:

The best thig that could happen is that the EU would force the breakup of Microsoft. I can't wait.


Lorne also wrote to mention a significant dislike of the US, and its inhabitants. We're not 100 per cent sure what prompted this, but hey, we'll print it anyway.

The Yanks are such freaking lusers. To think that such a society actually exhists on this planet. The worse part is they are our next door neighbors.


The European Data Protection Supervisor doesn't like creepy databases, and isn't having them. So there.

One solution might be to require royalties for private information. After all, you pay for what is useful, and if it were not useful, databases wouldn't collect it, would they?


The Tories are cosying up to open source. Could end up with some of the veils of mystery around government procurement being whipped away. But you just want to make quips about coasts:

"...George Osborne's adoption of a West Coast attitude..."

Would that be Blackpool, Aberystwyth, Bristol or Barnstaple ?

Regards, Mike

A little more optimism please, you cry, in response to our rather sceptical view of the future of video compression:

You say

"And if someone says "Oh, we'll have that sorted in five years", trigger your hot air detector. No, they won't. Even if batteries double in capacity and efficiency, even if mobile networks quadruple in bandwidth, the need of the human mind for low-latency, high resolution, high frame-rate when interacting with other human minds is still not going to be satisfied."

Don't be so certain. You're assuming general-purpose video compression. Special-purpose, you don't need high-bandwidth datacomms, just high-power computing locally at both ends. *Maybe* just a software breakthrough rather than orders of magnitude in the hardware.

The way it can be done is to transmit a reference model to define what the sender's face looks like. A high-resolution realistic partial avatar, if you like. Maybe it can be generated in a few seconds, maybe you need to visit a special face-scanning studio that uses hours of number-crunching to generate the model. Whatever. It'll represent physical reality. Underlying muscles, bone, cartilage, fat, as well as surface colours and textures.

Then, you need enough local processing to represent each frame of your conversation-video as a set of model parameters. I should think that a few hundred numbers suffices to define any self-willed rearrangement of one specific human's face, given a good pre-existing model to feed them into.

Streaming a few hundred numbers per frame, mostly slowly-changing (small delta values) is modem-slow.

At the recipient's end the stream of numbers goes into the model and animates it, real-time with correct audio sync.

Stage 1 can be done today (slowly, but it's a one-off). Likewise stage 3. Stage 2 is the hard one. Movie studios can do things like this but not in realtime, and usually use trackable blobs painted onto the subject's features for motion-capture.

But don't rule out software and hardware making it possible five years from now. How hard was any-font OCR before Kurzweil cracked it?

Not my idea, by the way. Vernor Vinge called these avatars "evocations" in his superb SF epic "A Fire upon the Deep" (from the 1980s!) . I don't know if that's computer science jargon or an SF term he invented. Evocations that look out-of-date (for lack of a recent update) are key to the plot. Communication by computer-translated evocation (between a human and an alien) was hard, even in his SF'nal universe. Amazing ideas.


The Office for National Statistics' new computer system has a few bugs, its seems. What? A government computer project with bugs? Surely not:

"...the software was designed for the US and its adaptation for the UK was incomplete..."

Yes, and how about my having to tell every new Windows program that my default paper size is A4, not Letter - despite having told Windows I'm not North American ?

Regards, Mike

I had a couple of minor points:

* the figures on civil partnerships should refer to "December 2005 to September 2006". Civil partnerships were only introduced with effect from December 2005. * we are the Office for National Statistics, not "of"


Hmm, insight into the statistician's mind. Shudder.

Sod the metric system, we like pints:

Luddites 1 Science (and common sense) 0

If I may quote Grandpa Simpson: "The metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead, and that's the way I likes it!"

The trading with America argument is bogus anyway, they just make up their imperial as they go along. Try comparing their gallons to ours. Also what the hell is a "cup"?


Well, a cup is 8 fluid ounces or 240ml. With you on the rest, though. Except that we like pints. Of lager, if you're buying. Thanks.

And the most important story of the week, nay year, or possibly even the decade: Paris Hilton is sentenced to do time in chokey. Some kind soul sets up a petition to save her bleachedness from such a terrifying fate:

I'm thinking about this in a more practical way. If it would be legally possible, I wouldn't mind spending 45 days in jail for Paris. Time enough to catch up on reading and to do some de-stressing. Obviously there would be a dollar amount involved for this service. However, I get the impression that spending money is not an alien concept to Miss Hilton.

The justice system is probably going to frown on that idea and there would no doubt be people who would render this service at a substantially more cost-effective price point.

Worth a shot though.


That's all from us. Have lovely weekends, all of you. ®

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