Throwback gadget: Sony Walkman WM-R202

sony wmr202
Back when I started work I was obliged to do night classes in chemistry. It was tough going (partly because I wasn’t that focused) and my existing Walkman WM-24 whilst good had given up the ghost.  I decided to put what money I had towards a Sony WM-R202.

Why that model:

  • It could record reasonably well which I convinced myself would be handy for lectures. It was not up to a Pro Walkman standard as the Dolby circuit fitted was for playback only. (I couldn’t afford the professional grade WM-D6C at the time and they weren’t the kind of device that you could easily fit in a pocket either. They were big and substantial.)
  • It had a good reputation for playback. Not only did it have Dolby B noise reduction and auto reverse on cassette playback, but it held the cassette really well to its metal construction. I learned the benefits of good tape cassette fit in a rigid mechanism the hard way. I had got hold of a WM-36 which on paper looked better than my previous Walkman with Dolby NR and and a graphic equaliser, but hand to keep the door closed with an elastic band. It was a sheep dressed up as a wolf
  • Probably the biggest reason was that it intrigued me being not much larger than an early iPod and was crafted with a jeweller’s precision. It was powered by a single AA battery or a NiCd battery about the size of a couple of sticks of chewing gum. It looked sexy as hell in in a brushed silver metal finish.

Whilst the buttons on the device might seem busy in comparison to software driven smartphones it was a surprisingly well designed user experience. None of them caught on clothing, the main controls fell easily to hand and I can’t remember ever having to use the manual.

What soon became apparent is that you needed to handle it very carefully to get cassettes in and out. I used to carefully tease the cassettes in and out. Despite my care one day it stopped working.  Given that mine lasted about two weeks, I am guessing that mine was a lemon and that the build quality must have been generally high as you can still see them on eBay and Yahoo! Auctions in Japan.

Since mine gave out well within a warranty period, I look it back to the shop and put the money towards a Sony D-250 Discman instead.

Here’s a video in Japanese done by someone selling a vintage WMR-202 on Yahoo! Auctions which shows you all the features in more depth.

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Oprah time: The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone by Brian Merchant

I bought this book when it came out in July and have gone back and forth reading it. I’d read books on Silicon Valley before; the Apple eulogising Insanely Great by Steven Levy which told of the graft and hard work that went into the original Macintosh or Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Hafner & Lyon which discussed engineers exceeding long works. My favourite one is still Robert X Cringely’s Accidental Empires that portrays Gates as a coupon-clipping megalomaniac and Steve Jobs as a sociopath cut from the same cloth as Josef Stalin.

Merchant’s The One Device is different. It doesn’t eulogise in the same way, but it also lacks immediacy as it feels detached from its subject matter. Unlike Levy’s work, Apple didn’t cooperate with Merchant at all. The book is broad in scope and sometimes loses its way, each one of the chapters could have been an interesting short book in their own right and this leaves it being faintly unsatisfactory.  I guess this is one of the reasons why it took me so long to read it.

In the meantime the book stirred controversy over quotes attributed to Tony Fadell about then colleague Phil Schiller.  This made me cast a critical eye over some of Merchant’s adventures in the book. In particular inside the Foxconn industrial complex.

On a more positive note, Merchant’s vision is grander than previous authors. One man’s mission to pull all the intellectual threads together on what made up the iPhone. The iPhone moves from becoming the child of an over-worked and under-appreciated Apple engineering team to being the totem of a global village.

If you’ve read a quality newspaper you know what he’s going to say about the global supply chain. He also touches on the decades of software and technology development that led up to the iPhone.  How its multi-touch interface came out of a 1990s doctoral thesis. Ultimately the value of Merchant’s book many not be his writing, but instead becoming a new template for journalists writing on Silicon Valley to look beyond the David & Goliath mono-myth and instead dig into the tangled history of innovation.

The connected home ten years later

A decade ago I worked on AMD Live. A hodgepodge of hardware and software that provided media access where ever and whenever you wanted it.  Here is a short video that we made at the time to bring it to life. The idea was that AMD would be able to sell higher specifications of PC components into the home to act as digital hub. They wanted to push their Opteron server processors into the home.

An engineer came in and spent the best part of a day setting everything up throughout the house prior to shooting the film. At the time much of the streaming boxes didn’t work as promised so some of the screen images were put in post-production. There was a mix of cloud services and home hosted content. At the centre was a PC running Windows Multimedia Centre. There was a raft of third-party apps needed as well

  • Network management apps
  • Video and image compression apps
  • Instant messaging (that wasn’t MSN or Skype – no idea why it was in the bundle)
  • TV tuner software
  • A music jukebox application
  • Network management
  • An AMD GUI which provided a 3D carousel effect and integrated web browser

It was all a bit of kludge.

Digital content was well on its way. Streaming technology was well known but unstructured. RealNetworks had been going commercially since 1997, but the playback quality was dependent on Internet network connectivity, We only started to see widespread DSL adoption from 2003 onwards in the UK. By the first quarter of 2003, DSL was enabled at 1200 of the 5600 telephone exchanges across the UK.

Apple’s QuickTime streaming server was open sourced back in 1999; so if anyone wanted to set up a streaming network they had the technology to do so.

Digital audio content prior to 2003 had largely been ripped from optical media or downloaded online via FTP, Usenet or P2P networks. iTunes launched its music store in 2003.

From a standing start in 2002; by 2004, 5 million devices with a HDMI connection had been sold. The built in copy protection had been developed by an Intel subsidiary and was adopted by all the big Japanese consumer electronics manufacturers.

By 2005, Apple had started selling iTunes movies and TV programmes  alongside its music offering that allowed sharing of an account on up to 5 concurrent devices.

Apple launched its MFi programme in January 2005, which begat a raft of speakers and stereos with iPod connectivity in the home and the car.

Sonos released its speaker system including a wi-fi mesh network and AES network encryption. Flickr had a well documented API that allowed for a fully functioning photo album and picture streaming which was used in early web 2.0 mashups.

AMD Live was on the back-foot from day one. From a high end perspective of audio streaming Sonos had it locked down. For everyone else moving an iPod from room to room had the same effect.  Mini-video servers could be configured from mini-PC boxes, but they were only for the technically skilled. Even the Mac Mini launched in 2005 didn’t make the process much easier. The key advantage is that it could use iTunes as a video source and a playing software.

Back then because it was US centric in its view AMD Live completely ignored the rise of the smartphone as a music playback device.  By 2007, Nokia launched ‘Comes With Music’ which put mobile streaming in play. Apple Music and Spotify have now made streaming effortless. Video playback now comes from devices the size of a thumb drive. New intermediate screens from tablets to smartphones changed viewing habits and the PC has become redundant as the home hub for all but the most enthusiastic AV aficionados.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

In terms of the news agenda, the iPhone launch dominated the news. I wrote about it here and here.  This image from the Chinese internet summed everything about the launch up for me.

Chinese reaction to iPhone X

We’re in a place of innovation stuckness at the moment – we’re celebrating incremental improvements in user experiences on smartphones as transformational, they aren’t. This is a category challenge, not a vendor-specific one. Even infrastructure and component vendor Qualcomm is struggling to envision ways to move things on.

I have been mostly listening to this playlist from this years Love International Festival

And FIP Radio

Japanese group meforyouforme combining traditional Japanese culture and dance with modern tap dancing FTW


Hong Kong stars Donnie Yen and Andy Lau go back to the 1970s with Chasing the Dragon – a thriller based on real characters involved in drug smuggling and organised crime in the turbulent go-go economic boom of Hong Kong – Lee Rock (Lui Lok) was a corrupt policeman nicknamed 500 million dollar Inspector, who avoided corruption charges by moving to Canada and then Hong Kong. Crippled (or Limpy) Ho was a triad called Ng Sek-ho who rivalled the 14K triad group.  It is against the backdrop of the post-1967 riots economic boom which saw Hong Kong blow up in manufacturing and financial services. This brought rich pickings in corruption which led to the formation of the ICAC – the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Apple Special Event and Security

@ WWDC

Apple’s facial recognition has spurred a number of discussions about the privacy trade-offs in the iPhone X.

Experts Weigh Pros, Cons of FaceID Authentication in iPhone X | Dark ReadingOne concern about FaceID is in its current implementation, only one face can be used per device, says Pepijn Bruienne, senior R&D engineer at Duo Security. TouchID lets users register up to five fingerprints. If a third party obtains a user’s fingerprint and reproduces it, and the user is aware, they could register a different unique fingerprint.

Can Cops Force You to Unlock Your Phone With Your Face? | The Atlantic – Even if Face ID is advanced enough to keep pranksters out, many wondered Tuesday if it would actually make it easier for police to get in. Could officers force someone they’ve arrested to look into their phone to unlock it?

How Secure Is The iPhone X’s FaceID? Here’s What We Know | Wired – Marc Rogers, a security researcher at Cloudflare who was one of the first to demonstrate spoofing a fake fingerprint to defeat TouchID. Rogers says he has no doubt that he—or at least someone—will crack FaceID. In an interview ahead of Apple’s FaceID announcement, Rogers suggested that 3-D printing a target victim’s head and showing it to their phone might be all it takes. “The moment someone can reproduce your face in a way that can be played back to the computer, you’ve got a problem,” Roger says. “I’d love to start by 3-D-printing my own head and seeing if I can use that to unlock it.” 

Now lets talk about the Apple Watch, which I consider to present more serious issues.
 
The Apple Watch 3 is interesting from a legislative point-of-view. The software SIM in the Apple Watch clones the number of your iPhone. The security services of the major powers generally don’t broadcast their capabilities. Politicians are generally untroubled by knowledge of what is possible. Giving politicians an inkling is likely to result in broad sweeping authoritarian power. 
Imagine what will happen when Amber Rudd goes into parliament looking for real-time access to everyone’s phones. She now can point to the Apple Watch 3 as evidence that LTE and 3G connections can be cloned. What kind of legislation will her special advisers start cooking up then?

Secondly, it will only be a matter of time before criminals either work out how to do it themselves, or co-opt mobile carrier staff. Two factor authentication that depends on SMS is already compromised. This allows it to be compromised and undetectable.

The Apple Watch 3 may have royally screwed us all.