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'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 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 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 and Alex Albrecht talking about interesting stories on Digg and pretty much anything else...all while getting slightly's kind of an acquired taste
Geekbrief.TV - a cool little show about technology for people who are specifically into cutting-edge can be a tad silly at time, but 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? 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, 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 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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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.