Archive for December, 2009

My Top 10 Tech of 2009

December 31, 2009

These are my most-often used, most useful, favorite technologies for 2009. They need not be new in 2009 and they are in no particular order. The old standards of browser (Firefox), mail app (Apple Mail) and MS Office are excluded.

1. Evernote

This has replaced Yep as my brain database. My Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M scans PDFs directly into Evernote. I also rely heavily on the web clipping (with Readability, see #4) and the iPhone app — which I use frequently to take pictures of business cards. The paid premium gets me all kinds of attachments so I forward emails to the account. And the OCR is fairly decent. The sync feature makes sure I’m up to date at work and at home. Minor quibble: recent update to the Mac client has changed how Evernote handles email forwarding of notes – now an internal system. I prefer the old method of email attachment which allowed me to choose which email address to send from as well as the ability to append signatures. Hopefully they offer the option to use the old system. Three notebooks (Home/Work/Web) keep me organized in a way that I never would have thought possible. My shredder gets plenty of work and neatness is my (ever-unachievable) goal.


Nothing beats Dropbox for syncing files or sharing. It just works. And the backup retention is a nice little lifesaver. The iPhone app is getting better and certainly works in a pinch when you need to email a file to someone and aren’t near a computer. Minor complaints include the stripping of meta data from files — which forced me to drop Yep and move to Evernote — and the lack of group accounts. With 2GB free, there is no reason not to use it. Everyone should at least try it out. Up yourself to the 50GB paid account and start throwing stuff in there. You’ll be amazed at how handy it is.

3. pyTivoX

While cable card may be coming to the end of its short, miserable life, I still rely on my Series 3 Tivos as the household DVRs. Nothing can make me use the craptastic Time Warner Cable DVRs. But Snow Leopard killed Tivo Desktop — never the best program to begin with — and Tivo doesn’t seem in any real hurry to make the update. In the meantime, pyTivoX is just the thing to move video to the Tivos. The app does one thing and does it well. For free it’s hard to ask for more.

4. Readability

An eminently useful script I’ve added to my browser toolbar. Strips all the crap out of web pages and formats them cleanly which makes them perfect for emailing. The combination Readbaility/Evernote script found here allows one button additions of nicely formatted articles directly into Evernote. Go try it. Even without Evernote it is worth the bookmarked script on your bar.

5. Nikon D300 with Nikon 24-70 2.4 lens

My main camera. The full format 24-70 lens is a beast. Heavy, long, and worth the effort to drag it around. It’ll pair nicely to a full frame digital at some point. In the meantime, the D300 is just the thing for photos. Hard to beat this combination but a medium zoom would be nice. Rumors abound of a fast 50-150 which would fit my shooting style but I’m not holding my breath.

6. 1Password

Managing all the log-ins can be a full-time job. One nicely handled by 1Password. Throw in sync ability through Dropbox and the app is just about perfect. Choose one very hard to crack password and let 1Password do the rest. Make long, unique passwords for all your sites and protect your account. The iPhone app makes sure you have remote access to the info when needed. Worth every penny.

7. Time Machine – Apple OS

A set it and forget backup application built-in to the Apple OS should be used by everyone. I enforce use with all siblings. For those with desktops, buy a 1TB drive, plug in, turn on, and forget about it. For those with laptops, Time Capsule takes care of the chore. Everyone should back up. Dropbox acts somewhat as a backup but all those photos and docs that don’t go into Dropbox get version backups on Time Machine and I know the inevitable call from a sibling about an accidentally deleted file, dead computer, or dropped laptop won’t end in tears. Data loss in inevitable. Time Machine is the best tool for those who can’t seem to do it on their own.

8. Google Apps

Many people confuse Google Apps with google applications. It’s not about search or Picasa but about domain level hosting services. With gmail type accounts, full access to docs, ichat, and all the rest, it can’t be beat as a family solution. It’s free, easy to set up, and so easy to administer. For users it could not be more simple. It’s gmail with their own domain name. Throw in full imap and now exchange abilities and it makes no sense for any family to pay for these services. The paid business version is economical too. Follow the cname editing instructions for your domain register and 20 minutes later, you’re all set. A $10/year domain name becomes a powerful tool. Thanks, Google.

9. Bloglines

I still can’t get used to Google Reader so my RSS reader of choice is still bloglines. I can read/skim hundreds of sites I’ve subscribed to with my morning coffee. It’s got some quirks and is looking long in the tooth and maybe anyone new to RSS feeds should start out with Google Reader for the excellent integration it offers but I’m a creature of habit. Everyone should have an RSS reader though. If you haven’t tried to use one, do so.

10. SSD Drives

Yes, they’re expensive — the 160GB intel G2 runs around $500 — and the lack of TRIM support has caused some issues but both of those problems are abating and the benefits are worth the trade-offs. Speed, speed, and more speed. Plus less heat, no moving parts to crash, and whisper silent. Nothing like an SSD drive to make an older computer feel new. 2010 should see much lower prices, better TRIM support, and more OEM inclusion. Personally, I’m shocked Apple didn’t add a build-to-order SSD option in the new iMacs. A 256GB SSD in the new 27″ iMac would make it an absolute screamer. Grab a big external for video and archiving and all is perfect. Maybe next year. In the meantime, evaluate your storage needs and consider springing for a SSD. Phenomenal upgrade.


Speaking of next year…things I look forward to: the Apple iTablet (by whatever name it is called), faster home bandwidth, more streaming/download video choices, more full frame digitals from Nikon and some new lenses, and a whole host of crap I didn’t even know I needed. Which is why I would bet that 3 years from now, more than half my Top 10 list above has been relegated to the dust-bin of my life. Such is progress.

Happy New Year

Learn from El-Al: Hire Isaac Yeffet

December 29, 2009

So glad I’m not flying anywhere right now. The situation is ridiculous. We constantly “defend” against the last attack. Remove our shoes, now get patted down, heaven help us if some terrorist decides to hide a bomb up his ass. We’ll all end up with a $9/hour TSA agent’s gloved hand giving us the full bent-over probe.

How many millions of wasted hours have our security protocols created? Without creating actual security.

And I might be one of the big fans of technology, but new scanners and more tech isn’t the answer. We, as Americans, tend to look to tech as the ultimate solution whether it is the best or not.

I may hate the “security theater” we seem to practice but my opinion on what to do is meaningless. So listen to the guy who does know: Isaac Yeffet, the former head of El Al airlines

Go here to see the Fox News interview.

Can we please hire this guy to head up TSA? Pretty please.

Unless there is some solid research that shows there is a greater chance a terrorist will blow up my plane using an iPod 47 minutes before landing versus 68 minutes before landing, for the love of pete, will someone please bring some sanity back to our air travel security?

Really. Another moronic congress-person on TV baying about this will make me puke. Instead of creating the full-police state system with high-school drop-outs watching the scanners, we can actually create real security. I’m fed up with the facade of safety we perpetuate while inconveniencing everyone.

Hire Isaac Yeffet and let’s get real about security.

The New Digital Battleground: Television

December 28, 2009

Fox’s contract with Time Warner Cable expires at the end of this year. To make up for declining advertising revenue, Fox is demanding $1 per subscriber per month. That’s double what TWC pays CBS. Stand-off with Fox stations being pulled from TWC if no agreement is reached. Between Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, YouTube, etc, it’s obvious television is changing. In some ways this is similar to what happened to the music majors.

Like the music biz, the content owners are looking at declining revenues and demanding to make it up someplace else. Music streaming is an unsustainable business plan because the fees are so high. Similarly,TV advertising is down so content woners like Fox want to jack up the cable fees. It may work for awhile but these costs get passed down to the consumer and cable starts to look less and less attractive. You end up pushing your customers to the alternative.

Which isn’t all bad. If you have a business model for the alternative. I figured out over two years ago that ditching cable would save me a boatload of money every year. But I couldn’t part with news and sports. Now, two years later, I can get the HD versions of everything and I’m pretty sure I could figure out how to stream sports and news if I really wanted to.

Cable to me — and many people — is becoming a huge TCP/IP pipe. A slow one when compared to the rest of the world. As the broadcasters and cable channels jack up rates, the value of content on cable actually declines. Just give me a pipe — preferably a fast, Fios pipe — and I’ll get what I want. The MSOs are losing control of distribution. And when that happens, as the music biz shows, you’re in trouble. Sure, I’ll still need internet access, but I’ll handle the rest on my own.

The cable companies have hedged this issue by integrating back and buying content owners. But the content owners are in for a little turbulence themselves.

TV content isn’t like the music biz. For one, people consume mostly fresh content. The music industry relied on catalog sales too much. The old lions of the industry — Pink Floyd, The Who, the Beatles — drove a huge chunk of sales. Sure, there are a few DVD sets of I Love Lucy and MASH that get sold but most TV content consumed is fresh. Throw in live content, like sports, news, and talk shows, and television has more valuable content than the music industry could ever dream about.

So there’s value there. People will pay. Without cable, I would certainly subscribe to download (Amazon or iTunes) to a bunch of shows. And the economics are better. My purchase of a season of Mad Men is a multiple higher of what they would have made on me from the CPM on the advertising. That’s not the problem. Selling me a show I want to watch is easy. I’m already sold. I’ll take Mets and Jets streaming too. Done. But how did they get me to watch Mad Men? How did they launch the show, build word of mouth, build good buzz, reviews, ratings?

There’s a decades old system for creating hits. Same as the music biz. Control distribution, use lead-ins, market, use the right time-slots, stuff the unsold advertising with promos and use on-air bugs to plug upcoming shows, etc. What if there are no time-slots? No lead-ins? No annoying video bugs in the lower, right corner? Media doesn’t adapt to change easily. In an all download/streaming world, it’s pretty easy to see how the low-rated first two seasons of Seinfeld would never have lived long enough to make it to the cultural phenomenon it eventually became.

Right now, there’s football and American Idol at stake. For TWC, there’s big talk about setting price precedents and burdening consumers with ever-higher cable bills. For Fox, the PR babble is about how much their content is worth. And both sides are right. Viewers want their Idol and football but cable bills are rising much faster than inflation (thanks ESPN!). An impasse that will most get worked out one way or another, even if it means the unlikely case of Fox going dark for a few days. Point proved, deal made, everyone moves on.

But there are seismic shifts happening. Content a la carte is the fact. Whether Congress forces MSOs to unbundle cable and let me pick and choose my desired stations or I bypass the cable company and go straight to iTunes, hulu, youtube, or torrents; the bottom line is: distribution control is over. I’m in charge. Soon, content owners will find out exactly how valuable their content is to consumers. Some may be pleasantly surprised. Others will be devastated. But it will also occur just as they face the new reality that the music biz has faced for years — it’s really, really hard to break new hits without distribution control.

We can’t live without our television. We want it fresh, HD, and now. That’s the major plus. The content owners — with some muss and fuss — should be able to figure it out. I doubt ESPN remains the massive cash growth cow Disney has milked from it even with the smart move of Monday Night Football.

The MSOs have a lot more to lose. They’re going to be a dumb pipe. Throw in net neutrality and they become the water utility. I pay for it, it delivers me all I want, but I could care less about them — until the water stops flowing. Uptime becomes their metric, not content.

A la carte is here. Maybe it arrives slower than we expect. Maybe not. And then there’s the Apple tablet…

Papal Copyright: Pope On A Rope Hangs Self

December 20, 2009

According to the Catholic News Agency, the Pope has decided to finally go all RIAA on the world and start defending the Papal image. A copyright was filed. I kid not.

[The] Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that “it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church.”

The declaration alludes to attempts to use ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to “attribute credibility and authority to initiatives” as another reason to establish their “copyright” on the Holy Father’s name, picture and coat of arms.

Is this the end of Pope On A Rope? Pope condoms? Or my personal favorite, the Pope Teddy Bear

I’m pretty sure someone in the Papal legal department doesn’t understand the difference between a copyright and a trademark but I do look forward to Swiss Guard raids on street vendors in the next city the Pope goes to. And a free Pope Snuggie to the person who can email me the first Papal Take-Down notice for unauthorized use of image on their website.

What Is Your Contact List Worth?

December 9, 2009

The Dragon speech-to-text app for the iPhone has been released and while most of the reviews are generally positive, there has been some chatter about the fact that the app uploads the names from your iPhone address book up to their servers. Their reasoning is the names help the quality of their speech-to-text product.

Sure, it makes some logical sense as proper names are most likely the hardest to transcribe correctly but fairly scary. But fear not, they claim to suck down all those names in a safe manner! Ah, reliance on the corporate powers drawing a line and promising us they shall stay to one side of it. Silly me.

Of course, the concept of, “no personally identifying information” is really cold comfort these days. There are plenty of data scrubbers that manage to re-assemble the full profile anyway. But “no personally identifying information” seems to be the get-out-of-jail free card used by companies these days, a catch-all panacea to soothe our worried minds.

Sure, I just uploaded every little thing about you up to skynet but it’s OK because it doesn’t include any personally identifying information. I’m not even sure what that means. Who decides? How hard is it really to identify me?

I guess we must either truly trust and accept that no personally identifying information will be collected or remain paranoid luddites and refuse to install the offending software or join that site (Linkedin, Plaxo, etc).

The outcry over Dragon Dictation’s hoovering of your iPhone’s address book (names only! and no personally identifying information!!) is even more interesting with the recent Corcoran ruling.

A landmark court ruling against one of the city’s largest residential brokerages for stealing a terminated broker’s electronic client list was upheld Tuesday. The decision reaffirmed that intangible property like electronic files can be physically stolen and that a client list is the property of a broker, though the court cut the brokerage losses on the case by a cool $1.2 million.

What’s that address book worth? To ex-Corcoran broker, Sarit Shmueli, a cool $1.6 million.

What’s it worth to the average web surfer? Not all that much as we seem to give away our address books and so much more.

So did I install Dragon on my iPhone? I passed.

I have enough apps, don’t really see the need, and prefer to protect the semblance of personally identifiable information left me.

From now on I prefer to be known as “24601″ but please just don’t tell anyone that’s me.

Apple and Lala

December 5, 2009

With the rumors heating up about Apple buying Lala, it seems the web is focused on the subscription side of things.

But the first thing I thought when I saw Google’s Chrome for netbooks due next year, “what about iTunes?”

If the dumb terminal works — and Google is one of a handful that actually has a shot of doing so — the missing piece will be iTunes and iPod sync and music. With limited local storage, sync doesn’t really matter. It will be more like a heavily cached stream that should — even with limited storage — permit at least a few hours of local cache. But iTunes only runs as a local app not web cloud. I wouldn’t even be able to access iTunes at all on Chromium.

But Lala is web cloud. Perfect.

There’s also the distinct possibility that web cloud streaming access and integration with an iTunes account could be extremely important for the Yeti-like Apple tablet not yet spied in the wild.

Maybe “subscription” and all that comes with that business model is what Apple is actually after. Somehow, I don’t believe it. I don’t see this as driven by the business model but by the fact that iTunes is application based and Apple doesn’t have a web based product ready so it is easier to buy one.

Web cloud streaming capabilities seems more likely with how the wind is blowing with netbooks and the rumored iTablet.


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