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Neglect

Saturday, June 07, 2008
12:36 PM

I can't believe it's been 10 months since my last post... I've actually got quite a few posts here which are half started but never finished, somehow I always find something else that needs to be done first.

I also keep putting off posting new stuff because I've been planning to rebuild the whole site on a custom Symfony application - currently all 50+ pages here are static & hand coded except for this blog, which runs on a bare-bones blogging system I built a few years back. I've been doing a ton of work in symfony for the past couple of years now and moving this site to it will let me quickly add features and experiment with content a lot more. However, the prospect of moving all the existing static content has been daunting enough to keep me from getting started... which I realize means it'll never get done. So I've finally just decided to archive everything here and start fresh, moving & updating old stuff as time permits once I've got the basics in place.

As for the past 10 months it's been busy with too many ongoing projects. There's been several AlwaysOn webcasts (as well as private webcasts for other clients) and I've been working to create a turnkey event media system in order to enable producing more events without it taking all my time. I'm also the lead developer on Local Biz Blogs, a platform for small, local businesses to promote themselves online. We're a very small team bootstrapping the site part time and we're just moving out of public beta and into commercial mode during the next month, which wraps up phase 1 of at least 3 for the project - so that'll be keeping me busy here for at least the rest of this year.

In addition to these two projects I've been continuing to teach a class each semester at CSM as well as doing a variety of smaller contract video and web development projects. I've had to travel a lot for work and other projects as well, hitting Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, Nashville, and Toronto - Monday I head back to Vegas for a week before I get a break of a few months with little business travel.

I clearly don't have enough to do, and needed to find something to fill all my spare time...

So in addition to all this I've been continuing to compete in timed filmmaking competitions such as the 48 Hour Film projects I mentioned in my last couple of posts. Our team is called It Donned On Me and we've completed 5 films so far - follow the link if you'd like to see some of the films and find out more about the team. We won third place in the Visa 'Life Takes' contest I mentioned in my last post, and recently picked up 'Best Directing' and 'Best Cinematography' for our first documentary, 'Stick & Pound', in the International Documentary Challenge. Unfortunately we can't currently post either film to our site yet, but our other three films are there if you'd like to check them out. We've got several more competitions coming up in the next few months so I'll update here as they come along.

So I guess this is all just a bunch of excuses for not posting anything here. In the end it's just the usual thing - the cobbler's children have no shoes. At least I don't have real kids yet - with a web site you can forget about it for 10 months and come back and pick up right where you left off. I hear that doesn't work so well with children.

The new site will be up in the next week.

Another 48 Hours

Monday, August 20, 2007
03:08 PM

Well, "Urgent Care" didn't win the juried competition for the SF 48 Hour Film Project but we were selected as one of 10 teams from SF to compete in the Visa 'Life Takes...' Invitational against 10 teams each from New York and LA.

Since the first one was so much fun - and since we needed some practice before the Visa competition - we jumped right back in and competed in the San Jose 48 Hour Film Project a week ago. The result was a film called 'Doggie Style' - you can see the film and production info on it's official site:

doggiestyle-48hourfilm.com

Once again we learned a lot and honed our skills for the next one. The Visa competition is in two weeks and then we'll get a little bit of a break... but maybe not for too long...

2007 48 Hour Film Project

Friday, July 13, 2007
10:21 AM

A few weeks ago I participated in the 2007 San Francisco 48 Hour Film Project with a team of former students. Despite the tight deadline everything came together for us and we were very happy with our finished product - "Urgent Care". Unfortunately we didn't win the audience choice award for our screening night, and we're still waiting to find out about the judged awards and Visa's 'Life Takes' contest - but whether we win or not it was an incredible experience.

You can see our finished film as well as read more about the cast, crew, and production at it's official site:

www.urgentcare-48hourfilm.com

We expect to find out the judge's nominations this week, and there will be a screening of the winning films next Wednesday, July 18th at Dolores Park in San Francisco, so if you're in the city and looking for some entertainment it's worth checking out the winning films.

This was the first time everyone on the team had worked together, and it was everyone's first 48 Hour Film Project, but it definitely won't be the last... there are already rumblings of a second run in a nearby city's competition...

Sci-Re

Wednesday, June 20, 2007
10:13 AM

Watch these:

and then watch this:

Both show people using their hands to directly manipulate and interact with their digital information and media in a similar manner.

One is an elaborate marketing concoction designed to make using a computer look fun, interactive and truly personal - it is reminiscent of how computers are often portrayed in science fiction movies, but it bears little resemblance to the actual computing experience.

The other is a product demonstration.

Now which one of these better fits the tagline "The Computer is Personal Again"?

I'm telling you, flying cars are just around the corner.

Ce n'est pas un iPhone

Friday, June 08, 2007
12:27 AM

Last November I spelled out my predictions for the iPhone - and I feel I came very close, although of course I missed a big piece (multitouch). However, now that the iPhone is nearing reality I wanted to talk about some of the criticisms leveled at it, as well as continue to projecting a little farther into the future to talk about what the iPhone represents in terms of of Apple and the future of computing in general.

First off I'd like to address the name - iPhone - because I honestly feel the name is preventing many people from truly understanding what this device is. "iPhone" doesn't really make much sense as a name for this device. The phone capabilities make up no greater portion of the device's functionality than do the music, video, photo, email or internet capabilities - so it seems like they should have just continued calling it an iPod.

The underlying software, however, is not related to the current iPod software but instead is a variant of OS X. So, ultimately this is a device which runs on OS X and has voice communication capabilities, email, internet, music, photos, video - in other words it has more in common with other Apple computers than either an iPod or a phone. In any case, the one thing it clearly is not is a phone - so why call it the iPhone?

I believe there are a couple of reasons for Apple's choice of this name. First off, the speculation about the iPhone had reached such a pitch that to not call this 'iPhone' would lead to continued speculation that the 'real' iPhone was on it's way. Calling it the iPhone allows them to capitalize on the pent-up interest in such a product - while also distracting their competitors (more on this in a little bit).

A second reason for the iPhone name is the need to partner with a phone company in order to enable the voice and network functionality. Selling an iPod with a 2-year voice contract might be a difficult marketing position to be in - but call it a phone and it makes perfect sense since people are used to contracts with their phones anyway. I suspect the 2-year contract doesn't play the typical role it would for other phones either - I have a feeling the current pricing is largely unsubsidized (there have been a variety of rumors to this effect). Other than the multi-touch screen it doesn't look like there's anything particularly exotic about the hardware in the phone - and there are plenty of devices with similar features and hardware in similar or lower price brackets. This makes the whole situation more profitable for AT&T as a large portion of the contract isn't going to phone subsidies - which makes for a stronger incentive for them to devote resources to the iPhone ahead of other manufacturers. It also jibes with some of the rumors that Apple may actually receive a cut of the monthly phone bill.

So, if we start from the standpoint that the iPhone is not really a phone, how does that change analysis of it? First off it makes suspect any analyst or pundit's criticism or discussion of it's features in comparison to current smart phones - and most of the negative reactions I've seen stem from comparing it to smart phones currently on the market. Anyone who predicts the iPhone's failure based on how it compares to existing phones clearly doesn't understand that this is not a phone.

It's no coincidence that Jobs also dropped the word 'computer' from Apple's name during the same keynote as he introduced the iPhone. Some have taken this as an indication that Apple is shifting it's focus from computing to consumer electronics because so much of their profit now comes from iPods. However, I feel it's simply an acknowledgment of the fact that computers ARE consumer electronics, and vice-versa, and there is little point in differentiating between them anymore. Additionally, the term 'computer' is dated and really doesn't accurately describe what most people are using 'computers' for.

When Steve Jobs said on stage that the iPhone was 5 years ahead of the industry everyone assumed he was talking about the cell phone industry. He wasn't - he was talking about the PC industry. The iPhone is a computer, pure and simple. It's a truly 'Personal' computer, far more so than the big boxes we currently use that term for. This is Apple's next-generation computing platform, and I believe we will look back on it as an industry inflection point much like the original Apple and Macintosh computers were. In fact the iPhone is much like the original Mac in that it introduces a new way of interacting with a computer - multitouch - which will likely become the first major input shift since the rapid dominance of the mouse which came with the first macs.

Multitouch is a flying car - one of these things we've been promised by science fiction novels and movies for the past few decades but never even came close to in the real world. You no longer work with your data through an abstracted control device - you manipulate it directly, making the whole computing experience much more intuitive.

Say you want to move a file - with a mouse you move the mouse on the desk until the pointer on screen is over the file you want, click and hold the button on the mouse to select the file, drag the mouse to move the file on screen, then release the button to drop it into the new location - your input and the actions/results are completely abstracted from one another, and until you internalize that abstraction there is nothing intuitive about it. It's easy to assume that a mouse is intuitive, but I've watched intelligent people with little or no computing experience struggle with simple operations because they haven't internalized the functionality yet. A mouse is certainly more intuitive than a command line, but it's not as good as it could be.

With a touch screen the same process is much more intuitive - reach out and grab the file you want and drag it to where you want it to go - just like you do with a real file on your desk. However, the limitations of current touch screens make them cumbersome input systems because they don't take advantage of human anatomy to make use off all of our fingers.

The iPhone will be the first mainstream commercial implementation of multitouch functionality but it won't be the last one from Apple or others - we'll see this cropping up in most of their computing products in the near future. I believe multitouch is actually best suited to two extremes of computing - handheld devices and large, wall mounted displays. A mouse works fairly well in the midrange but falls apart at either extreme. Introducing multitouch first in the iPhone allows for a simplified introduction to it as well as an accessible one - millions of people are likely to be using it by the end of the year due to the iPhone. Once it becomes familiar to people though the potential applications are huge - if you haven't already seen Jeff Han's multitouch demos, you owe it to yourself to check them out.

Many people have criticized the lack of a physical keyboard, but the truth is no one has been able to produce a truly satisfactory text input solution for small devices. While many people have learned to type fairly quickly with their thumbs on devices like blackberries and treos, the truth is that's an interface which doesn't fit human anatomy well at all. Out of ten fingers we use two of the least dexterous digits while relegating the rest to propping up the phone. The reason we have to use thumbs to type is because they are the only fingers strong enough to push the buttons quickly on current phones. With a touch screen keyboard that's no longer the case, and since it can differentiate between fingers I believe it'll be much faster to type on. Instead of using thumbs you hold the phone with one hand and type with three (maybe even four) fingers on the other hand. Each finger only has to tap a key lightly, not press it until it clicks, so you can tap very quickly with all four fingers. One-handed typing is still probably relegated to the thumb, although you could set the phone on a table or your leg and type with all four fingers as well. No other device on the market can work like this, so I wouldn't be surprised if the iPhone's touch screen typing actually turns out to be one of the fastest input systems on any phone or pda.

If you absolutely can't live without a keyboard the after-market will surely provide whatever you might need. I'll be surprised if half the vendors at Macworld 2008 are not companies producing iPhone accessories. Any keyboard configuration you can imagine will likely be available. Want a thumboard at the bottom? Someone will make one that snaps into the dock connecter. You'll see cases with a keyboard the size of the phone on the inside of the flap so it flips out to the side. Burton will have snowboarding jackets with soft keyboards on the sleeves. Any existing bluetooth keyboard solution will likely be an option... for instance, Frogpad's bluetooth half-keyboards can be strapped to an arm or handlebar. Someone could do a cradle with rows of buttons down the side of the phone so that you can type by chording with all 5 fingers while holding it in one hand. Maybe even a cradle which adds 'wings' at either end of the phone with inputs like a PSP.

While on the topic of accessories it's important to realize that once it ships there will be a huge accessory after-market as the existing iPod accessory manufacturers update their product lines and rush out accessories for the iPhone. No other device on the market will come even close to the level of third-party development for the iPhone - which means it'll be adaptable to a much broader range of user needs than any of it's competitors. From this perspective the lack of a physical keyboard is an advantage over other phones - not a limitation.

In fact I believe we'll see applications of the iPhone go far beyond it's physical form factor. Imagine a 1/2" thick laptop with a 12" screen and a dock for the iPhone where the touch pad would be on a current macbook. This would provide a full size keyboard and larger display, plus extended battery life and possible more storage - now the iPhone does double-duty as a sub-notebook. Stick it onto a dock plugged into your tv and use a bluetooth keyboard to surf the web or read email from the couch. Remember - it's not a phone, it's a computer, and unlike most 'smart phones' it has a video out as well as multiple inputs - both wired and wireless.

(actually, you don't have to entirely imagine this - I started writing this before Palm introduced the Foleo 'mobile companion'. So just imagine a Foleo, except that the phone is also the processor/memory/trackpad instead of having to redundantly supply that functionality in the device itself)

Apple dropped the word 'computer' from their name because the computer itself is disappearing - not going away, but fading away into our surroundings. The AppleTV is a computer for your television - but it's not called a computer and most people wouldn't think of it as one. The 'iPhone' is the same type of thing. More and more the various 'consumer electronics' we use everyday are basically computers and the reality is that for many people it may no longer be necessary to purchase a 'computer' when they have multiple devices that perform all of the common tasks they would normally use a computer. Don't get me wrong - I don't think Apple is going to stop making their other computers - I just believe that more and more you'll see those used primarily for business/graphics applications and less and less as a general, everyday computing platform. It's absurd to devote dual or quad core, multiprocessor machines to common tasks such as email and browsing the web.

If you haven't seen the iPhone ads they're worth checking out - as John Gruber has pointed out they are extremely unusual because they focus so much on the interface and how the device actually works, rather than listing features, etc... I think that goes a long way towards my argument about the importance of multitouch. Just seeing it in use is enough for almost anyone to 'get' it...

Back from Europe

Monday, May 21, 2007
11:27 AM

Just wrapping up a few weeks on the road - first in LA for Always On's On Hollywood, then on to Zaragoza, Spain for Guidewire Group's Innovate! Europe, and finally finishing up with a week in Paris for a brief but needed vacation.

This was my first time in Paris and it was an interesting experience. We didn't go with much of a plan and spent a lot of time just walking around which gave us a great feel for the city. As might be expected my wife dragged me along on a few shopping excursions - although when you're married to GearChic going shopping isn't neccessarily a bad thing. Dolce & Gabanna doesn't warrant a second look, but a Dianese store? We spent a lot of time (and money) there. Somehow we ended up in a hotel which was about a block from a dozen motorcycle dealers & gear shops, so naturally that's where we spent most of our first day.

The motorcycling scene in Paris is much different than the U.S. Here, motorcycling is mostly a hobby or enthusiast thing, while there riding is much more common and simply another mode of transportation. They certainly have their share of motorcycle enthusiasts, but I'd bet that makes up no more than a quarter of the riders - the rest are just average people who ride motorcycles or scooters instead of driving a car. Even in that respect it's much different than, say, Barcelona, where there are a ton of small (~50cc) scooters and 125 & 250cc motorcycles but very few full size bikes. Paris was about a third full size motorcycles with the other two thirds split between 50cc scooters and 'maxi' scooters which are as big as a motorcycle.

It was difficult to determine the percentage of bikes vs. cars because the bikes all tend to cluster together when they filter to the front at red lights, but I'd estimate 10-15% of the vehicles on the road were bikes. Traffic in Paris was pretty crazy, with a lot of multilane roads & roundabouts with no lane markers - but the riders clearly take this in stride and dodge, weave and split throughout the traffic with little or no fear.

I read somewhere that 50% of all vehicle collisions in Paris involve bikes. It's not entirely surprising considering the way bikes move through traffic, although it seemed a little odd considering one of the first sights we caught on the ride from the airport - a motorcycle class on the freeway! Six students wearing high-viz yellow vests, riding full size bikes with metal cages designed to protect the body work in a crash. We don't really have classes like this in the US. Our classes cover the basics of starting, stopping and turning and are conducted in a parking lot - and they even tell you at the end that you're only qualified to go out and start learning to ride on the street. A few places offer an advanced riding coruse which is still parking-lot-only, and you can take lessons on a track, but nothing involving real training for riding on highways or city streets. In France you're required to take this course to get a motorcycle endorsement, so you'd think with the more comprehensive training system the riders would be involved in fewer accidents.

A shop owner clued us in though - the training is only required if you want to ride a motorcycle or scooter with greater than 125cc displacement (in California you need a motorcycle endorsement for any size motorcycle or scooter). Anything smaller simply requires a standard drivers license, so a large percentage of the scooter riders probably have no formal rider training. The problem is the mechanics of riding a scooter or bike are vastly different than that of a car, regardless of engine size, so a standard driver's license really doesn't indicate any qualification for riding a two-wheeled vehicle. Combine a large number of untrained riders into the crazy traffic and it's no wonder there are a lot of two-wheeled vehicle accidents.

One upshot to all this is that good riding gear is much more common and is available in a much broader range of styles. U.S. riders generally fall into one of three different styles of gear. Most common is probably the Harley/crusier crowd, who wear mostly black leather gear with an emphasis on style rather than protection (although good leather is probably the best protection you can get, much of the 'biker' style leather is fasion-weight and too thin to provide significant protection). The sportbike crowd tends to go for stuff styled after racing gear with a much higher emphasis on armor and protection. Finally the sport-touring crowd tends to go for the highly functional, weatherproof and reasonably protective gear with little concern for fasion. Of course there's also a fourth group - most scooter riders and a small percentage of the other three groups - who simply don't bother with gear beyond what's required by law (usually just a helmet).

In Paris we saw all these styles represented (although the cruiser & black leather thing seems to be a minority there) but we also found a lot of gear which fell into a totally different category, one which reflects the utilitarian nature of riding there - normal looking clothes which have protective armor inside. Many of these even looked like business clothing - pinstriped jackets, dress overcoats, things you could wear into an office and nobody would take notice. Many of these were fully waterproof and had elbow & shoulder armor underneath - some even had back protectors or pockets to add one. There was also a lot more gear designed specifically for women riders, and much of that was more on the fasionable side while still retaining important safety features.

We simply don't see this stuff in the U.S., probably because very few people here see motorcycles simply as transportation. I'd like to think this is maybe changing as the popularity of motorcycling grows and rising gas prices drive people to give more serious consideration to alternatives to cars, but that's probably just wishful thinking. Living in SF it's easy to look around and see motorcycles as an alternative form of transportation, but I know that in most of the rest of the country they're still mostly just a weekend hobby.

Anyway, I'm back to the real world now and of course there's a lot of catching up to do since I've been gone so long. Another busy month ahead...

Mint on Symfony

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
11:08 AM

Just posted a new tutorial on deploying Shaun Inman's 'Mint' site statistics package on sites developed on the Symfony php framework.

This is the first of several Symfony-related tutorials I have coming, and I've got a lot more I want to say about Symfony - for now, if you're a web developer working with php you need to check it out. Except for very simple projects or brochureware I don't expect I'll build many sites without it from here on out.

You are about to read a blog. Cancel or Allow?

Friday, February 09, 2007
11:28 PM

Apple's latest mac ad pokes fun at Vista's new security features, depicting a secret service-type agent requiring confirmation of every action taken by the PC... of course, this is just hyperbole, right?

After viewing a video today on MSN's beta video sharing service, SoapBox, I clicked to close the window and was presented with the following alert:

Are you sure you want to leave this page?

I am so glad they asked - I wouldn't want to accidentally leave MSN and wander blindly out into the internets...

The DV Rebel's Guide

Thursday, February 08, 2007
10:14 AM

As I've become distracted with other things (paying the bills, etc) I've let the links section of this site go stale - most of the current links are still valid, but there's a lot of new things I haven't added in. A complete overhaul is in the works but will have to wait a bit longer, but in the meantime I wanted to mention a new book that I think is worth getting...

The DV Rebels Guide by Stu Maschwitz (of The Orphanage) is basically a guide to making low- or no-budget action movies, but the concepts and techniques he discusses are equally valid for any type of independent media production. It's a quick read and not incredibly technical, taking a fairly high-level approach to the techniques, so you'll need to have a fairly comfortable understanding of the tools he discusses, especially After Effects. In fact, one of the things I like the most about this book is the way Maschwitz treats AE - not as a specialized visual effects tool but instead as a swiss army knife of visual media production. AE certainly isn't the best choice for a lot of things you might do with video, but when you don't have/can't afford the right tool (or when the right tool doesn't exist) it's an amazingly useful utility.

I'd consider this book required reading for anyone interested in making their own videos, whatever the purpose or genre. It's part of (and even helps define) a small ecosystem of resources which are worth spending your time on (rather than spending that time on actually going out and making media). As I rework this site I'll be highlighting the other resources - but if you go out and get this book now you'll already know about a lot of the things I'll be linking to. In the meantime you can also check out Maschwitz's site for the book - rebelsguide.com

I've got a bunch of other updates in the works as well - reaction to and thoughts on the iPhone, last week's OnMedia NYC conference, the Symfony Project, new cameras from Canon (including my newest toy, the XH A1), etc - as well as some new tutorials on Symfony and EC2. All coming just as soon as I finish up the stuff I'm getting paid to do....

The Future Looks Dark For CS3

Tuesday, December 05, 2006
12:37 PM

I mentioned Think Secret's rumor track record last week - it's not particularly strong and I'm hoping it stays that way. Their latest report details some changes in the upcoming Adobe Photoshop CS3, including this ominous statement:

Photoshop CS3's interface is said to closely resemble the look and feel of Adobe After Effects 7, with easy palette organization and brightness adjustment for the overall interface itself. Palettes can be moved, minimized, customized or collapsed down to a single icon with ease; even that familiar two-column toolbar can be converted into a narrower single column bar, if desired.

If you've read my previous post on the subject (or taken my AE class) you'll know how I feel about the AE7 interface 'improvements'. It's hard to tell from the above description if they are incorporating the worst elements of the new interface into CS3 or not - such as the single workspace/window with non-overlapping palettes which all resize as you open and close them. If it turns out they're just going with the dark grey look of AE7 it's not a big deal - it's not as adjustable as I'd like, but it's something I can live with. Unfortunately, after CS3 I'm guessing the former Macromedia products are in line for 'interface improvements' - Photoshop isn't a particularly palette-heavy app, so it might not be as bad as AE7, but Flash is likely to be just as bad or even worse than AE if it gets the same treatment.

No iPhone for you

Thursday, November 30, 2006
11:26 AM

There's been a steady level of speculation for the past couple of years about Apple's foray into the world of cellphones. Every Macworld or 'Special Event' has been preceded by most of the rumor sites suggesting that the iPhone was about to be released, but recently the rumors seem to have changed from random speculation to almost accepted wisdom that the phone is almost here. While I think they're right that Apple's about to ship something new, I'm thinking it's not going to be the iPhone everyone is expecting.

Over on Daring Fireball John Gruber has an excellent response to a recent quote by Palm CEO Ed Colligan - who basically said there was no way some 'PC guys' would be able to do better than what they've been struggling to get right for several years now. Gruber comments:

"If he really believes what he’s saying, it’s probably because he has no clue how Apple would approach this market. An Apple phone wouldn’t do more than a Treo or a BlackBerry or a Razr — it would do less, and what it would do, it would do really well."

I think this points very clearly in the direction Apple is going. They won't ship some amazing, complex, breakthrough device that leapfrogs, or even competes with, the current smartphones on the market. And they clearly won't ship some basic phone just so they can have a phone with their name on it - I'm guessing the Motorola Rokr is probably as close as we'll ever see to a standard phone with Apple tech in it, and Steve Jobs clearly demonstrated his level of interest in it when it shipped.

The other steady rumor for the past year or so has been that Apple is going to ship a 'real' video iPod. The current one is the "iPod with Video', and the rumor is that the real one will have a larger widescreen display, possibly with a touchscreen instead of the traditional scroll wheel. I think this is a fairly realistic assumption simply based on the general direction Apple has gone with the iPod - slow, steady, incremental improvement with each generation. A larger screen and touch screen are well within this path. However, Apple usually adds some new feature at the high end which is an indication of where they are going with the platform but which isn't necessarily fully developed yet.

I think that new feature with this generation will be communication capabilities. There will be no iPhone, there will be the iPod with communication. The best indication I've seen of what they're likely to ship isn't from Apple at all...

First International Computing (FIC) recently announced an open-source, linux-based phone which is due to ship by the end of the year. It's got no keypad - but it has a 2.8", 640x480 pixel touchscreen, GSM/GPRS and AGPS capabilities. It's got the basic, standard communications applications and little more. However, you can add whatever applications you want to it, either commercial or open source. It's not really a phone - it's a pocket-sized linux computer with communications capabilities. It's going to cost $350, and it can be used with any GSM carrier - swap the SIM card out of your current Cingular or TMobile phone and you're up and running.

Now look at those specs - add a hard drive and Apple interface and it's basically the "true" video iPod with communication capabilities. Apple's clearly demonstrated their willingness to push the price of their high-end iPod offering to the $500 range, so at $350 for FIC's device I'd say there's plenty of room for Apple to add a drive and still make a comfortable profit. Going with the GSM system leaves Apple a lot of flexibility as far as dealing with the phone companies. They can sell the iPod by itself to those who are already with a GSM carrier and let people just use their existing accounts. They could partner up with one of the GSM carriers to sell a subsidized version of the iPod - although as others have noted this could be problematic since their business model doesn't align with the direction the phone companies have gone. They could buy time in bulk and sell prepaid cards themselves, or even subsidize the iPod cost in exchange for a contract like the phone companies do. Apple might not sell as many of these video iPods at $500, but I'd bet they'll sell plenty of them at the current high-end iPod price point of $350 with a one year phone contract.

It'll have all the functionality of the current iPod with video, plus a way to dial the phone (in addition to calling directly from the contacts which you can already sync to your iPod). It'll probably have a basic SMS implementation (maybe compatible with iChat), but not much else. As John Gruber pointed out, it'll won't do anything we haven't seen before - it'll just do the basics really well. Most of the current phone interfaces are clunky - I'd bet many features of these phones never get used simply because they're buried in odd places in the menus. They have to be there though so that when you are comparing phones in the shop you've got a nice long feature list to look at. Apple doesn't have to do this. The iPod won't compete with other phones, just like it doesn't compete with other music players. It's an iPod, it's either what you want or it isn't - and it's clearly what many people want.

There's one other intriguing possibility raised by FIC's linux phone - what if Apple went the same direction and used a slimmed down version of OS X as the basis for this new iPod? I don't know enough about the technical realities of this to know if it's practical, but it wouldn't surprise me to see it happen. Apple clearly doesn't see the iPod as a music player, but rather as a platform. There's been a lot of analyst speculation about the 'halo effect' - that the success of the iPod would lead to a growth in sales for Apple's 'real' computing products. Is it particularly far-fetched to think that maybe the iPod itself will be Apple's core computing platform within 5 years or so, and their laptops and desktops will be their specialty/professional products?

Just to throw a little more fuel on that fire, here's one final rumor mixed with a little of my own speculation. Think Secret just posted a rumor that Apple accidently shipped out some replacement keyboards with iPod docks. Now Think Secret's track record with rumors isn't particularly strong, but I'm going to go ahead and run with this one since I'm already out on a limb with my long-term iPod speculation. Maybe it's not just a keyboard with a dock, which would imply that it's designed simply to allow you to sync your iPod with your computer. Maybe it's an iPod input device. Maybe in a couple of years you'll grab a keyboard, stick your iPod in it, and view the output on your HDTV via iTV. Maybe the iPod is the next generation consumer Mac, and the current Macbooks, iMacs, and Mac Mini's are just interim solutions (iSolutions?) until the processing power of the iPod catches up.

Adobe After Effects 7: anything but 'elegantly redesigned'

Sunday, October 15, 2006
11:22 AM

Recently John Gruber (Daring Fireball) has had several links to posts about interface issues with Adobe's software - such as the Acrobat Reader updater and the Creative Suite updater. And when posting about the divergence between OS X and Vista's interfaces he made an interesting comment:

"it's getting less and less tenable for them to continue shipping Mac and Windows apps that are so similar in design. They're either going to ship Mac versions that don't feel Mac-like, Windows versions that don't feel Windows-like, or, both."

This immediately brought to mind After Effects 7 for Mac, which is the first mac version which definitely doesn't feel Mac-like.

I didn't upgrade to 7 when it first came out - I'd recently upgraded to 6.5 and didn't see anything really compelling in the feature list to justify upgrading again. So I pretty much glossed over the first new feature:

"Work within an elegantly redesigned interface featuring workspace panels that dock and group for optimal organization, eliminating overlapping windows."

As it turns out, "elegantly redesigned" is about as far as possible from how I'd describe of the AE7 interface. "optimal organization" is also suspect, and while it seems that they have "eliminat[ed] overlapping windows" it turns out they really haven't - they've simply eliminated the good aspects of overlapping windows.

Now, I have to preface this by saying I feel one of the great things about After Effects is how little its interface has changed over the years. Each new version has had interface changes, but for the most part they have been subtle and geared towards productivity enhancements which were true improvements. Even with these changes, someone who had learned on, say, version 3 could jump right into 6.5 and feel immediately comfortable.

I can only assume Adobe felt this interface stability was making their app look dated compared to more recent competitors, and decided it was time for a change - Version 7's interface is completely different than any previous version. Everything is dark grey with lighter grey icons, making it look at a glance more like Apple's Final Cut Studio interface or it's other competitors such as Shake or Combustion. At first glance you might not even know it was the same application. Upon closer inspection you can see that the change is largely cosmetic - most of the old interface elements are there, and they are in the same or similar places, they just look quite a bit different. However, if the changes to AE7's interface went only as deep as color and icon changes to bring it inline with the industry's current interface trends I'd have no problem with it - it's the actual changes to interface functionality which are a step backward.

A big part of the problem I see with AE7 is the way it breaks standard Mac windowing conventions. Lets start with the red button in the upper left corner - this is used to close an open document. In most applications an unsaved document shows a small black dot in the middle of the red button, letting you know visually whether your document is saved before you close it. Not in AE7. It's a minor complaint, but because it violates an assumption which is probably almost subconscious in most Mac users it stands out in it's absence.

Lets assume you're done with the current project, it's saved (so the dot doesn't matter) and you want to close it and start a new project. Click the red button, your project closes, got to File>New... wait, where's the file menu? It's gone, because After Effects quits when you close the main window. Again, this violates a convention that almost all Mac programs follow - the application's document windows are independent of the application itself. Closing a window shouldn't quit the program. Things like this make AE7 feel like a Windows app ported to the mac rather than a native mac application.

And it gets even worse. You see, I can actually guess at the reasoning behind quitting the application when closing the window - it's because the window is not really a document window, it's the application workspace. And in the AE7 workspace everything fits into one big window. Your project, comp, and timeline windows are no longer windows at all but tabbed panels. All the various tabbed palettes also fit into the same big window.

This causes all kinds of issues. The first is that in the default layout, all the open tabs and windows take up a lot of space - in fact, the various boxes arrange themselves to fill the entire screen. As soon as you open a new palette or panel other panels have to resize to make room for it (because they've eliminated those evil overlapping windows!). In many instances it's the largest panel - the comp window, your primary workspace in AE - that ends up resizing. Shrinking the comp window usually means you immediately have to start rearranging things to get it back to the size it was before so you can continue working. Overall, the entire interface feels cramped, and it feels like you have no control over it - it adjusts itself as you open and close panels & palettes whether you want it to or not.

Another issue with this is that when you first open your new document there is a big area in the middle where your comp panel will go and a panel at the bottom for your timeline. In previous versions there was no window there until you created a comp. With the new layout I've watched new users try repeatedly to drag footage into the empty center area without realizing that they hadn't created or opened a composition. Once you do this a few times you'll probably learn to make sure you have a comp open, but with the old interface it simply wasn't possible to make this mistake - so you never had to consciously think about whether you had a comp open or not.

This isn't the only problem with this interface which causes confusion for new users. Once you've finished your comp and are ready to render, you choose Comp>Add to Render Queue and the render queue panel opens up. The problem is it opens as a tab in the timeline area - this is odd because it has no logical reason to be associated with the timeline. Fine, so they just needed somewhere to put it. On a 1280x1024 monitor, using the default layout with a DV resolution comp window at 100% (not an uncommon situation), the render queue window is so short that the portion with the list of comps to render is nothing but a thin sliver at the bottom of the screen. On a 1024x768 monitor, (or if you've shortened the height of the timeline at all to give you more working area for your comp window) the list is completely invisible. The portion which is visible is entirely meaningless until you actually start rendering - but you need to set all of your render options first. However, you can't access the list of queued items because the scroll bar for the list is offscreen as well. There is no way to access the list or the scroll bar without resizing the timeline area to make it taller (which then shifts the rest of your interface around, shrinking your comp window). For new users this is especially bad because they don't know what to look for or expect in the render queue window and there is no visual indication that there is more to the window than what appears when they first access it. I first encountered this problem with a student who added her comp to the queue 15 times before asking me what she was doing wrong. The thing is, she wasn't doing anything wrong - the application was.

Now Adobe must have realized that this single window interface wouldn't work for everyone - such as those with multiple monitors (which, at least at the professional level, probably is everyone). So they made it possible to break out any of the tabs into standalone windows. So if you don't want to rearrange your entire interface to see the whole render queue list you can just break it out into a window which floats above the primary workspace. Now you can resize it to view and access your queued items without changing the rest of the layout. Of course, somehow they managed to screw this up as well. Because once you're done with your new floating render queue window, if you click on the main interface, nothing happens. The render Queue window still floats over everything else. So floating windows can never be placed behind the main workspace window - once again, this violates the standard behavior on the Mac: clicking on one window should bring it to the foreground.

So they haven't eliminated overlapping windows as they claim. They've simply made non-overlapping panels the default mode, while retaining the ability to have overlapping windows if you need them (which it turns out many, if not most, users will). And then, as if to provide a justification for their dislike of overlapping windows, they've crippled the one feature which makes overlapping windows useful - the ability to toggle any window to the foreground with a single click.

Essentially, what Adobe has done is all but eliminate depth from the interface, cramming a complex interface of tabbed palettes and windows into a single 2-dimensional space. In the process they've violated several key Mac interface conventions. They've made it more confusing for new users (who don't know what to expect) as well as experienced users (who expect standardized, consistent behavior). AE7 on the Mac now feels like a port of a windows application. If any of these changes contributed to a significantly improved workflow it might be forgivable, but as far as I've seen nothing in the new interface makes it easier or faster to perform any everyday task in AE - and in fact it makes some things more difficult.

I find these issues bad enough that I won't be upgrading to 7 and I actually hope I never need to. But it worries me, especially now that Adobe owns Macromedia. I sincerely hope this isn't an indication of the new direction they are going in with all of their professional apps. I'd been hoping the acquisition might mean they'd bring some of the AE interface elements to Flash (something like Livemotion, which was a significantly better flash animation tool than Flash itself) but now I'm starting to hope they leave it alone.

Online video ads

Wednesday, August 30, 2006
04:34 PM

Cinematech has a nice roundup of several articles about YouTube's new advertising attempts. It sounds like they're essentially going the banner ad route, while specifically avoiding ads inside the videos. This makes sense, to some extent, because I think it would be difficult for them to place ads in the videos themselves without starting to draw serious legal attention to content-ownership issues. By placing the ads on the site it's hard to say they are profiting from any specific video - a problem if the video was copyrighted by someone else, which describes something like 40% of their content. But it also could be an issue for the stuff uploaded legally - at some point independent producers will start asking why they aren't getting a share of the revenue generated by their own videos. With competitors like Revver entering the market and sharing their ad revenues with the video creators (by specifically linking ads into each video) YouTube would risk losing to competitors the (legal) content at the core of their popularity. It's going to happen anyway, but placing ads in the videos could start drawing more attention to this issue before YouTube has their own solution in place.

So for now it's essentially banner ads - which are an iffy proposition even on sites with non-video content. Granted, YouTube's banner ads are videos themselves - but realistically they're not significantly different than a typical static/animated banner. They certainly can be profitable, but many large content sites still can't generate enough revenue from banners alone. Like TV commercials before them, people learn to tune out banner ads when browsing the web. The problem for YouTube is the cost of hosting all these videos - I don't see how they can possibly make enough money from banners to pay for the bandwidth they burn. I don't know what bandwidth costs on the scale YouTube is using - but if we pick some random numbers (which are probably quite conservative) and say each video costs them a nickel to server to a viewer, and they get three times that per ad click - what are the odds that someone will click on an average of one banner per three videos watched? I'd guess very low - in fact, I'd be surprised if it were less than a 20- or 30-1 ratio of videos per click. So they've got to charge a lot more for their ads - which makes them less competitive than other online advertising options.

Their real problem comes back to issues Doc Searles raises when discussing the 'Intention Economy'. With traditional television advertising we were dealing with an 'Attention Economy' in which getting your message in front of passive (yet reasonably attentive) eyeballs was the key to building brand awareness, which would then influence purchasing decisions at the store later. The problem is things like banner ads are at the periphery of a person's attention online - and people aren't passively viewing web sites. In fact, shoving an ad front and center (what's known as an 'interstitial') is a great way to drive people away from your site. A person's intention online generally isn't to find ads, so if they get in the way of what they are looking for those people will often go elsewhere. So where online advertising is most effective is in places where you can match the advertising to people's intentions - a good example is Productwiki's recent post about the ads that work best for them - one's which specifically advertise the products people come to their site to read about. So YouTube's problem is their viewer's intentions - people aren't at their site with the intention of buying anything. They aren't learning about new products, they aren't doing research about stuff they want to buy - they are just looking to be entertained. Perfect - they can sell advertising for entertainment products! Of course, the problem with that is they're already being entertained, for free, by YouTube - so their incentive to buy more entertainment is diminished somewhat, considering each person has a limited time to devote to entertainment.

So YouTube is basically stuck in the same attention economy model as television. The problems with this still come back to their hosting costs. With television more viewers for a show enable you to charge more for your ads, but your primary expenses (production, distribution, etc) are fixed - so popularity is directly correlated with profit. YouTube's primary cost (bandwidth) scales linearly with viewers - so their popularity gives them little benefit as far as profits are concerned. The number of viewers certainly attracts advertisers, but considering the low intention levels of their audience they can't charge enough for those ads to offset the hosting costs. As their popularity grows they have to charge more just to keep up with the increased costs.

I'll be interested to see how things work out with Revver. The Mentos & Diet Coke video I mentioned last week made a decent return - whether it's enough to offset the hosting costs is the big question though. However, the ad at the end is for a Mentos contest related to the content of the video - clearly Revver's attempting to match ads to video content somewhat. I imagine this will be difficult for some videos, but if they can do this well for most of their videos they should see the greater average returns that Productwiki saw with their content-focused ads.

Hypothetical Eyeballs

Sunday, August 20, 2006
03:05 AM

A couple of weeks ago, Cinematech posted about a Business Week article called "Whose Video Is It, Anyway?" The topic was YouTube, which seems to be the biggest buzz online right now. I noticed they were mentioned during most of the discussion panels at last month's AlwaysOn Innovation Summit, with most of the discussion concerning 1. how they would make money (especially considering their bandwidth costs), and 2. how they would deal with copyrighted material uploaded by their users without permission. The second problem is the one Business Week discusses in their article, but what caught my eye was something Cinematech quoted in their post - the Mentos & Diet Coke video made $30,000 on Revver, but the creators think they could have made twice that if it hadn't been uploaded to YouTube. Now, I've got to say this doesn't sound too much different to me than what we've heard from many of the movie studios and record labels, who are constantly mentioning hypothetical profits they've lost to things like p2p networks. The problem is those hypothetical numbers assume that without whomever the culprit is (YouTube, Napster, etc) the same people would have watched/purchased the media through the authorized outlets. Of course, that's fairly unlikely - it's the nature of the tubes to spread things faster and farther than any traditional medium could.

Now Eepybird (the guys who made the mentos/diet coke video) might not be as far off as the MPAA & RIAA in their hypothetical profit estimates - after all, the authorized Revver version could be watched and passed around just as easily as the copy on YouTube. I still don't think it's as likely though - YouTube has a huge audience and popular videos inevitably enjoy a snowball effect due to the size of this audience. Revver doesn't yet have this kind of audience, and therefore won't have the same self-reinforcing popularity growth. So maybe they could have made twice as much without YouTube around... but I'd bet against it. But the fact remains, YouTube or not, they made $30,000 from a short video of synchronized, spraying soda bottles - this is a pretty big deal, and if not for the existence of Revver they probably wouldn't have made anything from the video.

Revver was one of the few companies I saw at OnHollywood that seemed to have a promising revenue model. They basically take the video you send them, add a single still-image ad at the end, and then host it on their site. You split the click-through ad revenues with them 50/50 after any affiliate costs - and affiliates are a big part of the concept. Anyone can sign up and then post any video hosted on Revver to their own site - they get 20% of the ad revenues from the copy on their site. This makes what looks to me to be a win-win-win situation. The video creator doesn't have to pay to host the video & can potentially make a lot of money off of it if it's very popular. Revver gets free/low cost content - potentially, over time, better content than sites that don't offer returns to the video creators. Bloggers and other online users get a few bucks for linking & posting videos they would probably be posting anyway - they therefore have an incentive to post a Revver copy even if they found it on another service such as YouTube because they get rewarded for posting the Revver one. The Eepybird video shows it can work for the video creators, and presumably a few dollars got distributed to affiliates - so the real questions is whether the revenues Revver generates will be enough to allow them to turn a profit after their hosting costs.

Now there's an interesting conflict here for Revver. At OnHollywood I shot an interview for AO with Tom Green and Revver's CEO, Steven Starr. One of the big points Starr was making was that once you've 'Revverized' your video you can distribute it anywhere - host it on their server and post it on your own site, on forums, etc, or upload the Revverized copy to p2p services, etc. But the best part of it is that anyone who likes your video can do all these things as well and you still get ad revenues (and they get affiliate fees). That was what really made it seem promising to me at the time - but it wasn't until I read the cinematech article that I realized the problem here. A big part of Revver's success, and that of their video creators, is encouraging people to redistribute their videos - they're depending on tapping into the viral nature of online media to spread their ads beyond the Revver site. The one limitation is that their system depends on people distributing the original version of the video with the Revver ad in it. YouTube (as well as Google video and others) re-encode videos you upload to them into Flash video (presumably for bandwidth & compatibility reasons) - which strips out the Revver ads. Unfortunately most users wouldn't know this - and Revver doesn't seem to mention it (at least not that I've seen) on their site in the section where they encourage people to redistribute their content.

The problem is YouTube is the most popular video sharing site online by a huge margin. So how does Revver succeed while managing the mixed message - please, share our videos, just don't share them in certain places...like the places where most people now share videos online...

Click on the thumbnail below if you want to see the Diet Coke & Mentos video (on Revver, of course)

Running in place

Friday, August 18, 2006
11:32 PM

I've go to learn not to jinx myself like that. Every time I say something like "things are busy now, but as soon as I get done with X I'll have some free time" I end up busier than ever. So I've got a ton of stuff I've been meaning to post about and it's just piling up - but obviously if I keep waiting to finish other stuff I'll never get to it. So check back soon, there'll be a lot of new stuff going up in the next few weeks...

Sure is quiet around here.

Thursday, July 20, 2006
04:22 AM

It's been a busy few months but there's an end in site. I'm prepping stuff now for the AlwaysOn Stanford Innovation Summit webcast - the summit doesn't start until next week but I'll be off the grid over the weekend so things have to be finished tonight.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, better known as MotoGP - we've volunteered as corner workers so we're riding down and camping at the track for the whole weekend. Friday night we're having a welcome-home and site launch party for Liam Shubert, better known as "MotoLiam"! Last October he sold just about everything he owned and moved to Spain in order to pursue his dream of becoming a MotoGP mechanic. Somewhere along the line he found out he had a talent for moto-journalism as well, starting a thread on our local riders forum (www.bayarearidersforum.com) which is by far the most popular thread on the site - fast approaching 300,000 views. He's currently transitioning to his own site and blog at www.motoliam.com and rapidly building/expanding his own "global microbrand". Expect to hear a lot more about Liam and his 'wild ride' here in the next few months - we've got several projects in the works which should be interesting. And if you're going to be at Laguna Seca on Friday (7/21) stop by the Blue Fin Cafe on Cannery Row and meet Liam, pick up a motoliam shirt, and say hi!

After next week's summit things should free up for the next month or so, so it's looking like time to put some work into this site. Thing's will be changing soon and I'll be expanding and updating everything quite a bit as I bring some new projects into public view. Be right back...

Beer for Bags!

Monday, May 29, 2006
06:54 PM

Well, I'm back from Spain and busier than ever... depending on this weeks' progress on the latest 'product-sold-which-doesn't-yet-exist' I'll try to get some photos & video up.

In the meantime I wanted to make sure no one missed Beer for Bags week!

Crumpler makes some great bags (sadly the same can't be said for their website), and for one week a year they sell their bags for beer instead of money. On the link above you can see the 'exchange rate' for various bags - for instance, 1 case Coopers + 2 Fosters Oil cans will get you a Barney Rustle bag. Unfortunately it's only good at their New York locations, and since I'm stuck 3000 miles away learning Symfony (more on that soon) I'll have to skip it - but if you're going to be in New York next week (June 3rd - 11th) you may want to pack some beer...

¡Hola!

Friday, May 19, 2006
04:55 AM

Unfortunately, that's about the extent of my spanish, which has led to some difficulties here in spain. Overall though it's been fun - although the free hotel wifi is a little spotty, repeatedly asking for a passcode at apparently random intervals.

No problem though, as there's plenty to do in the real world here. Time to head out and kick off the barcelona tour with this! I plan to bring back some footage of the unusual and cool bikes we'll never see here in the US, all in glorious HD!

Dismissed by scientists as coincidence...

Thursday, May 11, 2006
03:27 AM

In-N-Out "Double-Double", animal-style $2.75
French Fries, animal-style $2.25
Medium Coke $1.15
Sales Tax (8.25%) $0.51
Total $6.66
Eating the 'Meal of the Beast' priceless

oh, the irony.

AO OnHollywood thoughts

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
04:12 AM

I've been thinking about the things which kept coming up at OnHollywood - web 2.0 (or, if you're trying to be even hipper, implying that you're beyond 2.0), "User generated content", and "monetize". I have to say that I felt most of the speakers/presenters just didn't get it - they don't really get what 'web 2.0' really is, and yet they're talking about moving beyond it. The entertainment companies seem worried - this user generated content is a big problem for them. They're trying to make it seem like a positive thing - "the users are making our content for us for free!". But the reality that most weren't talking about is the fact that there's only a fixed number of hours anyone can spend watching television, movies, etc. The more user-generated content they are watching online, the less time they spend watching the traditional media - the stuff which generates the revenues for these entertainment companies. Hence the flailing about in search of a way to monetize the user generated content. These companies are looking to get themselves somewhere in the middle of a system which is starting to make them look obsolete.

The thing is it gets even worse. You watch enough videos online, and you start thinking maybe you could make your own videos. Doc Searls brings this up in his latest Linux Journal article "The Rise of Independent Media" - soon the choice isn't just whether to watch television or to watch user generated media. Now people are also deciding between watching and producing media. The media companies' slice of the pie gets even smaller. But hey, the users are making all this content for free right? Lets just monetize it and turn the situation to our advantage.

The problem is it isn't just a bunch of people making free content. It's also a bunch of people seeing the opportunity to make themselves money, to make a living, to build a personal global microbrand, to take a step towards freedom. So they'll put their content online, but they'll want a cut of the ad revenues. The ad revenues are currently being generated (and split) with companies like Google and Yahoo, but not by the big traditional media companies. Between the online networks, and the individual producers, there's not much left for anyone else - but this is where these companies are trying to shoehorn themselves in. Their own content is too expensive for this model - it doesn't take much for an individual producer to make money off their content, but that won't work in a world of half-million dollar an episode star salaries. So they need to try to leach off of the user generated content - but again, we're talking small numbers here, big enough to make an individual producer happy, but probably not enough to make up for the lost ad revenues as their traditional audience goes elsewhere.

And then it happens. The one last thing - taking a little slice of the ad revenues all over the place - starts to look shaky. Independent producers start realizing that once they've got an audience, they can produce & serve their own ads just like they do their own content - and because they have the inside line on their viewers, they can do a better job than the big media companies. Groups form like The Deck which pool targeted audiences around common interests and sell ads directly, for amounts that are significant enough to provide full time income for the producers. Enabling the producers to create more, and better, content. Further eroding the position of the traditional media companies.

On the tech side there seemed to be a lot of people who were looking to web 2.0 to be the second coming of the dot coms, looking for somewhere to put their money to catch the wave. But the problem is, it's the same all over. The real web 2.0 companies are not the one's looking to capitalize on the social media thing and then sell to Yahoo or Ebay or whoever's acquiring this week. They're the companies that are building a business model which lets them support thousands or hundreds of thousands of customers with a staff of 5 and almost no overhead. They're building the online tools they wish they had, and finding that they aren't the only ones' looking for good tools online. They're the ones proving that small is the new big. They're the one's building sustainable businesses - building a space for themselves online and offline which doesn't necessarily involve the big companies at all. Not much different than the independent media creators.

So that's what I took away from OnHollywood. There certainly were a few people at the conference who got it, and I missed some of the discussions because I was monitoring the live stream. But I left with this feeling that most of what was talked about there, most of what was presented, wouldn't really matter a few years down the line as we move beyond web 2.0.

Because these are the things that are happening while venture capitalists and media giants make other plans.

HDV to h.264 workflow with FCP & compressor

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
01:41 PM

I haven't had much time to do any structured tests, but I've discovered that the most obvious way to export h.264 from your HDV source in Final Cut is not necessarily the fastest.

Open your sequence, set in and out points, Export>using compressor, then choose a Quicktime 7 h.264 preset (I've been using the 800kbps preset with only geometry changes for 16x9 output). A 2 minute video using these settings is taking almost an hour and fifteen minutes to compress on my dual-2 G5.

Instead create an intermediate master using Export>Quicktime Movie... (I'm using the AIC 1080i60 preset for this) which takes about 5-6 minutes for the two minute movie. Then take this intermediate into compressor and choose your h.264 preset - the same two minute movies as before are now taking about 7 minutes to complete. Even with the extra time required to create the intermediate that's almost 5x faster - if you are exporting multiple versions of the same video the time savings should be even more significant. The resulting movies are visually indistinguishable from the ones exported directly from the timeline.

I'll have to put together a more formal test and keep track of the exact timings, but for now it looks like going to an intermediate first is the fastest option when using compressor. I'll have to test and see if this is applicable to DV source footage as well, although I suspect the time savings will be less noticeable since there are far fewer pixels to deal with.

Lose Weight Now! For the low low price of...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006
01:21 PM

nothing.

I've just found out about an interesting new diet book - it's starting to get more and more attention in blogs all over the internet because it seems it really works for a lot of people. It's called the Shangri-La Diet, here's a few of the posts:

Creating Passionate Users
NY Times
Aaron Schwartz
CalorieLab

That's a strange variety of blogs posting on this - it's interesting to see how this is catching on online. Here's the technorati chart for the term "Shangri-La Diet" over the past 90 days. It's definitely picking up some momentum - and many of the posts are these long, detailed testimonials about how the diet worked for the author. It's not just that it works (which in and of itself is a big deal considering the track records of most fad diets) but also how simple the diet is - it basically involves consuming a couple hundred calories (a tablespoon or two) of extra light olive oil or sugar water each day an hour away from any other food intake. You can ready the other posts if you're interested in further details about the diet - but there really doesn't seem to be much more to it than that. Of course, as far as I can tell this diet's effectiveness is based purely on anecdotal evidence, as so many are. There is some reference to studies on mice, but otherwise it's really only the author's experiments on himself and the testimonials of those it has worked for which support it's claims - in other words, it's currently got the same sort of scientific credibility as, say, alien abductions.

But it's catching on online across an odd range of sites. This is perhaps the best marketing campaign something like a diet book could hope for - a bunch of random, seemingly disconnected people posting glowing testimonials for the book. It almost makes me suspicious that it's some type of blog-marketing campaign, except for the fact that most of the posts pretty much explain how the diet works - not the greatest way to convince people they need to buy the book. Maybe that's the trick though - make it so simple people buy the book thinking there must be something more they need to know.

There's another interesting thing mentioned in Aaron Schwartz's blog above - is this the next Atkins? If the diet works as claimed for a lot of people, how will they commodify it? A link to a review from the CalorieLab article above mentions that $5 worth of olive oil from costco lasts you 6 months - will we see 12 packs of "Shangri-La" oil for $2 a shot in supermarkets next year? Will people buy it?

Of course they will.

I'll be back. Gotta run to Costco. I sense a new business opportunity.

Exhausted.

Friday, May 05, 2006
02:21 AM

Well, AlwaysOn Hollywood is over, and I'm exhausted. Things mostly went well although we had some issues with the networking setup - webcast went fairly smoothly though. Unfortunately I figured out some optimizations for it today which I think greatly improved the streaming experience later in the day - unfortunate because I was only really able to implement it for the last couple of sessions of the conference, wish I'd had time to work on it more beforehand. Good news for Stanford though as it should improve the entire event there - I'll probably rebuild a lot of the system for that in order to implement some new features and improve things overall.

A lot of interesting sessions, I was at all of them but missed a lot due to monitoring loopback (very hard to concentrate when you're hearing the same thing echoed on top of itself with a 3-second delay). I'll have to review some of the archives over the weekend and post about a few of the companies I found interesting. One thing which seemed odd to me - many of the demos were basically for flashcomm (flash media server now) applications - basically similar stuff to what I've put together for the webcasts, but with lots of buzzword-compliant features crammed in. Looks like flash is starting to gain some traction as a real-time communication development platform, although many of the applications demo'd probably won't take off.

Anyway, only got about 2 hours sleep last night so I'll have to summarize my thoughts over the weekend. In the meantime, be sure to check out the session archives.

AlwaysOn Hollywood Update

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
11:19 AM

looks like there were some issues with the initial rollout of GoingOn and the post with links didn't show up for everyone on the main page. As of today the link to the live webcast is on the front page at:

< http://onhollywood.goingon.com/>

and you can get to the archived sessions from last night here...

AlwaysOn Hollywood Starts Tonight!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006
08:33 PM

I'm at the Roosevelt Hotel in LA right now preparing to webcast the live sessions from the first annual AlwaysOn On Hollywood summit. The webcast is free and will be available starting around 6pm through a link at:

http://onhollywood.goingon.com/

the live sessions will continue all day tomorrow and thursday as well. We'll be running live chat in conjunction with the webcast, and the chat will be displaying onstage - so you can actually participate whether you're here in person or not.

We'll also be archiving the sessions so if you can't catch one live it should be up within a few hours of the session.

If things go smoothly with the webcast I'll try to post my impressions of some of the sessions - of course, I've probably just jinxed myself...

Simulacrum (part 2)

Thursday, April 27, 2006
08:47 PM

Wow. Time flies when you're having fun...er, working. I had a whole lot more I wanted to say about the whole Hurra Torpedo/Crushing Blow thing. Of course, that's when I got too busy to finish it, and now it's just hanging there and needs to be finished - so here's the short version of what I wanted to say...

I have a feeling Ford may consider the Crushing Blow a success, in the sense that a lot of people downloaded some of the videos. However, the way they went about the whole thing was probably the most inefficient use of the internet as a marketing medium - they basically just made an elaborate (and probably expensive) television commercial. However, on top of that, they felt they needed to make it appear to be anything but a commercial in order to get people to watch it. They seem to be missing the point that the goal isn't to get people to watch the ad as much as it is to get them interested in your product.

The ultimate goal is to sell cars, but before that can happen you need to create a favorable impression of the car and manufacturer in your potential customers. Now, your customers are increasingly tired of being advertised to. They skip commercials, and they ignore banner ads. So what do you do? Trick them into watching your ad! That's fine as long as they don't realize they're being tricked. Some won't care, of course, but they're also likely the ones who just won't care about your product, either. Some may never catch on - is this is a large enough group to matter? I don't know. But there will also be a large group who do realize they've been tricked, and they'll leave the site annoyed about having been tricked - which certainly isn't helping with their favorable impression of the car.

The bad idea here wasn't sponsoring a rockumentary video blog about an obscure norwegian novelty act. The bad idea was faking the whole thing. There are a lot of bloggers out there. There are a lot of struggling film & video producers out there. There are more and more people every day who can do both. Why couldn't Ford have done this thing for real? Find a good vlogger and hire them to shoot the documentary, blog the process, etc. Have a real blog, let people comment, do a real video and distribute it through the site when it's complete. Let a community build naturally around the site and the project - a community who has an overall positive impression of Ford for enabling the project and the resulting community. Something like this could easily stretch out over a year or two, and last even longer than that as long as the site remained active. It would encourage repeat visits because there would be more than just the video to keep people coming back. It would probably cost half of what they spent on the existing project, but might sell twice as many cars. In fact, it would create an existing space into which the next product (a new version of the Focus, a new car altogether, etc) could be introduced to an already interested market.

Sponsor it, enable it, set it in motion, then get out of the way and let it grow on it's own. Create something which is real, is of real interest to people and which also serves the purpose of raising awareness of your brand. The long term value will be immeasurably greater than a pure advertising campaign. But most of all, be transparent about the corporate motives, sponsorship, etc. Because maybe, just maybe, the reason traditional advertising is becoming increasingly less effective is because people are tired of being manipulated and lied to.

Simulacrum (part 1)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006
05:59 PM

A year back or so a friend sent me a link to a video of a performance by the group Hurra Torpedo, in which three norwegian guys in tight blue track suits perform "Total Eclipse of the Heart" with a single guitar and a variety of kitchen appliances. At the time I googled the group to find out more about them and found only a few pages in norwegian documenting some of their performances.

I thought of the band again recently for some reason and found the video again. This time when I googled them though I found the official site of Hurra Torpedo, which features new video of the band's performances. Intrigued, I followed the link to The Crushing Blow, a 'Rockumentary Blog" which detailed the production of a documentary following the band on a tour of america. The blog has quite a few clips from the upcoming documentary, as well as a production journal and some behind the scenes footage. The site explains that it has been created by Pip Simon, director-etc of the film, to document to production process. According to the cast and crew info, Pip has an associates degree in film from "Jejune Community College" and is being assisted by fellow Jejune alumni Peter Hoopes and Alex Sullivan, an english lit Ph.D from Utah. This scrappy three person crew, plus the three members of the band, toured America between Oct. 15 and November. 11 of 2005, documenting their trials and tribulations. The production journal details various shows as well as difficulties they encountered along the way, while the home page has a couple dozen short "rough cuts" of scenes from the ongoing project. There is also a link on the sidebar of each page to enter a sweepstakes in which the winner gets the actual car, a 2006 Ford Fusion, which Hurrah Torpedo used to travel the country on their tour.

At first glance I thought this site might be a good example for my DV Workflow class, where I'm challenging students to do much the same thing - produce their own ongoing series for the web, blog about the process, post it as a feed, etc - basically build up an audience for their content via the web, and then hopefully leverage that to produce revenue from their content. However, I hadn't spent more than 5 minutes reading through the site before I started becoming suspicious that it wasn't what it seemed. The main thing was that the rough cuts were too good technically - they appeared to be shot and edited by a professional production crew, not a few community college students with limited production experience. The journal entries also were very polished and focused on the project, although that was less suspicious because there are many bloggers who are capable of good, focused writing. The overall production of the site was very professional - it appears to be purpose-built, and although it's run on moveable type it's clear someone had to design and build the templates for the site - so in addition to being unusually good filmmakers these three are also apparently decent web designers. This "Jejune Community College" must have some great classes... unfortunately the only link I can find when I google that term is back to the crushing blow site. Hmmm.

The final clue is the complete lack of any kind of user contributed or community content. No comments enabled on the blog posts. No discussion forum to allow a community to develop around the film and thereby build an audience for the official release. No mailing list to sign up for information about shows or the release of the finished film. There's not even a single email link on the site to provide feedback, criticism, encouragement or offers of support. Basically there's no attempt to build a community, no attempt to leverage the strengths of the internet - it's a broadcast, a one way funneling of info to a mass audience. It's not the product of a trio of independent filmmakers building an audience for their vision.

So the site probably isn't what it seems. Why would anyone create this fake blog about a fake group of filmmakers making an apparently real documentary?

To sell a car.

Ford is acknowledged as a sponsor of the site. Below the link to the sweepstakes where you can win the car the band used it says "Click on our sponsor so I can continue to maintain this site and shoot the film, 'Hurra Torpedo: The Crushing Blow." To me this implies that the struggling filmmaker/blogger is receiving some sort of support from Ford - but since everything else on the site points to it being everything but the work of an independent filmmaker that would appear to be a false implication. Click on the link and it turns out the sweepstakes are over - which may have something to do with the fact that the journal entries stop abruptly with no further updates after November 11, 1995, not something you would expect from a real independent project. So ultimately I have to conclude that this entire site - the documentary excerpts, the blog, and all of the crew members - are nothing more than a marketing campaign to promote the 2006 Ford Focus.

A little more research and my suspicions are confirmed.

Now here's the thing - Ford can do whatever they want. Except that what they wanted to do, and what they ended up doing, are two very different things, and I think it makes a good case study on what not to do if you're trying to use the web to build your brand or market a product.

But that'll have to wait for part 2.

A blueprint for Cinema on the Web

Friday, February 10, 2006
08:52 PM

The following is from an email I posted on a mailing list I'm on called Webcinema which used to be a very active space for the discussion of digital and online cinema (mostly pre-2000). While it's largely dormant now, it flares up every few months into a burst of discussion about some topic. This one was about six months ago - I don't remember exactly what prompted it but it's had me thinking about this stuff ever since, and I've based the curriculum of a new course I'm teaching this semester on the ideas in this email. I'm currently restructuring the content and direction of this site to follow my interest in this area, so I thought it would be good to post it back up at this point (it was here once before, just before my last server crash). Here we go...

"So in my previous message I brought up the Participatory Culture Foundation and their open source tools which leverage Bittorrent and RSS to allow people to easily build their own "tv channels" on the web. For those who missed the link:

http://www.participatoryculture.org/

So how can this be used as a foundation for independent filmmakers?

Could you produce a short every month or two? Take all those random ideas you've got and turn them into short films.

Post each to your 'channel' and anyone who's subscribed will get it automatically.

Make the channel part of a blog in which you write about the production of the shorts, or the tools you use, or you review similar short films.

Make your site a resource which helps others do the same thing you are.

Allow comments on the blog or have discussion forums where your audience can provide feedback, argue, whatever.

Link your feeds on technorati, bloglines, etc. so that it's showing up to people who are interested and looking for sites like yours.

Build up an audience over the first year.

Listen to your audience (in the forums, in the comments, in the email they send you) and incorporate their feedback into your films.

Become an Amazon affiliate, and link to the films which inspired your short films. Or to the books which taught you how to make films. Or the cameras, computers, and software you've used to do all this.

Become an iTunes affiliate and link to the music which inspired your films.

Open a cafepress store to sell merchandise related to the films or the site.

At the end of the year, put together a special edition DVD of all the short films, with some outtakes, behind the scenes, commentary, whatever - use jewelboxing.com's packaging to help make it something more than just the video. Have it signed by the cast and or crew.

Sell the DVD on the site.

Send it free to anyone who will host a screening party with 10 or more people in their town or neighborhood.

Send it free to anyone who will put it on their local cable access channel.

File a schedule C at the end of the year and deduct any expenses from the films & site against any income they generate.

In your second year, make a feature length film which can be broken into 4-6 episodes, maybe based on the most popular short or shorts from the first year.

Fund the film (as much as possible) with revenues generated by the first year's shorts.

Alternate posting monthly behind the scenes videos with episodes from the film on your channel.

Find audience members who are interested and capable of making shorts and let them post them on your site/channel to get them out to your existing audience. Let them open their own merchandise stores on cafe press so that they can profit from having their films on your site. Encourage them to start their own channels/sites. Teach them how.

Turn as much of what you do into a process that you can teach to others. Write it down. Post it on the site.

Use the site as a recruitment tool to find and teach people who are into doing this stuff. Hire these people to grow the company as the audience and productions and revenues grow.

Become a massive production juggernaut which swallows up the tattered remnants of the hollywood studios. Buy hookers and jets, drugs and alcohol, die youngish and leave a great looking corpse thanks to the botox and plastic surgery.

Ok, maybe I've gone a little too far there. Maybe it just ends up that you spend your life making films. Good enough for me."

A Tipping Point?

Sunday, January 08, 2006
03:35 AM

A few weeks back Apple announced the addition of about a dozen new television shows to the iTunes store which can be purchased for $1.99 an episode. This is much bigger deal than it would appear to be - it calls attention to what was probably the single biggest factor that delayed the release of the video iPod. It's an issue that hasn't drawn widespread notice for the most part, but one which the popularity of the iPod is about to bring to the forefront. There is a huge difference between music and videos when it comes to portable devices. What is it? The fact that you can't legally copy videos you own on DVD to your computer or iPod.

10's of millions of people own iPods, and the iTunes store has sold hundreds of millions of songs - but if you consider the capacity of those iPods compared to the number of songs sold on iTunes it's clear people aren't filling their iPods with music from the iTunes store. You see, for all of the complaints about the iPod being a closed platform (which, unsurprisingly, seem to be loudest from apple's competitors) it really isn't - it's only closed to the competing proprietary formats being pushed by it's competitors. John Gruber has a very detailed and well written piece called "Why 2004 won't be like 1984" which addresses this over at Daring Fireball. The important point (for the purposes of my argument) is that you can play mp3s (as well as other formats like AAC and AIFF) from any source on an iPod.

Now I know you're asking yourself "where does someone get one of these so called 'em-pee-three' files you speak of?" One way, of course, is to download music (usually illegally, although not always) from somewhere online - this is what's known as piracy and is very very bad. Shame on you. However, the second source is actually legal and probably more common - CDs. CDs that were bought and paid for legally, then imported via iTunes to a computer (legally), and finally synced with an iPod (again, legally). As long as you don't give the mp3s you create from your CD away, you haven't broken the law, and you can enjoy the music you own anywhere you go.

Personally, I've got a few songs on my iPod which I bought from the iTunes store, a few which I've downloaded from 'other sources' (Aaaargh!) and a whole lot of songs which came from CDs I own. Most people I know have a similar ratio, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for a lot(if not the majority) of iPod owners.

Now let's consider the video iPod. Where can I get videos for it? Well, I can buy them from the iTunes store (just like music tracks). I can download them illegally online (just like music tracks). And I can import them from my DVD collection through iTunes with just a couple of clicks (just like I do with CDs). Just click on the import dvd button...wait, where'd that button go? Oh yeah, there is no button, because I can't import my DVDs to my video iPod. It's illegal.

So what's so special about video that makes it illegal to copy it to the iPod? Nothing, really. In fact just like it's legal to make personal-use copies of music from a CD it's technically legal to make personal-use copies of a video. However, DVDs have copy protection technology which (most) audio CDs don't have. Thanks to the 1999 Digital Millennium copyright Act (DMCA) it's illegal to defeat or circumvent any type of copy protection. So while, technically, I could legally copy a video I own to the iPod, in reality I can't because doing so would require me to circumvent the copy protection on the DVD, thereby violating the DMCA. In fact, thanks to the DMCA it's not just the act of breaking the copy protection which is illegal, it's also illegal to provide the means to do so, which means you can't legally get software which enables it. There have been numerous lawsuits brought by the MPAA against individuals and companies who have released such software - the EFF has a page which links through to info on many of these cases.This means iTunes cannot have an import feature for DVDs, even if the intended use was to make legal copies of a DVD for personal viewing on one's own iPod.

So this leaves us with a situation where it's not enough to buy a video - you have to repurchase the video for each device you want to play it on. The first few shows which were available through iTunes avoided this issue because they were unavailable anywhere else (other than broadcast). However, this isn't the case for some of the new shows announced this week.

For instance, if you are as big a fan of da Hoff as I am you might be excited to see that the entire first season of Knight Rider is now available on the iTunes store. However, a true fan probably already owns season one on DVD, currently available from Amazon.com for $39.99. However, despite having legally acquired the show once already you will now have to pay another $35.99 for the privilege of viewing the same videos on your iPod. Doesn't seem right, does it?

The more shows Apple offers for sale, and the more video capable iPods they sell, the more people will become aware of this issue. It's been around for years now, and groups like the EFF have been fighting it as long as the law has been active - but I have a feeling the video iPod will be the thing that finally brings it into the mainstream, and with any luck, gets the law changed.

RESFEST SF 2005

Monday, September 26, 2005
04:27 PM

RESFEST just wrapped up last night here in SF and had some interesting films. It goes to LA and London next week and then continues on a 40-city world tour after that, so you might want to check it out if it's coming to a city near you.

'Shorts 1' had a couple good films but wasn't too good overall, and 'Videos that Rock' was mostly a disappointment. 'Shorts 2' was much better than the first, and 'Cinema Electronica' was good as well. I skipped 'Shorts 3' and the motion design, found footage, and Beck retrospective programs so I can't really give any feedback on those.

I'd say as a whole the features were much stronger than any of the shorts. Mike Mill's 'Thumbsucker' opened the festival. It's a decent film - it's a coming of age story, and it teeters on the edge of becoming an 'after school special' type of thing. Though it occasionally crosses over that edge, overall it pulls it off and was enjoyable. 'Just for Kicks' is a documentary about the rise of sneaker culture in America and worldwide over the past three decades. 'Infamy' profiles 7 graffiti artists (actually, 6 artists and one guy in LA who paints over graffiti, but in the end there's less difference between them than you might think). Visually this film was pretty amazing, they shot it on a DVX100 in mostly very low light, but the noise actually looks more like grain and gave it a feel much closer to 16mm. The director credited a lot of the look to his editor who apparently did a lot of color correction in FCP. It's interesting to see this right after seeing 'Just for Kicks' as one very distinctive but tiny location shows up in both to tie them together culturally. 'Ginga' documents Brazilian soccer by profiling 7 very different players from different backgrounds, and I felt it does a very good job of showing why the brazilians are generally the best players in the world.

They had a couple of panels which I attended. 'Beyond DV' was an overview by cinematographer David Leitner of the 5 current HDV cameras + panasonic's HVX200. He discussed the technical and mechanical differences and then showed back to back clips from all of the cameras. While they all had distinctive looks, they also all looked incredible on a 30 foot screen with digital projection. Panasonic's camera probably had the best overall image quality, but I think the standout was the single chip sony. It didn't have quite as much latitude as the others, but something about it's image was very distinctive, I'm not sure how to describe it except to say it has almost a 'liquid' quality to it. Considering it's 1/3 or less of the size of any of the other cameras and costs about half as much as the next camera up in the lineup it's an incredible value, and I'm even more convinced it's the right camera for me. Lietner's conclusion, however, was right on the mark - all of these cameras are "better than they have any right to be" considering their size and cost, and there is little reason to consider a DV camera at this point.

I also attended "Copyfight" which was a discussion of the copyright and intellectual property battles going on right now. If you aren't too familiar with any of this it's probably a good panel but I didn't pick up much which I wasn't already aware of. I believe they have different panelists in each city though so it may be better in some places.

They put on an event this year called "Icon Chef" which pits designers from established vfx & design companies against each other in a 60 minute design competition similar to Iron Chef. A team with two designers from ILM squared off against a team with one person from Pixar and one from Giant Killer Robots to produce a trailer or title sequence for an absurd Jerry Bruckheimer-inspired film. This is a great concept, and produced correctly could make for a very entertaining event. Unfortunately it was badly organized and run, plagued with technical difficulties from the start. The moderator did a poor job of commentary, the display switching system (which was supposed to let us see what the designers were doing) wasn't set up properly, and the fall-back for that system (a hand-held roving camera) resulted in fuzzy, dizzying footage on the big screen. All of this might have been forgivable if the designers had pulled off something good, but overall their projects were disappointing - ILM's was closer to the design brief and more creative overall, but somehow the other team won based on the "applause-o-meter". I hope they can improve this program as the tour goes on because I think it could be a lot better than it was.

I have to say the closing night Traktor retrospective was the highlight of the festival. Traktor is a collective of swedish directors who have produced over 500 commercials and several music videos over the past 15 years, and the RES screening is a collection of these chosen and organized by the group themselves. You can see some of them at their website, but there were also a lot of commercials in the program which never aired and are not on their site. Definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Overheard at the Apple store...

Monday, September 12, 2005
04:03 AM

Walt Mossberg's latest column is a review of the iPod nano - and he really, really likes it. He also mentions the iTunes phone briefly at the end of the article:

The phone, which Apple didn't design, is chubby and lacks the iPod navigation wheel. And it holds just 100 songs. It's essentially a huge iPod shuffle with a screen. (I'll review the ROKR in a later column.)

This is an interesting comment because it seems like for months now the press has been harping on the idea of the iTunes phone as the future of the iPod. So many people carry phones everywhere now, and phones are increasingly supporting music playback - at first glance it's a safe assumption that the phone will supplant the iPod as the most popular portable music device. But Mossberg's comments on the ROKR phone hit on the main problem with this idea - the design, style and interface of the iPod are the most significant factors in it's success, much more significant than it's ability to play music. There are plenty of portable devices which play music & compete with the iPod, but none of them have made a dent in iPod sales. Just because everyone already carries a phone doesn't mean that adding music playback capabilities to everyone's phone will make them give up their iPods.

Mossberg concludes:

Surely music-playing phones are a big part of the future of digital music, and Apple will be involved with more of them over time. But the company clearly considers the new iPod nano a much bigger deal for now. In fact, it hopes that the nano's slender size and ample capacity will blunt the belief that people don't want to carry a separate phone and music player.

Here's the thing - people don't want to carry two devices if they don't have to. Carrying both a phone and an iPod does currently add a lot bulk to your pockets and/or purse. But for most people who have an iPod and have become used to it's feel and interface it's worth the trouble. Adding inferior music capabilities to a phone won't change that. But I think the nano actually achieves the same end result in a better way, because it's got everything that makes the iPod great, but in an incredibly small and light package.

After reading Mossberg's rave review I stopped in at the Apple store to take a look at it in person. While playing with the nano I overheard the following conversation:

Customer: I don't know if I should get one of these or just wait and get the iTunes phone.

Employee: Look (pulls cell phone from pocket), you get the nano, you get your phone, you get some sticky tape, and bam (holds the nano against the phone) - there's your iTunes phone. It smaller, too.

And that's just it - the nano plus almost any phone currently on the market is less bulky than just getting the ROKR phone itself. Plus you get 14 hours of battery life for your music without killing your standby and talk times. And it holds way more music. And you can choose a phone with the features you need. Quite simply, the ROKR phone can't compete. My guess is it will quietly fade away in six months, while the nano will be a popular gift this Christmas and ensure Apple maintains it's position in the digital music player market.

If you haven't gone to an Apple store and checked out the nano in person, I highly recommend doing so. Pictures of it don't do it justice. It's size is amazing. The screen is bright and very sharp. And Apple's recent switch away from Synaptic's touch wheel technology was a good move - the wheel on the nano is noticeably smoother and more responsive than the one on my year-old iPod. The nano is hands down the best iPod Apple has ever made, there is nothing else on the market which even comes close - and there probably won't be any time soon.

Desperation

Monday, August 29, 2005
02:46 PM

Over the weekend I was listening to Live 105's (local modern/alternative rock station) new "No Boundaries Weekend". The idea is that they can play anything, rather than focusing on their usual format. Of course there are still boundaries - I didn't hear any country, jazz, classical, easy listening, bluegrass, etc. The programmers are at least smart enough to realize that there is only so far they can go before they completely lose their existing audience. What I did hear though was rock and rap from every decade going back to the 50's.

In addition to the music they played calls from listeners giving feedback about the music being played. The feedback was mostly positive although a few people were completely unhappy with the change.

This was just for the weekend, but I'm pretty sure it's an experiment to gauge reaction to an overall change in format for the station. As it is they have been playing a wider range of music for the past few months, just not as wide as this weekend - in the normal programming they don't go farther back than the 80's and they stick mostly to alternative rock. However, there have been a lot of stations popping up throughout California (I'm sure it's happening elsewhere as well) which play "whatever we want" - basically a random mix of rock and pop from the past 50 years. I'm guessing that Live 105 (the parent company at least) may be considering a move closer to that format.

The rise of these stations, and Live 105's move towards their format, puzzle me. I assume this is a reaction to the growing popularity of satellite radio and/or the trend towards carrying (and listening to ) one's entire music collection on an iPod or similar device. It seems like broadcast radio is trying to cram the variety and selection that these two mediums provide into a single FM channel.

It's a desperate move, and exactly the opposite of what they should be doing.

This "anything goes" format essentially kills the musical identity of a station. The more stations there are with this format, the less differentiation between stations. As a listener, I have no reason to stick with a particular station because it's no different than any other. It also encourages channel switching because the random nature of the music increases the likelihood of hearing a song one doesn't like. If there are several stations all playing the same thing the odds of finding something I like elsewhere are pretty good, so I'm going to switch as soon as a song I'm not into comes on.

So the listener is switching around all the time and has no loyalty or identification with any one station. This is not what a station wants because it means a given listener is less likely to hear the ads which provide the station's revenue, and companies are less likely to be willing to spend money for those ads. Additionally, though the broader appeal of the format means they have a larger potential listener base, it also means it's much harder to identify and/or focus advertising on a particular demographic. Which, again, reduces the appeal of radio advertising to the companies paying for it. Finally, with many stations moving toward this format, how do you differentiate your station when selling to advertisers? What reason do they have for going with your station instead of any of the others with the same listeners?

Ultimately, the reason this format won't work is because it misses the point of the popularity of iPods and satellite radio. The user isn't choosing these because they want to hear a random mix of music - it's because they want choice. Sometimes they may want to listen to modern rock, sometimes classic rock, maybe even an occasional mix of the two. Other days they may prefer hip hop, or jazz, or talk radio/podcasts. Satellite radio gives you all these choices, but they are still in channels grouped around a particular identity. An iPod gives you the similar type of choice, but aligned more specifically with your particular tastes in music. "Anything goes" terrestrial broadcasts give you a little of everything, but cannot give you the ability to choose what you want to listen to today.

As broadcast radio encounters more competition, it's inevitable that each station's slice of the audience will decrease. Changing programming to try and include something for everyone will not change that. What it will do is ensure that a station gets lost in the sea of choices, with nothing to differentiate it for any segment of the audience. What these stations should be doing is going in the opposite direction.

When the audience has a huge number of choices the best way to compete is to become a clear choice - find a particular niche and build an identity within it. A station like Live 105 should focus more on modern alternative rock(it's existing identity), so that on days when that is what I want to listen to they are the first choice because they are the best source. They have to accept that I will not always want to listen to their station, and that some people will never want to listen to their station. But when people do want to listen to their format they should be the clear choice. Yes, the audience will probably be less than it was before the other choices came onto the market, but there is nothing they can do about that. Changing their format now means discarding the identity which makes them a choice rather than just another random station.

Additionally, they should be focusing heavily on local content - news, events, shows, and especially artists. You will not find these on satellite radio, and you probably don't have the local artists on your iPod (because you probably haven't heard them yet). If you can listen to a local station which plays music you like in addition to local artists you don't know you like yet, you get something which the competition can't provide. Add in local news, show information and events and the station has a clear identity which differentiates it from the rest of the choices out there. This will pull in a focused audience segment who listens on an ongoing basis. Now the station can sell focused advertising to their particular demographic and they become a more attractive advertising choice for companies who need to reach that demographic.

I've been thinking about all this a lot because what's happening with the radio stations parallels what's happening in other areas - publishing, film, television, etc. We're in a transition period as traditional media (such as terrestrial broadcast) struggle to maintain their market in the face of entirely new competition. The audience, though larger in aggregate, will be smaller for any given channel, and the only way to attract and hold onto that audience is to become a distinct choice. For large media companies this is a difficult reality to face (and many won't until they can no longer ignore it), because their size and revenues are dependent upon a large audience.

For the independent media producer, however, this is an opportunity - create an identity, create a brand, and focus it on a particular niche. Become the best resource within that niche, keep your overhead low and your infrastructure small, and you can be successful in a market where the big companies are struggling.

Great Minds Think Alike....

Friday, August 26, 2005
03:33 PM

Looks like I'm not the only one to see the potential of the iPod as a trojan horse in the (soon to be resurrected?) OS wars. Robert X Cringeley's column this week is ostensibly about Google's recent moves and how they affect Microsoft - but he concludes with the position that maybe Apple is the larger threat at this point. His basis for this? That the next version of OS X could come pre-installed on iPods and boot on any PC in a scenario very similar to the one I wrote about below.

Invasion of the PC Snatchers

Thursday, August 18, 2005
01:58 PM

Why is Apple switching to Intel processors? Does it really have anything to do with processor roadmaps, power consumption, and IBM's supposed inability to deliver G5s suitable for laptop computers? Isn't that a little too practical of an explanation for a company like Apple? Could it be that the transition is simply a necessary diversion, one that both enables and distracts attention from the Next Big Thing?

I've been seeing a lot of news items recently about devices like Realm System's BlackDog, which is a portable, personal server. You plug it into any computer, it boots into a linux environment, you do your work, you quit, unplug it, and go. Nothing is left or modified on the host computer. Wherever you go you can plug into whatever computer is available and work on your own computer. Just about every computer in the world becomes a thin client for your own personal server.

BlackDog is actually a full computer - it has a processor and memory in addition to the hard drive. But there are many similar systems which are hitting the market which are not much more than a USB thumb drive with a lightweight linux distro on it. These type of systems rely on the host computer's processor and memory to run the OS and applications, but otherwise work very similarly to the BlackDog.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. The obvious application here is to place a bootable OS onto an iPod, so that the iPod becomes a portable computer environment that you can boot into wherever you go. The iPod currently falls somewhere between a thumb-drive system and the BlackDog computer, as it has some processing capability and some built-in memory, but it would still rely on the host computer for most of the processing duties if you were running a full OS on it.

There have been rumors around for a while now that Apple was developing something called "Home-on-iPod" which would sync your home folder with your iPod and allow you to go to any Mac and switch into your own user account. For some reason support for this feature has yet to show up in either the pod or the OS. I think this is because of the somewhat limited utility of such an application if it only works on Macs. To be useful it requires you to find a Mac to plug into, and despite Apple's revived fortunes they have yet to make much of a dent in the PC's market share. Add to this the fact that the majority of iPod owners are not in fact Mac owners and this feature becomes nothing more than a nice perk for a niche market.

So the solution is clear - allow the OS to run on x86 processors, and suddenly we're back into the position of the BlackDog system - almost every computer, anywhere, becomes a thin client for your iPod. The iPod, however, would have two major, significant, and disruptive elements which the BlackDog doesn't.

The first element is that it would be running OS X. While linux in your pocket is great for someone with a technical background, it's not an every day solution for the average user. OS X, on the other hand, is. So while the BlackDog will probably do great business with sysadmins and tech support people, it's not likely to sell well in the general market.

The second element the iPod has going for it is it's popularity. Millions of people already have iPods. Many don't have and may never buy a Mac. While there is some evidence of what analysts are calling a "halo effect", there has not yet been a rush of PC users buying new Macs because they have an iPod. However, they might be willing to spend $100 to install OS XI on their iPods and turn their existing computer into a Mac.

The iPod also gains a significant new feature to help it maintain it's lead in the music player market - buy an iPod, get a Mac. Who else could compete? While others could build linux onto their devices, it's not likely to add as much value as OS X will. Microsoft would eventually respond with something similar, I expect, but Apple would have a significant lead on them and a massively larger installed base.

Additionally, this feature would help drive sales of larger, more powerful iPods. As it stands there is probably a limited market for iPods with significantly larger capacities than are currently available. Adding video capabilities to the iPod might drive some users towards larger capacities, but video is not likely to appeal to as broad a market as music does, so it probably won't be a significant factor in sales growth. However, once your iPod becomes your computer and has all of your files and applications on it you'll probably want something a little larger and more powerful. This also adds features to the iPod without changing or disrupting it's greatest asset - it's simplicity. The iPod would still work just like it does now when you're on the go, listening to music.

In this scenario Apple's consumer level products would become little more than ĂĽberdocks for your iPod. The mini would simply have a processor, memory and graphics chip, the iMac would add an LCD, and each would have a dock to slip the iPod into. The professional level machines would probably still include internal drives for performance reasons, but they could easily be configured to sync the entire boot drive with an iPod so you still have the portability option as well as backup of important files.

This lowers the barrier to entry into Mac ownership even lower than the mini currently does. Buy an iPod for $2-400 and it comes with the OS on it, so you can start using it with your current PC. When you get tired of the large and clunky PC on your desk you buy a mini for another $200 or so. Apple could also offer versions of the mini with better graphics support for integration into a home theater system.

This also leaves a path for what would be essentially a market for Mac clones. Instead of licensing the OS to other manufacturers who would build Macs out of PC components, Apple continues selling their OS only for their hardware - Apple built, intel-based computers and iPods. Other companies could build thin clients which are designed to work with iPods. The iPod accessory market is already huge - this would just make it bigger, and as a consequence drive more sales of iPods. While total profits on a consumer-level mac may be more than on an iPod, I would guess that Apple makes higher margins on the iPod - so selling more iPods instead of low-end Macs is probably a good thing for them.

So the switch to Intel becomes less about the processors in your Mac and more about the future of the Mac platform itself. Enabling something like this could lead to a dramatic and rapid growth in Mac marketshare against Windows. The OS wars, long thought over, could flare up once again. This would be the perfect thing to announce right after MS ships Vista - because no matter what MS does, it will never run on your iPod.

Millions of PC owners have iPods. Not iMP3Players or iMusicThangs or iRocks but iPods. Odd name for a music player. Or is it?

Treo post

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
03:38 PM

just wanted to test a post from my phone. It seems to work pretty well, I just need to get better at this whole thumb typing thing. And I'll need to figure out a way to add images - the treo web browser doesn't seem to like the standard file input tag...

It's half full...

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
03:32 PM

the glass, that is. I've got all the basic functionality in for posting - add, edit, delete, publish/unpublish. It's pretty small, about 6k total (not including the Markdown library), and all of the admin pages are under 1k so it should work well for posting from my Treo. I've decided to call the system Pint because it's a pint-sized blogging system. It'll need a little more work before it's ready for prime time, but once the glass is full I'll make it available here for other people who want a small, efficient way to add blogging features to their existing site.

Testing my new blogging system

Monday, August 15, 2005
12:08 PM

This is just a test post for my new blogging system. Ok, maybe system is too big a word for it - it's currently only about 60 lines (including comments) of php designed to let me post without having to edit any html directly. And it seems to work just fine.

I'm using phpMarkdown, a php library based on John Gruber's Markdown to allow me to add links, images, etc to posts without having to actually write any html directly in the posts. It works very well, it's easy to integrate into your scripts, and it's a great solution when you need to allow people unfamiliar with html to update a site through an admin system you've built. I don't mind doing the html myself, but part of the point of this system is to allow me to post from my treo, and in that situation the less I need to type, the better.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Last week was the AlwaysOn Network's 2005 Innovation Summit at Stanford. For this year's event I built a Flash/Flashcom-based webcast system which combined video, chat and real-time polling during the event. All of the discussion sessions were webcast live, and the chat and polling data was up on the big screen behind the presentors, creating an interesting loop of discussion and feedback. We had someone in the audience pulling questions from the chat and passing them to the panel moderator, who could then bring them up on stage so the panel could address them.

While the system worked as well as could be hoped, many of the moderators didn't really take advantage of the chat question features. The chat itself was entertaining and occasionally distracting - it was totally unmoderated and reasonably anonymous, so there were plenty of comments made which might not arise otherwise. Overall things went well, and the feedback we got from attendees and users was good.

Here's a great picture someone posted from the event - that's Oakland mayor Jerry Brown reacting to the chat during his panel.

This was really a test run of the whole idea, but the next step is to continue developing this system and using it at other events. Based on feedback from users I've got a long list of changes/fixes, as well as a list of features to start developing... I think this could become a very good way to increase the interactivity of events like this, so that they become less a series of presentations and more an ongoing discussion, hopefully one that continues beyond the event/venue itself. I'll probably be posting a lot more here about flash & flashcom as I spend more time working on the components of the system - we'll be branding it soon for marketing and I'll post the site once it's live with more info.

One thing I took away from the conference was... blogs are dying. Not in the sense that they'll go away, but the hype has reached a ridiculous point which reminds me of the .com era. Panelists kept referring to the chat as a blog... despite the chatter's repeated shouts that THIS IS NOT A BLOG!!!! When everything online is being referred to as a blog you might as well say that nothing is a blog. Podcasting is next - it was just behind in the race with 'blog' for most over-used buzzword. A couple years from now we'll wonder what all the hype was. Not that there isn't something there - it's just getting lost under the high level focus on blogs and podcasts...more on this later.

All of the AO sessions were archived in much the same way as they were broadcast - click here to see the list of sessions with links to the archived video/chat/polls.

Friday, July 8, 2005

Well, that was fun. The drive in our server failed and I lost probably the last six months worth of stuff which I've posted up here. Maybe I should stop editing things directly on the server and start keeping up-to-date local copies. Or just backing it all up. Lesson learned. Once I get past my current project I'll come back here and start bringing things up to date again....

Thursday, October 6, 2004

I've just come across a new OS X text editor that looks really promising - TextMate. I write all my html/css/php by hand and have been using BBEdit for years, but it's one of those tools where I only ever use a small subset of it's functionality. Though the new BBEdit 8 has some great features I think I may be switching to TextMate instead. It uses a drawer for the document structure of your site - essentially you can stay out of the finder while browsing your site and files. Active documents open in tabs, tags can be closed with a keyboard shortcut, webkit previews, etc. One of the coolest features is the ability to toggle block tags open and closed - this means you can easily close huge blocks of your code and focus just on the sections you are editing.

TextMate is currently only $39 ($10 off) through the end of October, so definitely check it out if you do any hand coding.

Thursday, September 9, 2004

I've been expanding the AE section (under Video, above) over the past few weeks in order to break down some of the longer sets of notes into more focused and easier to read sections. This is an ongoing thing as part of the AE class I'm currently teaching, so that section will probably be changing almost every week over the next couple of months.

I've also added a print style sheet to all the notes in the AE section so they should format nicely for the page without any site graphics or navigation...as long as you are using a reasonably modern browser... you might want to do a print preview to make sure it's working for you (the only browser I know it doesn't work well in is IE 5.x for the mac). I'll be adding this into all the other notes over the next few weeks as well...

Monday, August 2, 2004

I've run across a couple articles over the past few days that are interesting in juxtaposition. The first comes from the blog of Hugh Macleod, an artist who's gained some renowned for his cartoons drawn on business cards. His site is full of brilliant understatement (perhaps an appropriate description of his art, considering the medium), but the main one I wanted to point out is his article "How To Be Creative". It's a collection of aphorisms (some of which have an expanded discussion/explanation) which manage to clearly elucidate a big part of the process of creativity. Of particular interest is point 10:

10. The more talented somebody is, the less they need the props.

Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece on the back of a deli menu would not surprise me. Meeting a person who wrote a masterpiece with a silver Cartier fountain pen on an antique writing table in an airy SoHo loft would SERIOUSLY surprise me.

He expands upon this here along with some interesting discussion by visitors to the site. The idea at it's most simple being that talent is not a function of or particularly related to the equipment one has.

Now we get to the second article - from emedialive.com, a site with articles about technology related to video and media production. It's called "24p and the Event Videographer" and it summarizes the commentary of a number of different producers on the impact/use of 24p in the event videography field. Now a big part of this focuses on discussion of film vs. video, and much of the commentary is in that vein, but it seemed like a lot of the commentary missed the point - that in most cases the format doesn't really matter.

Not 24p itself, but the format one chooses for almost any production.

I think this is especially important for people who are learning all of the stuff I'm covering on this site. Some of the most common questions I get from students are things like: What camera should I get? Should I get 3 chip or 1 chip? Should I get 24p? Do I need a dual 2.5ghz G5? While I understand the desire to make sure one buys the best tool for the job, my answer is almost always the same - what can you afford? Because if you have $3000 to spend and you buy the G5 you're done... or you buy the 3 chip camera and can't afford the editing system or software... etc.

Of course, what tends to happen is that people wait instead of getting anything at all - because they don't want to settle for the 1 chip or the iMac or the "less than most professional" piece of equipment. But when you are waiting you're not making any progress from a creativity or skills standpoint, and you would be much better off with whatever you can afford that lets you begin RIGHT NOW rather than waiting for the right equipment.

If you have a few thou, buy a decent 1 chip camera and a simple iMac, get FCP express, whatever. Take what you've got and make it work so that you have all the equipment you need to make your videos.

If you only have 1k buy an old iMac used and a used 1 chip camera.

If you are working for minimum wage and can't save anything to buy equipment then find a local junior college and sign up for one video production class a semester, borrow a camera or use the schools', and spend all your free time in the lab using their computers to edit your video.

I'm convinced part of the reason Hugh Macleod's artwork is so creative and somewhat successful (besides natural talent) is because it's so simple that he can do it over and over and over - he claims to have drawn 10's of thousands of business card cartoons over the years. Video production isn't like that in the sense that there is no equivalent to sketching on a business card. However, it has reached the point where someone who really wants to do it can do so on almost any budget level...so the key is to start doing it, and keep doing it, and forget about the equipment you don't have or the better equipment you could get.

I guarantee you someone who makes a video every week for a year using the cheapest used dv camera available and iMovie on a 5 year old iMac will be making better videos than someone who saves up all year and buys the newest G5 and 3chip camera and makes 1 or two videos. Especially since by the time the second person has saved up there will probably be something newer and better and faster and...more expensive, meaning more saving, and more waiting, and less working.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

I know I haven't been posting many updates here but I've been adding a lot into the Final Cut Pro section (8 new pages of notes). That's my priority right now as the class is currently in progress, but once the class ends (first week of august) I'll be focusing on filling out the rest of the site as well as updating some of the older notes which may be out of date. I'll have another set of FCP notes up by this evening (creating basic titles) and about 5-6 more over the rest of the month. I'll also be updating and expanding the links section significantly by the end of this week, so definitely check back then.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

The production and Final Cut Pro sections are now back up and I've added a section for DVD Studio Pro - but there's nothing there yet. It's just something I plan to get around to as part of this whole thing. The Final Cut notes will be coming over the next few weeks as I put them together for my summer class, so I'll add an update here whenever new ones are up. I plan to cover Soundtrack and Compressor in that class as well, so I may add sections for those depending on how in-depth I get into them in class - they may end up as part of the FCP section. That's it for today, but there's more on the way tomorrow...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Well, after 6 months of distractions I'm finally getting around to bringing this site to life.

It helps that I'm teaching AE and Final Cut this summer, which means I'll be updating the AE section to bring it up to speed with AE 6 (no major changes but a few important ones) and I'll finally get around to the detailed Final Cut Pro notes which I originally promised. I've also got a Flash tutorial I wrote a couple of months ago but never posted and I'm working on a series of tutorials explaining the content management system I'm building for the site in PHP and MySQL.

Many of the links are currently broken and a lot of the content which was here last week is now down, but it's only temporary as I get everything worked into the new design(I don't want to do this again - that's why I'm building the CMS). I'll be updating things daily for the next two weeks as I put everything in place. Beyond that will depend on what kind of work projects come in, but I'm aiming for a new tutorial every week or so as well as blogging regularly.

Keep checking back...

Monday, June 7, 2004

Not sure if anyone's still reading this since I haven't updated in a couple months, but just in case - there's new stuff coming. I'm currently working on a new design, content management system and a lot of new content, starting with the Final Cut Pro materials. I'm teaching a couple classes this summer starting next week, so most of this will be live by then and I'll be posting regular updates throughout the rest of the summer.

See you next week!