Great quick Atlantic piece by Megan McArdle discussing Apple’s iTunes/iPod/iPhone “monopoly”:
But, you say, you’d like to buy music from iTunes and play it on a Zune? Well, I’d like to get takeout from Ray’s Pizza and enjoy it in the stunning ambience of Cafe des Artistes. If the waiter refuses to let me do so, is that a monopoly?
Just cuz a pea comes in a peapod doesn’t make it a monopoly.
Ready for Harry Potter? Well get pumped with this Potter vs Voldemort rap battle! (via /film)
OMG Posters is showing off the new Decemberists gig poster that’s a collaboration between Aaron Horky and Emek. It is a nine color screenprint (9!) that will be available at three upcoming shows and eventually online.
I am a huge fan of gig posters and classic movie posters and seeing this makes me start thinking of where I can find more wall space in my house.
Head over to OMG Posters for an even larger version. And if you love design you need to bookmark OMG Posters. Great stuff over there all the time.
I am a big fan of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 comes out this fall. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the sequel, watch it now on YouTube (embedding on this clip disabled unfortunately).
Now Engadget is reporting on the MW2 release editions. The last few years have been full of high-end game releases that include things like Master Chief’s helmet but thus far I have avoided the additional household clutter. That may change with MW2. It includes a fully-functioning set of night vision goggles.
No, I absolutely don’t need them. But I want them.
Skip on over to Engadget for the unboxing video as well.
For the sake of saving space on the relatively tiny iPhone screen, you vanished the “http://” when displaying URLs in Mobile Safari.
Let’s lose it in Safari 4 as well. Most users will never care (or likely notice). And those of us that occasionally type in ftp:// or https:// can still do that. It would be a big improvement in web clarity and usability. It’s time to do it.
The last couple weeks have been rich with discussion over Chris Anderson’s new book “Free: The Future of a Radical Price.” The first salvo was Malcolm Gladwell’s review for the New Yorker in which Gladwell seemed to come off more annoyed at Anderson’s proposition rather than offering much in terms of review of the actual content in the book. Seth Godin dove in with a post entitled “Malcolm is Wrong” and Chris Anderson spoke for himself with “Dear Malcolm: Why So Threatened?“. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
What interests me is why this particular book has caused such a large amount of infighting and if it’s misplaced. I wanted to wait to chime in myself until I had a chance to, you know, actually read the book. Or in this case listen to it. Anderson is certainly taking his own medicine in giving away different versions of the book for free including an unabridged audio book (read by Anderson) and free for a limited time ebooks. Normally I’m not the audio book kind of guy but this fit my budget and gave a sense of what an Anderson presentation on the topic would resemble.
So now that I have “read” it, does it deserve the brouhaha it’s getting? Not really.
But there’s more to it than that.
First, let me take a step back. As some of you know, I was previously head of MGM Studio’s internal web department. To say that “The Long Tail” came up on occasion would be an understatement. That book was incredibly popular at the studios because it pointed to untapped revenue for the extensive film libraries the studios own. The problem with the idea of the long tail is it mostly benefits companies like Amazon.com who can efficiently warehouse an incredible amount of niche product. It’s much harder to take advantage as a content producer/distributor unless your costs are incredibly low. This led to a bit of a long tail backlash on the internet. That it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and that hits still rule at the end of the day. Through this trial by fire, Anderson seems to have built a love/hate reputation. With this in mind it is not surprising that there has been such debate over Free.
When thinking about Free with this history in mind, you see why its reviews tend to be about Anderson, how this helps his speaking career and if we really want a world where we don’t pay for the work of others. The actual ideas in the book tend to get short shrift. And the main idea is (despite the title) that free is not that radical of a price and that it’s in use everywhere you look. From free supermarket samples to the free genius bar at Apple stores to free entrance for kids at museums, free is everywhere. In fact the book concludes with fifty business models built on free. This opened up my thinking in terms of the pricing/revenue options available to businesses – especially when the per-unit cost of digital products is added to the equation.
It seems many presume that a model based on free must mean a profitless model. To wit, John Gruber pointing out that Daring Fireball is “decidedly not free” when his model of sponsorships and advertising subsidies to cover free-to-read content is exactly what Anderson is talking about.
In the end, it may be that people have trouble with the idea that their work may be given away for free. We all want to feel that we produce something that people would pay for. But really we need to think about the things we create and the things we charge for as two separate, complimentary products. To me that is well worth discussion but not the earth-shattering change some seem to see it as.
Ars Technica is reporting on Apple’s new proposal for a new HTTP video streaming standard. Its interesting that this comes so closely on the heals of the debate over the implementation of the <video> tag in the modern browsers. The issue in that debate, which I discussed recently, is that Firefox supports the Ogg Theora video codec due to its openness while Safari supports the h.264 codec due to its quality advantage and support from hardware decoders.
This streaming standard would be based upon an MPEG2 stream which could contain h.264 for video and AAC audio. This is an alternative to the existing standard Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP). RTSP needs its own server software and operates on a different port than HTTP. This means that it can easily end up blocked, purposefully or accidentally, from standard web traffic.
Content delivery networks (CDNs) like Akamai must also manage servers specifically for managing video that are separate from their HTTP caching servers. I dealt with this when I ran the web department at MGM Studios. We initially used Akamai and eventually moved to Limelight since Akamai is outrageously expensive. Regardless, at both vendors, HTTP caching is automatic after the initial set up but video files must be directly uploaded to the CDN’s servers (rather than the web host’s) and URLs must reflect that. This is just a complicated system overall. From my understanding, Apple’s proposal would allow content to be uploaded to the main web host then automatically cached by the CDN as if it was any other HTTP element. This would be an efficiency gain for site developers, lower cost for the CDN and be more reliable for end users.
There is a “but” however. The drawback is that HTTP delivery of video files would be in chunks. One long video would be divided up into parts as small as 10 seconds or so. While this would not be known to the end user, the video player would be consecutively playing parts of the overall video. This is great for bandwidth reasons. Servers would only deliver the necessary 10 second chunks, not the entire video. On the server side though, this would mean that a web video wouldn’t be a single file; it would be a file for every ten seconds of video. Suddenly managing files becomes a headache. Also, live video would operate on a ten second delay as each file is created and added to the stream.
Overall I think this is a good direction. It would be more efficient most of the way around and all it really needs is a way to manage video files encoded for it. It’s nice to see Apple proposing it as a standard and I hope that more vendors jump on the bandwagon.
I’m curious to see why Apple is making such serious moves for in-browser video improvements. Efficiency improvements are great but they impact big video sites the most. Apple delivers very little video compared to YouTube or Hulu. Why do I feel that somehow this is all tied to the future of the iPhone?
Last night I attended the screening and director Q/A of Objectified, the new documentary from Helvetica director Gary Hustwit.
See it. It’s great.
If you at all liked Helvetica, you will certainly like Objectified. It not only has nerd love for industrial design and designers but it asks the questions that are just starting to be adressed in the design community: how do we design products for a world that throws them away? When most products end up in a landfill within years of their purchase, how do we change our design process, methods and materials? No answers are given but the designers intrviewed are growing increasingly aware of the problem. Ideas such as cardboard cell phones were presented that take into account the short life span of modern electronic products.
The director Q/A really left me with one big takeaway. That as designers, our role is to solve problems for the mass market. We find the answers to the tough problems and in this, we improve the future for us all. That is what is needed now more than ever and not just in industrial design or graphic design but in the design of public policy and economics and business. We care about all the details that matter to a successful future and we must insert that care into all aspects of our society.
So please see Objectified and show it to your non-designer friends who will gain new respect for the details in everything.
And most importantly, get designing!
A new post on Engadget talking about TAT’s (UI designer for the G1) new augmented reality concept. Check out the video below. Now this certainly may make a better tech demo than real world application but man is it interesting to watch. Nice that it allows a simpler mechanism for discovery of people’s public profiles. Anyway, well worth a watch:
Much discussion over Google’s announcement of its forthcoming Chrome OS. Is this the full announcement of war with Microsoft? Is this going to shake up the whole industry?
In the short term (which means when Chrome OS launches in late 2010), the OS is planned for use on netbooks. This is a perfect match for a web dependent OS. Those devices are low powered and typically run Windows XP since they don’t have the specs to effectively run Vista or Win7. So it is a daring new competitor in a market segment that buys old Microsoft software.
The bigger issue is that we are turning a corner on the value of software (not necessarily the OS). Chrome OS is going to provide productivity applications through Google Docs. This will be the first attempt to see if users would be happy with a non-desktop approach to software. Certainly now you can do all kinds of productivity, photo editing and content sharing through online options. But right now these are just that – options. Not the sole method for tackling the problem. Will users be happy with a free but online only solution for basic work. That’s what we’ll learn.
This is more of a shot across the bow of MS Office than of Windows proper.
Interesting look at the numbers related to home ownership over at Generation X Finance. It’s astounding how numbers that look completely in your favor can actually set you back. In their example, a house is purchased for $200k and sold ten years later for $300k. This looks like a wise investment.
But then you consider the amount paid in interest versus the amount paid towards the principal. Suddenly a $100k profit becomes less than $23k. THEN you factor in inflation, property taxes, insurance, etc. In fact, just taking inflation into account means that you actually didn’t make $23k, you actually LOST over $8k.
This isn’t an article that pitches renting over owning (which has its own negatives) but rather that you should not treat a home as an investment. The whole article is well worth reading and gives you a sense of the costs you need to keep in mind.
Read the whole thing here: Your Home is Not an Investment – Don’t Treat It Like One
I want iTunes to sense my iPhone when I get home and if it is playing music, to switch playback to my iTunes output.
This would be a great start to “intelligent assumption” communication amongst devices.
John Gruber over at Daring Fireball has posted an insightful piece on mobile phone keyboards.
John recognizes the key decision that Apple makes in the design of their products:
Apple tries to make things that many people love, not things that all people like. The key is that they’re not afraid of the staunch criticism, and often outright derision, that comes with breaking conventions.
This is brought up in reference to not only the soft keyboards but also the increasing use of sealed batteries that Apple is using across its iPod, iPhone, and Macbook lines.
To me the greater point is that Apple deeply believes in products devoid of moving parts or even the ability to detect that they are made out of individual component pieces. This benefits Apple is several ways. Not only does this foster products that have a level of refinement above most competitors but it also decreases the number of mechanical failures that are inherent to moving parts while also removing the costs in designing and assembling products with this added complexity.
The future, I believe, is going to be made of software keyboards. It simply offers more flexibility. A single device can be deployed worldwide with software keyboards automatically displaying the appropriate format for the user’s language.
Are soft keyboards completely ideal? Probably not. But they offer more pros (flexibility) than cons (no touch typing) when used in low typing applications. Much like the qwerty keyboard format that grew from the limitations of typewriter technology, soft keyboards are not perfect but they are better than any other option and we can only build upon the best we have at the time.
I predict that Apple will ship the first glass keyboard for desktop use. This may not be for a while but it will happen. Simply because it will allow more people to have more flexibility in their interaction with the computer which will allow more multitouch editing features on the mac. People who do a lot of typing will stick with keys and that’s fine. But people who do more with photos and video and the web will find a lot to like.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Obama administration is making overtures that the public option in the healthcare plan is on the table and up for debate. And that cost restraints are the measure of success.
The problem with that is regardless of the rules in place to control costs (must extend coverage to all) the for-profit health industry has an incentive in opposition to the needs of patients. This must be kept in check though an ongoing cat and mouse game in the legislature. Let this slip and we lose the gains we have made.
Only some form of public option can automatically bring market forces to push quality and price into line.
Read the WSJ article.
Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has died at 93. As a random coincidence, over the weekend I watched The Fog of War, the amazing documentary on McNamara’s life, his mistakes and the lessons learned. It’s truly frightening how close we came to Nuclear war in the 60s. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
You should definitely add The Fog of War to your netflix queue.
Ars Technica has posted a very good summary of the debate over the HTML5 <video> tag which allows video to be played back without the proprietary Flash plugin: Decoding the HTML 5 video codec debate – Ars Technica
I particularly like commenter mpat’s prediction for how this will likely play out:
The way it’s going, Youtube will use H.264 as its primary source, because that’s the only thing that will run acceptably on mobile platforms, and use Flash as a fallback, because nothing else will work with IE. This means that Safari and Chrome will run Youtube better and cooler than Mozilla, which will still get Flash. Even sites that do use Theora will run better on Safari and Chrome, once the appropriate plugins have been installed. I just can’t see how Mozilla can ever win this.
This first post was intended to be an introduction to slackist. What it will cover, the viewpoint it will take and why the world needs another news/punditry/review site.
But in trying to sum up slackist, I ended up with several pages that didn’t summarize much of anything.
So I’m taking a new tack. Simply, slackist is everything I am passionate about: movies, games, tech, the Mac, politics, economics, public policy, design, ideas, solving problems and making things better. slackist is also a wink, nod and secret handshake to genx who increasingly seem to be on the same unspoken page: something needs to be done. Sometimes slackist will be cynical and disillusioned but our core pragmatism will always aim to find the best, chide the worst and fix the future. And have a nerdy good time doing it.
A world without time to rebuild your energy, hone your skills and create new things is stagnant. We know we can do better. Now it’s time to do it.
Thanks for listening and I welcome your feedback.