Auxiliary Displays - It's Already Been Broughten

Back in March, I blogged about wanting auxiliary displays [Bring On the Auxiliary Displays]. Just today, I came across a fantastic Channel 9 video post from the Windows Sideshow team showing off their auxiliary display tech. People like to talk about how video blogs suck, but Microsoft is doing great stuff with Channel 9. Unrestrained tech content from the very guys making the tech, yes please! Take 17 minutes out of your day and go watch the video.

I'm not sure how I missed it, but Engadet covered Microsoft's aux display tech in April. I had no idea Microsoft was this far along when I wrote my original post. Go Microsoft. Make it happen.

After watching the video, I realize that Microsoft is going a slightly different direction. Their first targets are add-ons to notebook computers and keyboards. Logitech is already doing cool stuff with aux displays on their keyboards. Between them, Microsoft, and Asus, maybe this will gather momentum.

I think notebook computers have stagnated recently. For awhile, size and computing power were market drivers, but now you can choose from dozens of ho-hum notebooks that will get the job done. Integrating aux displays is a tremendous opportunity for a notebook manufacturer to make their device stand out and command an upgrade. As Microsoft shows, in many ways, these +1 displays on notebooks will provide PDA-like functionality which could allow a user to leave one more device and charger at home.

Microsoft says they are using some of the SPOT technology. How about using their Smartphone and Windows Mobile tech too? They say themselves that they want to use typical cell phone displays. Those would be the same displays that their mobile developers have already designed for when writing Smartphone apps. Wouldn't it be cool if you could run that code unchanged in the aux display? Emulators run on the desktop, why not on the aux display coprocessor or the main processor itself in a different power mode?

Finally, you knew I'd drag Apple in to this :) Apple could build in an aux display and allow Dashboard widgets to run in it. Run the weather widget when you are travelling. Run the iPhoto viewer widget when you want to show off. Run the iCal widget when you are on the run. That's juicy.

So, to go along with my previous mockup of an aux display tablet, I thought I'd see what a Powerbook would look like with iPod like controls integrated in to the lid.

This gives you the iPod experience with your music when you don't have your iPod with you. The clickwheel could also be the interface to the rest of the widgets that run in the aux display.

I'm liking the idea even if I'm luke warm on how it looks in the lid.


An iPod Full Of Nothing

My dreams have finally been realized. I have a simple, elegant way to watch Seinfeld episodes on the go!

The tool that has made this possible is Handbrake Lite. I have played around with the full Handbrake and have had mixed results. Handbrake Lite, however, is just what I need. It has one purpose in life, and that is to rip DVDs (that I own!) to a format that is optimized for iPods with video.

All it takes is a mac, a couple of clicks, and some time. This is amazing. I can't wait to rip the rest of my Seinfeld and Simpsons episodes. Yes, I'm aware that you could watch TV episodes on portable media players for quite some time, but show me where it only took a couple of clicks. This is finally to the point where it is worth the effort, because the effort is minimal. I would love for Apple to embed this functionality directly in to iTunes (iMedia?), but I doubt they will, especially with the CSS nonsense surrounding DVDs.

Now all I need is for public transport to come near my house and I can trade driving for Kramer each and every morning.


Did Lemmy Jump The Cliff?

Ever had any of your favorite software die? I'm a vi guy. I started my development career on various UNIX boxes and the places I worked for required (ok, highly recommended) that I use vi. The initial learning curve was steep, but I'm vi through and through now. I even toyed with a Windows Explorer replacement that would allow navigation via vi keys. You could blaze through the directory tree and renames, combined with the '.' command, would be the greatest ever. Alas, that's one of those free time projects that sits patiently, waiting for me to come back and tie it all together.

Back to Lemmy. Lemmy is/was a vi clone for Windows. When I started developing primarily on Windows, I pined for my vi. I can't remember the reasons, but I never liked Vim. Then again, I never gave it much of a chance. Lemmy met my needs and I didn't have a reason to look elsewhere. I've used Lemmy for years and watched it grow and change hands a couple of times. It's last owner was softwareonline.org. If you go there now, you just get a domain renewal form. Did Sofware Online give up trying to sell vi to the Windows masses? I paid $20 for a license at work 6 years ago. Can't they live on that $20? :)

Lemmy isn't really dead though. You can still download it from Download.com and you can bet that I have the installer saved in no less than 10 locations. Lemmy is one of the very first pieces of software I put on a new Windows machine.

While we are on the topic of vi. I love the Tarsier image that O'Reilly uses on the vi book. This guy loved it enough to laser etch it on his Powerbook (drool). That very same image can be found on the Limited Edition of DJ Shadow's The Private Press.
How's that for small world? The mascot of my favorite text editor combined with my favorite DJ. Wow, I'm a geek.



Product 6.0 2005 XP .NET for Pocket PC...Mobile

I'm going to do my best Andy Rooney impersonation here. I'm going to complain about how Microsoft names things. This is by far an original complaint, but at least I'm adding a fresh screenshot to the mix.

This screenshot is even better than the Firefox installing one.

As I'm installing Visual Studio 2005 today, I notice it is installing to a Microsoft Visual Studio 8 folder. Well that's dumb. Talk about confusing. What is the product name, VS 2005 or VS 8? Looks like the marketing guys changed things at the last moment and the engineers didn't have time to go back and scrub it.

We're supposed to be in the age (who says? I says) of usability and the biggest software company in the world can't even decide on a consistent product name. Stop confusing us!

Visual Studio has gone from numbers (6.0), to the silly .NET thing, to .NET with a year (2003), to years without the .NET (2005).

This isn't the only example of this from Microsoft. Why does the desktop Windows have Service Packs, but the mobile Windows have AKUs?

Why did Windows go from numbers (3.1) to years (95) to letters (XP) to nothing (Vista)?

Why did the portable Windows go from form factors (Handheld PC, Palm PC) to Pocket PC, to Windows Mobile with years (2003), to Windows Mobile with numbers (5.0)? Ohh yeah, don't forget, it is still a Pocket PC, but it doesn't run Pocket PC anymore, it runs Windows Mobile.

Why did Microsoft Office go from versions (6.0), to years (97), to letters (XP), back to years (2003)?

I really don't think that any of these are better than any of the rest. I just want them to pick one and stick to it!


Slushy Streets iMix

I put together a playlist for shoveling the driveway or driving to work in the muck. I call it Slushy Streets

1. Golan Globus - Blazer (2005 Radio Edit)
2. Quannum Projects - Quannum World
3. Gorillaz - Dare (Soulwax Remix)
4. The Orb - Aftermath (Album Version)
5. Dizzee Rascal - Fix Up, Look Sharp
6. Aesop Rock & L.I.F.E. Long - Inner City Hustle
7. Bloc Party - Tulips (Original Version)
8. Beck - Missing (Remix by Royskopp)
9. Littl Shyning Man - Hart of the Wud
10. Roots Manuva - Motion 5000
11. UNKLE - Reign (Radio Edit)

If you like ANY of that music, you'll probably dig the DFA Holiday Mix 2005, up on iTMS right now. A 45 minute mix for 99 cents? Must be the season of giving!


1 Box Please

As long as product functionality is not compromised, I'm all for convergence and a single item to do it all. Crappy cameras in cell phones, bad. High quality DVD players in home theater receivers, good, in certain uses.

I bring that up because we got a new AV setup for our living room. We were looking to free up some space in the room and getting rid of a massive component stack and big floor standing speakers was a great way to do that.

The box of choice is the Denon S-301. You can read my full review of it over on sadida.com. I even slicked it up a bit with pictures and a video (ooooo, a video). We're quite happy with it so far. It's been everything we wanted and the performance is top notch.

Another interesting thing I found is that Denon is running a blog for the S-301 and its little brother, the S-101. This isn't the first time a product has gotten its own blog. The iPod has dozens, but they aren't official ones. For offical products, I'm aware of myxda.com, but it is still refreshing to see companies connecting with their customers and bringing the post-sale details right to them. Too bad that I, a customer, had to find the site during searching while writing my review. I don't know how "regular" customers would find it.

I have been impressed with Denon lately. Not only are they doing this receiver blog, but their engineers and test teams frequent a few of the Denon DJ boards. Being a tech guy myself, I like it when I get straight technical answers that I can trust.


I Still Want Bluetooth in my iPod

Time flies. It's been nearly a year since I last posted about wanting Bluetooth in my iPod. If you don't feel like going back to read that post, I'll sum it up for you.

  • Address Book, Contacts sync

  • Audio to headphones (A2DP)

  • Music file sync in small quantities

I think all of that still has value, but I have a few more things that Bluetooth would enable.

Playlist sync - The playlist I listen to the most is "Not Heard Recently". I like to keep my music rotating through. I'll listen to specific things when the mood strikes, but usually it is NHR or shuffle. I recently upgrade to a 5G iPod which left my 3G iPod to secondary purposes such as hooked to my home stereo. I also have a shuffle which I use while working out, mowing the lawn, and riding my bike (only while on trails). I still like to keep that NHR playlist updated, which requires me bringing the pods back to the main machine every so often. Sometimes I'll end up with playlist overlap and listen to the same songs 2 or 3 times before they get pulled off of the NHR playlist. Bluetooth would allow me to keep the playlist more up to date and avoid that.

Playlist sharing - If you follow my blog, you'll see me posting music I like and DJ sets that I work on. Lots of the music comes off of the iTMS and the stuff that doesn't is usually available on Amazon. How cool would it be if you came up to me at work and I could just send you that playlist over Bluetooth? I would send the songs, just the playlist metadata. It would take about 5 seconds and brings a social element to the iPod experience. You can share playlists with people on the bus, or friends at school. If you have the songs on the playlist, you can instantly play that playlist in the order your friend made. If you don't, you can check out the songs on the iTMS the next time you are synced to your computer. Apple isn't making much on the music sales, but more sales has to be a good thing. Getting your customers "in" to the store is half the battle. Why not let your other customers help fight that battle by getting their friends in to the store?

Music send - A2DP works great to headphones. I've heard it and I'm considering buying a pair of headphones. In addition to headphones, there's no reason car and home stereos can't be the A2DP "sink". Sure, we can cable up, but do you want a cable hanging out of your car's dashboard, even if it is in the glove box? I know I don't. Add in the hand-off technology you get with Bluetooth headsets for your cell phone and you can have your car start playing the same music you were listening to on headphones when you walked up. Don't laugh, I know friends that do this every day with FM senders on their iPods.

Remote control - Control the iPod using the Bluetooth AVRCP. I was very disappointed to see Apple use IR for their universal iPod dock and remote for the new iMac. If they do bring out a Mac Media for the living room, it better have Bluetooth for remote control. They can keep their stinky IR, but add Bluetooth too!

Printing - Without getting too far away from the purpose of an iPod (music), you could bury the ability to print things like album art, playlists, notes, and even photos to Bluetooth enabled printers using BPP, or as a simple Object Push. This is another social element, and all part of the Apple Experience. Bluetooth enabled printers are out there and this would avoid you connecting your iPod to someone else's computer which may or may not have the right cables and software. This isn't vaporware stuff. It's possible today with the right software.

Finally, I have to comment... have you seen the new Creative Zen Vison:M? I can't stop laughing at the thickness. They better have room for Bluetooth in there...and a waffle maker!


Video is an Internet Star

You like free videos, right? Good. Head on over to deepdish.com and check out the new video for their upcoming single, Sacremento. Keep a sharp eye out for BT making a cameo.

It's no Crooked, but I like Deep Dish, so it is worth a post.


Medium Definition?

So an article over at the Technology Liberation Front discusses the fact that many people who have HDTV, don't know what to do to see HDTV, or simply aren't making use of it. 49% of the people that HDTV aren't watching it. Well count me in to that 49%, but I'm not dumb, I'm frugal. I know what it takes to watch HDTV, I just don't want to pay for it.

I might be called an early adopter when it comes to HDTV. We bought our set in January 2001, nearly 5 years ago. At the time, HDTV in this area was nearly non-existant. There were a couple of OTA channels becoming available, but the content was few and far between. I didn't care though. I was at a point in my life where I was able to buy a nice TV, and I needed it to last awhile. I knew HD was coming, so if you are buying a big set, you pretty much had to drop a few more bucks and just do it right.

DVDs look fantastic on our WS-55807. Good thing too, because that's the only exercise I really give the thing. I guess I can call DVDs medium definition. Ohh, I tried HDTV. My set doesn't have an ATSC tuner, so I experimented with a few OTA tuners. In the end, they were expensive, marginally capable of receiving a signal, required an antenna, and there stilll wasn't a whole lot of content. I tried a couple and they both went back to the store. It wasn't worth spending $200-$300 to watch a few shows in HD.

Why don't I just go with digital cable? Good question. Good answer too, money. It is shameful what Mediacom wants for the privledge to watch HD. Granted, it has been a while since I checked, but it was going to cost me an extra $30-$40 a month to get HDTV over digital cable and that was going to require sticking a stupid digital cable box on my TVs. Uhh, no thanks. NBA in HD looks spectacular, but I can buy a lot of music with $40 a month and I'll enjoy that a whole lot more. HD needs to be free, and by that, I mean no add-on cost vs. regular cable. I know they need to cover their upgrade costs too, but the extra cost needs to trickle away. My friends that live in big cities (Denver, Milwaukee) get HD on their sets for pennies compared to what I'd have to pay.

So we've gone 5 years with no HD, but I'm ready to give it a another go. The content is finally there. All of the major networks are available in my area in HD. Every night has shows in HD that we normally watch. We sold our old college TVs at last summer's garage sale and we recently got a new set for the bedroom. It has a built-in ATSC tuner. This was a requirement. We weren't going to have an external tuner, especially not in the bedroom. We also strung coax through the house when it was being built, so hopefully I can put an antenna near a window in the basement and not have to have that eyesore in the bedroom. I'd love to explore cable card, but I don't know of anyone in my area that is offering it. Maybe in another 5 years :)


Mac mini in the Living Room?

You've probably already seen the rumor that a revamped Mac mini is on the way and will end its trek in your living room. It will be optimized for multi-media and possibly even contain PVR software. Ohh please let this be true. I can't help think that my beloved ReplayTV will die someday and TiVo isn't all that appealing to me, yet. I'm probably underestimating, but how hard can PVR software be? Once you've got the recording and playback handled, the rest is just file management, simple searches, and pretty GUIs. Apple has plenty of multi-media experience with Final Cut Studio, QuickTime, iTunes, and iMovie. They are well on their way with pretty GUIs in Front Row. They proved they can excel at managing type specific files with iPhoto and iTunes. Roll it up in one tasty software burrito and let us feast!

Ok, you get that I'd buy one of these, but what would it look like? Maybe we've already seen it. The Mac mini form factor is great, but I'm not sure it would fit in a typical home theater stack. What if it looked like Apple's xServe?

Certainly we don't need all of that stuff. It's too wide, so I'll chop it a bit. We have no need for the rack mounts, so I'll remove those. We don't need massive cooling, so say bye bye to the gigantic air ports. And, we won't need terabytes of data in it, so we'll cut it off at the knees. What's left? A 'shopped mockup of a Mac media, of course!

It still is too busy, but you get the idea. I'd put one of those next to my TV for sure.


Backup Some More

After my recent thoughts about backups, I figured it was time to give Apple's recent update to Backup a try.

My first impressions are positive. The software is definitely geared towards your data, not really your drive. It appears Backup is much better at restoring your iLife data than restoring your OS. It also may have problems with restoring to alternate locations, but a patch has been released that is supposed to address that.

The thing I like the most is the preset plans. I already made use of the plan to backup my iTMS Purchased Music. This required 2 DVDs but I can also choose my external drive to be the backup target and save the burnable media for every few months. The procedure was quite simple. It even popped up a message suggesting the label I should apply to the disc. I'm guessing it will ask for the disc based on the recommended name if I ever need to do a restore.

My next step is to create a plan to backup my home folder that does NOT include my music and movies. Those folders are huge and I don't want to mess with the incremental backups of those in my home folder backup. I'll keep seperate plans for those.

Now all that's left is to create a plan that will backup open files that I am working on :)


Whoa, Back it Up

Computers make everything easier. They especially make it easy to work for days on something and then make it disappear in a poof.

Backups are always hard. What do you backup? Who will do the backup? When do you backup? Where does it backup to? How do you restore the backup? Will the restored data be good?

If you are anything like me, your total backup procedures are pretty primitive. Every so often you will copy most of the stuff you want to backup off to an external drive, to CD/DVD, or maybe you'll archive it online somewhere. That's a start, but the absolute killer to me is when I work on a document or some code for a week, or even just a particualarly productive day, and that work gets lost. These near term backups are what inspired this post.

The problem with backing up that hard day's work is that sometimes you simply can't. You encounter stupid things like eMbedded Visual C++ holding on to files in an open project and not letting them be copied. You try to be smart and use a Save As... in Word, but that switches your active work to be on the Save As file, not your original one. Usually that's not what I want and then I have to go through extra steps to open up the original again. Even if I can make a copy of the file, I still have to go find it in File Explorer or Finder and copy it off to some other location which I hope I remember.

What I want is a very simple, Backup command in the File menu of every program that saves data. The idea of the Backup command is that you create a default location that will receive in-progress backups of your file. This is all really a hack until we have decent journaling file-systems in place that would do this sort of thing for us, but I'll take what I can get. Once you've worked a few hours on your latest PowerPoint, you can select File, Backup and a copy of your file will get saved off to your predetermined Backup location (you did put this on another disk, in case one fails, right?). Sure, we can include a dialog to change your Backup location if you'd like, but most times you'll just select 'Ok' on the default. The active document WILL NOT change. The software WILL BE smart enough to make a copy without closing the app. The backup will even get saved with metadata such as which file it is a copy of, the time elapsed since the last backup, and other fun stuff like that.

I think I might try to make such a beast using Automator under OS X. Hopefully I'll be able to make it smart enough to figure out the active app and the file/project it has open. I wonder if I'll encounter the same "I'm using that file, you can't copy it" nonsense that I get on Windows.

With this simple backup hack in place, maybe I'll have time to look at some more advanced backup techniques that I probably should be using anyway :)


We Don't Need No Stinkin' Hard Drive

Wow, they read my mind. Earlier this week, I was working on a post about how we needed a notebook computer that had no hard drive and included flash for storage.

NEC has announced such a beast, and I'm excited. The Engadgeteers can't get past the price and RAM. I agree with the Engadget comments, this does cost too much, and I would like to see 1 gig of RAM. However, if they'd take a moment to step back, they might see something cool here.

If you've been paying attention, you saw Apple release a sleek digital audio player with up to 4 gig of flash. They packed that flash in to a sleek package and let you take it home for a decent price. UBS says that 4 gig of flash costs about $115.

One of the biggest complaints with notebook computers these days is a reversal in weight trends. They seem to be getting larger, rather than smaller. Bigger screens, bigger drives, and bigger batteries to power it all. What I want is the opposite of this. I want a tight 12" notebook with unbelievable battery life that still let's me do all of the things I like to do with a notebook. So what do I like to do? Browse the web, author documents, watch DVDs, transfer files, and maybe play a few games of poker. None of these things require a large hard drive.

What if we could swap out the 60 gig hard drive for 20 gig of flash? We could save size, weight, power, and battery since we don't have to spin platters. Sounds just like what the iPod nano did, huh?

A typical 60 gig 2.5" notebook drive weighs about 120 grams. 1 gig of flash weighs about .5 grams, so 20 gig would be 10 grams, less than 10% of the hard drive weight.
That same hard drive has dimensions of 0.374" H x 2.75" W x 3.94" D. I can't find dimensions of the flash right now, but the entire iPod nano is about half that size, so I'd imagine my smaller size claim holds up.

What about the loss in hard drive space? You know what? People seemed to get by with less than 20 gig for the last few years with notebook computers. Ignoring music and video, file sizes haven't increased all that much. You can keep your music library on a portable music player and ignore video (other than DVD) for this product. That isn't it's focus.

In the end, we can make the notebook even thinner, and still have room for a bigger battery. We also gain some reliability because we get rid of the spinning drive. Finally, we ditch the slow 5400RPM notebook drives and kick it up a bit with flash.

The biggest issue I see is cost. Going by the numbers from earlier, 20 gig of flash is going to cost about $500 today. That's quite a bit more than the ~$60 for the 60 gig drive. As the Engadget comments already proved, people aren't going to like the idea of paying MORE for a simpler, less powerful, and probably secondary, computer. Fast forward a year or so, when prices have dropped, and I hope to have a flash-only iBook in my hands.

Play This on Your Playlist

Time to update the 5 of the now. I'll put the old ones here, just for future reference :)

The old 5

The new 5

The Keane track used to be on iTMS, no longer. I guess you'll have to settle for the original.

The Alex Dolby track is featured on Steve Lawler's latest Lights Out compilation. This is a great series and Vol. 3 is quickly becoming my favorite of the series.

The High Contrast track has been around a while and I just enjoyed it when it came up on shuffle so it made the list.

Ulrich made the 5 again with a track of the recently released (domestic) Far Away Trains Passing By

Finally, the Nipple Fish! Fantastic track that I've been rocking out to since 1997. Through the magic of the long tail, you can pick this up on iTMS. Imagine trying to find that on vinyl these days!