Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Word of the Day: pentalobe

January 24, 2011

Apple’s insidious plan to “lock” down iPhones has been making the rounds. And is there anything more nefarious than Latin? Pentalobe. The very word is scary. Like Pentagram. And earlobe. Or something.

By reading the articles, one could easily conclude that Apple, the second largest company in the world and one of the best run, best managed, has made yet another anti-consumer move, another plotted, concerted, specific effort to lock us out of our own electronics. First they shift to non-user replaceable batteries now they change to some strange, Latin screw! The pattern is unmistakable, the intent is clear. Apple, the very puny writers say, is trying to screw us all! hahaha get it? Screw us! But when you stop laughing you realize there’s some truth behind every pun, a sad, bitter truth that Apple has indeed screwed us all.

Yes, I know. We will all miss those sunny weekend mornings, waking up early, making a cup of coffee, a bowl of oatmeal, and unscrewing our iPhone cases to get inside and look around. Maybe do a little deep cleaning. Or replace a part from the Pimp My iPhone collection. Sure, no one can see that chrome dock connector but just knowing it is there gives one a sense of satisfaction. Or did. Until Apple locked us all out. F&^%ers.

But what’s that? A white knight in the distance?  It’s Google! the company that hears no evil, sees no evil, does no evil, rushes to the rescue. A Google search reveals this, a $6 pentalobe screwdriver at Amazon!

Ah Apple, foiled again.

So hold your $6 pentalobe screwdrivers high and revel in the victory for freedom everywhere!

While we may be locked out of our consumer gadgets someday, today is not that day. So take out your electric shaver or band saw or microwave oven. Find those screws! Open those cases! For not Apple nor Black & Decker nor GE shall keep us out. Not today, not tomorrow. Not ever!

 

Tech Inventory 2010

December 28, 2010

I’m sure by this time next year, this will seem woefully inadequate and in five years will seem feeble. In ten years it will seem laughable and in twenty years it will just be quaint.

As of today, our apartment contains:

5 full fledged computers in the form of a MacPro, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and 2 Mac Minis

Total Cores: 2.66Ghz octocore in the MacPro and the rest are dual cores around the 2Ghz level so total of 16 CPU cores for all five computers. Call it 38Ghz of CPU power

Total RAM: 28GB

Total Internal Storage: 7TB of hard drive and 512GB of SSD

Network Attached Storage: 750GB in RAID 1

Total Backup/External Storage: 1TB Time Capsule and 4TB RAID 5

2 Ipads, both with 64MB of SSD storage. 1 with 3G cellular access

Cable modem connection averaging about 25Mbit down and 5Mbit up

We have one router/WAP as well as two other wireless access points. All 5Ghz N based

one 8 port gigabit ethernet switch

three 5 port gigabit ethernet switches

3 IP cams

2 cell phones (iPhone 4 and Blackberry Curve)

 

 

Kickstarter

November 18, 2010

Need $8,000 to start your dream of a Lebanese food truck in Asheville, NC?

How about $1,200 to print a kids book about a monkey?

or $15,000 to manufacture some ultra-geeky iPod nano watch straps?

Then kickstarter is the place to be. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff there that looks like it will never get funded but I am in awe of the stuff that does. Or, in the case of the watch straps above, how over $136,000 can be pledged so quickly.

Kickstarter is one of the better executed plays on the concept. A more organized, official version of the bulletin board group buy. And while the arts funding is nice, it’s the inventor side that will ultimately garner the most interest. Like that geeky nano watch above.

Yeah, I pledged $70.

Got an idea you want to kickstart?

 

 

 

More Dumbness

November 3, 2010
In regards to Apple’s pitch to making song samples 90 seconds…
“It’s like giving away ice cream samples–someone has to pay the cost,” said Rick Carnes, president of the Songwriters Guild of America. “I think it would be a good thing for consumers to go to 90 seconds. But they’re tripling the amount of time, and they want it for free. I think there ought to be compensation. I believe anytime you use music, you ought to reward the people making the music.”  

Yup. Just like ice cream samples.

Except for that fact that ice cream has a cost of goods sold.
But doesn’t a sample have a cost? infrastructure, bandwidth, etc?
Yup, but that’s paid by Apple…
So someone does pay the cost and it is not the Songwriters Guild of America.
yet another example of the old-line orgs just not getting it

“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”

October 19, 2010

The second largest company in the world reported earnings last night and one of the break-outs is: iPod sales continue to decline.

Extrapolate what you wish: saturation is near peak, no compelling reason to upgrade, etc

The fact remains, iPod sales are down 4% from last quarter and 11% year over year. Meanwhile, AppleTV did decently, iPhone continues to sell in record numbers, and the iPad, which didn’t even exist 6 months ago, sold $2.8 billion.

Compare the 9 million iPods sold last quarter with the 4 million iPads and it is clear where the momentum is headed.

With Apple focused on iPad and iPhone and even AppleTV finally becoming more than a “hobby,” it seems that the iPod will become more and more irrelevant to Apple’s numbers.

Apple has 70% share of music players and has set its sights on other mediums.

If the single largest company acting as the largest driver of music consumption and music sales no longer cares so much about music, what does that mean for the music industry?

There’s a chance Google puts some pizazz back in the game but I’m betting Google’s more focused on tablets and smartphones, just like Apple is.

Maybe some lawsuits can spice things up? Without Glee, it seems, no one would care at all.

Grouch Marx can still tickle the funny bone but even he couldn’t get a laugh on the state of affairs in the music biz.

 

 

The Little Things

October 14, 2010

Why is Apple the only company whose batteries in their products arrive already charged?

Whether it be an iPhone, a MacBook, an iPad or iPod, unboxed, unwrapped, they are already charged and ready to go.

Is this so hard for other manufacturers to understand? Is it that complicated or expensive to add charged batteries to the assembly line?

In this world on instantaneous, where everything is now, I don’t get dropping $1,000 on a laptop and making the buyer wait 3 hours or more for a full charge.

It might seem small. Oh so little. And certainly an uncharged battery is that much better than no battery at all.

The infamous, “batteries not included”  now lives on as the troglodyte moniker, a sign that old-fashioned AA or AAA or even the rare and mostly flashlight-ridden C or D cells will be required. A sure sign of low-tech, of a product not worthy of lithium-ion baked goodness. I’m not sure babies born today will even really understand these lettered cylinders, will ever know the joy and thrill of a 9-volt on their tongues.

Hell, the coolest gadgets these days — Apple — don’t allow the consumer access to the battery at all. The battery only exists as a bar graph, an, existential computation of time where marketing and engineering set out to illustrated Einstein’s twin paradox. Can a 7 hour battery only last 3 hours?

But Apple products come fully charged, ready to use. No tabs to pull, no compartments to open, no + or – signs stamped in dark, cheap plastic. No sign of batteries at all. Push the power button and it just turns on.

Nothing else I buy from anyone else comes pre-charged. And each time I need to install the battery, plug in the unwieldy power brick and wait for the full, first-time charge, I am reminded why Apple is the second largest company in the world.

Even when you get big, really big, you still need to pay attention to the little things.

 

News Flash: Music Labels Still Stupid

September 4, 2010

A Reuters article Thursday hints at Google’s new music play to launch this December. With the off-the-record music exec quotes, this ham-handed attempt to posture while negotiating with Apple actually hints upon on salient point: ubiquitous access to your content library is coming soon.

Easily the coolest feature of Apple’s music event presentation on Wednesday is Air Play which, for the first time, begins to really show off the concept of Content Anywhere. This Anywhere is Apple’s closed ecosystem where things normally just work but it includes the computer, the smart phone, the tablet and the television. By my reckoning, except for some failed whacko attempts by Microsoft, this will be the first time I will be able to access my content across my screens seamlessly. It’s pretty damn cool and knowing Apple, it will change how consumers perceive their interaction with content. Like the iPod, consumers will recognize how something is supposed to work and then demand that from all other players. A new norm for expectations will be set.

This is typical Apple evolution. First it is all my content on any screen within my network and then, when it’s ready and consumers are ready, it is all my content on all my screens anywhere I have net access: Cloud content. Google is trying to skip steps and negotiate the big play right upfront; see Google TV project and now Google Cloud music.

In a world where consumers want content anywhere and Cloud is the future, it seems the music labels are once again a few years behind the times. The licenses required for Cloud streaming means the labels get to negotiate with Apple again. Those talks are happening now hence the clumsy attempt to “leak” the Google negotiations. I’m pretty sure, Android activations aside, Apple isn’t going to cave to label demands because Google is trying to get a seat at the party. Amazon’s music initiative isn’t a failure. It’s quite decent but it doesn’t scare Apple with its low teens market share.

So here we are, 2010, and the labels have finally embraced digital. Now the chalk on the sidewalk shows Cloud content will be the next frontier and what do the Labels want? To double dip the chip. The Labels want to be paid per song downloaded and then again for cloud streaming ability. Ahh, the ever dumb greed of terminally ill companies. But the Labels do have a point. Apple has become the main arbiter of music hits. An iTunes plug on the store’s main page is worth tons of downloads and an Apple commercial  on TV with your music is practically guaranteed Platinum. The Labels depend on Apple for their digital growth and loath Apple for stealing their power. Not that it was a big heist. No need to re-hash how the Labels’ stupidity and greed decimated their revenue and their control positions at the same time.

But now, with the upcoming and dramatic shift to cloud, the Labels have another chance to right their wrongs, to see the future and anticipate it rather than react to it. Instead of trying to milk it for any near-term money they can squeeze from the turnip, they can create a powerful, new model but only if they are willing to leave their new-found digital download revenues behind. It took them a full decade to accept the new revenue stream and they won’t abandon it so lightly. But now is the time for courage not more of the same. Cloud, like all technology shifts, is an opportunity.

Step One: Allow Cloud access to be ubiquitous. A simple log-in open API should let everyone and anyone’s program to allow me access to my cloud. A small per-user fee can be charged to the application for the access. Not more than $0.10/user. If they try and lock it behind a whole host of crappy DRM, it will just fail.

Step Two: Create two classes of Cloud access: Basic and Premium. Basic would use a customized P2P network but rather than uploading and downloading files, the P2P network recognizes the songs in the library and uses collective streaming capability. Bandwidth and quality of service would be limited for the Basic service. Premium can add a nominal monthly fee and unlimited cloud storage. Digital download revenue is somewhat preserved for the near term as the transition begins but core focus is Cloud access and creating the Cloud revenue stream

Step Three: Have an open and completely transparent measurement system to allocate usage revenue among rights holders. Administration should be no more than 10% of total revenue. Ever. Payments should be made monthly and annual, third-party audits must be conducted. If Artists don’t trust the system it won’t work. If consumers don’t get immense benefit, it will also fail.

ASCAP is probably in the best position to tackle the tangle of rights, stakeholders, and egos involved. Unfortunately, ASCAP is a backward association more interested in focusing on trying to use Federal muscle to staunch the “devaluation of its members’ rights in the Internet environment,” than actually leading the industry to the future. But they do have an iOS app that allows members to check their ever diminishing royalties with their iPhone. How exciting.

At the end of the day, Google won’t get anything near what it will need to really create a compelling Cloud music service. The Labels will try and use Google as leverage against Apple who will also be hamstrung by the Labels. But Apple with its  Air Play, when it launches complete with its own ecosystem of licensed products, will once again raise the bar to where consumers will demand more access, more Cloud, more content on more screens. Hollywood, it seems, is eventually going to give Apple the perfect platform to demo how cool Content Anywhere can be. While I’ll be throwing that movie from my TV onto my iPad to finish watching on my cab ride on 3G, I still won’t have true, full access to my music outside my network. Consumers will easily see the gaping hole of music streaming and the intrepid will, as they always do, find ways around the lack of functionality. To the labels detriment.

The labels will still be fighting to preserve last decade’s download-per-song digital revenue stream as the Cloud floats on by.

Or they can really give Google a real Cloud offering that will allow consumers easy access anywhere and everywhere. What are the odds?

Random iPad Thoughts

August 20, 2010

It’s been a few months for both the blog and iPad. Enough distance for some thoughts:

1) It’s a great e-reader. I use the Kindle app.

2) Sync needs to be re-thought. First, USB3 adoption should become standard. Sync takes too damn long. And background, wireless, trickle sync should be adopted as well. This will just get worse as capacities get larger and larger. (this goes for the iphone too)

3) The rumors of smaller, lighter don’t faze me. Would be welcome. But Jobs will never sacrifice battery life for weight. Apple stands alone as pushing battery life boundaries. Battery run time is one of the best features of the iPad. I never really worry about running out of juice. Apple’s focus on battery time is smart.

4) It’s time for Apple to do another giant slate clean that wipes out all compatibility with the past: the ipod data/power port needs to be totally rethought. Incorporation of higher data speeds (see USB3) sure but even just as power port it is still so clunky. What was once elegant is now old. Yes, Apple will undoubtedly retain a proprietary nature so it can impose its iPod/iPad tax but the current port has hit the limits of its life. Some port adapter for cars kits, etc could handle transition duties. Such slate wipes are never easy but better to do so now.

5) It’s pathetic that the calendar app is so bad and that Apple’s own apps — like iTunes remote and the MobileMe Gallery app — have not yet been updated as native iPad apps. The calendar could really shine on this.

6) Calendar on both iPad and iPhone needs to be able to open ICS files. Like yesterday.

7) If smaller, lighter version of iPad includes anything close to Retina display, I’m all for it. The screen on the iPhone 4 is so good, looking at anything else is always a let down.

8 ) Cloud, streaming, needs to be here now. Along with the rewrite of the bloated iTunes code. So too remote access. I should be able to access my Mac’s iPhoto library on the run.

9) Need to disable unlock screen for instant touch on. That will go well with..

10) Just ordered this: The Wallee.

Next Arms Race: Cutting Classes

May 5, 2010

It was just a matter of time. Northern Arizona University is installing some RFID readers in large classrooms. The readers will track attendance from the student ID cards in the room. Presumably, the student ID cards will be on each student rather than a whole stack of them in someone’s pocket.Yeah, right.

Predictably, the students are rebelling.

It’s a brand new world out there.

The Simplest Things

March 21, 2010

I’ve been a relatively happy Tivo owner for about 10 years. I hate the set-tops from the MSOs, slow, buggy, annoying heat machines. So I use Tivos exclusively. Over the years I have migrated from the Series 1 to to Series 2 to the combo DVD unit and finally to the Series 3 boxes that use cable cards do HD. Now the cable cards have their own issues which aren’t Tivos fault and eventually there is the faint glimmer of hope that the FCC will actually get off its ass and do something to truly open up the MSOs to third-party boxes. But as it stands now, no MSO video on demand and I avoid the SDV box so I do lose out on some services.

I can live with that. Not Tivo’s fault.

But the announcement of the newest Tivo model, the Premiere, leaves me with my head shaking. Not because Tivo over-promised in the pre-release PR or the lack of built-in Wi-Fi or the fact that the cool bluetooth remote won’t ship for awhile (why do companies announce something so far ahead of shipping? It creates burn-out. Yes, Palm you screwed that up with your Pre, one of 10 million Palm mistakes made).

Why am I so flabbergasted?

Because they still haven’t figured out that you need to give your customers an easy upgrade path.

That means season passes. I have maybe 30 season passes and the fact that any new Tivo box has absolutely no method to migrate them to a new box is just plain stupid. I understand that I won’t ever be given the ability to migrate all the saved shows. The media companies would freak out. But my season passes? It’s probably less than 128k of data to move. Let me shove it up to the cloud then back to the new box. Instead, the purchase of a new Tivo means that as a loyal customer upgrading to the newest and greatest, I will need to spend an hour or two setting it up just to replicate the settings from my old machine. I guess it would take all of 5 minutes with a Tivo migration system built-in to the Tivo servers. Morons.

The simplest things can be the most important. Ten years without giving users an easy migration for their season passes makes Tivo look like a bunch of idiots. Anyone who has migrated from one mac to another knows how nice Apple has made it. This should be even easier.

Penalize me for upgrading and you get what you wish for. I won’t. I’ve migrated my season passes from box to box for 10 years. So damn stupid of Tivo. Get smart or get dead.

iPad: What’s Missing

January 28, 2010

Rumors become speculation become expectations become introduction become initial disappointment become huge moneymaker. The cycle of Apple product introductions. Now that the iPad is finally announced and the web is awash with how it doesn’t mean everyone’s expectations, it is time to take a minor step back.

Steve didn’t really introduce the iPad world, just the hardware. Sure, there were a few apps showcased and the new iPad specific iWorks is more than nifty, but there are huge gaps in what the iPad is, could be, and will eventually be all thanks to software and services.

Gap 1: No New Cloud Services

iWorks, we’re told, will sync documents using the cable and iTunes to a computer. OK. Sure. But MobileMe is already capable of syncing so much more. And the new Gallery app gives iPhone users access to their cloud photos from wherever they are.

MobileMe will need to include streaming of the iTunes library — or perhaps it becomes web based but adding more value into MobileMe seems more likely. This is what the LaLa acquisition was for. Throw in a SlingBox-like capability for my rented/purchased/stored videos on iTunes and suddenly cloud access becomes a critical part of iPad.

There was no focus on cloud yesterday. I would expect that to change by shipping. Perhaps starting with iTunes music cloud by WiFi only and moving to video and 3G later on. Also, look for a long-needed refresh of the iTunes 5 authorized rule. The concept of family and multi-devices is making it look archaic.

Gap 2: No Multi-User Account Ability

Unlike an iPod or iPhone, the iPad has a pretty good chance of being used by multiple users within a family. Steve — and the screen — is pretty much thinking this is an indoor device. While Mac OS X and every other modern operating system has the ability for user accounts and user account controls (such as parental controls), there hasn’t been a need for iPhone OS to have such functionality.

It wouldn’t be hard. Two or three user names on the front screen after the swipe, each with a different password. For a device that has the ability to be used socially in a home, the lack of multi-user controls is a glaring omission. This probably won’t be available until a semi-major software update but certainly before version 2.

Gap 3: No Mulit-Tasking

The most complicated of the three gaps and probably the most anticipated by the faithful. Issues of battery life aside, background tasks do add some complexity to the interface. However, even limited multi-tasking such as only specific apps as approved by Apple, would be of much use.

I fully expect some iPad specific apps to make a huge difference. Yesterday was about the hardware, the platform, but the rest of the year will be about software and cloud. Going to be interesting…

Too Many iPhone Apps and One More I Want

January 16, 2010

With the (rumored) iTablet announcement less than two weeks away, I’m wondering what iPhone interface tricks Apple has up its sleeve for OS4. What started as an elegant, simple GUI is getting more and more clogged. I’ve only got 6 screens worth of apps but I’ve seen friends with plenty more. Quick, random access went out the window 20 apps ago.

The ability to organize my apps and screens in iTunes gives me a semblance of control but in the end I’m just shuffling apps around and not solving the problem. Not that I see a solution either. But Apple must have something. The clutter of tons of screens with apps must be driving Steve crazy by now.

One iPhone App I Want

And anyone with MobileMe should download that Apple app by the same name and check it out. Pictures and video galleries streamed to your iPhone with the option to choose how much local cache used for pictures. Works fine. Neat but no big deal. But a glimpse into the near-future?

How hard would it be to extend this to my iTunes library? With the Lala acquisition, probably not too hard.

All my music and playlists available for on-demand streaming with a user-level cache setting? Yes please. Basically extending the recently added iTunes share library functionality beyond the home network to the iPhone.

Forget monthly subscriptions, streaming user-owned content will be the next step.

The 3 Speed Shifter of Media: Time, Place & Device

January 12, 2010

Will all the talk about DECE and KeyChest, it’s obvious the media and consumer electronic companies are finally paying attention to the growing consumer media shift demands.

Typically, shifting falls into three main buckets: time, place, and device.

  • Time: the original VCR and the Betamax ruling allowed consumers to time-shift television shows. SCOTUS ruled the VCR was not necessarily and an archiving device and for in-home, non-commercial use, consumers would be allowed to record to their heart’s content. That 11:30pm movie on Monday night could now be watched at 4pm on Thursday. The DVR is the digital incarnation.
  • Place: the mobility of content, the ability to move it from one place to another, was the driving force behind the Walkman revolution. Cassette tape had been around but the ability to easily transport it, from home to car or attached to the hip, made Sony the pre-eminent name in consumer electronics. Newer variations, such as SlingBox, allow a consumer to take a time-shifted show, like that movie stored on Tivo, and shift its place by streaming it.
  • Device: Various device shifting technologies have been around. Including the cassette which allowed recording from LPs. With some patience due to real-time recording, a consumer could device shift that David Bowie album from an LP to a tape then place shift by popping that tape in their car or their friend’s cassette player.

Combining these is where the power lies. A networked Tivo allows me to not only time shift that movie but also place shift it to another TV in the house(limited to within my home). Slingbox allows me to place shift as well as do limited device shift (video output to laptop).

While all of these media shifts existed in the analog world, the digital promised an infinite mix of convenience and choice. A promise since failed. The lack of interoperability of standards, clumsy digital rights management, lawsuits and poor business models, and total lack of understanding by the media companies left us with a fractured, restricted world.

Apple’s iPod entered that world and made it easy for a consumer to time and device shift. Moving that audio book off the computer to the iPod was actually easy and simple. But place shifting was limited to whatever could fit on that iPod and the physical location of the iPod. True place-shifting, like SlingBox, was not possible.

Of course, Lala could end all that. I can let Lala know what songs I own and it makes them available to me in a streaming format wherever I have a web browser and broadband. But what about another product? Will I need to re-register all the music I own all over again?

The Movie Solution

Music has had an easier time as CDs were never created with a DRM system in place. Owning unencrypted music files has never been a violation of any law. The movie studios — with their pal the Digital Millennium Copyright Act – have specifically created a system that makes the combination of time, place, and device shifting impossible.

I can buy a Tivo, which will allow me to time-shift most programs but I can’t legally, easily move that movie to my iPod.And I can’t place shift outside of my home.

I can buy a Slingbox, which allow me to stream a video stream form my home to someplace else but that effectively hijacks that device for anyone at home. And the device shift is limited to a laptop.

I can buy a movie on iTunes, which will allow me to easily move the movie to my iPod for watching on the plane, a very elegant device shift, but I’m locked into iTunes forever limited my device shift choice.

DECE and KeyChest are attempts to try and fix these problems. Problems currently addressed by the multi-format products on the market. Pixar’s Up — one of my favorite movies — is for sale in a DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy package. It’s the next-best solution to a muddled world but I still can’t watch that movie in any other DRM system other than Amazon’s.

Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the media companies have created a system that restricts consumer convenience. Now, as DVD sales drop and digital downloads don’t make up the difference, they are finally recognizing that actually listening and catering to consumers might be a good idea.

While the premise behind DECE and KeyChest is good, the implementation remains to be seen. But the bottom line is that consumers want to be able time, place, and device shift their media, regardless of the technology, company, and DRM system in place. No one cares which flavor of DRM Disney/Pixar uses versus Sony. They just want to be sure they can play that movie they purchased when they want, where they want, and how they want.

If actual media purchases allow that kind of convenience, the media companies may just be able to stem the sliding sales.

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.

2.Dropbox

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.

2010

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

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.

Telling the Taxi Where To GO

September 25, 2009

map

It’s UN week here in New York City. That means heads of state, secret service, cops on every corner, and gridlock. They can close off any street at any time. Run a country and one of the perks evidently is you get a straight shot on Park Avenue without any other cars around you except the Suburbans with the windows rolled down and the don’t-fuck-with-me guys wearing sunglasses and holding sub-machine guns. Yes, it’s Hell Week in NYC.

As the New York Times noted the other day, the proliferation of smart phones has the added benefit of millions of new GPS traffic tracking devices on the road sending real-time information back to the mother ship. There’s a level of detail available now that was never available before just using the car GPS systems with their commercial traffic reporting systems. And a quick glance at Google Maps on the iPhone before getting in a cab can be a lifesaver.

New ritual before snagging a cab: check iphone, calculate route, explain route as simply as possible to cab driver. Something like, “take the park to CPS and turn left on 59th. NOT 57th. Take fifth avenue down.”

Of course, real-time traffic doesn’t account for the cops on Fifth Avenue who won’t allow the left hand turn on 54th street because some VIP just turned there and stopped mid-block. It isn’t perfect but it has made UN week that much more bearable.

Spring Cleaning: ScanSnap S1500M and Yep

May 11, 2009

scansnap

The weather has turned, the trees are trying to kill me, and so spring cleaning’s time has come. Stacks of papers: bills, notes, cards, and other assorted pulp based products must be dealt with. So I turn to a new tool, the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500M scanner.

It’s not as if I don’t have a scanner. I have three.

I have a Nikon CoolScan 5000 for slides and negatives that I picked up after finding a treasure trove of my dad’s. There’s also the scanner built-in to the HP all-in-one printer/fax/scanner but it’s woefully inadequate for big jobs. And there’s an aging Epson flat scanner I use for photographs when I must but it mostly lives in a cabinet. I needed something always there, handy, and ready to go.

So in search of a dedicated, sit-on-a-desk and chew through paper scanner I went. And found. The above mentioned ScanSnap.

The brief review:

This thing rocks. The speed is great. It scans both sides of the page automatically. It handles just about anything including receipts and business cards. And it’s really, really fast. Fujitsu claims 20 ppm and this might not meet the vendor’s promised specs (shock) but it comes damn close.

Paper jams — when they occur — are a quick fix. And this thing is small and even folds up when not in use. And I like scanning into a universal format (PDF).

The hardware is well done. The included software is Adobe Acrobat Pro 8. Not sure why they didn’t include the newer 9.0 for Mac now available but no matter. I scan everything into PDFs. Which means I need a PDF organizer. Otherwise, I’ve turned a jumble of paper into a jumble of PDFs and while digital and less space consuming, it would be not meet my wife’s idea of actually being “organized.” Neater, yes. Organized, no.

For true PDF organization, I’ve settled on Yep. It is, as they say, pretty much like iPhoto for PDFs. Since I have 30,000 photos in iPhoto all tagged — thanks to keyword manager which is a must have — Yep’s interface and organization was a natural fit.

I now have keywords for things like insurance and taxes and health care and all paper that must be kept, referenced, organized, or emailed gets automatically dumped into Yep. I can find all insurance papers or anything else in a flash.

Actually, a scan of a document of any sort will get sucked into Yep and ready for keywords before I’ve even had the time to shred the document. My only real complaint with Yep is that I can’t link to the OCR software and right-click a document for quick round-trip OCR goodness.

I’d love to be able to right-click any PDF in Yep and have the option to “Scan into Searchable PDF.” As it stands now, I have to “reveal in finder” and right click to open with Abby to make a searchable PDF. Not the end of the world but a little thing that would make Yep that much better.

Between the ScanSnap and Yep, my desk is completely paper-free and I’m resolved to keep it that way. Tagging can be slightly tedious but I find it’s a decent method to improve search and organization. Auto-tagging, while worthwhile for basic stuff, only goes so far. I am, however, viewing Hazel with some interest as a way to help keep my digital workplace automatically clutter-free.

Meet The New Boss. Same As The Old Boss.

May 8, 2009

Bob Lefsetz’s blog is widely read in the music biz. He’s funny, caustic, and never fears to speak his mind or get in a pissing contest. I have him on my RSS reader.

But his piece on the need for artist support for performance royalties for radio digressed into Choruss and he misses the mark:

Like with this Choruss thing.  Sure, the devil is in the details, but I’ve broken bread with Jim Griffin over this topic, the intent of the rights holders isn’t to fuck college students, but to create a legal avenue for music acquisition that generates revenue to purveyors.  Suddenly this is a foul goal?  Music should be free forever more?  There should be no legal alternative to P2P theft?

But if you read the online prognosticators, this is an evil plot by the record companies, to collect names and add heinous college fees.  How this story has gotten so twisted, I do not know.  But I will say that Choruss has done a bad job of telling its story, of getting the facts of its mission across.  Labels have been hated for so long, having sued their customers, consumers no longer give them a pass, they believe if the labels are behind it it’s a rip-off, it’s faulty, it must be stopped.  So a few bloggers take down the entire mission.

I doubt Bob reads my little blog but I am one of those who does think Chorrus is an evil plot by the record companies. Now Bob is right. Music shouldn’t be free forever and a legal alternative to P2p would be a fantastic shift. But I haven’t seen many people argue that music should be free forever. Striking down that straw man arguement doesn’t make the point.

He’s right again that labels are hated, sued their customers and that Choruss has done a lousy job in telling the story. But what he misses — ironically in a piece on how artists should band together — is that the labels have a long history of ripping off the artists. And that Choruss is a label-run entity at its core.

We need look no further than the 2007 settlement with Napster that yielded a few hundred million to the labels. The New York Post had this line that perfectly sums it up:

What’s more, these sources said that after the labels recouped their legal expenses, there wasn’t much left to pass along to the artists.

Typical.

Choruss would have so much more credibility if it came from ASCAP or BMI or any place other than WMG. I don’t get how Bob can believe that Choruss will be transparently set-up when transpancy is the last thing any label wants. Again, who creates the formula for tracking that determines how much each artist is paid? How much does Choruss take for setting up the toll booth? How long will payments take? And why should artists trust the labels when the labels are the same companies that have screwed them for decades, charging for breakage, no payments for music clubs, late or missing payments for digital settlements, etc.?

Maybe Bob is 100% right. The intent isn’t to fuck college students. But the labels will fuck artists. They’ve done nothing but.

I’m not against Choruss as a concept. Yet. I’m against who is in charge. The best idea in the world run by incompetent crooks will not end well. Yes, the labels need to be on board with such a concept but if they really want traction, they’ll step back and let someone else run it.

You don’t put Tony Montana in charge of the drug evidence locker.

Dumb Bully Redux

May 1, 2009

The story is trickling out. Larry Lessig has a few words on his blog about the issue:

Received a notice that Warner Music had objected to its being posted on copyright grounds. Apparently, YouTube’s content-ID algorithm had found music in the video that they claimed ownership to. The organization is apparently responding by disputing the claim. I’ll report back when I hear more.

This isn’t a DMCA takedown notice or a WMG initiated action — except indirectly. This is YouTube’s content algorithm system put into place by terms of agreements with the major labels. For the best analysis I’ve seen of how the system works, go here. Evidently, it’s fairly good but with a few truck sized holes. Like the one where the system needs the first 30 seconds of the song.

Last December 2008, WMG dissolved its agreement with YouTube and pulled all its music videos from the site. So any WMG content flagged by the system becomes a problem for YouTube. Hence the notice. WMG is still the bully, it just got YouTube’s content system doing the punching.


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