Apple Stakes Its Claim

Apple seems to be tak­ing the Tar­get approach to design. That is to say, great design need­n’t be expen­sive.

It seems that the theme of this year’s Mac­world Expo is going to be afford­abil­i­ty . With the keynote speech announce­ments of the head­less iMac, called the Mac mini, as well as the sporty iPod Shuf­fle; Apple seems to be tak­ing the Tar­get approach to design. That is to say, great design need­n’t be expen­sive. You’ll make up the cost of the design in vol­ume.

There was a great deal of spec­u­la­tion about the “head­less” iMac online, lead­ing to some law suits. It appears that the iHome was indeed a hoax, but on the right track when you take into con­sid­er­a­tion the Mac mini as well as the announce­ment of Final Cut Express HD. Of course, I’ve yet to play around with one, but a G4 Mac in a small square-ish box (stop me if you’ve heard this one) sounds like a cool lit­tle com­put­er. Pro­vid­ed it does­n’t over­heat like the cube. Based on what I know about the per­for­mance of the new iMac, I’d say it’s safe from over­heat­ing. They’re putting lit­tle fans in there just for good mea­sure these days. All of that aside, I’m glad to see a well-designed Mac with some decent specs at what seems like a super price. Par­tic­u­lar­ly since most of us already have a mon­i­tor, mouse, key­board, & speak­ers we can plug into one. While I love the design of the iMac (which is, by the way, a G5 now, instead of a G4), if you already have those things on your desk, buy­ing them again seems waste­ful. Just buy a KVMS switch (like the one I have from Belkin for my PC & Lin­ux box).

I am impressed with the iPod shuf­fle as well. Do I real­ize it’s just a USB key dri­ve with a speak­er jack & music play­er but­tons? Of course I do. How­ev­er, it’s a nice­ly priced one that hap­pens to have the über-cool name of iPod attached. Demand greater than sup­ply? Unless they’ve already pro­duced these things buy the 100’s of thou­sands, than you bet. I bought a 1GB USB key for about $70 a few weeks ago, and I’m already wish­ing I’d just wait­ed and bought this thing for twice that. I’m hap­py to pay pre­mi­um for this kind of cool.

TiVo Hacks by Raffi Krikorian

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned.

In my impa­tience for TiVo To Go, I recent­ly bought TiVo Hacks by Raf­fi Kriko­ri­aned­st­ly use­ful hacks, like pret­ty much all of the books in the O’Reil­ly ____ Hacks series. I say most­ly… who wants to make all of the text on your TiVo inter­face in ital­ics (seri­ous­ly, hack no. 9).

I’d say that of all the books out there for hack­ing your TiVo, this is prob­a­bly the most con­cise and up-to-date. Of course, there’s part of the prob­lem. If you have Series 2 TiVo, you trade off for nicer fea­tures with the inabil­i­ty to do many of the more pop­u­lar hacks for the TiVo. You can’t use FTP to get your video off of your TiVo with a Series 2 becuase the video is scram­bled on it. Okay, you can FTP it, but what’s the point? Any­way, none of this is the author’s fault, and he goes iin­to some detail to explain exact­ly what mod­els can do what.

The great­est hack, in my opin­ion, for any TiVo is going to be adding more hard dri­ve space. You’re real­ly not going to improve on the fea­tures of the UI by adding a screen clock and the whole web-surf­ing thing sounds fun until you remem­ber that surf­ing with just a TiVo remote is going to suck (that’s why you have a lap­top). Adding/replacing hard disks is the killer hack, and this book tells you pret­ty much all you need to know. Of course, all you may need to know is to just buy a kit from Bill Reg­n­ery. How­ev­er, this book still goes a long way and I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one who owns a TiVo and is curi­ous about what’s inside the box and how to make it do some cool tricks.

My Last Day

There’s some hand­writ­ing on the wall, but I can’t quite make it out…

There’s some hand­writ­ing on the wall, but I can’t quite make it out…

Many of you know that today was my last day work­ing as a struc­tur­al engi­neer for URS Cor­po­ra­tion here in Rich­mond. My co-work­ers took me out ot a nice lunch at the near­by Mex­i­can restau­rant yes­ter­day and pret­ty much all of my per­son­al belong­ings have been brought home.

It has been good get­ting to work with all of the peo­ple there and I was able to work on some great projects. How­ev­er, I came to real­ize that the kinds of projects I would most like­ly be see­ing there were like the ones I had been doing. That being said, there was­n’t much promise of even more of the same com­ing. I did­n’t expect I would be laid off, but I damn sure was­n’t about see anoth­er employ­ee with kids or some­thing get laid off before me, either.

I will admit that there were some times when I thought that the con­ver­sa­tions on pol­i­tics or reli­gion were going to make my head explode. How­ev­er, when you don’t have much in the way of work­load, peo­ple tend to get into those kind of con­ver­sa­tions. I for one think those are about as appro­pri­ate for a place of busi­ness as cut-off den­im shorts, but that’s just me. All dif­fer­ences aside, I have been for­tu­nate to work with a good group for the last three years.

I hope that all the peo­ple there at my old office will check in here often, as I’m sure I’ll have some­thing to say about my new work­place. Also, that way, they can real­ly get to know my opin­ion on all sorts of things I did­n’t real­ly care to dis­cuss at work… such as cut-off den­im shorts. Man, I hate those things…

TiVo To Go

There is a lot of news going around my house­hold in this New Year. Not the least of which is the fact that tomor­row is the last day of my job at URS Cor­po­ra­tion or that I have sev­er­al new gad­gets that don’t entire­ly work! That’s all for anoth­er time, though. This post is all about the TiVo.

TiVo announced the TiVo To Go ser­vice way back in Jan­u­ary of ’04 and final­ly rolled it out on Mon­day. Well, they sort of rolled it out. They post­ed an updat­ed ver­sion of TiVo desk­top on their site and the newest ver­sion of the TiVo soft­ware will include the capa­bil­i­ties. Of course, the sched­uled down­loads for the box soft­ware don’t occur imme­di­ate­ly. The best you can hope for is request­ing pri­or­i­ty and you might get it in the next few weeks. Fur­ther, there’s no Mac sup­port as of yet.

Now, to be able to burn your record­ed shows from your PC (again, not Mac as of yet) to DVD, you’ll use Son­ic’s MyD­VD v6.1, which was announced yes­ter­day. I had a copy of MyD­VD that was pre-loaded on my Dell Dimen­sion 4600 Media Cen­ter PC. I did­n’t real­ly care for the inter­face, so I nev­er real­ly used it much. I pur­chased Nero 6 as soon as I got the PC and have used it ever since, espe­cial­ly since Nero soon added sup­port for Microsoft­’s .dvr-ms for­mat mpeg video. That aside, a soon there-after bought a Plex­tor PX-708A DVD Burn­er and after a cou­ple of frus­trat­ing days, final­ly learned that MyD­VD + PX-708A = mem­o­ry dump. Bad.

Son­ic’s site lists the PX-708A as com­pat­i­ble hard­ware, so hope­ful­ly that prob­lem’s fixed now. None-the-less, this is now one more piece of soft­ware that does some­thing that anoth­er piece of soft­ware I already own does, with the excep­tion of one tiny task which will cost around $50. Not to sound cheap, but why can’t TiVo and Nero get togeth­er on this as well? Since Bill Gates announced at CES ear­li­er today that Microsoft­’s going to sup­port TiVo ToGo in Win­dows soft­ware, why can’t Nero be on board?

I’m addict­ed to TiVo and desparate­ly want the abil­i­ty to get my video files to and from the machine to some net­work stor­age or my PC. How­ev­er, I’m not crazy about buy­ing anoth­er piece of soft­ware that I was­n’t impressed with before to replace some soft­ware that I real­ly like.

Last­ly, on the TiVo front, they’ve been tak­ing a lot of flack over their sol­lu­tion to skip­ping over adver­tis­ing. The idea is that when you fast-for­ward through 2 min­utes (or so) of com­mer­i­cals, a sta­t­ic ban­ner ad will pop up on the screen. Frankly, I don’t care so long as it does­n’t eat up my band­width. I’m watch­ing peo­ple zip around the screen at 4x FF, what do I care if an ad is slapped over that? Ads are every­where, and good ads are an art­form. Peo­ple get too upset over adver­tis­ing to real­ize that when done right (and whose to say this won’t be), it helps the cus­tomer con­nect with a sup­pli­er. It does appear that some peo­ple seem to agree that this is a non-issue, and I think that no one is goign to get rid of their TiVo based on this. Fur­ther, this is a whole lot more ten­able than the Sen­ate’s stu­pid sol­lu­tion to mak­ing fast-for­ward ille­gal!

After doing some fur­ther read­ing, I thought I’d post this link to a response on the TiVo com­mer­cial skip stuff from one of the prod­uct man­agers at TiVo.

Bridges In Wired

It’s like Wired mag­a­zine reads my mind or some­thing. They con­tin­u­al­ly print & post the coolest arti­cles on every­thing I love. This is no dif­fer­ent. David Gold­en­berg has writ­ten a nice (albeit short) arti­cle on what he states are the five top bridges in “a third gold­en age of bridge build­ing.” He’s made some nice choic­es, although a few too many cable-stayed bridges in my opin­ion. You can read the arti­cle in the Jan­u­ary issue or online here.

The most hi-tech bridge I’ve worked on to date would be the Pearl Har­bor Memo­r­i­al Bridge in New Haven, CT. Called the Q‑Bridge for short, it is an extra­dosed cable-stayed bridge, which will be the first of it’s kind in the Unit­ed States. I worked on por­tions of the steel option, which would be the only steel extra­dosed bridge in world. Pret­ty cool stuff, although not the most like­ly option.

Music Industry

I thought I might post some of my thoughts on the music indus­try, where it’s at and where it might be going. How­ev­er, if you aren’t famil­iar with The Long Tail, you have to read the arti­cle which appeared in the Octo­ber issue of Wired Mag­a­zine. Go read it here now.

I thought I might post some of my thoughts on the music indus­try, where it’s at and where it might be going. How­ev­er, if you aren’t famil­iar with The Long Tail, you have to read the arti­cle which appeared in the Octo­ber issue of Wired Mag­a­zine. Go read it here now in a new Fire­fox tab and then come back here. Lat­er, you can read all the argu­ments for and against the arti­cle at the web site for The Long Tail book.

Okay, so I have to admit that oth­er than a broth­er and a good friend which most would con­sid­er indie musi­cians, I have absolute­ly no affil­i­a­tion with the music indus­try oth­er than the most com­mon: con­sumer. That’s not to say it’s not an impor­tant role, though. I’m the guy who along with my mil­lions of peers either buys or does­n’t buy the music. It does take me for this whole mod­el to work. I do believe that it starts with the artist, though. The song­writ­ers and per­form­ers are both the chick­en and the egg here. That being said, I also believe that the mid­dle men per­form the most mean­ing­less task in the process. I was recent­ly remind­ed that cough­ing up the cash for mar­ket­ing and mass-pro­duc­tion could be seen as the most cru­cial part, and I’m sure that record exec­u­tives feel that way about it, too. How­ev­er, after read­ing this arti­cle, see­ing how free jour­nal­ism (read: blogs) can influ­ence the entire coun­try, and my own per­son­al expe­ri­ence in meet­ing peo­ple from around the globe through my web­site; I’ve decid­ed that this sim­ply isn’t the case any­more.

Here’s my new improved mod­el: instant access to the tip of the long tail. I put my music in dig­i­tal for­mat (this goes for books, etc, as well). I’ll pay for host­ing the files on iTunes, Ama­zon, Tow­er, where ever I want I think I can find some toe-hold of a mar­ket. Then, I use word-of-mouth, play­ing shows, and blogs to find an audi­ence. With sweat and luck, a num­ber of rec­om­men­da­tions start point­ing to me. As long as these rec­om­men­da­tions are gen­uine, and not like pay-for-play on some Clear Chan­nel sta­tion, then they will work. Peo­ple can lis­ten before they buy and, assum­ing price is right, they will buy. So, I start to move up the tail some. Best part for all you Down­hill Bat­tle geeks, no record label. Peri­od. If I want help with my mar­ket­ing, etc. I join a musi­cian & song­writer col­lec­tive. This gains buy­ing pow­er and larg­er influ­ence. This already works for inde­pen­dent gro­cery stores, phar­ma­cies, and on and on; why not for musi­cians? The mod­el for the music busi­ness is the most com­plex I’ve ever heard of. It does­n’t have to be this way. The tech­nol­o­gy avail­able for com­mu­ni­ca­tion between humans (which is pret­ty much what both mar­ket­ing and music boil down to) is to a point that this mod­el is now obso­lete.

Now, I real­ize that being out on the skin­ny end of this long tail isn’t going to make sta­di­um-play­ing-rock-gods out of my friends and fam­i­ly. It will, at best, pay the rent; and that’s going to be about as good as one can hope. But isn’t that much dif­fer­ent than the way it is now? I’ve got as good a chance as play­ing start­ing for­ward for the Wiz­ards as I’ve got going plat­inum, so what’s to loose? If you’re not U2, then not too much. How­ev­er, the fact that the music indus­try pro­tects itself does­n’t help some­one on the verge of get­ting in. You start sell­ing your songs on your own, and you’ll nev­er get signed on to a major label. That’s a risk that would be tough if you feel like a deal with a label (major or indie) is just around the cor­ner. How­ev­er, for all but the best sell­ing musi­cians these days, that’s not too big of a risk. Unless you’re in the top 10%(or so) of artists in terms of sales, you’re prob­a­bly not get­ting much air­time or sup­port.

As an aside, go read up on some great ideas on file shar­ing net­works at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion as well. Also, check out some of the links above. You’ll see that I’m pret­ty much just regur­gi­tat­ing some great ideas that are already out there, but you’ll also see I’m not alone in my frus­tra­tion as both a lis­ten­er of music and some­one who gives a damn about artists try­ing to make a liv­ing. Last­ly, if you like a song, buy the damn music!

The Sign of Things To Come

You can eas­i­ly see that things are very dif­fer­ent around here. It’s a new year, and I’ve got what appears to be a new site at first glance. I’ve switched from Blog­ger to Word­Press & also switched web servers. This is all thanks to my good friend Jason John­son, who is gra­cious­ly help­ing me get up to speed on all things WWW. Now, iron­i­cal­ly, Jason has authored many a site on the inter­net and has helped me learn every­thing from the <html> tag to some very sim­ple php (as of a cou­ple of days ago); but his site has been in the “begin­ning” stages for years now.

This site is going to con­tin­ue to go through some rad­i­cal changes over the next two weeks, at which point, it bet­ter be done. I’m start­ing a new job and I don’t expect I’ll have near­ly as much time for such diver­sions. I hope I’ll have time for post­ing any­thing oth­er than how lit­tle time I have. These changes will include a new look, some orga­ni­za­tion, and hope­ful­ly many inter­est­ing links to keep some­one busy for at least 5 min­utes. I’m excit­ed about all the new pos­si­bil­i­ties, and if you end up lik­ing this site, thank the oth­er Jason for me. He’s a bril­liant design­er and coder, and throws a mean New Year’s Eve par­ty with Sta­cie.

Merry Christmas!

I just want­ed to post a short mes­sage here wish­ing all my read­ers (okay, my Mom & Dad!) a Mer­ry Christ­mas. Also, Hap­py Hanukkah, Kwan­zaa, Fes­tivus and all oth­er big­gie-Decem­ber hol­i­days (hence, the non-spe­cif­ic ‘Hap­py Hol­i­days’ that has some folks ban­ning stores). Best wish­es and Hap­py New Year.

I’m cur­rent­ly with my wife vis­it­ing with all of her fam­i­ly. Then, we’re off to land of dial-ups and non-24-hour super­mar­kets to vis­it my fam­i­ly in the moun­tains. At least we have snow (okay, ice & slush), if not broad­band.

Robocop

Screen Shot of Robot Commercial

How come I don’t see com­mer­cials this cool on tele­vi­sion? Seri­ous­ly, I would­n’t fast-for­ward right through them with TiVo if 1 out of 10 were this fun to watch. Okay, so this isn’t a real com­mer­cial for any­thing, but still; you could place robots like this in Ben­gay com­mer­cials and I’d watch the reli­gious­ly. The image links direct­ly to the video, even though the team respon­si­ble has asked folks not to. I don’t think the two or three clicks this will get is going to both­er them. Here’s their site just in case you design-types want to know more.

If you like this com­mer­cial, syn­thet­ic rab­bit post­ed anoth­er great one (for a real prod­uct) on his site here.

Final­ly, how cool is a robot with Wifi anten­nae, rab­bit-like ears? I love it.

UPDATE: The links above aren’t bro­ken, you just need to look down the page for the Tetra Vaal Video.

And I Thought I Was Having A Bad Day

Harry With Elizabethan Collar and Head Bandage

Here I was feel­ing sor­ry for myself that I was out on site until very ear­ly this morn­ing. Well around 8:00am Angela called me to tell me Har­ry was bleed­ing bad­ly and need­ed to be tak­en to the Vet. Turns out he just had a small tear in his ear, so he’s okay. I don’t think he’s too hap­py, though.

While all the foren­sic evi­dence isn’t back from the lab yet, we’re pret­ty sure it was some dog­gy rough-hous­ing while Angela was busy with break­fast. Some­times our new­er dog, Mag­gie, does­n’t seem to real­ize she’s about 2 1/2 times the size of Har­ry. Har­ry also does­n’t keep this fact in mind some­times while wrestling her. The good news is, Har­ry gets to take the ban­dage off on Mon­day.