Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What IS a YubNub?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
I came across this nifty little web artifact at the suggestion of a friend and since then I have found its uses many and indispensable. The system is known as YubNub (I know not why) and it is a simple "command line for the web" that is also "social." I'll go over each of these separately.

First of all, YubNub operates in a way similar to command line code. This is the code used to directly control the aspects of an operating system (often Linux users are heavy command line users). YubNub commands are similar to these OS commands in the sense that anything you can do the long way in a browser, you can do the short way with a simple command.

Here's an example:
Let's say I want to do a Google image search for pictures of dogs. I could go to Google's Images website and enter "dogs" as my query:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

While this is all fine and dandy, if I routinely do this, going to the site every time does take up a good number of page loads. What if I could just go directly to the results and skip going to the Google Images page? With YubNub I can.

First of all, I have made up a little shortcut for entering commands. While they can be entered directly at YubNub.org, I find this defeats the purpose so I have installed the YubNub search engine plug-in in my search bar for Firefox (actually I use Flock, but the process is the same). I should note that incidentally the guy who suggested YubNub to me wrote this particular plug-in.
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Once I have the plug-in installed, it's easy to find all the pictures of dogs I want. I simply type "gim dogs."
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And presto, I have results:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

While this code does have a certain syntax to it, it is easy to learn. This is because of the "social" aspect. Each prefix code was invented by users who simply had a need for quick access to some site. Examples are "g" for Google Search, "gim" for Google Images, "gifl" for Google I'm Feeling Lucky searches, "wiki" or "wp" for Wikipedia search, and "ls" which lists the other thousands of available codes. Don't see a rather obvious code for a site you frequent? There is a feature to add new codes as well. The best codes are selected by the people who run YubNub and are known as "golden eggs," indicating their intrinsic value.

I hope you guys like this service as much as I do and please leave comments about what you think of it.

Note: Screenshots via Images.Google.com, YubNub.com, and my browser (Flock).

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Never fear...finals are almost over!

I just want to assure readers that there will be more posts coming soon...finals are almost over and then I'll be good to go with all the holiday tech news you can handle.  Specificially look forward to a bit about YubNub and the new Hulu video distribution system for NBC shows.

Hope everybody got through their finals alright!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Even the Internet Memes are on Strike!

While I'm stressing over finals, I thought I'd put up a nifty little clip that tells of the strike being held by the various internet meme animals. If you don't know, a meme is basically a piece of media or culture that gets passed around by people...see Star Wars Kid. Anyway here's the video and yes that some version of Chocolate Rain in the background. Support the strike!

As a side note, I've done some digging and determined that at least with YouTube videos, it is quite legal to play embedded videos on one's blog. Basically the only provision is that you not make the video the entire selling point of the website (which I HOPE is not the case here...). Anyway, if you're bored, here are the sites I researched to find out this fun piece of info:
YouTube Terms of Service (do a word search for "embed")
Embedded Video and Copyright Infringement (from the Citizen Media Law Project)

I love good, solid online resources. Later!

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Tech in the GOP YouTube Debate

So, the Republicans had another debate? Does it really matter...who won...who lost? Sadly, if you want to know THAT you'll need to Google it (or actually watch it...), because I'm going to discuss the technology aspects of this new debate format. You see, this debate was different from most because it was comprised almost entirely of questions sent in via YouTube. The idea of this is to allow "regular citizens" to get their questions answered directly by the people they are to vote for.
GOP Youtube Debate Question(screenshot from the list of YouTube questions asked)

My first criticism actually occurred a few months ago as I mentioned the Democratic YouTube debate. Do follow the link, but basically my complaint was that CNN made a poor choice by videotaping a screen playing a low-res video. Not only did this further wash out the picture, but it also made it even smaller than we're used to. This time, thankfully, CNN chose a different layout and played the video in picture, but at a size appropriate to the viewer's screen. The videos were much easier to make out. If they really want to up the ante next time they should display the videos at their original higher resolutions (which YouTube has mentioned they keep when videos are originally uploaded).

The next thing that irked me was the way in which the debate was actually disseminated. I was unable to watch the debate live because I had to go to a meeting in the middle. This meant that I was completely at the mercy of YouTube and CNN if I wanted to actually watch the debate. After it ended, I expected to be able to find the debate on CNN.com. Of course, I was disappointed and had to settle for some random clips of it that had been assembled instead. I wasn't completely suprised by this because often networks don't post their shows directly after they air. Even still I was unable to partake in their content and I can't see why they would want that. Next, I searched YouTube and was surprised to see that either no one posted it up or YouTube had taken down all relevant clips. [Thanks to the magic of blog editing and the help of a commenter, I need to correct this last bit...it turns out that YouTube did post the whole debate, it just wasn't clear to me that it was not just the questions asked, but the whole debate...sorry YT!] It was not until about 18 hours later that CNN was gracious enough to grant us fully continuous files of the debate. I think this turn around time is far too long to be excused by the need to edit or reformat the video. Also, the files downloaded fairly slowly because of their size, which makes me wish the networks understood why torrenting is so popular.

I will say that I enjoyed the debate, or at least as much as a moderate like myself can enjoy watching Republicans fight over who is more conservative. The questions did seem to be a little more carefully picked than last time and did not produce any really explosive arguments. The one content-related thing I didn't like was that contrary to the Democratic YouTube debate, where the candidates used their own videos as a way to describe themselves (in the sense of an introduction), the majority of the Republican created videos which were blantant attacks against the others standing next to them. That came off to me as cheap.

Anyway, enough editorial. This is my last "syndicated" article through the Broadside Online until the end of winter break, so if that's how you've found Mason Tech Beat, please add me to your RSS feed list or bookmark this site! I'll still be writing some throughout the winter, but I'll go ahead now and say have a safe and happy holiday!

Download the GOP YouTube Debate
Watch the Individual Questions Asked

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Magic iPhone Revelation and Debate Tonight

Just a quick update that kind of relates to that iPhone review I did recently.  It seems that my scrolling problem (whenever you pick up the finger, it moves your carefully placed slider) may have been simplified by a rather intuitive Apple function.  The II> and <II buttons on either side of the play button can be held down and they will actually play video and, I assume, sound at increasingly high speed backward or forward.  This is much easier to use and pretty much solves any problem I have with that feature.

Also, look forward to my next post, which will be about the usage of tech in the Republican YouTube debates.  While I already complained about how they did it last time with the Democrats, I'm interested to see if anything is different tonight.  The debate is on CNN at 8 and will use YouTube clips from inquisitive constituents.  Check it out, even if you're on the opposing side.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Twittering with the Best of Um

TwitterPixelsIf you're reading this, you're probably at least a little savvy of blogging. A blog is a very free-form term nowadays that grossly covers any kinds of website in a "post-by-post" format. Now, a new form of blogging is coming out to play and it has its own ideas about what makes up a blog. It's called "microblogging" and as you can imagine, it's a very small version of its big brother, the weblog. While a number of ways to microblog are vying for space on the internet, the most popular by far is Twitter.

Before we can discuss Twitter or any of its competators, the basics of the technology must be understood. Once a blog has been published, each post can either be read on the original page, or, if the blogger is at all interested in getting people to read his or her page, the blog can be read in RSS format. An RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed is a blog that has been digested into machine code so that it can be viewed with many other feeds in a standardized form. Feed readers like Google Reader or the reader built in to Flock make it easy to read a lot of different blogs, all at the same time.

If a post is too long, it either has to be truncated in RSS or it will take up a large portion of the feed. While regular weblogs struggle with this, sites like Twitter excel at making lots of short posts. Each Twitter user has an account from which they can post little blurbs up to 150 words 140 characters long. As soon as they hit enter, the micro-post (or "Tweet") is syndicated to their long stream of other little posts. This can then be digested as RSS and a users can "follow" the microblogs of many different Twitter users.

An example of what this kind of microblogging looks like is posted on the left side of this page. What you can see is a live feed of my Tweets that have been ported over from my Twitter account (Loyaleagle) and relayed as an RSS feed. I can post about what's going on in my life, send private messages to other users, and generally get a quick pulse of how my friends and favorite organizations are doing. That's right, a lot of companies and groups have Twitter feeds that they update with information about product updates and just crazy stuff happening in their part of the world.

There are a number of competitors, Jaiku and Pownce ranking near the top, but as with any social network, the one with the most of your friends is going to be your choice. I don't really have many friends on Twitter (it isn't very popular in the college scene yet), but I have found that most of the things I follow online are attached to a Twitter feed. Facebook has a similar feature with the "status" update you can apply to your profile, but because it is grounded in RSS, there are many more ways to display a Twitter feed.

Anyway, good luck Twittering and let me know what YOUR favorite microblogging agent is!

Edit: corrected the length of a twitter post

Works Used:
The image ("
My Twitter Friends: update") was created by Flickr user "Josh Russel" and is licensed under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

The iPhone Experience (Part 2)

Ok, so not quite "one month later," but I've finally gotten around to that magic period when I'm still new to the iPhone but I've generally figured out all of its quirks. While this is by no means an absolute review of the product, I will mention the things that have particularly irked me or made me glad about the iPhone. If you are new to The Beat and are confused by the title, check out Part 1.

First of all, I made a little video (with the help of the Broadside Online A/V team) about how I use the iPhone and I want to integrate that into this article. I'll also admit that this was the first time that I've ever uploaded to YouTube and it was surprisingly easy.

Here ya go:
(If you are not liking the low volume/resolution of the YouTube video, feel free to download the file directly for easy home viewing.)

So, from that cheery little display, what do I really think of the iPhone? Well on the one hand, I use it litterally every half-hour or so (or more of course) and I have sucessfully integrated so many funtions into it that I don't even need to take my computer around with me anymore. Does that mean I don't carry my computer around any more? No. (Now I can have TWO!)

There are a few downsides to the device though and I'll run through those as I talk about each feature. I think I will do that in home-screen order, just so the folks at home can keep track.

SMS (Text Messaging):
This feature works very well, using the same basic interface as iChat. I'm not much of a texter, but I have enjoyed the experience I've had texting on the iPhone. Right now is probably a good time to mention the keyboard. While many people complain about not having a tactile keyboard, it really has been designed as well as I can imagine. The typing correction is really pretty good once you accept it as part of the system. My only complaint is that the return key and the backspace are very close together and I often hit one instead of the other. I can live with that.

Calendar (Keeps your days straight):
I have to be honest, as I use Google Calendar and don't use any form of Outlook (see: Thunderbird) I can't really use this feature. It looks very nice, but until they get it to sync for PCs in some way other than Outlook, it's a non-feature. I currently use the intuitive gCal mobile page, and that's doing ok as long as I have some signal at all.

Camera and Photos (*click*):
The camera is really pretty nice and looks GREAT on the high density screen of the iPhone. Except for the difficulty of keeping a shot from blurring, the camera can almost replace a regular one if you're in a pinch (as I am now...). When reviewing the photos, you get a great intuitive interface and easy options. Really, did you think Apple wouldn't excel at imaging?

YouTube (...bored?):
My witty comment pretty much says it all. I really never use this unless I am completely bored. I'm not a regular YouTube user (unless a video just happens to link there). That is to say, I don't go to YouTube.com's homepage and start from there. So I don't really do that on the iPhone. Really, I think this is just a way for Apple to sneak out of Flash support (which isn't too irritating...until you want to watch an embedded video).

Stocks (Apple Roller Coaster Viewer):
Well if you don't own stocks or watch them, you can skip this, but if you do, this is a really interesting feature. Sure you can always look up stocks on Safari, but that's kinda slow. This app lets you sort around your favorite stocks and retrieve financial data from Yahoo Finance. Everything in that sentence was good until "Yahoo Finance." I really don't like Yahoo Anything, but Yahoo Finance is truly lame. While there price data is usually accurate, the graphs don't really show that much information (it's more like an artist's rendition, which may be Apple's fault), but worst of all, when you actually click through to Yahoo's page for a stock, the news is pretty worthless. I have always used Google Finance and I think it has great tools for analysis. I don't know why Apple went with Yahoo on this one.

Maps (Where Am I?!?):
Ironically, the map can't tell you where you are because there is no built in GPS, but then again using Google, it's not that hard to find a local address in most places. I really like this feature because it uses Google Maps, one of my favorite online apps, loads quickly on Edge, and is kind of fun to play with in satellite mode. It really works the way you want it to, though sometimes it can be a pain because it doesn't let you drag the route around. Definitely an A feature though.

Weather (Because Moble Users Never Know If It's Raining):
It's a basic weather app and it tells you the general weather conditions for whatever areas you ask it for. Very pretty and easy to use.

Clock and Calculator (couldn't think of anything witty to say):
Basically, the clock button takes you to World Time, Alarm, Stopwatch, and Timer. The calculator is full function. These are all pretty useful little things that do what they are supposed to.

Notes (Like A Notepad, Only Worse):
I'm kind of impressed that Apple managed to mess up the basic notepad. It has next to no options, is in an annoying scripty font that cannot be changed, and is a little more graphical than it needs to be. Also, these notes can never be moved off of the iPhone. Basically this is only useful for the briefest of notes.

Settings, Other Random Things:
These are kind of boring, but the good thing to know is that there are pretty elaborate settings that offer much more than say, an iPod. I do take issue with the auto-brightness, as it never seems to really seems to be at the right brightness for the ambient light of the room (an advertised feature). Most everything else works pretty well.

I haven't done a whole lot on this because it is basically a music buying service for mobile (something I still don't get), but it only works on WiFi so that's kind of a downer.

Phone (iPhone - i = ?):
I really like the phone feature a lot. It has favorites for quick dialing, recent calls, a very easy to use contacts screen, standard numeric keypad, and visual voicemail. Visual voicemail is cool because it is a really quick way to check your voicemail and then immediately call the person back. Also, no waiting through audio menus. The one complaint that I and others have about the phone is the lack of voice-calling support. This could still be added at a later date, so I'll keep my hopes up.

This works like any basic mail system on a smartphone, but I find flipping through the menus kind of irritating because there are so many screens to do so little. Also, since there is now way to stop spam, it all basically hits your phone, even if your mail client can stop it later. Generally this is only an "ok" feature.

Safari is one of the best things about the iPhone. It really is the best browser available for mobile and the usage is amazingly intuitive. It takes a little while to figure out a couple of the controls (just because it is not really in the native places for a PC), but after this, any non-flash intensive site is going to be fine. Also, there are many mobile apps for the iPhone, so just Google around and you'll eventually find what you're looking for.

This next-generation iPod interface is perfect in almost every way. The navigation is very easy to use and the visual stuff, both video and still images, is very stimulating. There are two complaints that I have. The slider bar is next to impossible to accurately move around so navigation in a song/podcast is difficult. Also, it is sometimes hard to pause a playing iPhone because the screen has locked and it takes at least 4 clicks to really stop the thing. Anytime someone wants to say hi when I'm walking around, it can be a hassle to stop the music. Besides that, I really love having the iPhone as a music/video player. The pixel density is unreal and I sometimes find myself just staring at the Appley goodness of it.

So, what's the verdict? Well, I personally have really had a good experience with the iPhone. Every subsequent firmware update has made the device more stable and more useful. The experience is still a little bit like using a Beta product, but at the same time, the technology that the iPhone uses is, in some cases, second to none. Should you get one? If you think it is worth the price, you can get one now, but I would at least wait until MacWorld in January before doing anything drastic. That's all I'll say on the iPhone for a while, but expect the occasional update, now that I have on surgically attached to my hip.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What they don't teach you in English 101...

Whenever I'm looking for stuff to post on this blog or any other website, it's always a pain to find images or reference materials that aren't under the standard set of copyright protections. Now, while copyright is fairly important to our current system of intellectual property (though this is certainly not an ideal system), the "all rights reserved" clause can make sharing stuff on the web rather difficult. If I want to post something protected by copyright up on this blog, I first have to located the author (who may be off sunning himself on the beaches of Mongolia for all I know). If only there were an easier way for people pre-approve the use of their works in certain ways.

Well, a group of people worried about regular copyright's implications on the fast-paced world of internet media founded something called Creative Commons in 2001. Creative Commons provides a free licensing program (along with a number of support services) that can indicate to the viewers of a work: if that work can be used by others, what it cannot be used for, and if there are specific restrictions that apply to the use of the work. While many artist and media producers would like to individually OK every use of their work, many more, like myself, prefer an easy way to let people share their work without fearing a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Like I said, I don't mind it when people use stuff from my blog as long as they note where it came from. You can see to the left of this post, I've put up a Creative Commons license marker indicating that as long as the work is non-commercial, attributed, and shares the same kind of license in the future destination, everything is cool. When a viewer clicks on the maker, it takes them straight to a site that lays all that out in plain English. Here's a video, just in case you're a visual learner...

Pretty cool, huh?

If you'd like to learn more about how to apply Creative Commons to your creative works, just go to their site and take some time to read over the materials that they have provided. When you feel comfortable you understand the implications of leaving behind some of your "reserved rights," run through their set-up system and you'll be all ready to go!

The video ("Wanna Work Together?") was created by Creative Commons and is licensed under a CC Attribution 2.5 Generic License.
The image ("Creative Commons Logo") was created by Flickr user "SV Contact" and is licensed under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Some Great Video Podcasts

How do I stay sane between chem exams and bio labs? Watching and listening to podcasts, of course. If you don't know, podcasts are free audio or video shows that are pre-recorded and often focus on a specific topic or genre. While the audio portion has been around for a while...basically radio shows were the first incarnation of what we now call podcasts...video podcasting (similar and sometimes the same as Vloging) has really taken off in the last few years. This is mostly because video-enabled phones and portable media players have become much more popular. If you're one of those new owners of a video playing device, you're in luck! I've been upping my podcast count recently and I have compiled a little list of my top video podcast picks:

FIrst off, there are a number of staples such as -
Rocketboom - a video podcast which runs down interesting news, important events and memes, and often offers some pretty enlightening social commentary (also the host is a hot chick).
Ask A Ninja - a pretty self-explanatory vlog that involves a ninja answering questions about the universe while promising to kill you...you should already know by the end of this sentence if this show is for you.
Diggnation - this is basically thirty minutes of Kevin Rose (founder of DIgg.com) and Alex Albrecht talking about interesting stories on Digg and pretty much anything else...all while getting slightly intoxicated...it's kind of an acquired taste
Geekbrief.TV - a cool little show about technology for people who are specifically into cutting-edge gadgets...it can be a tad silly at time, but again...hot chick!

Beyond these, which you'll find about 8 seconds after you start looking for iPod fodder, there is one newish video podcast that I wanted to feature: EPIC-FU.

EPIC-FU (which just changed its name from JETSET), is a weekly video podcast that talks about everything from the internet to music to pop culture in general. While I've always found this model to be a bit too much like a teen magazine, the EPIC-FU team really pulls it off nicely. Their reviews of websites and bands are great and the camera-work is very eye-catching (reminds me of zefrank). On top of all that...HOT CHICK! But don't just take my word for it, here's an embed of one of their most recent shows (if you watch the whole show, I bet you'll subscribe):
Note: a wee bit of profanity, just so ya know....

If you didn't watch...go back, you missed West Side Story as a zombie movie...

You seem to have...questions...
  • Are there tons more great video podcasts? Of course, you think these are all I watch????
  • Are there even more audio-only podcasts? Yep, pretty much every interest group has at least a handful to its name.
  • Why don't all podcasts have hot chicks? I don't know.
  • Do I have any more time to list these things off? No :(

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bonus Feature: The Dvorak Keyboard

I just found out about this interesting little piece of keyboard technology and I wanted to share it with you. It's quick, EASY, and might just become your favorite way to personalize your usage of your keyboard. I've typed the following sentence without the aid of the QWERTY layout.

"I'm typing this sentence with the Dvorak keyboard layout."

Ok, I'll admit that took me about two minutes to type that line, but the cool thing is that I in fact was able to do it at all, without downloading any new keybindings to my Dell (though it would work on a Mac or even a Linux machine). The Dvorak system was designed in the last century to replace the really inefficient and stressful QWERTY system (that's the keyboard layout you're probably using right now...your top row of keys spells the name). The new system was based on how people actually use the keyboard and was also made to emphasize easier keystrokes. It never caught on as a major system, but it was added to the SI system and can be found on any computer made today.

I plan to make learning this better layout my new project and with the aid of some built-in hotkeys, I can switch back any time I want. Of course I learned all this stuff from somewhere and I'll direct your attention to The Dvorak Zine, a fun little cartoon strip that has lots and lots of info and tips about using the Dvorak system.

The Dvorak Zine (screenshot)
Good luck and have fun defying QWERTY!

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Give a Writer a Break!

Well, I almost feel silly writing about this event, simply because any one of you can just turn on your TVs and BAM, you'll figure it out pretty quick. If you change the channel to the major networks during prime-time (or you watch soaps), you'll notice only re-runs during mainstream Fall viewing. If you switch over to the news, you'll notice that there is a nation-wide writers strike going on. If you watch only sports, well that's what I'm here for.

First of all, the strike has been ordered by the Writers Guide of America (WGA), which is the union that every writer in Hollywood belongs to. The strike began on November 5th and abruptly stopped all writing, meeting about writing, and in some cases (like with writer/producers) production as well. While there was some lead-time on this strike and the studios had the ability to prepare a few more scripts than normal, many shows that are written daily, such as soaps and daytime TV, have already become vast marathons of re-runs.

I'm sure that those of you who are just hearing about this are asking yourselves a few questions...are MY favorite shows affected?...is this strike thing really universal (are all writers really striking)?...won't this be over soon so I can get back to watching my favorite shows? The answers are pretty much yes, yes, and who knows. Pretty much any show that needs people to write up a script for is will soon be out of new content, if it hasn't already. The union is very large and over 4000 writers showed up in front of FOX networks when it was their turn to get a taste of the picket. Really, I personally haven't seen any indications of major strike-breaking or scabbing and I think that you will come to understand why as I lay out the
WGA's argument for the strike.

First of all, I'm sure you have already figured out that it's about the money. Writers have a very odd way of making a living. They get paid for what they write and then they get paid for any time that work is broadcast (including reruns) and for copies of that work sold on DVD. Writers actually had to strike before just to get paid for reruns. Anyway, this residual system is very important for writers, because most writers are out of work most of the time. Writers work for the TV stations and even a very successful show is canceled at some point. Residuals help keep writers afloat while they find a new project to join up with.

Now, more and more content is being put up on the internet. This realm of "new media" has ads and viewers, just like broadcast television, but the writers are receiving NOTHING for this form of broadcast. Also, writers are still trying to regain a part of the cut they are supposed to be getting for DVD purchases. In the past, writers gave up 80% of their cut in order to grow the VHS market (this was when home video was just beginning as a technology) with the understanding that that cut would be given back once the market was healthy. Now, that cut has been extended to DVDs and will probably happen to online purchases like those from iTunes. In short, the writers are simply trying to get back the residuals that were promised to them and to ensure that in the future, as more and more TV goes online, that they will be able to reap the bounty of their shows.

There are some great sites that are following the strike, but the best source is coming from UnitedHollywood.com, which is kind of the heartbeat of the strike's internet presence. Also, I HIGHLY suggest you watch this YouTube video that describes the strike's historic implications in a clear and concise way.

Personally, I'm a bit sad that the strike had to happen now. I have been getting into a lot of great shows this season and I'm upset that they may be cut short because of the strike. Heroes may be cut from 23 to 11 episodes this season and the gap-filler series, Heroes: Origins, may have been tossed out entirely. Also, The Office, Desperate Housewives, Lost, 24, and many others will be suffering from the strike. From what I understand, if the strike goes beyond two weeks, every network's seasons will be completely screwed up for quite a while.

That being said, I really support the writers, because without them, there would be no great shows at all. This isn't just some political/corporate showdown between the union and the studios, the writers clearly feel very strongly about this and even those who may lose their jobs because of it are standing strong at the picket line.

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Monday, November 5, 2007

Buzz Out Loud "Appearance"

Hey everybody, sorry to have been away for so long, but sometimes I do actually do have academic demands to fulfill (in between visits to Digg). Anyway, the iPhone part II will be coming soon, but here is a little interlude before that....

I am an officer in a club here at Mason and we were trying to organize a movie night. The idea cropped up as almost an afterthought while we were on a trip, so we didn't expect the planning to be a big deal. As it happens, this couldn't have been further from the case. We had no trouble getting the movie, 28 Days Later, because our advisor is a faculty member and simply checked it out of the media center in the JC. It was when we tried to find a place to view the movie that we ran into trouble.

We initially went to Housing and asked to reserve one of the lounges or maybe the cinema in Eisenhower. As soon as they learned that we planned to watch a movie and didn't have a license for it, they barred us from using their facilities. I initially thought we had a case in the mighty "Fair Use Doctrine," which gives certain rights to media users that are contained in their ownership of a copy of something. For instance, watching a movie at your home with a few friends (who did not pay for any part of the movie) is not specifically "allowed," but has been OKed by Fair Use decisions. I figured that we fell into the "educational exemption" for Fair Use, which is commonly used by teachers when they want to show a movie to their class. We are an educational organization that is linked to a professional organization as well. After some research, it seems that you only get some sort of protection in Fair Use if you are "a teacher," "presenting the work as part of a pre-designed lesson plan," and four other strict guidelines that pretty much restrict the Fair Use exemption to classrooms alone.

With this sad state of affairs recognized, I quickly realized that the hosts of Buzz Out Loud would probably LOVE to hear of my plight and might even have some insight. I sent off a voicemail (in MP3 form...it is a podcast after all) to their show and they aired it. In fact they not only aired it, but devoted several minutes to discussing the rediculousness of our situation. They at first also though "Fair Use will save us" but alas I sent them a follow up email, which they read on their show, and it explained why even that doesn't do it. Overall, I didn't get any help, but I'm glad to add my voice to a huge number of group leaders who have trouble getting stuff done because of restrictive copyright laws. Also, I'm glad they let me use their show as a sounding board for such frustration.

I will say that I have an idea which could solve the whole issue. If all the copyright major holders (as almost all of them are conglomerated together into big companies) could get together and put up a website that listed all of their works, individuals and groups could enter their usage information and pay a nominal fee for a kind of e-ticket. That e-ticket could then be placed at the place of works usage and everyone would know it was legit. The current system is too complex for a group to quickly do anything that requires a license and I think the copyright holders would probably make more money if they simple constructed a site like this. They could even monetize it by linking it to sites that sell their content (ala Amazon).

Anyway, that is my rant and I hope you will all check out Buzz Out Loud, because as podcasts of indeterminant length go, they're the top!

(if you're interested, my call and email were played on episodes 591 and 592 respectively - toward the end)

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Review: Grooveshark

After hearing about it from CNET's Buzz Out Loud podcast, I decided to try out Grooveshark, which is a new service that aims to clean up the world of P2P without becoming a puppet of the RIAA. Unlike some of the other P2P networks that used to be illegal, got taken to court, and then became clean as a way to vindicate themselves, Grooveshark is nobly trying to start clean and not suck at the same time. In order to do this, they plan to deal with the fundamental problem with file-sharing...the artists don't get paid. On the flip side, they need to make money and so does their user base, so their motto has become "Everybody gets paid."

To do this, Grooveshark has set up their site so that new users can download the Sharkbyte client (which is fairly lightweight in terms of system resources), which can then be directed to upload all of the MP3, OGG, or FLAC files located in a specified folder. Grooveshark then takes those shared tracks and marks them as available for download. Users that want to get those tracks can pay 99 cents and download it via the same client. That money then gets split between the record company that owns the song, Grooveshark, and surprisingly, the user who initially shared the music. Instead of penalizing the file-sharer, he or she is paid for putting in the effort to sell that song to another user. Right now the going rate for sharing a song is 25 cents per sale, which can add up to free tracks fairly quickly.

I have gone through these steps, though I haven't bought any music yet, and have a few comments on the model, the site, and how it all fits in with the state of file-sharing. It seems like a good idea at the start, but there are a few roadblocks that may slow down the adoption of this kind of system.

The most obvious of these roadblocks is that the model has to be able to compete with "free." In other words, Limewire-like services offer relatively high-quality music (videos and other media too) at no cost to the user. Of course, these services are heavily infested with viruses and there is no unified way to name the files so locating what you want can be difficult. BitTorrent networks have less problems with viruses, but the difficulty of understanding how the files are organized and which torrent sites to use is too challenging for many users. Grooveshark and other legit models of its generation will need to rely heavily on the quality, ease of use, and reliability of their services to draw users away from piracy and on to a paid model.

As far as I have seen (though it is a Beta so I don't judge it too harshly), the Grooveshark site is a fairly vast amalgamation of different users, tracks, artists, and forums that do not mesh well together. When searching for a song, for instance, the results bring up every instance of that song (especially when there are different spellings and capitalizations) individually and generally make it hard to determine which file is the one you want. Each instance of each song, album, or artist has its own page, which further complicates things, as they are all generally the same, have little content, and needlessly subdivide the body of each artist.

I had some trouble with the client, which again is a Beta so it is fairly understandable, so I went onto the forums. Sadly, my Grooveshark account is different from the forum account, so I had to go through the process of registering again in order to get forum help. This is not the only site that does this, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. Anyway, after I got access to the forum, I looked to see if anyone else had had my problem. Not finding anything, I entered in my problem and waited for a stronger geek to help me. Unfortunately, there don't seem to be that many users on the forum yet, and no one directly with Grooveshark has addressed my problem. Here the Beta rule does not apply. I have used many partially developed programs and web services and have almost always had a quick and informative response. Developers typically love to get bugs worked out ASAP after they go public. I can't say the same thing about Grooveshark's staff. [Ok, it seems that the gods of fate are against me today, because within seconds of posting this up, Grooveshark's help desk got back to me via email and is working with me to solve the problem. It still took a while, but I am retracting the "not getting back to me" part. :P]

I have to say that as of now I am fairly dissappointed with Grooveshark because their website is an Ajax filled mess. Also, the lack of easy [quick] bug support makes me wary of purchasing anything from the site. Still, I am idealistic and I hold out in hopes that as more users join and as Grooveshark gets itself settled, that the quality of the site will increase to a point that pirates will think about putting down cold, hard cash for what they could find elsewhere for free. There you have it...feel free to request an invite (I have 4 left) or post questions if you have any!

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The iPhone Experience (Part 1)

Hey Adoring Readers!

Aside from making up overstatements to greet you with, I have been busy procuring an iPhone.  In fact, I have one docked next to my laptop.  Despite the frequent mentions of mighty Apple, Inc, I'm not really an Apple fanboy, but more of a tech enthusiast who can appreciate a nice form factor.  After feeling the need for a convergence device for just about forever, I have finally caved and selected the 8GB iPhone. 

I'll come right out and say that the $200 price drop totally sucked me in and it was only one week later that I went into the Apple store and got one.  I'm NOT impressed at all with the purchasing experience in a busy Apple store.  There is a small checkout counter with a long line and the occasional salesperson who may be able to sell you a product you've yet to get your hands on....if you're paying the correct way....otherwise you must stand in line.  The words "confusing" and "madhouse" come to mind.  Weird sales experience aside, the box-opening was very nice, as with all Apple products, and everything for set-up and activation was fairly straightforward.  It was nice doing everything through iTunes and syncing with the iPhone is actually easier than syncing with a normal iPod, since an iPod has to go through the trouble of mounting a the same time that iTunes wants its attention.  I did find the new dock a bit tricky, though, as the iPhone kept losing the connection and reconnecting.  This has stopped happening so I assume the plug was having trouble connecting up fully the first few times.

I've had about a two complete days with my new phone/iPod/PDA and I have to say I am almost completely satisfied.  All of the apps work as advertised, the camera looks great, the videos from YouTube play very cleanly, and the setting are pretty darn clear.  The phone is nice, but then again, I had a free phone before that had pretty bad call quality.  The iPod function is by far the best feature.  Built-in coverflow is nice looking, but doesn't add much value to the interface.  The regular interface for the iPod screen is very nice though and almost fully lives up to its predicessor.  One complaint that I have is that when the iPod is playing and you need to pause, it can be a pain because whenever the screen sleeps it needs to first be unlocked before the pause can be pressed.  This takes more time than I like and I wish they had added a play/pause button on the side or something (this way it would mirror the iPod's functionality when the user cannot see the screen but can touch the wheel).

Finally, the web browser.  Safari is not my favorite browser on a PC, but on the iPhone it is very well suited.  The "tabs" feature that lets you switch windows works very well and the same can be said for the bookmarks.  I have been using AppMarks, an Ajax application for the iPhone which acts as a homepage and can take you to any number of the new and innovated applications being developed for the iPhone.  After only a little bit of time I had some trouble with the app, but when I contacted the developers, they replied quickly and solved all my problems post haste.  There is now way to set a homepage (yet), but I hope that feature is next on Apple's short list.

This is only part 1 of my review of the iPhone.  It has impressed me so far, but I plan to write another one of these after some time has passed and I've discovered all of its hidden features (or stubbed my toe on its hidden flaws).  Till then, enjoy your iPhone (or lack thereof)!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Apple Update Roll-Out

On September 5th, Apple, Inc. had their first interesting announcement in a while (unless iWork and iLife get you all riled up).  They unveiled the latest mutation of their growing iPod family...with 5 different devices.  I'm just gonna run down the info, because you have better things to do than listen to play-by-play analysis of everything Apple makes:

  • The iPod Shuffle now comes in red, as a part of their charitable line-up (scroll down after the jump).  It also comes in very pastel colors now.
  • The iPod Nano got the biggest face-lift (or drop), as the shape was made into more of a square with a larger, video screen and a pretty amazing thinness.  It comes in 8 and 16 GB sizes, though 8 GB model only comes in silver.  It seems to have basically the same software features of the old Video iPod.
  • I say "old" Video iPod because the thing that was called that is now the iPod Classic.  Basically, this is your iPod that you grew up loving, it just has video and a nice metal coat (like the Nano).  The primary use of this iPod is the fact that it can store either 80GB or 160GB, which is the largest capacity to date for an iPod.  Those who have complained that even the largest iPod is too small for their portable library now have a solution.  While one might argue that this is good for video lovers, the screen size is still pretty puny compared to....
  • ...The iPod Touch!   Yes, Apple has taken the iPhone, stripped out the phone portion, doubled the HD size and released their new creation to the public.  It has WiFi and Safari so it can still browse the web, but it doesn't have any of the smartphone-type features. 
  • Also, both the iPod Touch and the iPhone will have a new "buy iTunes stuff over WiFi" feature after the next firmware update (within the month, I believe).  The media people seem to be pretty excited about this, but I've never been convinced that mobile content is really what the public hungers for (I know I don't).
  • And finally the iPhone.....is cheaper now.  Yes, the nasty 500/600 dollar price that was so harshly critisized by the tech community has been dropped 200 dollars.  This drastic cut to $299 for the 4GB and $399 for the 8GB models was very smart in my mind.  Even though a lot of early adopters/cult members will be angry about paying too much for the product, the higher price created a sense of value for the iPhone that is now much higher than the sale price.  In my humble opinion, I think the iPhone will do extremely well in the next two seasons, as people begin to shop for the holidays and as the Apple line-up's refresh attracts new attention. 
  • Sad iPhone owners, fear not!  If you just bought one, just return it and buy it at the cheaper price.  If you bought it when it just came out, Mad-Dog Steve Jobs has issued a statement that you are all to receive $100 store credits toward anything at the Apple Store.  This presumably will work for the iTunes store too, as you could just buy an iTunes gift card at the store.  While this doesn't totally make up for the massive price drop, it will certainly soften the blow for Apple's most aggressive buyers. 
Wow, so a lot of crazy stuff.  There are a few things like overpriced ringtones and a partnership with Starbucks, but I say a big "meh" to both of those.  Also, where are The Beatles you ask?  Not on the iTunes Store.  It seems that Apple, Inc. and Apple Corp. are still working out their differences (or waiting for the next big release in October).  Yes, that's right, there is another announcement coming in October...the release of Leopard and Office '08.  This is going to be an exciting holiday season for Apple.

Oh...I'm totally gonna be getting an iPhone now, so obviously the price drop hooked me in!

Engadget live-blogged the whole thing
It's all for real on the Apple Store

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Shameless Plug

Hey All Readers!

I just wanted to make a plug for MasonWiki.  I, along with many other hardworking Broadside Onliners, have been working to create a nifty wiki for the school and fill it with as much content as we can stand.  Well, now the wiki is "launching" and our small band needs to expand to pretty much the whole student population.  If we can get enough people to join up with this thing, we'll have a great resource for freshmen, students, parents, and the rest of the interested world.  Plus, we will effectively replace the Mason site and it's crazy web structure.

The wiki format is a cool AJAX format that helps reduce pageloads and increase awesomeness.  Please jump on the wagon with this one!  All you need to do is go to the wiki, look around some of the site (via the column on the right), and then register and make a new page about whatever it is that you think needs to be added.  Also, check out the wiki frequently, as others will be adding newer, cool stuff all the time.

Any questions?...Drop me a line via email or comment.  Also, I'm "loyaleagle" on the MasonWiki.  See you there!

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Google Throws Down the Open Network Gauntlet

There are some interesting movements afoot in airwaves. As the architecture of television transmission changes from analogue to digital, a significant chunk of the regulated radio spectrum (the 700MHz section, precisely) has opened up for new "development." To quickly establish who will have access to this spectrum and what rights those individuals will have, the FCC has opened up an auction. The initial intent for this over-the-air "bandwidth" is to create the next high-speed wireless network (similar to the system used by 3G phones). What no one expected was for Google's name to come up in the list of bidders. In fact, even more surprisingly, Google has pledged $4.6 billion to the auction, with a few stipulations.

Until now, only the big telecom companies (ala Verizon and AT&T) have been able or interested in securing a part of the wireless spectrum. Because of this, the usage of said spectrum has been rather stifled by big companies that want complete control of their networks. Consumers can only use the phones that their carriers say are ok, can rarely modify the software on those phones, and generally have to operate in a kind of walled garden that is controlled by their carrier. Google's stipulations directly confront these "locked-up" rules with a set of "open" rules, elaborated in their public letter to the FCC:
  • Open applications: Consumers should be able to download
    and utilize any software applications, content, or services they desire;
  • Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize
    a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they
  • Open services: Third parties (resellers) should be
    able to acquire wireless services from a 700 MHz licensee on a wholesale
    basis, based on reasonably nondiscriminatory commercial terms; and
  • Open networks: Third parties (like internet service
    providers) should be able to interconnect at any technically feasible
    point in a 700 MHz licensee's wireless network.
In a sense, these rules would allow any users to have any standardized phone they wanted, running any available software or applications, and get to choose who they would like to get their service from. Aside from the euphoria you are probably experiencing, you may be wondering, "Why does Google care about this at all?" The answer is simple. Google has made its empire from advertisements that accompany its spectacular search page. If phones and software on those phones are opened up, Google will have found yet another market to infiltrate with those same ads. Also, they believe that, given a choice, users will use Google as much on their phones as they would on their PCs.

In response to Google's ground shaking demand for openness, the FCC has decided to accept two of Google's four rules. They are supporting the requirements for applications and devices (so unlocked phones are a distinct possibility), but they denied the request for services and networks to be sold off by a wholesaler. Of course, if Google wins the bid, it can do all the wholesaling it wants, so some would say that the decision certainly favors Google. Even still, Ars Technica reports that the bid is not until January 16, 2008, so Google and its competitors have some time to decide their long term strategies for this new set of wavelengths.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Google...Selling Music...Universal DRM-Free?...I'm So Confused!

Well, following my article on EMI's DRM-Free music, it looks like Universal Music Group (one of, if not THE largest of the music labels) has decided to follow suit.  Unlike EMI, though, Universal is planning to team up with everybody...except Apple's iTunes Music Store.  iTunes is by far the leader in digital music purchases, but some recent bad blood between the two companies may have led to iTunes exclusion from the deal.

In any event, the interesting twist in this story (aside from the importance of more DRM-Free music on the net) is Google's involvment in all of this.  People don't usually associate Google with music services, but in conjunction with a new startup called "gBox," Universal will start offering their music in a searchable format that somehow also incorperates Google's Adsense.  I'm not completely sure how this is going to work, whether gBox will be a specific client for music downloading, or whether is will simply host the conjunction of Google's ads and Universal's services.  In any event, this music will sell for 99 cents a song (iTunes DRM-Free tracks from EMI are 30 cents more expensive) and a number of services outside of gBox will also offer these tracks.

I assume that because of the extra capital provided by the Adsense, both Google and Universal have had an easier time partnering and the cost of the music has been reduced to boot.  Now, details like the bit rate of the tracks and the exact delivery method have yet to be released, but the service will go life on August 21st of this year and will tenatively end on January 31st, 2008.  This end date seems to be a failsafe in case the pilot program fails and certainly if they make a lot of money, one might expect the companies to extend the life of the program.

All in all, this is a step forward for digital download music, even if it is a little bit of a thorn in Apple's side.  It seems unlikely that Apple will be excluded from this deal indefinitely, but Universal may be wanting to play the field a bit before it unlocks its content to the download giant.

Universal to sell DRM-free music with Google’s help

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Sorry, you can't ever win in checkers...EVER!

A little over a week ago, a sad announcement came out.  Checkers is officially dead.

Ok, maybe that's being a little over-dramatic, but it's kind of true.  A computer system named Chinook that was finished in Canada in April can never lose at checkers.  The reason for this is that it can look at the state of the game and from that point, predict all possible outcomes based on all possible moves (there are 500 billion billion possible moves, according to iafrica.com).  From there it can create a kind of tree graph that shows the clearest way for it to win.  Meanwhile, its human counterparts can, at best, look a few moves ahead and will probably miss a number of possibilities along the way.  It is impossible to win, but one can create a draw if they are good.

I decided to try out this mind-destroying mechanical masterpiece for my own.  I went on down to Chinook's homepage and tried to play against it.  At first it simply told me how much of an advantage it had over me.  Then, as my terribleness at playing checkers became obvious, it just came out and suggested we play again (as it had already determined I had no possibility of winning).  That was depressing.

That being said, it does raise an interesting point about how things we consider "games," really aren't games when your mind is as large as a computer's.  It would be like being shown a rack of tubes into which one can place balls and, if the tube is chosen correctly, the player moves on to the next round with less tubes.  If one could see all of the possible moves and their outcomes, it would be like playing the tube game with only correct tubes open to have balls dropped into them.  You can't lose!  Is it really a game at that point?

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Terrible Usage of YouTube Footage

Hey Readers!  Sorry to be away from the blog for so long, but I got kind of bored of the tech that was going on (E3 didn't help, I'm not much of a gamer) and then I went away on a trip.  Anyway, I'm back and will be giving you guys some more stuff in the next week or so....

First of all, I just wanted to comment on the big Democratic YouTube Debate held by CNN.  I couldn't get a good picture of it, but I was particularly infuriated about the way that the questions were aired to the public.  To the candidates, the questions were played on little screens on their podiums and they had earpieces.  That was all fine and dandy, but when they shared the video with the American people...it went something like this:
They took the squarish flash videos, placed them on the center of a big billboard-sized movie screen, and then aimed the television cameras at that.  Now, I would have expected them to simply display the videos directly on the screens of the viewers, but for some reason a "video taken of a video" method won out in their cinematography meetings before the debate.  For this reason, the already grainy pictures from the videos were even more featureless because they were viewed with only about 30 percent of the home viewer's screen.

Granted, the first video recorders were actually cameras that took a picture of the live feed coming off of a show, but I would have thought that a big corporation like CNN wouldn't swipe their cameras from a display at the Smithsonian...

That's my first angry-rant of the blog and it certainly won't be my last!  Woo!

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Little Info on Drobo

I have just discovered this awesome little robot. His name is Drobo and he doesn't move...he doesn't sing....in fact he is basically just a big black box....

drobo pic
(Image from Engadget's review of Drobo)

So what's so cool about this robot? What even makes it a robot. Well, Drobo, made by Data Robotics, Inc, is the first "storage robot," using the term robot in the Artificial Intelligence sense (AI is sometimes known as "robotics"). It connects to your computer via USB and is viewed by the OS as a single drive. As you can see from the picture, it has multiple drives hooked up (and nifty green lights to boot!), but Drobo's AI sets them up as a large, redundant drive.

Those of you with more tech savvy are probably saying...Wait...isn't that just a RAID system? The short answer is, yes, it functions much like a RAID, which is when multiple drives are set up to work as a single unit. The benefit of this system is that if a drive fails, the other drives assume the role that the failed drive was doing. It's a great way to back-up a system.

So, why re-invent the wheel. Well, mostly because the "wheel" (RAID) comes in lots of pieces, requires some know-how to assemble, and can be tricky when installing new hardware. Drobo, the "new wheel," is very "plug and play" and does all re-allocation automatically. In fact, the impressive demo video shows the user playing a high definition video (already stored on Drobo) while failing and installing multiple drives and the video doesn't even skip. That certainly impressed me. I like to do other things while engaging in long automated processes, so being able to watch a movie or TV show while installing a new drive is really attractive.

Now, Drobo is pretty pricey. It is $499 initially, plus you have to buy drives to fill its bays. It accepts almost any SATA-type drive, though, so compatability isn't an issue. Also, like any redundant back-up, putting in x gigabytes of drive space will give you less than x gigabytes of storage space. This is because much of the space is used by the unit to make extra copies of each file. I ran a simulation in the "Drobolator" found on their site, and putting four 100GB drives in the system will only give you 277.1GB of storage space. The rest of it is "used for protection."

Why am I excited about this beyond my normal geekness for cool gadgets? Well, I see products like Drobo and Apple's Time Machine as a step toward redundant back-up for the layman. Drobo is expensive right now but the price of the unit, drives, and technology will come down eventually and soon anyone will be able to securely back-up their data to a system that can be updated with new hardware as often as necessary. Disk drive failures can cost companies thousands and individuals can lose their entire digital life in an instant. Consider this kind of tech the next generation's fire safe.

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Saturday, June 30, 2007


Broadside Online Web Logo
This post was featured on Broadside Online.

The most sought after item of the last few months has finally arrived and the crowds met it with the force of a thousand suns. Apple, Inc's new iPhone (part phone, part iPod, part internet device), has been rumored for at least a year on the internet and was announced back in January at Macworld 2007. On Friday, the iPhone was released and since then I have hunted both stores and the vastness of the internet (mostly with the help of Digg) in order to bring you the finest iPhone coverage possible. If you need more info than is contained here...you need to just buy an iPhone!

The iPhone has found a place in many people's hearts. Apple fanboys (and fangirls, too) automatically love this new tech toy because their demigod, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, made this his pet project and pretty much reworked the phone to scream "Apple!" In fact, it is a Mac in all truthfulness. It runs a full version of Mac OS X (the Mac operating system) and has Apple's Safari browser built in. Applications from Apple and its partners are most likely going to work very seamlessly because they will be designed within Apple's closed architecture. Outside developers for the iPhone were sated when Jobs described how Safari will allow them to design web applications that are analogous to the on-board programs that come with the iPhone. Overall, users long frustrated with stripped-down, mobile versions of various operating systems (Palm, Windows Mobile) will be overjoyed if the iPhone turned out to be as stable as promised.

Mac nuts are not the only crowd targeted by the hype of the last few months. Until now, the Palm Treo and the RIM Blackberry have held the majority of the smartphone market in their grasp. Smartphones are the traditional tool of corporate executives, as they can send and receive email, browse the web, and have a full QWERTY keyboard. They are the baby of advanced cell phones and PDAs. Unfortunately, the parents are entirely different species (if you will allow me to carry my metaphor a little longer) and often smartphones are confusing and too complex for their own good. The tiny keyboards especially aggravate users because they are hard to type on for a long time.

Apple seeks to fix some of the aggravations in the iPhone by delivering a much more intuitive interface. The screen is all touch screen, with the exception of one button that returns the user to "home" (read: Show Desktop). The menu is foolproof, the applications cover most of the bases (calendar, mail, web, stocks, weather, etc), and they keypad can be summoned from a designated button. The typing has been described by some as being different from what they're used to, but reasonably learnable. Walt Mossberg's review in the Wall Street Journal noted, "After five days of use, Walt [...] was able to type on it as quickly and accurately as he could on the Palm Treo he has used for years. This was partly because of smart software that corrects typing errors on the fly." The smart software the review refers to is a very cool program that anticipates what words the user is in the process of typing and where they are most likely to type next. Its a thing better seen with one's own eyes and Apple's video on the subject does a good job explaining it.

The thing that impresses everyone, Apple fanboys, Crackberry addicts, and luddites alike, is the brilliant screen and the integration of touch functionality. The screen, first of all, is 3.5in and is covered with a protective glass surface (unlike most iPods, which have a plastic coating that is more easily scratched). The screen's orientation changes with the way it is being held. When going from vertical to horizontal, it senses the motion through an accelerometer and flips the screen for cinema viewing. This allows for different dimensions of content without distorting the picture. TV shows, movies, music, and photos call all be viewed on the iPhone, just like a regular iPod. It syncs with iTunes and can take in calendar appointments and contacts from a number of organizer programs.

The touch screen, as mentioned above, is very responsive and intuitive, and even allows for actions with more than one finger at a time. When viewing photos, a "pinch" will zoom closer into the photo. Albums can be viewed in "Coverflow," as in iTunes, and a user can "flick" from one end of their collection to the other. Even the key lock for putting it in one's pocket utilized a swipe of the finger.

The phone will only be carried on AT&T (who bought and rebranded Cingular) and will support WiFi, EDGE (AT&T's wireless web service), and 2.5G networks. Many are hesitant to change from their carrier to AT&T because they either don't like the brand or don't want to break their current contracts. Also, many are skeptical about the absence of 3G support, the current standard for phone-to-internet connectivity. When away from a WiFi hotspot or EDGE area, the connection will slow to about the same speed as dial-up.

Bluetooth is supported on the iPhone and for business execs who like to stair at wait staff while talking to a far away colleague, they will find the minimalistic iPhone earpiece (looks like a pen cap) to their liking.

There are two models, a 4GB version for $499 and an 8GB version for $599. The price is high, but obviously not high enough to keep down the long lines of tech enthusiasts who showed up to purchase iPhones at AT&T and Apple stores. I took a trip down Lee Highway and counted about 20-30 people lined-up outside of the two closest AT&T stores to campus. This was about two hours prior to the iPhone launch at the stores. The line waiters had lawn chairs, coolers, and almost everyone there had a book to read. They were there for the long haul. At larger stores around the country, the lines grew to hundreds.

Here's what you get in the package: iPhone, new "cut away" dock, charger + cord, earbuds/microphone, and documentation. The image below is from Engadget's step-by-step unboxing. Check out their whole gallery if you really want a good look at all the parts.

iPhone AssortmentThe iPhone is a complex device to say the least. The technology contained within is just as intricate as in any computer, but in a much smaller form factor. A number of critics are quick to point out a number of features that are missing such as Flash support and interchangeable SIM cards [Edit: This post at Engadget seems to indicate that old SIM cards will work for AT&T customers...conflicting reports at this point]. Then again, the battery life is very impressive compared to many smartphones, and it has some novel features such as "visual voicemail," which puts an end to irritating voice messaging menus. In the end, time will tell whether the iPhone flops, becomes a success, or even changes the phone market on the whole.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone Coverage Coming Soon!

Just so you know, two things will be happening soon. First of all, the iPhone will be released tomorrow (Friday the 29th) and I will be writing a comprehensive outline of everything you NEED to know about this crazy new device. Second, after its release, I will dedicate myself to not talking about Apple products so much. Apple pretty much overshadowed everything cool that has come out recently, so finding other stories has been challenging (plus I've been busy drooling over the iPhone...). If you're not familiar with the mighty iPhone, go to (http://www.apple.com/iphone/usingiphone/guidedtour.html) and check out the main video that they have put out. It is very well done and explains all of the important features.

Look for my article sometime near the end of the weekend. And yes I plan to get one at some point (maybe when it gets 3G support).

Happy line-waiting!

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Time for Your Comprehensive WWDC Coverage!

I waited until the end of this week and of my vacation to begin writing, as I thought it was best to ensure that no further news would come out.  WWDC, as I explained in two posts back, is a conference for developers who work with Apple products.  Steve Jobs always gives an interesting keynote to unveil the season's Apple updates.  I won't cover every single detail for brevity's sake, but feel free to watch the keynote yourself (high def version), it is always a fun show.  As a nifty side note, Steve and his wife drive cars with no license plates at all (according to Cali's "Geek Brief" podcast at GeekBrief.TV) because they kept getting stolen.  Instead they have a much harder to remove bar code sticker.

There were three main components to the keynote: Leopard, Safari, and iPhone (in that order).  Before Steve began his main spiel, he invited a number of big wigs from the gaming and graphics people over to talk about the newfound support for games on the Mac.  Personally, I found this to be a rather feeble attempt to break the stereotype that Mac users can't be gamers.  Coming out and announcing that someone will in fact be making games of quality for the Mac seems to reinforce such a stereotype instead of nullifying it.  Even so, it is a promising move and the new graphics stuff looked sweet.

Steve finally started the keynote in his usual calculated and charismatic way that makes Mac fanboys drool.  He began with a few of the changes to the desktop of Leopard, outlining, among other things, a new look for the dock that allows for better integration with windows sharing the same space on the screen.  The dock will be further updated with something called stacks, which basically creates graphically browsable folders that live on the surface of the dock.  Finally, windows will be more uniform across all Apple applications (in response to an old complaint of some Mac users).

The next area rose up one level from the desktop and related to the new interface for Finder.  This includes all regular file windows.  If you are truly interested, I would suggest viewing the keynote itself as the changes are very detailed but the interface can be summed up in one word...iTunes.  Basically the cool sidebar and coverflow of iTunes have been cast over the [I thought] confusing sidebar of the original OS X.  Also, the search feature has been expanded to include other Macs in a network and .Mac content. 

There is also new functionality called Quick Look that allows almost any native document to be previewed without actually opening the host program for that document.  This is handy when looking for old documents and needing to look for specific pieces of those documents. 

An exciting little system upgrade note...Leopard is entirely 64 bit and seems to be backward compatible with 32 bit apps.  This is great because it really pushes developers to develop for 64 bit and does not separate the operating system into a 32 bit version and a 64 bit version.  To demonstrate, Steve did a demo showing 32 bit and 64 bit versions of the same program running the same task, side by side.  Aside from the fact that that is a neat trick, the 64 bit version ran much faster.

Running along with the system performance train, Steve introduced the new "core animation" for Leopard, which integrates specific animation packages into Leopard's interface so that application designers need only invoke those packages to produce some really neat effects.  Again, this is a developer conference, so this kind of announcement is really only important to those hoping to design in the Mac format.  That being said, Steve showed off a cool modification of the Apple TV video where he could interactively sort a lot of movies graphically.  It was pretty neat and I think future Leopard users can likely expect more cool stuff of this type in their daily usage.

One of the coolest, though probably predictable, announcements was the integration of Boot Camp into Leopard.  For those who don't know, Boot Camp allows users to dual boot, or switch operating systems on restart, between Mac and Windows.  The beta of this software has been out for some time, but now it will become a fully supported part of the Mac OS.  This step breaks down another obstacle between user conversions from Windows to Mac.  Steve also noted that the virtualization and emulation softwares, VMware and Parallels, will continue to be developed for users who don't quite need to dual boot.

Another cool feature will be Spaces.  This was already announced to some degree, but basically Spaces allows the user to divide their applications into up to four panes that they can switch between.  This way games, music, and other applications can all be in their own dedicated desktop without having to share the space and clutter it.  This is already a feature in many Linux distrobutions (such as Ubuntu, which I'm experimenting with) and AOL's browser has something similar, but seeing it hit a mainstream interface is pretty nifty.

Widgets got a new update.  Safari has had new functionality added to it in order to clip boxes and frames off of the web and turn them into widgets.  Those widgets then stay updated just as though one were visiting the website itself.  Not a huge deal but a nice functionality add-on.

The audio and interface of iChat are both going to be upgraded and now will include tabs.  Also, some of the flashy funtionality from Photo Booth will be added to the video capabilities.  This includes a new backdrop feature that allows for sweet looking "green screen" effects (sans green screen).  Finally, iChat, via Quick Look, will now have the capability to play different types of media that everyone videochatting will be able to see.  That last feature is called iChat Theator.  I've always thought iChat was a cool program because the video aspect is not just a neat option but truely a solid feature with the advent of built in cameras. 

Time Machine might just be the most important change to OS X.  I say this because backing up files is rapidly becoming necessary, yet often complex, process.  Time Machine simply backs-up all files automatically (though the interface for that was not shown) and has an easy graphical interface for finding old files.  The interface uses a combination of Spotlight and Quick Look to enable quick browsing through thousands of historical files.  Best of all, it's all streaming out of a crazy, glowing nebula so as to easy the stress of finding lost stuff. ;)

Well that's it for Leopard, no need to dwell any longer on it...so here's the last two bits:

Safari is on Windows...it has tabs...they can move...it's being bundled with iTunes...um...hurray?

Finally, iPhone will allow 3rd party developers to create apps for the iPhone through Safari.  Basically iPhone apps will be compliant AJAX mixed with any other standard Web 2.0 technologies that come along.  They look very similar to the normal applications of the phone, but of course, the require an internet connection, so there could be some limitations down the road.  Here are some of the early apps for live preview.

It should come as no surprise that this was a rather uneventful keynote (like no new hardware announcements or unexpected major updates).  WWDC is all about the developers and often consumer electronics take a backseat and must wait for their own announcements (like what the iPhone will invariably have) or until MacWorld, a truly consumer-oriented event.  Have faith that the iPhone release (on June 29th) will be much more ostentatious than the rather underwhelming WWDC keynote.

Whew!  What a long article.  Well those darn keynotes keep getting longer and longer.  Please leave feedback and any questions you have about these updates.  Also, I'm going to simply list my as of yet unmentioned sources instead of trying to sneak them in parenthetically:
These sites have been very helpful in getting all of the info together.

PS: This is the second version of this article, as the first draft was destroyed by a system crash...hope it turned out as well as the first, though I suppose you'll never know!

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Apple Explosion!

I don't want to make this into a "ooh, look at what Apple is doing" blog, but today particularly (and the next few weeks) promise to be some of the coolest announcements this half of the year.

First of all, that "D: All Things Digital" conference I mentioned earlier is happening (look for an interesting discussion between Jobs and Gates tonight) and Steve Jobs took some time during an interview to let loose some noticable announcements (Engadget coverage via Digg). The most important thing he discussed was the introduction of iTunes Plus, which Mac Rumors reports, via Digg again, will have the new ability to strip the Digital Rights Management off of EMI owned music tracks and add about twice the bit rate. The long and short of this tech jargon is that music can now be purchased online from a major music label that is at least somewhat comparable to buying a CD and ripping it. Also, users who had previously bought EMI tracks can now upgrade those tracks for 30 cents each. This give you a new copy and allows you to keep the old file as well.

Interestingly, The Unofficial Apple Weblog shows that the new .m4a format carries the name of the user who purchased the track. This could prove interesting in the world of filesharing, as anyone who shares iTunes purchased music would be easily linked to tracks found on someone else's computer. I believe this type of coding is known as "watermarking."

This announcement follows up an article I wrote for the Broadside's Business and Tech section and can be read on my personal blog here. It is more concise than I will go into here.

Also, in lesser news from the Apple interview, Jobs mentioned that the AppleTV, Apple's computer-to-tv streaming box, will now have Youtube content integrated so one could view Youtube videos from the comfort of their living rooms.

I'll write another post for the Jobs v. Gates interview if anything interesting happens in it.

Edit: Nothing interesting happened :(

Edit Edit: Now that I've actually watched the video (instead summaries online) I think the interview was pretty awesome in its own right. While there are no staggering product announcements to make the geeks drool, I did like the really candid conversation with these two tech icons. I suggest you watch it for yourself (freely available on the iTunes podcast directory, but a warning: it's a 1gb file) and please comment if you too thought there could have been a better pair of moderators.

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The content of this page is completely the creation and opinion of James Rogers. He is affiliated with Connect Mason and formerly Broadside Online but the relationship only governs republication, not content.

Further, in the interest of full disclosure, this author holds minor financial investments in Apple, Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices.