Congress, please stop worrying about the transition to digital TV

January 28, 2009

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Dear Congress, Now that you have gone through it again and decided not to push back the date for the transition to DTV, please drop the matter. No matter what you do, such a fundamental change is going to cause issues that piss people off. Better to go ahead and get it over with. Plus, you have much more important stuff to be worrying about.


HUGE Photo from the inauguration

January 25, 2009

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David Bergman setup a GigaPan system at the inauguration. Check out the 1,474 Megapixel photo that was created. That's 1,474 not 1.474 like I thought when I first read the description. Zoom on in, and then zoom some more. Update: check out the snapshots on the GigaPan site. Helps to key into the level of detail as it zooms.


Tracking where our tax dollars go with Recovery.gov

January 25, 2009

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Regardless of your political affiliation, it would be hard to make a case against the idea behind Recovery.gov.

SEC. 1226. RECOVERY.GOV. (a) REQUIREMENT TO ESTABLISH WEBSITE.— The Board shall establish and maintain a website on the Internet to be named Recovery.gov, to foster greater accountability and transparency in the use of funds made available in this Act.

You can read a little more about it at OpenCongress.org.


Just putting the data out there is one thing, but they also have the following mandate: "The website shall provide data on relevant economic, financial, grant, and contract information in user-friendly visual presentations to enhance public awareness of the use funds made available in this Act." This will be tremendously helpful if done well. Hearing about spending ones, tens and hundreds of millions, billions and trillions of dollars is tough to digest without context. Those amounts always seem like a lot (and rightly so), but when they are covered in the media it tends to be an abstract number. A reference point or a comparison can lead to surprising realizations about how some of the amounts compare. One of the best examples of this I've seen is the Death and Taxes maps. (That one is from 2004.) The Recovery.gov web site is based around the bail out money. I hope that it is expanded to cover all our Tax spending. I, for one, would like to have a better grasp on where my tax dollars are going.


Vatican channel on YouTube

January 24, 2009

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youtube-logo.gif This is one of those things that seems weird even though it probably shouldn't. Yesterday, Google announced that the Vatican now has a dedicated YouTube channel.


Video How To and DIY

January 24, 2009

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play-button.gif Continuing on the video theme, another place where video really fits the bill is the How To and DIY instruction world. Sites like Instructables offer a lot of content, but most of it is textual in nature. This is great for some forms of instruction, but in most cases a video would be better. Dummies.com has a video instruction section up on their site with various offerings. These short little pieces on highly specific subjects are right in the sweet spot of the internet's communication medium. For example, if you are looking to hang photos this 2 1/2 minute video give you all the basic info you need. Finding what you are looking for is hit or miss. Sticking with the photo hanging, performing a Google search for "how to hang photos" returns this page on diynetwork.com as the first result. There are a dozen bullet points that cover basics of hanging as well secondary advice like, "don't overload a small wall with a large picture." The original video provides the core info in a much quicker and easier to digest fashion and there is no doubt it's easier to learn something by watching it being done than by reading a description. As with the product demos mentioned earlier, expect to see more and more of these types of videos in the future.


Note: While doing the searches for this post, I came across eHow.com which is a text instruction site, and Expert Village which is a very interesting looking video instruction site that currently reports having 131,537 Total Videos. Knowledge transfer has always been one of the internet's strong suits. As increasing amounts of video instruction are created, we will be able to learn more and more things that on our own that required personal instruction in the past. For someone with a Jack-of-All-Trades mentality, this is very exciting.


Watch for more video reviews and demos

January 24, 2009

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play-button.gif Video product demos are such a good idea. Compared to reading a few bullet points, seeing a thumbnail image and maybe a slightly larger photo, the marketing power of video demos is tremendous. Unless you are buying a piece of art, you're almost certainly going to have physical interaction with whatever you're buying. Seeing a video of someone interacting with the item provides a wealth of information that is much harder or even impossible to convey using only still images and text. B&H Photo has started to figure this out. While browsing their catalog for new light stands, I noticed this "View Demo" link that provides a video overview of some of their Impact brand products. It's a good start, but there is still some room for improvement. For example, I'd like to see videos for individual products where they are actually being used. As a consumer, I want as much info as I can get about products I'm interested in. This is true in the real world and doubly so when shopping online. I may not use it all, but if you haven't answered all my questions, I'm less likely to buy. On the other hand, if you show me a video of basically everything the product can do and how to do it, my comfort level goes way up and so will the likelihood that I'm going to buy it.


Video production and delivery is now well within the reach of even the smallest of businesses. Compared to the cost to produce and air a television commercial, a web demo costs peanuts. If you take my experience of seeing the video when I was searching for that type of product you see the extra benefit gained based on my state of mind. I was literally looking to make a purchase and then I found extra info about something I was already thinking about buying. The video was helpful instead of being an annoyance that was interrupting the football game on TV. I expect we'll be seeing more of this type of demo from across the market. First, from people and business that "get it". Long term, I see it becoming the norm. Longer term, these demos have the possibility of approaching the impact of commercials on TV.


Back to Mac

January 23, 2009

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macbook-pro.jpg After several years of working on Windows XP machines, I've recently made the switch back to Mac. The difference is profound and makes me regret that I didn't push for the Mac a long time ago. A rough analogy would be switching from a 1987 Ford Taurus to a brand new BMW M3. I build things that run on web sites and those sites all run on Linux. When I has to work on a Windows machine, the only way I could really do development was to use a Virtual Machine which let me effectively have a Linux server running "inside" Windows. While this works, it means constantly jumping through a lot of hoops. It also means everything runs slower because hardware that was designed to be used as a single computer is being asked to do the work of two or more. With a Mac these issues simply go away. Under the hood, a Mac works basically the same as the servers I write code for. This allows me to do what is called "Native Development". No more jumping through hoops. No more forcing hardware to pull multiple-duty. Take this along with the improvements Apple made to the Mac's operating system since 2001 (which is when Windows XP was released) and I'd guess I'm 25-30% more efficient on a Mac. It's good to be back.


I have no faith in "Lost"

January 23, 2009

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I just read a post titled "How Lost bends the rules" on Boing Boing. I'm one of the people the article talks about that dropped out of the show some time ago and hasn't watched it since. I think it was in the middle of the second season I got tiered of the constant "twist". I remember a promo that ran before one of the episodes that was along the lines of "Three answers to big questions in tonight's episode". Of course, there weren't any real answers and they actually piled on more questions. I love the idea of a show where you aren't spoon fed everything in the first five minutes and I'm a huge fan of complexity in stories. Battlestar Galactica being a prime example. When I first start watching "Lost" I thought it might be like that, but in the second season those thoughts quickly soured. The producers of Battlestar have said that they really wanted the overall narrative to have a beginning, middle and end. They didn't want to create something that, if it became highly successful, just went on and on simply because it was attracting viewers. My impression of Lost became that their producers were doing just the opposite. I had visions of them sitting around a table every few weeks pitching ideas for what kinda crazy, off-the-wall shit they could come up with next. I hope I'm wrong and that when the series wraps up, it turns out that it really was a hugely complex and intricately assembled narrative. Based on how it felt like I was getting jerked around to the point where I stopped watching, I'm not optimistic about that.


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