MP3 – What’s it all about?

By: Robert O’Connor
In the early 1980s, the Moving Pictures Experts Group (MPEG) was set up by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to develop a standard for the encoded representation of pictures. After a meeting held in Hanover in 1988, MPEG decided to increase its responsibility and added sound formats to its area of standardisation. The result of this was MPEG-1 Layer 3, which has become known throughout the world by its more user-friendly file extension name, MP3.
MP3 is based around the idea of file compression. File compression techniques are used by computer systems to reduce the amount of space required to store information without any notable loss of data. A good example of this is the following simple text compression algorithm. Consider the sentence:
“Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country”
This sentence contains 82 characters (mainly letters) making 18 English words and various punctuation marks. If we assign a unique identifier to each word in the sentence such as:
1 ask
2 not
3 what
4 your
5 country
6 can
7 do
8 for
9 you
and rewrite the sentence using these identifiers, instead of the words we get:
“1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9, 10 1 3 9 6 7 8 4 5″
we can decrease the amount of disk space required to store it on a computer system. The table defining what each identifier stands for (lookup table) must also be stored, so in the case of this example any saving would be negligible. However, by using this simple algorithm with a large text file, we could noticeably reduce the amount of storage disk space required.
Research into the compressed storage of audio signals was carried out by a group of scientists in Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Bavaria under the supervision of Karlheinz Brandenburg. Brandenburg applied this idea of file compression to audio waveforms and greatly reduced the amount of memory required to store these signals without any significant loss in quality. He utilized work performed in the field of psychoacoustics, which is the study of how the human ear and brain perceive sound, to develop a compression algorithm called perceptual filtering. This algorithm is based on the following characteristics of the human ear:
* There are sounds the ear cannot hear.
* There are sounds the ear hears better than others.
* When two sounds are being played at the same time, the ear hears the louder one and ignores the softer one.
By using these facts, certain parts of a sound wave can be eliminated without any noticeable loss in quality to the listener. This is the basis of MP3 file compression.
MP3 compression is most impressive when compared with the way compact discs store audio information. CDs use a high-resolution, uncompressed sampling technique to store sound. Music is sampled at 44,100 times per second, with each sample being 2 bytes (i.e. 16 ones or zeroes) in length. In a stereo system, samples are taken for both left and right speaker channels, so this increases the storage space by a factor of 2.
So an average three-minute song takes up 32 million bytes or 32 Megabytes of memory and an album of 12 three minutes songs would take up 384 Megabytes. Imagine how much space would be required to store any reasonably sized album collection?
On a computer’s hard disk, this is considered impractical use of space. Using the MP3 file format however, CD audio can be compressed by a factor of 10 to 14 without any noticeable reduction in quality. So our three-minute song now takes up roughly 3 Megabytes, which is a significant improvement. It is still too big to fit on a floppy disk, but you can fit many such files on bigger Iomega Zip Disks, or a hard disk.
The main force behind the popularity of MP3 technology is the overwhelmingly large number of quality products that are freely available for download to the general public. If you type the words “MP3″ into a search engine (e.g. you can see this for yourself. One of the most popular MP3 products is Winamp (, which allows users to play MP3 files, create playlists and customize the look and feel of the program. Other products, such as Musicmatch Jukebox ( have an added recording feature, which gives users the opportunity to create MP3s from their existing CD collections and if they have a CD-Writer, create CDs from their MP3 collection. Most of these programs allow users to download their files to handheld MP3 devices like the MP3 Walkman, now becoming less expensive and more popular.
Of course, major record companies are taking a negative stance with MP3 as they claim the free distribution of MP3 tracks hurts revenues, takes away from artists’ incomes and thus decreases their ability to create new music. These arguments were cited in the recent Napster case, which gained much publicity. Those on the pro-MP3 side state that MP3 is more consumer friendly, and affords people greater flexibility with their musical choice. This is a debate that will continue for some time yet and the outcome will greatly affect the way the music industry operates.
Notwithstanding the opposition, MP3 technology has been so widely adopted experts agree that it is here to stay, whatever form it may take in the future.

Bluetooth: Cutting the cord

By: Shane McCormack
Harald Blaatand (Bluetooth) II, King of Denmark from 940-981AD, was not like other Vikings. In the first place he had a dark complexion and very dark hair, and in the second place, instead of the usual Viking activities of pillaging and plundering, he spent most of his time converting Denmark to Christianity and uniting Denmark and Norway in peace.
Not to be outdone by this spirit of teamwork and collaboration, albeit more than a thousand years later, another Scandinavian institution, Ericsson (the company), launched an initiative in 1994 to study low-power, low-cost radio interface between mobile phones and their accessories. The idea behind this research was to break down the barriers between different communications devices and from this a new technology, which literally cuts the cord that used to tie up digital devices, called Bluetooth was born.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology based on a short-range radio link. By using a radio-based link it connects different devices together giving the user the freedom to roam. Its key features are robustness, low complexity, low power and low cost. The standard is aimed at achieving global acceptance so that any Bluetooth device, anywhere in the world, can connect to other Bluetooth devices in its proximity, regardless of brand. The technology also offers wireless access to Local Area Networks (LANs), Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTNs), the mobile phone network and the Internet for a host of home appliances and portable handheld interfaces. Putting it technically, Bluetooth uses frequency-hopping, spread-spectrum (FHSS) communication in the 2.4-GHz industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) band, in which unlicensed devices are permitted to communicate in most countries of the world.
In 1998 Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Nokia and Toshiba formed the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). Then in 2000 the Bluetooth SIG was joined by 3COM, Lucent Technologies, Microsoft and Motorola. Today more than 2000 companies are members of the Bluetooth SIG.
By having the Bluetooth technology you can have:
* Instant, automatic access to your personal and business data
* Your electronic devices wirelessly and spontaneously synchronising with each other
* Access to the Internet/intranet from wherever you are
* Instant networking with airlines, hotels, theatres, retail stores and restaurants for automatic check in, meal selection, purchases and electronic payment.
With Bluetooth you can synchronize the information on one Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), such as a palmtop, with another PDA. You can synchronize your PDA with your mobile phone, with your laptop and with your PC. And this is done with no strings attached, or no wires at any rate!
You can also use a Bluetooth PDA or notebook to connect with a local access point or utilize a Bluetooth-compatible mobile telephone to access e-mail.
For example if you’re a techno savvy business traveller just arriving at your flight destination you can configure your laptop (carry-on luggage of course) to communicate with your mobile phone via a local Bluetooth connection. With access through your mobile phone via the public telephone network, you can access the Internet or synchronize your e-mail while on your way to the rental car counter or in transit to your hotel.
If you have a mobile phone headset enabled with Bluetooth technology you can be connected to a phone worn on your belt or mounted in your automobile. With Bluetooth-enabled car kits drivers can use their mobile phone and still keep their hands on the steering wheel.
Bluetooth is a huge technology, which is rapidly growing and expanding globally and already a substantial amount of Bluetooth products are available to purchase that range from Bluetooth-enabled mobiles to a digital camcorder which lets you e-mail your digital still photos and MPEG e-Movies when you’re miles from the nearest PC (you can even surf the Web on the colour LCD screen of this camera).
Bluetooth is changing the face of the mobile world so watch this space for the next generation in wireless technology.

A More Useful Internet

By: Parisch Browne
Consider ‘Joe’ (Joe Soap), who has four children and likes to holiday in the sun and near the Mediterranean in particular. When Joe does an Internet keyword search for ‘holiday’, he will be presented with a mass of information, most of which will be irrelevant to him.
If you have used the Internet you will be familiar with this scenario of searching for information and being presented with numerous results that are not relevant.
At the Telecommunications Systems Software Group (TSSG) at Waterford Institute of Technology we are working on the GUARDIANS project, in conjunction with seven other academic institutes and commercial organisations, to replace this scenario with one where when Joe performs a search the search system will know of Joe’s preference for the sun and of his kids. It will use this and other information to ensure that Joe receives only relevant results and therefore can more quickly obtain the required information/content. In this case his search for ‘holiday’ will highly rate results, which are related to the Mediterranean and cater for families.
Let’s consider a second scenario. ‘Joanne’ (Joanne Soap) is a senior astrologist working for the Irish Space Agency, and she wishes to do a search for material on the planet Venus. If the search keywords ‘planet’ and ‘Venus’ are entered Joanne will probably receive results but it is also likely (as she is the senior astrologist) that she is not interested in elementary information but only in more advanced information on the planet.
Our system will take this into account and therefore provide her with more relevant results. The system also considers accessibility preferences (e.g. whether Joanne has the ability to play videos on her machine or display certain types of fonts/documents). This is important as she may be connecting and searching from her home PC, her work PC, her WAP-enabled mobile phone, her Internet-enabled Digital TV Box or some other device, and the results that are relevant may vary depending on this device. She could be on the train travelling home from work, doing a search using her mobile phone. She may search for video satellite footage of Venus, and if she receives any relevant hits she can have them streamed to her home PC where they will be waiting on her return.
The important point here is that the system will know what platforms/devices Joanne has and what the capabilities of each are.
In a nutshell this European Commission sponsored project enables the user to exploit advanced search facilities that match his/her ever changing interests, past experiences and available resources, to the available content from a series of service providers, thus providing a more relevant Internet experience.
GUARDIANS stands for ‘Gateway for User Access to Remote Distributed
Information and Network Services’, and more information can be found at the Guardians website

A Brief History of the Internet

By: Keith Hearne
In the late 1960s a group of researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were investigating the importance of the networking concept of packet switching (transporting information between computers). This, coupled with the idea of a Galactic Network put to them by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), became the seed from which the Internet came into being. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that DARPA began work on a project known as ‘the Internetting Project’ whose objective it was to design and develop communication protocols (sets of rules), which would allow networked computers to communicate transparently with each other. The result of this project was the creation of a system of protocols known as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol), this protocol suite forms the backbone of the Internet today.
The use of TCP/IP became more widespread over time; its growth was aided by the fact that the software was public domain, that is, accessible by everyone, and the basic technology was decentralized. This meant that people could link up to other networks of computers that were also in the public domain. Entire networks fell into the digital embrace of the Internet, forming a branching complex of networks. Just as the phone network had done so before, the computer network began to generate more and more revenue, and became more valuable as it encompassed larger territories of computers and resources.
The Internet’s growth and popularity was greatly helped in the 1980′s by a number of groups, some of which became commercial network providers investing in the development of the major backbone and connectivity of computer networks. The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), through its Office of Advanced Scientific Computing initiated this move in 1986. The new NSFNET set a blistering pace for technical advancement, linking newer, faster, shinier supercomputers, through thicker, faster links, upgraded and expanded, again and again, in 1986, 1988, and 1990. American government agencies such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Energy also came on board, each of them maintaining a digital satrapy in the Internet confederation.
A node is a computer on the network and as the nodes in the network grew and spread geographically it became necessary to divide domains logically, hence the naming suffixes we have today. For example, .ie for Ireland, for companies in the UK, and so on for different geographical locations around the world. This added to the six basic Internet domains: .gov, .mil, .edu, .com, .org and .net.
* Gov, mil and edu – denote governmental, military and educational institutions, which were the pioneers, since the Internet had begun as a high-tech research exercise in national security.
* Com – stands for commercial institutions, the most popular prefix today.
* Org – non profit organizations.
* Net – gateways between other networks.
In 1971, thirty-one years ago, there were only four nodes in the Internet network. Today there are millions of them, scattered over practically every country in the world with millions if not billions of users. In the early 1990′s the Internet experienced a rapid growth rate, which by technology standards probably has not been equalled, and could only be compared with the recent explosion of mobile phones. The Internet has infiltrated and almost inadvertently permeated into everyday life in modern society, with people doing everything from buying to learning on the Internet.
Despite its humble origins the Internet looks like it is firmly integrated into society today, and is here to stay.
For further information, or for more in depth history of the Internet check out the following websites:
Brief History of Related Networks
Brief History of the Net
Internet & Web History

Irish SMEs not ready for Broadband associated costs

By: Helen Barry
Recent figures released by the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (CCI), showed that 81% of Irish SMEs were content with dial-up access to the Internet and that cost implications meant that they were not in a position to take up broadband offerings.
John Dunne, the Chief Executive of CCI, stated that ‘the focus of Internet access in Ireland and talk of broadband offerings needs to change rapidly as there is a strong demand for an always on flat-rate access, for which the infrastructure is already in place, but this requires the effective unbundling of the local loop. John Dunne expanded his concerns further and explained that the research shows that the demand for broadband access does not yet exist and rather than looking at increasing the cost of supply we should look at what will stimulate demand. Only when significant demand has been generated will the market be attractive for telecommunications investors.
With respect to these developments, IBEC (Irish Business and Employers Confederation) recommended that telecommunication providers should be allowed to raise the cost of services to business. However, the CCI rejects this recommendation as Ireland is already one of the most expensive places to rent leased lines among OECD countries. Therefore, IBEC’s proposal would, in effect, further penalise those businesses using such services, particularly those outside the Dublin area, rather than stimulate greater demand. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) should be concerned with cutting costs in business but Ireland’s telecommunications infrastructure makes that very difficult for all but the largest businesses.

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