Perils of a Bootcamper

Today, just a tale of woe for those of us that spend time on both sides of the OS fence.

As you know, Watch Now from Netflix requires Windows and IE. So, I'm on the MacBook, booted into XP and half way through a film. A scene of quiet dialog came on and I reach to turn up the volume.

F5. That's an evil key. My MacBook brain thinks volume up. My web browser thinks refresh. Click click. Ohh, look, my movie is gone. It's negotiating to transfer the movie again. Fantastic.

Stupid F5 key. Stupid Watch Now player. Stupid keyboard overlay that doesn't match the actions. Grrrrrr.


Sea of Links

I'm loving Google's My Maps, but it is missing something. As the folks at work keep saying, you need to be able to save a link to maps that other people send you, and I agree. Google gives you links to recently viewed maps, but as far as I can tell, you can't save them.

Until Google gives us that feature, try this hack. Pick a random spot in the world. That will be your link drop. Then, just drop a placemarker for each map you want to save. Then in the description, set it to HTML mode and edit in your link to that map. You really don't need the marker on the map, but this will keep those map links within Google maps at least.


Intel Inside...the TV

Mark Cuban has a post up at Blog Maverick discussing HDTVs as PCs. As to computers in the TV, I agree 100%. It just has to happen. Computers are now amazingly cheap and TVs are getting amazingly complex, or at least the stuff they need to display is getting amazingly complex.

Mark did say some things that had me shaking my head though.

Remember when you would buy a new PC every couple years to keep up and you would buy a new TV every decade ? Well thats about to reverse itself. You no longer feel the need to get the latest and greatest desktop PC, but you are about to get in the habit of upgrading your TV every couple years as new and original features and applications are developed for it.

Yes, I remember the computer treadmill. A new one every 2 or 3 years, just to be able to run what was current. There's no way I'm going to do that with TVs, especially TVs that now cost in the thousands, not the hundreds of dollars.

In 3 years the mainstream TV will be 70" and cost less than $1500. In 5 years, it could be 100" for $2500 dollars . Yes, you will make room for it. You will redesign the family room or your bedroom to make room.

I'm guessing Mark's house is a little bigger than mine. There's no way I can fit a 100" tv in either my family room or my bedroom. It might fit downstairs in what can be a home theater room, but even then, 100" is gigantic and you need to sit a long way away from that screen. People aren't going to build bigger houses to hold their bigger TVs. At least, not the masses.

So back to the computer in the TV. Absolutely, I want this. If you've seen an Apple TV, your first thought is Why can't they just cram that in the back of the LCD? I wonder if the current Apple TV is the first in a family of products. It doesn't take much imagination to picture a 30" Apple display with an Apple TV built in.

Apple isn't the only company that can make this happen, but they appear to be one of the few that care. The on screen menus of many of todays DVD players, receivers, and HD tuners look like they were designed by engineers. They navigate like they were designed by engineers. They frustrate the crap out of their users. In case I'm being too subtle, most engineers can't design UIs. The ones that can are usually designers.

Part of the reason they suck so bad is that they're written in low level languages running on very basic display hardware. It takes a lot of effort to make stuff look good with those resources. Contrast that with the Apple TV. It's a full-blown computer running a full-blown OS that can make use of full-blown development tools and techniques. The Apple TV costs $300, but that's not that much more to pay on top of a TV that already costs $3000. I say build it in. You might think this leads to the upgrade path that Mark suggests. I'd like to think the opposite. Build in some general purpose hardware and let folks at it. Look at all of the new functionality that has been built on the Apple TV. Look at the tremendous work done to add functionality to routers with the DD-WRT project. If you open it up (intentionally or not), they will build for it.

Let me run widgets on my TV. Let me cut out the weather warnings with stylesheets for TV. Let me build a channel guide that doesn't suck.

It seems to me that this is what Mark Cuban would want, and I think he does. He wants people to continue to sit in front of their TVs and watch HDNet. To keep them there with compelling user experiences. He even points out some of the ways that features are being added to TVs. However, pay attention to the subscription fees for services like caller-id on your TV though. I don't want a plan for my TV!

So, to sum it up, TV manufacturers need to build up the development capabilities of their TVs. Focus on the experience. Focus on the interface. Do these things and you'll get my dollars.


Photo Hunt CR 2

A new Photo Hunt is starting and I've given it its own site. It officially starts on Monday, but the first locations are up, so come join the fun.


iPod Wireless Sync - Still Hoping

The rumors of a wireless iPod are starting up again. It's been over 2 years since I first called for a wireless iPod on this blog. So if it hasn't happened by now, why would it?

  • Apple TV trickle down - The work of figuring out wireless syncing is already done. Apple did that work for the Apple TV and it works well. They've already dealt with the errors and the intervals. Now, this is over 802.11 flavors, not Bluetooth, but at this point, wireless is wireless. I'll live with Wi-Fi, but I still want Bluetooth.

  • Cost - It's years later. The Bluetooth radios are dirt cheap now, especially in iPod quantities.

  • Market has been prepped - The Zune has plowed that road. The wireless hasn't proved to be a killer app, but people are aware that it is in there. Apple loves to come late to the party and do it right. Here's an opportunity.

  • iPhone trickle down - We still don't have any good info on whether the iPhone can sync wirelessly, but Apple engineers certainly learned plenty of mechanical and electrical lessons with the radios they put in the iPhone.

  • Draw Upgrades - If you have a 5G iPod, what would make you upgrade? A bigger hard drive? Doubtful. They're getting pretty big. Until they get a bigger screen, people aren't rushing to toss gigs and gigs of movies on them. Size isn't an issue. If you wanted something smaller, you'd get a nano. Battery life might be nice, but would you buy a new one for that? Wireless done right could be a feature to upgrade for.

Now, why wouldn't it happen?

  • Cost - Adding even $5 on for a Bluetooth radio is quite a bit, not only in parts, but development time and support costs.

  • Product differentiation - If you can sync wirelessly with the iPhone, Apple might want to keep that feature high end to drive sales of the iPhone.

  • Battery life - If you believe that the iPhone only gets 40 minutes of battery life then you probably think the iPod would only get 30 :) In any case, radios do burn juice. You don't get to use them for free.


Chapters and the iTunes Store

When the iTunes store first opened, you could buy continous mix CDs from DJs, but you only got the individual tracks. This sucked because of the lack of gapless support in both iTunes and the iPod. They've since added gapless support, or so they say. I still thinks it sucks because it only works about 20% of the time for me. The gap is gone, sure, but usually they cut the tinyest bit of the music too. You probably won't notice it in a live show, or perhaps even a mixed album, but you hear it in DJ mixes, especially if you have a DJ brain and can't turn off the counting in your head.

So gapless playback is poor, but the iTunes store has made this better by giving you a free continous mix, all in one track, along with the individual ones. Electric Calm 3 is one example of this. The problem with these all-in-one files is that you can't jump between the tracks like you are able to on a CD. We know that Apple has a tool to add chapter markers to files. Is it that they don't work on protected files? I decided to find out.

I made a copy of my purchased Electric Calm 3 file. I then whipped up a quick XML file with some chapter points to apply to the copied file. ChapterTool was called, and after a long delay, ChapterTool tells me status: ok. Cool, time to try it.

Sure enough, it plays just fine and the chapter marks are fully functional. This really makes me wonder why they don't do this from the start. It would make the file far more useful. Well, I guess I have the power to do it myself now. Time to write some code to auto-generate the necessary XML file.


Apple TV Linkage

It's all coming fast and furious now. Here's some links.

Fudbuster - So everyone is linking the AP technology review and blowing things out of proportion with the Barely Watchable comment. It's true, there is a lot of bad content on the iTunes store, but you can't pin that on the Apple TV. The output from it can look stunning. For proof, fire up one the HD video podcasts like the one from DiveFilm.

Features - Engadget has a nice walk-thru on how to add codecs for DivX and Xvid. I really don't care, but plenty of people seem to.

Fudbuster - Roughly Drafted has some fantastic facts on the Apple TV myths, including 5.1 audio and comparisons to Xbox. You might recognize some of the arguments.

Features - Make your Apple TV run Perl scripts. There's a hack I can get behind. Now where did I put my camel book?

Features - Make your own Apple TV scrensaver.

It's pretty obvious that the Apple TV is pretty wide open at this point. You can add just about anything to it and that's only going to get easier. Now if someone would figure out how to get widgets on it so I can stop with my cheesy image hacks. Maybe Perl is the key.


My Maps Impresses

Man, I love Google. They just keep giving us the good stuff. The latest is My Maps which lets you draw, annotate, link, and add multimedia to your Google Maps. The tools are simple but very powerful. I love this idea. I loved it when all of these folks built their own implementations use the Google Maps API. Unfortunately, I never loved it enough to muck around with those setups. Now, I don't have to. Google has made it dead easy.

To try it out, I made a map of the locations from my Photo Hunt that ran on this blog back in 2005. It was very easy and a lot of fun. You just click the map to drop a locator and then type your title and text. If you want to add links and photos, just switch to HTML mode and edit away. I found that the rendering will respect img attributes like align and height. You can use height to limit the rendering size of an image that might be a little large for the locator description. The only drawback is that you need your photos to already be online. They don't (yet) have an image upload feature like Blogger does.

These maps are really a lot of fun to make and they will be great for your friends and family to view too. I've written enough about geotagging in the past for you to know I'll be making maps of my vacations :)

Next up, I plan to map some of the cycling routes around town that I enjoy. My Maps is great! Thank you Google.


Podcasted Television - Is Viacom Learning?

So we all know that Viacom has sued Google for a billion dollars. They don't like their content up on YouTube, and I don't blame them.

Viacom isn't all evil. Comedy central has some video podcasts that I enjoy, and just this week I subscribed to The Best Week Ever podcast from Vh1. My wife and I enjoyed the show when we had cable. We were disappointed to see that the podcast was outtakes, and other random junk. That is until a couple of days ago when the full weekly episode showed up!

Now we're getting somewhere. I don't get why you can't already subscribe to television shows (ignoring Joost until they let me into the beta). I know that networks like to sell season DVDs and show by show on the iTunes store, but at the same time, all of the major networks, and many cable networks, are putting up their content for free streaming on the net. They include commericals and I'm fine with that.

Unfortunately, watching TV on your computer isn't the greatest experience. Hooking you computer to your TV makes it better, but you still have to do crap like this with cables hanging everywhere. Ugg.

So now I have the Apple TV. 1 wire hooks it to my TV. It is small, sleek, and ready to rock. Now I just need the networks to get over the mental hurdle that seperates streaming television vs. podcasted television. They can still include the ads. They can even limit the resolution and bit rate to less than DVD quality if they want. Rather than fight their viewers, they should just embrace them. Look at the silly minute shifting they do to keep your DVR from recording their show (or other network's shows). You don't need a DVR if you can get the content directly from the broadcasters!


5 of The Now

  • Lemongrass - Aloha Lemongrass - Filmothèque - Aloha Perhaps this would make a good ring tone on the iPhone :)

  • Bloc Party - On Bloc Party - A Weekend In the City - On The whole album is good. I could have listed 4 or 5 here.

  • Robyn - Konichiwa BitchesRobyn - Konichiwa Bitches - EP - Konichiwa Bitches You probably remember Robyn from her '97 album Robyn is here. I lost track of her since then. I really didn't even know she was still making music. Well, she was, and some of it is "new" on the iTunes store now. This track has a Gwen Stefani, Fergie feel to it, but since she originally released it in 2005, you really can't say she's jumping on the bandwagon. If you are wondering about the track title, I believe it is because she's signed to Konichiwa records. At first I was digging the Trentemoller remix, but the original is now my favorite. The video is quite the experience.

  • RJD2 - The Third Hand RJD2 - The Third Hand I can't pick a single track just yet. Right now, the whole album sounds pretty good.

  • Shonky - Olympia Spacey, airy, watery, all in one. This one really builds and I love the "shake" sounds.