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Wednesday 30 April 2008

movie certification and targetting [Shedir]

OK, my kids love superheroes. Comics, games, toys and movies. Lub it. Yet while they're aimed at directly in marketing, the main movie isn't really OK for them to view.

12a for Iron Man. F F S.

In this digital age is it TOO much for the movie companies to have different versions for the cinema and on DVD. As a parent I'd love to be able to pop in the U version of spidey3, for example, knowing that the dodgier bits are missing and it's OK for them to view.

After all we have a board of certification who check each scene of the movie, if they can identify 3 or 4 scenes which push from U to PG, 4 from PG to 12, then thats a pathetic 8 changes required to broaden it's market. Once thats budgeted in at the start, for a film AIMED at kids, it would become the norm and make folk like me much much happier.

Then the cinema could have a morning version which is more family friendly, cut rate for families and a post midday screening of the regular version. Everyone wins!

Now I've got the prospect of taking my youngest (at 4) to a 12A, I'm not thrilled about it but he loves the character and I reckon I'll do it. But take him out if he's scared, cover eyes/ears during more suspect moments. Sit at the back of the hall so it's not filling his FOV.

But it's very very annoying that we are expected to shell out for all the associated toys for these franchises, but they won't customise the actual main event for the actual buyers!

Spiderman and superman have really been ok for the kids, only dodgy bit was venom taking over Peter Parker in his sleep. But batman, the new batman stuff is a headfuck. I can only imagine the one due out will be worse. Yet batman and robin suits are aimed at pre12s, bloody double standard shite.

I'm sure I'll burn in hell for taking him, but he can build a pan dimensional suit of armour and come rescue me.

Tuesday 29 April 2008

Cruel cruel release day [Am]

Today there is a game called 'Grand Theft Auto IV' being released. You may not have heard of its predeccesors, a minor franchise it would seem, of little note, import or consequence. The gaming equivalent, if you like, of Rudgely.

As if....

It's heartening, if you're gamers like us lot* that a game can generate news items on national news on its day of release. On the way in to the office this morning, I was listening to XFM whose principal hook for the morning show was that they were cutting to two of their people playing GTA IV throughout the morning. The commentary was slightly lame, not least of which because they kept on having to duck the sound for fear of the in-game dialogue suddently advising London's emo-brethren to go and cap some mo'fo in his mo'fo azz. Shame really.... Holborn could do with a bit of a guns-a-blazin chase between the police and a bunch of people in 12 inch platforms who can only move at a briskish walk due to their trouser legs being shackled together....

But, with the major presence of online retailers I suspect there will be some wailing and nashing of teeth today. For every story of an early arrival ahead of official release day, I suspect there will be a hundred nay a thousand pissed off people who will find that the postie has brought nowt today. If it's Slim, we'll laugh loads and then duck because he will be mightily pissed off.

Not I, fortunately dear readers. Due to a stunning display of ineptitude, poor temporal awareness and latterly holiday, I had singularly failed to pre-order til a couple of days ago (not despatched as yet, now cancelled). So when I breezed into Canary Wharf Game this morning at 7.40am, I was, without doubt, a jammy bast to catch one of the last 7 copies of GTA IV which were not allocated to pre-order (a stack it must be said that was piled up behind the sales counter with a physical presence equivalent to a Grade AAA+ Muz-wall). I clutched my bag and breezed out with a look of triumph cast afore the anxious faces of those rushing in who were now, literally, two minutes too late....

So this Eagle is in the nest after a quick double-back through the Starbucks, a family bag of yoghurt raisins emptied onto the floor behind me and shacking it up the down escalator to make sure I wasn't being followed for my precious cargo.....

Everyone else got their's in?


*Although that's the subject of some debate - some say there is only one true Gamer -note cap- who name is Pod 2.0 (not 3.0 that's the dangerous variety) and the rest of us are mere dilitantes who prod a controller with a foppish paw encased in a ruff from time to time....

Wednesday 23 April 2008

FPS your way [Am]

As previously blogged on this here site, we have long been suspecting the death or at least genre-death of several types of game on the lair-based PC in favour of the generally flawless implementation of Live on the Xbox 360. And to be frank, it looks pretty much like that point has come with even the staggeringly good Call of Duty 4 now being bought on console by the vast majority of clannies. This is despite the fact that as a first person shooter, the move to controller over keyboard + mouse control is enough to induce a strong shudder and profound disquiet in many (but not all) of EED.

I have mixed feelings on this - nostalgia for what has been a very enjoyable decade of PC based gaming for me but also a certain shrugging of the shoulders. Playing games on big tellies rocks. The stability of the console and equality of system (no more graphics card whoring) not to mention the huge ease of picking up games with mates on the Live system are all condusive to more gaming. I also suspect that since games have to be bought, it probably induces a bit more inclination to spend time on them. Whatever the reasons, one can't help but notice that the amount of non-MMORPG online gaming being played by our clan has risen pretty markedly.

But I hates that controller for FPS's with avengence. COD4's brilliant implementation on PC is augmented with an aim assistance of tapping the scope button repeatedly on the 360 controller. And I can't help but feel there's a nod from the programmers that frankly, yes, it's all a bit shit playing an FPS on a controller. Not absolutely (it's a great game) but relatively to a superior control mechanism.

Now it's pretty easy to counter this assertion with the obvious 'but you haven't spent any time practising with it Am'. Yes perfectly true. But I have to admit, since I do do a fair amount of gaming in my lair, this has caught my eye today in no uncertain way. A keyboard and mouse plug-in-to-controller whatchermcgadget.

Now I don't know if this will be considered to be an 'unfair' piece of kit to get in. Perhaps, we'll have to see what's voiced. Perhaps the sensible thing is to practice with the controller for weeks and get vaguely good at it. But on the other hand, it would allow me to play the game the way I want to. Is that a bad thing?

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Phorm, privacy, and the issue of cookies. [Brit]

Traditionally, a complicated web of session tracking and cookies is responsible for targeting you with supposedly relevant online ads. It will take only a moment surfing online to realise this approach is anything but effective - irrelevant ads appear regardless. Highly targeted and relevant delivery is however the next holy grail of online advertising, especially when advertisers are paying by the display and not by the clickthrough, or when the dictated Cost Per Acquisition figure (i.e. the amount of money it has been calculated must be spent for a user/consumer to reach a defined goal, like book a test drive) is high or linked to a high value product or service.

The only way you can deliver such highly targeted and relevant content is by having sufficient individual data capable of slotting a specific user into an equally highly granular profile, and the only way you can do that is by taking their surfing data from them... and herein lies the snag.

I expect you've all heard of Phorm. They're the company that has essentially developed the technology that allows the profiling of users by collecting their surfing data direct from their ISPs, munging it, and making it available to their online ad delivery platform. Now, it should be pointed out that according to the blurb, such data is delivered to them from the likes of BT in a totally anonymous fashion... online users really are nothing more than a number, and so everyone should be happy; users get adverts that are relevant to them, and advertisers get more effective ROI, and ISPs get a bit more revenue.

I could at this point talk about the whole privacy implications with regards anonymizing data and the fact its technically unsound or legally dubious or plain bonkers. But I won't, as its been covered to death (and still going strong) in all the mainstream press. Suffice to say, if you're a privacy advocate or other speaking head in the arena, you've probably hit the roof a number of times now.

What I am interested in however is the now increasingly out of date method for indicating optin/optout preference in terms of web delivered services - the humble cookie. For years these innocuous pieces of data have sat on our computers, helping out everything from shopping baskets to session management, from visual personalisation through to reminder notifications; they are _everywhere_.

However, they simply aren't up to the job any longer in terms of optin/optout or other privacy related activities because they're so perishable. I'm not talking about cookie expiration, but rather the fact that through no fault of their own a user can instantly opt back in to any number of services they may have opted out from, by deleting their cookies. In Microsoft Internet Explorer 7 for example, deleting all your web cookies is incredibly easy. There is a big fat "DELETE ALL" button on the popup dialog, and next to it, a link that says "About deleting browsing history"... to the uninitated or those not paying attention, the proximity of that link (and the word "history") next to the button "DELETE ALL" gives no indication that you are going to remove all your cookies too.

For Phorm to claim that users can opt out of their service is therefore a complete joke. Sure, you can set a cooke to say "no thank you", but if you're a regular browser history dumper and hit that "DELETE ALL" button, you're back on Phorm as soon as you like... after all, its your ISP thats made the decision to push your data through Phorm and not you. You've just got a tiny bit of control via a very dodgy switch.

I'd therefore like to see a more robust solution - call it Cookie+. For example, when you install Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Internet Explorer is by default set to "hardened mode". This means that when you come to download a file from a website, you're prompted to add it to your secure zone; if you delete your browser history, that secure zone list remains untouched - I see no reason why there couldn't be a similar sort of approach to Cookie+ whereby you set different types of cookies too... for example a special cookie specifically for opting in or opting out; that would call the Cookie+ dialog, whereas normal session cookies would be handled as they are now.

Either way, something needs to change - Phorm and BT are in a right old mess and the privacy issues around optin/optout are not only enough to make people leave BT, but potentially kill Phorm itself, and since I have no objection to relevant ads, I think a middle ground should be looked at.

The demonification of Hamachi [Lurks]

For the uninitiated, Hamachi is essentially a VPN application designed for PC games. Once it's up and running each PC has a new IP address on a different adaptor which means that games with LAN-play functionality (at one time much more than Internet functionality) can operate over the Internet.

The advantages to Hamachi are many. Firstly, once you have it up and running with a single port map, any game should work over it regardless of the most hideous networking situation, bazillions of ports and so on. It's pretty straight forward to diagnose network problems of Hamachi outside of the game which is one more problem solved in the complexity of PC multiplayer gaming.

The problem that's springing up now is that game developers have often used their multiplayer Internet system as an anti-piracy mechanism. Eg if you're hosting servers and a master server, all that jazz, it's fairly prudent to check CD-keys and make sure someone isn't a thieving scumbag. That is right and proper.

Hamachi, purely by chance and not by design, bypassed this and often allows cracked warez versions to play. Since LAN modes assume the game doesn't have Internet and it's not going to stop you from playing if you do not. To be fair, we've used it in this capacity. Never justifiably but, in some measure of defence, often as a stepping stone to buying a legit copy for the guy who only has the warez version etc.

Hamachi has another useful side. Game developers being what they are like to reinvent the wheel with sections that aren't particularly round because at least it's their 'wheel'. This holds true for things like forum software (got to laugh at Stardock's Sins of a Solar Empire forum) and multiplayer lobby systems and what have you. The multiplayer stuff in particular is often really really bad. Where as the LAN stuff is very simple. Scan to see if there's a hosted game. If so, slap us in the lobby and go for it.

So it's quite disappointing that there are signs, with Ubisoft's Vegas 2, that game developers have pigeonholed Hamachi as being a warez solution and suddenly the game doesn't work with it. Where previous ones did. Use their shit multiplayer system or don't play at all.

Of course that's me guessing that's why it doesn't work but if you want a closer look at what game developers think, check out this nugget from a member of staff of Gas Powered Games, makers of Supreme Commander:

"hamachi screws up your network stack and breaks legitimate multiplayer."

That's obviously bullshit. Adding a network adaptor to the OS is legitimate as Cisco doing exactly the same when you install their corporate VPN software. Hell, there's one built into Windows too. Furthermore Hamachi works exceedingly well with Supreme Commander. We've been using it like that from the outset because trying to do it by just mapping a port is problematic at best and using GPG's multiplayer system, GPGnet, well... let's just say we have better things to do with our lives.

I was fairly irritated by this and posted a new thread because the GPG employee helpfully locked the last thread having the last (bullshit) word. Now to be fair, they had a right to be angered. The thread was started by a guy who was looking for a kind of support for his mates playing warez.

"Hamatchi may be a tool but it is sadly quite famous for having most of its 'community' based on warez junkies that hurt developers around the world. No more threads on this is needed."
And another lock... I don't know what a Hamachi community is. Maybe related to all the channels of games - I saw a list on a web site once. Could well be a warez community there but it's certainly not what we've used and, as I pointed out in that thread, if SupCom wasn't rendered actually playable in a manner we find satisfactory, loads of our guys wouldn't have bought Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance.

So what's the solution? I'd argue it's fairly straight forward; do your CD check stuff online even if LAN mode is being used. I think it's safe to say there should always be an Internet connection available on a modern PC used for multiplayer gaming. If it's a LAN party, there's an Internet connection. Go do your piracy check but allow LAN to work with Hamachi.

At the end of the day these developers frequently haven't the ability or inclination to make games work reliably over the Internet although in the case of SupCom the nasty RTS P2P network topgraphy really doesn't help. Gas Powered Games must have spent a lot of time and money developing the subsequently abandoned abortion of GPGnet. Just don't bother next time eh?

Course now Chris Taylor is hilariously quoted as saying that the barrier to Supreme Commander 2 is that PCs only having 2GB of memory. That might be what your 'engineers' are telling you Chris but if I was you, I'd start getting some vacancy ads up on the web site. Unfortunately this demolishes much hope that GPG will do the smart thing next time around on any technical aspect.

Friday 11 April 2008

We Have a Surveillance Problem [Beej]

Five years ago, if you'd have asked me to chime into the anti-RIPA lobby, I'd have laughed it off. The UK needed new legislation, and was and is a country of high priority to islamist terrorists.

A news article at the Daily Telegraph reports that Poole Borough Council in Dorset is using RIPA to enable it to carry out full-time covert surveillance of a family. Why? They might be lying about where live, so that Little Jonny can go to a specific school.

This is the log of the covert surveillance - you'd hope even Poole police have better things to do, so this must be from a private investgations outfit that the council pays for.

Well I'm not initially against a local council having some ability to investigate. Unusual problems like fraud or vandalism relating to local housing or roads or parks, these could at some point require an investigation. But this isn't that. This is about where kids might go to school. And you know what? You could probably make a management decision on that by carrying out, um, some interviews. Or writing a legal letter. Or knocking on the neighbours' doors to check the family live where they say they do.

Poole Borough Council were unable to reach a decision about a non-threatening non-criminal non-terrorist problem, and have turned to covert surveillance to make that decision easier. That's bad decision-making, laziness, a misunderstanding of what covert surveillance is best used for, and of course being a local council, it's an utter WASTE OF MONEY.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

The joy of no moving parts [Lurks]

SSD drives. They're the win. I guess we all realise they would be but for me it wasn't until using a Lenovo X300 laptop with one of the new bigger/faster 64GB SSD drives that I came to realise just how goddamn cool they are. My laptop only has a 1.2GHz C2D but it boots up feeling as snappy as my 4GHz quad core desktop.

You forget how long you're caused to wait around while a physical arm flies around with a little head on the end of it hovering a few microns above an insanely fastly rotating disk. We're all dimly aware of it. The noises, the clicking. That's another thing. My computing has always been rooted in the sound of computing. Ever since floppy drives where any computing activity made a huge amount of noise and gave you all sorts of feedback as to how well something was working.

Fast forward to today and the clicks and whirs we've been virtually offended by on Windows Vista because it dares to do them all the time rather than just when it's doing something, invading our sense of wanting only the noise when something is happening as another sense of yours peers under the hood of an otherwise impenetrable computer interface hiding all the working underneath.

But we're going to have to get used to it. It's fucking off for good although it's going to be weird. Computers will become like, for want of a better way of describing it, mobile phones. Unless it beeps or some graphics comes up, who knows what it's really doing.

I await the first clever bugger who makes a little application that makes hard drive sounds out the computer speakers. Perhaps the same issue that electric vehicles are also facing.

SSDs have other ramifications which the computer industry is only slowly waking up to. The idea of disk fragmentation is utterly meaningless. There's no need to optimise position of written data. In fact SSDs cheat internally deliberately to fragment data so that the same bits don't get re-written all the time due to their finite write-cycles.

At some point file systems and databases need to wake up to it also. When the distinction of a disk cache and the disk itself starts to become meaningless. Why sit there all the time generating easy to search indexes of your files when the FS itself may as well just be quickly readible in one go to find anything.

Bizarrely my Lenovo X300 came pre-bundled with Disk Keeper and Vista was pre-set to defrag. Something which is useless and even (minutely) detrimental to SSDs. Vista really ought to know if something is an SSD or not and deal with it. What are the ramifications for Readyboost? Anything readyboost does is clearly possible right on a bit of an SSD but then... maybe it's redundant because loading stuff normally is just as quick?

Curiously I also find people are a little uncertain about SSDs and settings that ought to be used with them. Do you use aggressive write caching of them in Windows Vista? (The SATA property) Might be a good idea, might reduce amount of writes and are we bothered about ramifications of an unexpected power down with journalling filesystems?

As to the rollout of SSDs, it's not exactly fast and there's not many products on the market to buy and most of those that are tend to be old gear which you really shouldn't pay money for. I think it's because of the IT and economic downturn to some degree. There's frightening progress going on in terms of capacity, cost, performance - particularly performance. So they'll be some reluctance to try mass commercialise something and potentially get stuck with hugely expensive inventory. This is a big issue for the IT industry at the best of times.

It also comes at a time when physical drives are at a zenith of their technical capability. The low cost of seriously large amounts of hard disk space is simply amazing now. Up against that you have to really want an SSD. But on a laptop... where there's several reasons stacking up. Reduced power consumption, increased resilience to shock and - here's the biggy - frightening gains in performance over slow-ass 2.5" notebook hard drives... they look pretty damn sweet and this is the first laptop I've ever owned that genuinely feels as snappy as a desktop.

Now I just wonder what my desktop would be like with an SSD...

Sunday 6 April 2008

Predation and Squeamishness [Lurks]

BBC tonight, Louis Theroux was on doing this documentary called African Hunting Holiday. The premise is pretty simple, essentially a whole bunch of South African farmers have binned the cleared bush cattle paddocks and put back natural scrub and raise lots of different sorts of native african game. Lions, impala, monkeys, warthogs and even rhino. You name it.

Yank cowboys then pay to go over there, kill the animals (they pay by animal, rarer/larger, the more it costs), take photos with them and then take home a trophy head or whatever. Brings in serious money to South Africa and is basically putting bush land back and native habitat for these animals. Good stuff. Now hunting, at least in this form, is something that's not for me. Sitting in a hide with a crossbow picking off random animals come to the watering hole... Where's the challenge?

I'd do it for tucker no mistake. I wouldn't do it just because I wanted to kill it or have a photo taken with it. It's an entirely manufactured easy hunting experience. I don't, however, begrudge the yanks doing it. I think it's a bit weird, it's not really my bag, but it's got tangible benefits in South Africa so knock your socks off.

The thing is, I had a hard time with Louis Theroux's attitude. I mean he was a constantly whining touchy feely liberal cunt nugget. There was even a nauseating sequence where he had a crossbow lined up on warthog and decided he couldn't kill it. Oh for fuck sake, behave. At one stage this hunting operator really lost his rag and I don't blame him at all - Theroux just needeled away with the same pointless liberal soul searching. Is being raised to be killed hunting any kind of life at all? Jesus wept.

Now I like Theroux normally, he basically makes a living out of getting into out-there scenarios and gently sort of putting to people how wide of base they may be in some people's eyes. It's useful and interesting but it only works, I think, if at some point you accept what you're seeing and the viewpoints and just move on rather than constantly questioning and hamming it up via contrived circumstances to ask the same questions repeatedly.

In that respect I was infuriated by this show.

This is where I'm having a hard time. It's not just Louis really, it's an attitude I seem to have run into a lot in the UK. People obviously happy enough to chow down cheaply produced meat in attrocious conditions but heaven help anyone if they actually kill an animal for sport. It's a cultural thing I guess. It's not like I'm from the bush or anything but my old man took me fishing as a kid, showed me the grisly process of gutting a fish. Then when I was a teenager I shot a cow for a BBQ and then later did a bit of bow hunting.

Nothing hard core but I've killed animals. For nosh and for sport. I enjoyed the sport aspects. Fighting a Barramundi on a fishing rod is pretty much my idea of a great time.

So I guess maybe I'm the other end of the scale culturally (from the UK at least) but I feel I sort of shouldn't be. We're all enlightened now aren't we? We watch nature shows with horrific stuff going on in the wild. Everything is televised, we see it all but as soon as an actual human being makes a choice to kill an animal it's now some sort of abhorrent thing.

It's some kind of re-writing of the rule book. It's uncivilised to be a predator. Well, a killing predator. It's okay to be a farming predator and eat little red chunks that come off the shelf cling wrapped off the great Tesco meat-tree. However it's not healthy to enjoy what you are, a predator. You must empathise with the doe-eyed animal. You must project your human emotions and wonder at the suffering it must endure.

I watched this thinking fuck me wont Theroux appear to be some massive sap in this? He wont. I think most people like that, in our cities, are carbon Theroux copies.

"anyone who gets pleasure from killing animals is sick in the head in my opinion" - where does this shit come from? I mean, are we suggesting, for example, that it's wrong to enjoy fishing? That's killing animals. No wait, can't empathise with a fish very well. Better narrow it down to mammals.

I think there's at least some argument to be made that it's 'sick in the head' to deny the food chain and to some how revile the natural process of death and predation purely because you haven't had to do it personally. What do you think?

Friday 4 April 2008

The New Face of British Internet [Lurks]

Up until this point the public perception - that is to say our perception - of Internet bandwidth was all that really matters is what sort of speed connection you can get. That's still something most people think about, looking forward to the continued roll-out of ADSL2+ via the BT's 21CN program, meaning up to 20-odd Mb of bandwidth. Of course LLU operators have sprung up a plenty offering ADSL2+ sync rates ahead of BT, albiet in annoyingly cherry picked high population areas.

That's what people think they need. More bandwidth to the house. The reason this scenario existed is because people tend to be interested in that as a simple number which indicates how good your Internet is. Consumers will jump ship because of it, which is why cable and LLU entered the market to compete in those terms. The reality of the situation is that there was not terribly much to do on the Internet except browse web pages. Which meant that most people were basically using no bandwidth at all.

This will be familiar ground to British readers; the ISP market was flooded with countless operators all offering unlimited Internet access. Initially because no one ever thought you would need to limit bandwidth, and then later because it became another differentiator. Eg Jonny Customer wants to buy an Internet connection with as much bandwidth as possible without any limits. Whether or not he'll use it.

It's a bit like why laptops offer 1920x1200 displays on 15-inch screens now. Not because it's practical or desirable, in fact it's a one way ticket to a migraine, but because the number is bigger you end up with a commercial arms race as customers look for easy figures used to differentiate between how good products are and manufacturers follow suit.

ISP wise the chickens gradually came home to roost. The guys doing all the leeching stopped being one or two guys and turned into hundreds of guys. ISPs put little stars on the T&Cs and pointed out that unlimited was subject to a Fair Use Policy. Eg. it wasn't unlimited at all. It was unlimited if you weren't going to use much, that makes sense right? Right.

Now we're moving into a new phase. For a little while now ISPs have basically assumed everyone is going to be doing some downloading and today most ADSL packages have hard bandwidth limits depending on the package you're on. Unfortunately some operators in the industry are still doing essentially all you can eat packages, or not making it clear enough to consumers and this is coming to a head.

Why? Well, ostensibly because of the BBC iPlayer. Now there's something useful for everyone to use with broadband, which actually uses bandwidth and so is something which can quickly make sure someone ends up using gigabytes per month. Not one or two guys, not hundreds of guys, but thousands of people or a serious slice of an ISP's customer base. This is causing a fundamental shift in the Internet and the business models of many ISPs in the UK, particularly the cheap as chips hope-they-don't-actually-use-any-bandwidth sheisters such as Plusnet.

Plusnet have already had a good cry about iPlayer. The key point is their claim that sharply since the launch of iPlayer the Cost of carrying streaming traffic increased from £17,233 to £51,700 per month, which is pretty hard core. Some, such as Telco 2.0 and the ever-clueless Register, think that the BBC should actually pay ISPs to distribute the content through iPlayer.

Telco 2.0 helpfully cites the fact that the £3.2 billion BBC licence fee ends up kicking out £99.7m for broadcast television distribution, £42.6m for radio distribution and just £8.8m for online distribution. Which is an absurdly simplistic way to look at it. Those costs represent actual hardware needed to do these things. You don't pay anyone else to switch on your television and receive through the airways, on the Internet you pay your Internet Service Provider for that because that's the way it works.

It's not practical either, as the BBC's Director of Future Media & Technology Ashley Highfield points out.

"I would not suggest that ISPs start to try and charge content providers. They are already charging their customers for broadband to receive any content they want. If ISPs start charging content providers, the customer will not know which content will work well over their chosen ISP, and what content may have been throttled for non-payment of a levy."

If you're interested, you should definately have a read of that link, Highfield makes a number of clear and obvious points regarding ISPs which I think we all know to be true. Scroll down to "Internet Service Providers:". Vitally it should be pointed out that many of the big boys including BT are distancing themselves from the nasal whining of the few ISPs discovering their business models are bust.

If there's not enough money to pay for, you know, using the goddamn Internet then they're not charging enough. It's that simple. Their business model needs to change. ISPs are collectively responsible for ridiculously low monthly charges, destroying the margins and hence axing the ability for anyone to offer a high-quality service as the perceived value of an ISP plummeted in the eye of the public.

This is something of a political distraction from my real point in this blog however.

With most British broadband being delivered via BT's backhaul from the exchanges - and this includes the LLU operators because they use this too - the real limitation on your Internet, on anyone's Internet, has less to do with whatever ADSL sync speed you get on your modem. The cost for bandwidth through BT's backhaul is largely the same and it is this which is the limiting factor for any moderate to heavy user. That means us.

As the average bandwidth-per-user goes up there ends up being less room to wiggle your business plan with low charges, dumping off high bandwidth users so you can subsist on the casual web browsers, and prices tend to lock step with the actual cost of bandwidth. This is already happening, if you shop around ISPs they are already starting to look a lot more alike than they once did.

It also doesn't leave a lot of room for the little guys. One of BT's 155mbit centrals costs a metric assload of money per month but it's only able to support about 300 people streaming something off iPlayer. So until you get up large numbers of customers there's not quite the same averaging out of costs per central necessary and an ISP could plummet into a loss when they responsibly pre-order that additional central.

That's already happened. Does anyone remember how many ISPs there used to be? I'd urge you to take a look now. This isn't anyone's fault as such. It's just a symptom of the fact that the average consumer of the Internet now actually uses some resources that cost money. It's as if all the people going into computer shops stoppped buying £5 mice (which cost .50p) and wanted to look for the best deal on a laptop. Great for the big guys, less good for the little independent computer shop. It's a shame but these are national services people are offering, not local vegetable stalls.

It's not all doom and gloom. One innovative business model in response is wholesale broadband services such as My ISP uses these guys and, I have to say, the bandwidth I'm getting for the money including the business 8000/800 sync rate and traffic priority (above domestic) is heads and shoulders above anyone else. However they do a very strange thing, they run the pipes to capacity and when they get full they hard limit everyone's bandwidth so latency and packet loss doesn't kick in. That means when the off peak period kicks in bandwidth plummets to a couple of megabits per user.

They're up front about that that though. They show you the effect and even provide a Windows Vista sidebar gadget and a stand-alone tool. They're completely honest about how they operate and a whole bunch of ISPs resell the same basic service and customer focused stuff (hosting, control panels, support etc) themselves. But interestingly not the billing itself. That's not unreasonable though because billing is a major pain in the arse for any ISPs and centralising it makes it much smoother.

A little weird though isn't it? You could be on one of several ISPs and getting different web space, control panels, support etc but you're ostensibly on the same ISP IP wise and paying the same people too. Still, this is a sound business response to the existing climate of the Internet in the UK.

Until BT seriously up-rates the backhaul capacity and lowers bandwidth charges accordingly then this, and not sync speed, will remain the most significant and practical limitation of UK broadband. Unless you happen to be a lucky bastard on cable that is.

Interestingly in Australia it is far easier to get an ADSL2+ connection than the UK. Great, so you're on some up-to 24Mb connection but then you find your bandwidth is many times more expensive than here. It's tricky to buy a high-end package in Australia that offers the starting bandwidth of a decent ISP in the UK. To the point that the idea of downloading television and movies is virtually an alien concept and even pulling down game demos and trailers on your Xbox 360 could have expensive consequences. Let''s just say that they do not habitually download 1080p high-dev movies from Australia.

And of course IP performance to anywhere outside of Australia is absolutely diabolical. I'm not sure why, exactly, I've been trying to find out. It seems to congestion in the trans-pacific links from the US to Australia and if anything it seems to be getting worse.

So uin many respects we've got it pretty damn easy and what speed connection you've got is not even half the full story.