Google RSS Enhancements

I haven't seen any mention of this feature yet. When accessing my Google personalized homepage, my regular RSS headlines were enhanced with expanders to show the content behind the links. This brings the functionality more inline with dedicated RSS feed readers.

I took a screenshot and now the feature is gone again. Here you go.

Identicons vs. Autobots

I have discussed commenting systems before. A recent flurry of work is attempting to address some of the concerns. Don Park has invented identicons. I'll let you go read about them yourself, but essentially, an identicon is a visual cue to identity. It maps an IP address to an image. The idea is to help readers identify a person's comments in a group of comments, whether because they want to read those comments, or as a simple indicator that the comments may not belong to the person they think they belong to.

The title, aside from being a childhood reference, suggests that identicons could be a way of combatting comment spam. If the comment spam was not removed completely, perhaps its identicon could be learned as one to skip past when scanning the comments. Slashdot does something similar with their Friends and Foes system and I do find it useful when deciding what to read out of hundreds of comments. I'll for sure read the friends and the enemies of the friends to get the opposing view points.

The identicon idea does have drawbacks. For one, there are already a handful of me-too implementations that, while cool, contribute to the identity problem because you will end up with different identicons in different places.

In all, it's a very interesting solution to a very complex problem and is worth some thought.


Something for Nothing

There are a couple of items in the news right now that do a good job at pointing out how whiny people really are. First up, Apple is being nice and letting certain computer owners upgrade their Wi-Fi to pre-N. They are charging $5 for this. I think this is completely reasonable. Most commenters are pitching a fit. They foam at the mouth and scream at Apple's audacity to charge for something they already have.

I think free software updates have spoiled people. Software didn't use to have free updates. You ran the version that came in the box and you liked it. As the net began draining into homes around the globe, we had an easy way to provide software updates. Combine that with the continued acceleration of the world and we ended up with more software, faster, but often with more bugs. This combo led to free updates. Some might be inclined to view it as fixing the crap that should have worked the first time. There are new features that are added for free, but should we always expect that?

So now we've moved past free software updates and people now want free hardware updates. Go ahead and argue that the upgrade to 802.11n is just software. If that's true, I know someone with a drawer full of Lucent Orinoco cards that would love for you to upgrade to 802.11n for them. Apple could have left the hardware out completely and made you take your computer in for service or ship it back for including the hardware. Instead, they provided a way to enable the feature at a cost later on. Sounds a lot like the OnStar you get in vehicles doesn't it? One guy even claimed that he was owed this upgrade because he made his purchasing decision based on the fact that Apple was including 802.11n capable hardware. He has conveniently forgotten that Apple never told him this. That was all rumor and sleuthing provided by the fan sites.

It seems this cost might be due to legal and accounting reasons. Even if it isn't, $5 isn't much. If you don't want it, don't buy it. If $5 turns you in to one of those people that rails against a company for petty stuff, well don't let the dogcow bite you on the way out.

The flip of this is Netflix's announcement that they will add streaming movie downloads for their customers. I'm a long standing Netflix customer and this is the best thing I've heard out of them since they dropped their price. For every dollar you spend, you get an hour of streaming video. That's amazing. I'm on the 3-out plan, so that would be 18 hours. We don't even watch 18 hours from the DVDs we get every month. This will help in my battle to ditch cable TV. I think this will be great for those movies that you get that are more about one fight scene or car chase. You can watch the good stuff and skip the shipping turnaround. You're also never without a movie. You can fire up your browser during netflux.

Bringing this back to the whining theme. One guy noted that Netflix is launching this as IE/XP only. He then demanded that since he couldn't run that combo, that Netflix drop his monthly subscription cost to cover the functionality he can't use. WTF? Dude, they are adding this on. You aren't paying for it today. If you don't like it, bail.


iLife Invades Life

I was watching some stand-up on Comedy Central. I was enjoying the comic quite a bit and actually caught myself reaching for the remote so I could rate the set 4 stars. Yes, I am so used to applying my likings to music and photos in iTunes and iPhoto that my brain has decided to start rating things in the rest of my life.

Just last week, I was listening to the weather while waiting in the drive-thru line at Burger King. The weatherman said today's weather would be partly cloudy with a high of . When it was my turn, I ordered a Bacon Double . On my way out of the parking lot, some jerk cut me off and I nearly got in a wreck. I rolled down my window and yelled... "Hey moron, you drive like !"

iPhone Questions

To go along with my hits and misses, I have a few iPhone questions that haven't been fully answered yet.

  • Will it be locked down? - Some articles say you can't run your own apps. Some might read in to the statements with a little more hope for loading their own code on their iPhone. From the NY Times article
    “These are devices that need to work, and you can’t do that if you load any software on them,” he said. “That doesn’t mean there’s not going to be software to buy that you can load on them coming from us. It doesn’t mean we have to write it all, but it means it has to be more of a controlled environment.”

    I see hope in the Widgets. The phone appears to run the same Widgets from the desktop. I'm hoping that Dashcode isn't just for the desktop and will be the vehicle for custom development on the iPhone.

  • Is the battery removable? - Most likely, not, and I'm ok with that, but I've talked to some folks that say there is no way they'd get one if it didn't have a second battery option.

  • Full use Bluetooth? - Bluetooth headsets are a given. Apple is releasing their own, which is curious. Are they doing this to embed some simpler pairing or did they see an opportunity to design a nice headset. Personally, I think there are quite a few nice headsets on the market. They will have a tough time besting those already in the market. Apple has yet to post any details about their headset. I'm hoping they do that soon.

    Beyond headsets, what will we get? A2DP? Dial-up networking? HID? Object push? If A2DP is in there, I think I'll have to buy one, whether or not I want to use the phone portion (more on that in another question). A2DP would also allow for cleaner music sending and control without goofy solutions. Dial-up networking would sure make the data plan worth having. Apple has great Bluetooth networking support in OS X. Macbook + data enabled iPhone = high degree of connectibility. HID would shut up all of the folks that have to have plastic keys to be happy typing. I'd expect mini thumb boards and sewn-in keyboards to show up in droves. Object push would let you make use of that 4/8 GB of flash and get your pictures off without a cable. If it were Apple alone, I think all of this would work. Since this is a phone, I'm more concerned that the carriers will have a hand in blocking some of these features, as they've done in the past.

  • Can you buy one without a contract? - Some folks are saying yes because they will be for sale in Apple stores. I don't think that means a darn thing. I'm pretty sure you'll be forced to buy a contract, even though the pricepoint seems to be an unsubsidized price. That's Cingular's payoff for keeping the secret, developing the back end for visual voicemail and generally relaxing their requirements to let Apple do what they want to do with a phone on their network. If the contract is required, I predict tons of cheap iPhones on eBay 2 years from June. People go through phones like bread. "Ohh, you have a RAZR? That's so stale. The KRZR is where it's at, doof!" If Apple doesn't follow on with non-phone widescreen touch iPods, then the used iPhone market is going to be jumping for those that don't care about the phone and just want the rest.

  • Can you use it without a SIM? - I think it would be suicide to disable the device if it had no SIM, but who knows when you get mobile carriers involved. I guess we'll see.

  • Can you send music wirelessly? - We all know the Zune can squirt, but will the iPhone? Will you be able to send non-DRM'd files over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or is that part of the no wireless synching that I've heard? Will you be able to send DRM'd music? I can see myself dropping an album or two on a friends computer or work computer to listen with the connected speakers. You auth that machine so it can play that content and then de-auth it when you leave. That's within the bounds of the DRM, as long as you can get the files off of the phone.

Do you have any links to help answer these questions? Leave a link in the comments.


iPhone Misses

To go with the hits, I definitely think the iPhone has a few misses.

  • Can't sync over wireless - Please let this be untrue. I've been begging for wireless sync for years now. Now there is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth onboard and still no wireless sync?

  • Phone contract - Ugg. I don't have a mobile phone now. This might make me get one, but it still would be nice to have this device for the iPod and communicator functionality without being locked into a contract. I'd prefer it to just be sold as a GSM phone that I can take to the carrier of my choice which might be no carrier at all.

  • Can't buy songs from the iTunes store - Again, I want this to be untrue. Think of the thousands of songs a day that will be bought by people at the airport, waiting for the bus, or just hanging out with friends. The impulse buy is quite powerful. Here a track at the club that you love, buy it immediately so you don't forget.

  • Development age - Maybe it's just me, but some of the included tech suggests that this has been in development for 2.5 years. EDGE but not 3G could be a deal-breaker for some. Also the 2 megapixel phone seems pretty basic. Again, I don't care that there is a phone at all, but some will complain about the camera. Hopefully the camera has better optics than most mobile phone cameras.

  • Different Dock - The pictures of the iPhone in a dock look like it is a different dock than the iPod. What happened to the plastic inserts? It uses an iPod dock connector, but not the dock? That sucks. I hate docks all over my desk and without the ability to wirelessly sync, they force me to have a dock or a hanging cable. Both of those choices are crappy.

Lots are calling the price a miss. I actually called for a $499 price, but that was without a contract. If I'm thinking ahead, I think Apple had to go with that price point to leave room for a $399 100 GB iPod that has widescreen and multi-touch capabilities. If the phone were any cheaper, because of a subsidy from Cingular, people wouldn't be able to get past the mental block of an iPod that costs more than the iPhone with an iPod in it, completely disregarding the 2 year contract lock-in. I think the iPhone is actually going to bring revenue to all of the wireless carriers as folks pay a penalty to break their existing contracts to go with the iPhone.

I also really don't care if it has a removeable battery or not. Many people will, but it is nice to see a 5 hour talk time which is more than many Blackberries which state a 4 hour talk time.

Next up, the questions that I still have about the iPhone.

iPhone Hits

I think Apple has another hit on their hands with the iPhone. Here are some things I think they did right.

  • No buttons - I doubt many Blackberry users will switch, but that's ok. I tend to agree with Steve's explanation. Buttons are in the way when you don't need them and when you think of a good interface idea, you have no option but to build new hardware. I like the sleek, simple face. Notice that they still don't have an Apple logo on the front. That makes me happy. I'm also glad to see no number buttons, just like I asked for. If you watch the keynote, Steve refers to dialing a phone number as being "real last century"

  • Multi-touch - Wow, wow, wow. We've been getting a taste of this in movies and university research, but to see it in real life use is something to celebrate. Even if the iPhone is a complete flop as a phone, this technology will certainly creep in to lots of other places.

  • Focus on contacts, not phone numbers - Yup, phone numbers are stupid. Keep one set of carefully polished contacts and sync them everywhere.

  • Awesome unlock - Locking and unlocking phones until know have been a huge pain in the butt. This looks like a perfect solution.

  • Dedicated ring/silent switch - Useful

  • Flick to scroll - Looks amazing

  • Call merging and adding - Yes, yes. Why is this still hard? I have no idea how to operate these functions on my work phone. I use them rarely, but I would like to use them at times if I knew how.

  • Visual voicemail - Email inbox style voicemail. Everyone's thought of it. Now we have it.

  • iPod dock connector - Reuse existing cables and possibly add-ons.

  • Size - Looks like a good form factor. I can't wait to hold one.

  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth - These are must have technologies. I'm hoping for wide Bluetooth profile support.

  • Google Maps - Location services are hot. I refuse to ask for directions, so this is great!

Notice I didn't say anything about the camera or texting. I think those will be marginally acceptable. I don't really like cameras in phones in the first place.

Next up, the misses and the questions.


Throw Hardware At It

When I saw the product announcement of the Popalive Remote & and Dock, I had to groan. This product is the wrong answer. The question is, How can I get songs from my iPod to play on my stereo and control the iPod simply from across the room.

I have to give Alive Style credit for trying to replicate the iPod's ease of use on the remote side. Unfortunately, it looks like they borrowed more of the style than of the substance. It looks like it has a scroll wheel, but it doesn't. It looks like the familiar iPod screen interface, but it isn't. It even adds buttons. I know most remotes have more buttons than the thing they control, but why? We're at a point where the interface can be on screen. We don't need more buttons on the remote, we need less.

I think the most depressing thing about this product category is using a thing like-an-iPod to control an iPod sitting near a stereo with even more wires. They've just tossed a bunch of hardware at the problem rather than solving it. To me, solving it is using the darn iPod as the controller. No need to learn a new interface. No need to charge an additional item. No need to drop another dock on the table with yet another wire. Have the iPod send the audio wirelessly to the stereo. I've posted at least half a dozen times about A2DP in an iPod. Here's hoping we see that tomorrow at Macworld. I'm not holding my breath. A2DP is showing up in players. Apple is getting their butt kicked on that one.


2006 Albums of the Year

Usually these sorts of lists get put out in late December. I guess I'm a little behind.

With the growing presence of online music, the album may be fading. I still like albums and have special respect for those artists that can put together a cohesive, quality, collection of music. I expand the definition of album just a little. I include DJ mixes as albums.

I started putting this list together with no set number of how many I wanted to list. As I began to whittle it down, I found these six to be the best of the best for 2006. So, in no particular order (err, alphabetical)...

  • BT - This Binary Universe
    I think BT is a tremendous artist. It's nice that he took a little break from movie scoring to make this. I guess you could say this is still a movie score, except the movie is his life. This one will stand the test of time.

  • DJ Shadow - The Outsider
    As usual, the albums that bug me at first become beloved over time. I guess I can't immediately appreciate the new directions. I'd still prefer to hear more stuff like Endtroducing, but I liked this enough to make my best of 2006.

  • Evil Nine - Fabriclive.28
    Bumpin' mix. I wouldn't expect any less. Fabriclive is putting out great stuff.

  • Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
    Easily my most played album of the year. This disc has yet to leave the 6 disc changer in my truck. I show no signs of tiring of it. This is how albums should be done. Each track is unique, but yet it feels whole.

  • The Remote - Hard to Miss
    Global Underground has done a great job with their artist albums. The Remote is at the top of the stack.

  • Stanton Warriors - The Stanton Sessions, Vol. 2
    Like Gnarls Barkley, this has seen heavy play on the roads. The artist tracks are my favorite, but the included DJ mix is a burner too.

2 Way iPod

By accident, I found that you can listen to your iPod using both the headphone jack and the dock connector. Many (most?) functionality that uses the dock port takes over the iPod. A Bluetooth dongle is one accessory that doesn't. I found I can listen to my Bluetooth headphones and it doesn't stop the output to the headphone jack.

You may not care in the slightest, but I do see some applications for this 2 way action. You can jack in to your friends iPod without disturbing them too much. This would be good for side by side machines at the gym, or road trips (think back of the van and front), or even listening to your cubicle neighbor's iPod, just for something different. The wireless aspect allows much more freedom than a traditional headphone splitter.

You can also use this method to hear the latency of the A2DP connection. It isn't much, and perfectly acceptable for most listening applications, but you can clearly hear why you won't be using Bluetooth headphones for DJing any time soon.