Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

The Rock ‘n Roll Phone Is King

Friday, June 29th, 2007

Today was P-Day. June 29th 2007 may or may not go down in history for any great significance. But for geeks and tech consumers, it should be remembered as the day Justin Timberlake and his kind were usurped by a gadget. Yes, today was the day the iPhone was finally baked, out of the oven and served up to the masses by Apple.

And masses there were. If the blogs and rumor sites (not to mention the twitter buzz) were to be believed, with their live webcams and UStream feeds giving us up to the second accounts of all the activity outside every Apple Store across the nation, then every mothers son, brother and uncle were in line to purchase the little gadget that could.

The live feed from the Mall of America was covered by and Technology Evangelist, amongst many others, where the throng of onlookers was bigger than the line of customers. And the clapping and cheering and general warm fuzziness generated by someone else’s purchase of consumer electronics seemed strangely disproportionate. It was like a Bizzaro World Beatles concert, or the Red M&M showing up for a book signing. And being several hours ahead of the Pacific Time Zone, the scene in Minneapolis was a portentous look ahead to what was possible here in California.

So I decided to go down to my local Apple Store and see if iPhone fever had made it beyond the Orange Curtain. I wanted to see if a place as safe and harmlessly boring as Orange County would succumb to the gadget groupie madness witnessed with our Eastern brothers. I had heard stories of people camping out overnight at area Apple Stores, and when I arrived at the South Coast Plaza mall at noon, there was a queue trailing back and around the block up to the food court, complete with sleeping bags and camping chairs. These people were hard core. OC has some spunk after all.

I took my video camera along, intending to vlog this thing, by interviewing some of the eager early-birds, to get a feel for what made this gadget the Mick Jagger of cell phones. But as was expected, security was out in numbers and on the scene in seconds. I had barely rolled tape when I was asked turn off. Company Policy. I could go down to the office and ask for a media pass and was politely shown the way. The management office was also very polite and understood the event taking place upstairs was newsworthy, but that independent media (bloggers) were not issued media passes. Company Policy.

Not to be deterred I went back up to the line and did things the old fashioned way. I asked questions and listened to answers. The answers I got revealed some interesting, well maybe not that interesting, patterns. Everyone I spoke to said they had been there since 4am. Admittedly I only got halfway down the line before I had to cut out, but that is quite a crowd of dedicated shoppers.

Most people were already Apple product owners. There were dozens of MacBooks in line keeping their owners busy with blogs and email. Many people owned some kind of Mac computer. Not surprisingly almost everyone already had at least one iPod. Many had two or three different models or generations. There were a few PC owners in the crowd, Andy from Huntington Beach had several PC’s at home and a 2G iPod. He was more tech savvy than most of the non-geek consumer crowd there. Andy also carried a BlackBerry with him, which he vowed would be retired this evening.

When asked if they liked their current phone, the people I spoke to almost universally said they hated, or at least disliked, their current phone. Angela from Orange was a T-Mobile customer and would not be buying a phone today, but was there with her daughter who was. Angela was not a fan of Cingular/AT&T and like several people I spoke to had reservations about that particular facet of the deal.

There was also an enormous favoring of the 8GB model. None of the interviewees I spoke with said they were buying the 4GB model. I wonder how many 4GB were left on the shelf, or were grudgingly taken home because that’s all that was left in stock. Many of them, a rough estimate of 50%, said they were buying two iPhone’s today, at $600 a piece. “Aaah, so you are going to make some money on eBay?” I wondered out loud. “No, it is for my uncle/brother/father/friend.” I was corrected. Interesting.

Strangely enough, there was no real pattern as to what was the killer app, the deal-breaker feature that made this product a must have for them. It was the general Appleness of it, the ability to manage voice-mail more functionaly, the ability to browse the web in a real browser. No one thing was commonly outstanding. Not the camera, not the ability to play video, not the built-in YouTube. Not the Yahoo Maps in your pocket. Not the multi-touch interface. It seemed everyone was just glazed over by the hype. Must-have-iphone-be-hip. Interesting.

When I returned to the store at 6pm in time for the reopening, the line now wrapped around the food-court and was winding its way back out into the avenue. There was a throng of onlookers, cell-phone cameras and consumer video cameras in hand, waiting to be a part of someone else’s epic, life-changing retail transaction. When the first in line were let into the store, a great cheer was initiated by Apple employees, and joined by the onlookers. These scenes mimicking what I had witnessed online across the nation earlier in the day.

An Argentinian gentleman in the crowd was taking it all in, fascinated by the sociological implications this scene exposed. A local woman walking by, trying to get back to her car after innocently shopping in a nearby store, wondered what the heck was going on. Were the Rolling Stones doing a signing? What was with all the security? “A cell phone!!?” she exclaimed when I informed her of the event taking place. “Yes, but it’s a pretty cool, nothing-else-like it kind of phone” I tried to convince her. “Sure it’s cool, but it’s still just a phone.” She left, dumbfounded, obviously not having taken the KoolAid Apple has been pushing the past months. To some, rock ‘n roll is still reserved for musicians. But for a bunch of people today, rock ‘n roll was personified by a gadget.

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My Top movie List direct from Flixster

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

Thanks to Movie Social Networking site Flixster I quickly compiled a widget for my favourite movies of all time.

Notes on High Definition TV

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Some observations on the merits and perils of HDTV having lived with our upgraded cable service for a couple of weeks now. MLB Baseball and NHL Hockey are stunning to watch in HD, just like being at the game. Every chip of ice. Every blade of grass. Clear as a whistle. Of course I exagerate some, but you get the picture. Or do you? In comparison, NHL Hockey in SD is total garbage. My team (the one I follow, not the one I own), The Anaheim Ducks, are like the gypo-didicoys of cable sports TV. Unable to find a regular home they bounce between FSN Prime Ticket, Versus, and the local channel KOCE. None of these stations broadcast in HD, the local KOCE signal looking like a VHS cassette that has been recorded over several times too many. Thankfully HDNet shows 2 or 3 NHL games a week and now I’m spoiled, everything else is completely unsatisfactory.

FSN manged to broadcast the opening night game of the Anahiem Angels MLB game in HD, and it was the first time I had seen anything on the FSN-HD channel. Usually they are mysteriously “off the air”. Sadly, tonight was back to ‘normal’ with the Angels game back down the dial in quaint old SD and the blank off-air signal back on FSN-HD.

So I wonder, just what is the FCC doing to “force” the broadcasters to finally catch up to the consumers. Supposedly we were all meant to be watching HDTVs by now, with our funny old 4:3 sets used as planters. Many of the people I have spoken to about HD whose only reservation for holding off on upgrading their system (other than the obvious cost of a new set, which is drastically less than this time last year) is the lack of content to watch on the big, expensive screen.

Of course, not everything about HD content is great. Watching the last episode of Raines on NBC, we were treated to Jeff Goldblum spraying his spittle as he delivered his lines. It was unfortunate the scene was backlit by the sun pouring in through the window behind him, highlighting the saliva droplets. Thanks to the clarity of HD they were really really glaringly obvious.

And some actors now look much more wrinkled and pock-marked than they might have done in old Standard Def. I’m sure there are some casting agents and artist representation agents getting an earful of whining about how the talent didn’t look so good in the last episode. Sadly, there is not much the FCC can do about that.

(This article originally posted on Tumblr)

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MGLA. The winners choice…

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Last night, as I do every second Tuesday of the month, I braved the rush hour traffic on the 5 freeway, and dragged myself from Costa Mesa up to Hollywood. At the Barnsdall Art Gallery the After Effects user group known as Motion Graphics Los Angeles meets to discuss, share and show. The drive can take as long as 2.5 hours and at the end of the work day it’s a pretty draining task. With the sprinkling of rain we got yesterday as a motivating factor, I considered blowing this months meeting off.

Fortunately I dismissed that notion. The traffic eased up pretty quickly and I made it to Hollywood in about an hour, and actually caught the beginning of the meeting for a change. There was a great presentation on using Flash as an animation tool for broadcast TV, with examples and working files to show technique. Then there was a really nice presentation on using Expressions to add and control random behavior to create a swarming effect.

But the big attraction is always the world-class, high-quality big prize raffle. One ticket is given to each attendee (last night was a fairly low attendance, better odds eh!) for a chance of winning one of the 25 or so cool products donated by the MGLA sponsors. Prize value ranges from $50 up to $1500 usually. Last night, for the second time in 10 years, my number came up. 371 was called third. My choice of prizes; After Effects utility Nucleo Pro by Gridiron Software. Thanks you boys, and thank you MGLA for a great evening well spent.

(this article originally posted on Tumblr)

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My Top 10 List of Podcasts

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

Well it was my intention to be more frequent with this thing but here we are many months later and, well, not much doing. I had intended to post a new year/end of year round up of the best bits of 2006 but it just never happened. Too many other things going on. I will do a software “best bits” at a later date, as I have found a few good utilities that have been a real boon. And for those readers that dont get MacBreak (where I find most of my top tips) I pass on what I learned.

But this post will be about Podcasting. Its proven to be a humongeously popular medium in the short time it has been around and there are seemingly now dozens of shows on every subject matter. So for those of you who have not jumped on the podcasting wave, I will review and list the ten best shows that I can’t live without. And I’ll finish off with a short-list of shows that fall into the “dont’ bother” category. Maybe you are one of the many people who think podcasting is purely for iPods. It’s a huge misunderstanding that you need an iPod to enjoy these free shows, borne out of the name of the medium no doubt. It is not true, any computer can download these shows. And whilst an iPod is great for taking your media everywhere you go, there is nothing wrong with leaving them on your home/office machine and enjoying your media there.

The List : Ten Top Podcasts (as recommended by Influxx)
1. TWiT (This Week in Tech) – Audio
I love TWiT as it epitomises everything podcasting should be. High-quality, niche content by respected professionals in its industry. Leo Laporte runs the TWiT network, responsible for many great niche shows, and he hosts TWiT, the flagship show. About an hour in length, it features a round-table of regulars and special guests, who blabber on unrelentlesly about the recent goings on in the technology industry. Always insightful and extremely entertaining, you soon get to feel like you know these guys and you have all been locked in after hours at some basement bar sucking down brandy’s and shooting the shit.
Very Highly recommended *****

2. Diggnation – Video/Audio
Hosted by Web2.0 Golden Boy and Digg co-founder Kevin Rose, this weekly show is like visiting a tech frat house. The reparté between Kevin and co-host Alex Albrecht is hilarious and usually pretty x-rated. They are rarely sober, often shooting off-topic but always, always entertaining. They (alegedly) cover some of the top news stories posted on Digg, recommend beer, expose personal misadventures amongst other random shenanigans.
Very Highly Recommended *****

3. CreativeCOW AfterEffects Tutorials – Video
Hosted by Ahahron Rabinowitz, this quick but very helpful podcast offers users of Adobe AfterEffects tips and productivity tricks. The information is always on track and Aharon’s style is really accessible. He manages to keep the pace moving without skipping steps, good for beginners and pro’s alike. Nothing in this show is wasteful, everything can be used in day to day AE usage.
Highly Recommended *****

4. This Week In Media – Audio
With FX meister Alex Lindsay (PixelCorps/DVGarage) at the helm, TWiM looks at the issues facing content creators, producers and media professionals. In a similar roundtable of regulars format, the panel discuss the technology, tools and distribution of digital content in the 21st Century. They tend to waffle on down ratholes and off at tangents, but it makes for great listening. Very witty, insightful and mostly relevant with more of a geek bent.
Well Recommended ****

5. MacBreak Weekly – Audio
Leo and his TWiT army are also responsible for this Apple focused show. This weekly roundtable of eccentric, crackpot Mac-o-philes is less informative than other TWiT shows, but more relaxed, freeform and offbeat. In a Mac sort of way. Covering all the Apple news of the week, which usually revolves around the iPhone, the panel spotlight new software and hardware breakthroughs. If you can bare with Merlin Mann’s monopolizing A.D.D. rantings the show is always worth a listen through to the end.
Moderately Recommended ***

6. MacBreak – Video
Again, from the PixelCorps fold, hosted by an assortment of Leo Laporte cohorts and indusrty experts. They showcase a different Mac application or technology in quick and easy over the shoulder lessons. Nothing is terribly in depth, but the show is kept short and the guests are always expert enough to whet your appetite. From there you are invited to investigate further through hyperlinked lower-thirds. Shot and delivered in beautiful 1080p HiDef.
Highly Recommended ****

7. The Mac Observers Mac Geek Gab – Audio
Another in the style of informative yet entertaining geekery. Dave Hamilton and John Braun blab and gab at length about all things Mac Technology. Offering esoteric networking tips and answering listener questions, the MGG has helped me figure out ways to keep my Mac running smoothly or fix it when it doesn’t. The banter between Dave and John is light and friendly, but still pretty polished. These guys know thier stuff.
Well Recommended ***

8. CommandN – Video
Web2.0 darling and internet socialite Amber Macarthur presents the latest in web news, gossip and tips in this weekly show. It has a more homegrown flavor than some of the others here, and that is definitely part of its charm. Shot in various locations around the city of Toronto, it always looks fresh and AmberMac and her motley crew of Canadian web geeks have a friendly and accessible manner.
Well Recommended ****

9. NYUB (Not Your Usual Bollocks) – Audio< One of a few music podcasts out there I subscribe to, this one is easily my favourite. Brought to you by MK, an Aussie DJ in London, this hour long monthly show features some of the greatest unsigned and independant music out on the ether. Focussing mainly on dance, electronica and indie genres there is always something cool and new you won't hear anywhere else. If you like finding new artists to listen to, you will find plenty here. Very Highly Recommended ***** 10. CNET Buzz Out Loud – Audio
This show, of indeterminent length, comes at you every day. Thats a lot of content to digest certainly, but it is the kind of show you can pick up every-so-often when you need it. Hosted by Tom Merritt, Molly Wood and Veronica Belmont host this, one of several tech-focussed shows under the c|net umbrella. Dispite its daily schedule the chirpy hosts are never short of something to say, commenting on web, technology, consumer electronics, gaming – the gamut of geekery.
Highly Recommended ****

The Short List
Other shows I listen to regularly that did not make the Top 10 but are worthy of a mention

The VFX Show – Visual Effects artists review and breakdown a Hollywood effects feature film
The Merlin Show – The omnipresent Merlin Mann interviews some interesting subjects
XLR8R – Cool dance grooves remixed from techno mag XLR8R
Ravegression – Remixed DJ sets, the rave without the field
KCRW Presents – A multitude of radio shows to listen to at my convenience
Media Artist Secrets – Once-great show no longer updated covers the business side of creativity
DV Gear – Quick but insightful hand-on product reviews of video related equipment
Ricky Gervais – The Guardian-hosted original series (now a CD) is priceless comedy