Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Shorter, Faster, Cruder, Tinier TV Show - New York Times

I found this article interesting in that it provides helpful insight into producing material for small display devices like cellphones and iPods. I'm in the process of writing a script for my first Podguide and plan to use some of the "Ken Burns" still image panning techniques so it will be interesting to see if slow image panning will be as effective on the small screen as it was on the large screen.

New York Times: "Shooting a show for a cellphone presents all kinds of technical problems for people used to conventional television production. That day in the Warner Brothers offices, I was already familiar with the drill about to follow, one that a producer described to me dourly as 'filming to the phone.' To be intelligible on screens sometimes smaller than 2 inches by 2 inches, most shots must be close-ups. Producers also have to limit zooming, panning and quick movement, which can blur because of slow streaming rates and because cellphones often deliver only 15 frames of video per second, compared with 30 frames per second on regular television."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Interns? No Bloggers Need Apply

Since I have worked in the private sector in several previous careers, I am well aware of tight-lipped corporate policies about sharing your work life with outsiders. But this article makes several important points about young bloggers' tendencies to "bare all" and what the employment consquences might be for doing so.

New York Times: "ON the first day of his internship last year, Andrew McDonald created a Web site for himself. It never occurred to him that his bosses might not like his naming it after the company and writing in it about what went on in their office.

For Mr. McDonald, the Web log he created, 'I'm a Comedy Central Intern,' was merely a way to keep his friends apprised of his activities and to practice his humor writing. For Comedy Central, it was a corporate no-no — especially after it was mentioned on Gawker.com, the gossip Web site, attracting thousands of new readers.

'Not even a newborn puppy on a pink cloud is as cute as a secret work blog!' chirped Gawker, giddily providing the link to its audience.

But Comedy Central disagreed, asking him to change the name (He did, to 'I'm an Intern in New York') and to stop revealing how its brand of comedic sausage is stuffed.

'They said they figured something like this would happen eventually because blogs had become so popular,' said Mr. McDonald, now 23, who kept his internship. 'It caught them off guard. They didn't really like that.'

This is the time of year when thousands of interns and new employees pour into the workplace from college campuses, many bringing with them an innocence and nonchalance about workplace rules and corporate culture.

Most experienced employees know: Thou Shalt Not Blab About the Company's Internal Business. But the line between what is public and what is private is increasingly fuzzy for young people comfortable with broadcasting nearly every aspect of their lives on the Web, posting pictures of their grandmother at graduation next to one of them eating whipped cream off a woman's belly. For them, shifting from a like-minded audience of peers to an intergenerational, hierarchical workplace can be jarring."

I am a staunch supporter of blogging because I believe blogs represent an important information sharing medium but I have never thought it ethical to divulge sensitive work-related information to the public at large. Although some of the bloggers in this article point to the importance of their blogs as a primary communication device for their families and close friends, they should keep in mind that a public blog is just that - public. Would they want their mistakes or lapses in judgment at work exposed to public scrutiny?

Of course I must admit I am a bit at a loss for understanding this new breed of bloggers that want to share every intimate detail about their lives anyway. Perhaps discretion is just something that a person learns to develop over time, unfortunately ,usually after being burned seriously first.

Friday, May 19, 2006

One-Button Data Backup in a Tiny Package - New York Times

One-Button Data Backup in a Tiny Package - New York Times: Hmmm...This looks promising. Now if I could just get users to store all their data under My documents! Otherwise even a 100 gigabyte version may not be large enough.

"The OneTouch III is less than an inch thick and 5.2 inches long. A 60-gigabyte version of the drive is available at www.maxtor.com and elsewhere online for $150, and a 100-gigabyte version for $200.

The drive comes with an instruction booklet and a U.S.B. cable. For PC users, setup is simple: Maxtor has included a full user's manual and backup software on the disk itself, which is preformatted using the Windows NT file system. Once you plug it in, the installation system asks for a few basic facts about your computer. When you're ready to back up, simply press the glowing white button on the front. (Mac users will have to reformat the drive.)

The drive has a built-in encryption program for protecting data, as well as software that will keep data on a PC and on the drive in sync. "

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Can TV's and PC's Live Together Happily Ever After? - New York Times

New York Times: "David G. Sanderson, who heads the media consulting practice at Bain & Company, offers four reasons most people won't be downloading their favorite shows onto their TV's any time soon: limitations in broadband infrastructure, the degree of readiness among electronics makers to provide a product with mass appeal, the behavior of consumers and the agenda of the players in the TV ecosystem.

Mr. Sanderson's first two points — basically whether the Internet-based network and devices are ready for prime-time — are where most of the action is and where things could change if businesses keep investing and innovating. Still, for now, there are logjams associated with delivering large quantities of video over the Web and the unresolved 'net neutrality' debate over whether heavy users should pay more to telecommunications carriers for the large amount of bandwidth they use.

His second two points — about consumer behavior and the entrenched players — are actually more complex. The consumer question boils down to whether enough people want to give up access to the dozens or hundreds of channels they pay for through their cable providers to buy programs over the Internet. And that is closely related to his point about the industry structure, which is a function of the willingness of cable networks to risk giving up their guaranteed monthly subscription fees in favor of a free-wheeling Internet alternative.

'The reality is that I don't think you're going to see the current cable offering — hundreds of linear channels — replicated on the Internet,' Glenn A. Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, told me recently. 'One reason is the Internet isn't physically capable of handling that volume, but obviously, with a lot of money and time, that can be alleviated. But the second thing is that we actually provide a very important economic function in the TV distribution chain."

CABLE networks are not about to jeopardize the millions they receive from guaranteed subscription fees each month — and it is probably no coincidence that the versions of TV programs sold through iTunes or Google Video are inferior in picture quality to what is offered by cable companies (while the growing popularity of high-definition TV shows that viewers want higher quality). Even Sharp's new Japanese TV, the Internet Aquos, only accesses online video material from a closed-circuit service, and displays it at inferior quality."

As for the public being unwilling to give up the hundreds of channels it receives by subscription to obtain programming from the internet, I think industry analysts may be mistaken or overlooking the potential for a successful hybrid of the two. Instead of asking consumers to pay for numbers of channels (usually ridiculously overstated because they are counting a bunch of shopping channels and other "no cost to them" offerings), providers should offer subscriptions to thematic content libraries.

For example, at present I pay about $85 per month for Dish Network's Top 180 channel pack, local channels, PBS, and HBO/Cinemax including DVR and monthly magazine. Of those more than 180 channels, I watch less than 20, and its not unusual to cruise the guide and find nothing I want to watch at all. I don't listen to the myriad of music channels listed, I don't care to watch sports, and I could care less about home shopping channels or glorified advertising channels.

However, I would happily pay a subscription fee to have access to all programs in the libraries of the Discovery Channel, The History and History International Channels, BBC Channel 4, Canadian History Television, National Geographic, and PBS (both local and East Coast). I would continue to subscribe to HBO for new programming but be willing to pay an extra fee to have access to all existing programs in the HBO archives as well.

I would continue subscribing to local channels for local news and network offerings and would want to continue to subscribe to a news tier that contains CNN and Headline News. Then I would like to be able to pay for programs "a la carte" like you do with iTunes for the occasional program I may wish to see that may appear on a channel I don't currently subscribe to.

I think hybrid arrangements like this may actually result in more revenue opportunities for the providers while resulting in more satisfied customers.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Curiosoft Learning Games examined

I noticed that participants in a K-12 technology summit being held soon at Portland State University would be introduced to learning software from Curiosoft. I hadn't ever seen their software so I checked out their website and downloaded some of their demos. I selected the version for ages 8+. My initial reaction was that these games with their rather primitive animation would not satisfy any eight-year-olds I know who are already playing very graphically sophisticated video games by that age. Although they do include some educational information, I think they are just too basic for ages beyond about 5 - 6. I was also confused why the Jr. Vet demo required the child to engage in an "asteroids"-type arcade game when they selected the antibiotic to clean an animal's wound. It's as if the game developers decided they had better introduce a familiar shooter-style activity to keep the child interested. I realize it has been said that shooters improve eye-hand coordination but the activity seemed totally out of place in the scenario presented.

Then I downloaded one of their "genius" thinking game demos, Think Like Einstein. The trainer level allows you to work with celestial bodies and experiment with moving them around to observe the effect they have on a light beam that you are trying to deflect into a capture box . More objects are introduced as the game progresses although, in the trainer level, the objects are not placed into particularly challenging arrangements. I also didn't take the time to figure out what changed if you put a bowtie on an asteroid. This introduction of an object totally out of context seemed rather strange. I think it would have been more realistic to have piles of different minerals that you could add to an asteroid that the child could then observe changed its behavior. Maybe that would not be fanciful enough. I did like the game's objective to emphasize the observation of cause and effect. I am still doubtful about the use of the game above the age of about 6 however.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Audio in connection installation in your car may be best iPod solution

Well, after talking with other iPod enthusiasts and family members I have just about come to the conclusion that having a simple audio-in jack installed in the factory stereo equipment in my 1995 Ford Explorer may be the best route to take to listen to books on my iPod while I'm commuting. My Ford tape deck with auto-reverse does not work with all the various cassette adapters I have tried and people who have tried the FM transmitters say they are not very reliable if you travel around areas that have lots of nearby FM channels. So I called Soundsations, a custom car stereo shop here in Eugene and they said they could install the jack for about $140.

Some of my electronically gifted friends say that the stereo unit I have probably has an audio-in jack already built into the back of it but the trick is getting to it. It was factory original in the car when it was assembled so you would have to remove it from the dash/console (it is a combination cassette/radio/6-disk CD changer unit with the cassette/radio in the dash and the CD changer in the console) to connect a patch cable. One friend pointed out that the wires to the CD player in the console should be the easiet to get to. So, I'll point this out before I plunk down the deposit and see what the shop says.