27 June 2008

Bye Bye, Helio

I just got official word as a Helio customer of something that has been rumored for a while - Helio was acquired by Virgin Mobile. Kind of sad, part of why I signed on with Helio was the geek cred, the other part was the awesome dual slider device with a low cost unlimited data plan. But, I've been planning to defect when my contract comes up next year, anyway.

Sure, the device is sexy and my GPS-enabled Google Maps were far more accurate and speedy than a friend's AT&T BlackJack. Sure, I snap and share pictures and video easily and can quickly get my GMail on the go. But I would have to pay extra to synch with my corporate exchange server, it's doc viewing support is so-so, and the built in browser was so very, very bad that they threw their hands up and embraced Opera Mini. And now the same dual slider form is available on lots of phones, along with some even better options for a thumb typer like myself. And the iPhone helped launch a lower cost data plan structure at AT&T.

So, goodbye sexy Ocean, hello conformity with my new iPhone or Windows Mobile SmartPhone.

Two Coffe Shops, Two Great Artists

Who knew I liked 3-dimensional art so much? By coincidence (or maybe it's the direction of a local movement) the Starbucks near my office is currently displaying sculptural photography by David Stickney. I am absolutely in love with the piece called Harvey's:

And JP Licks is displaying Assemblages by Amy Hitchcock.

If only I hadn't spent my rebate check on the movers, it would definitely be going to one of these two v cool artists.

24 June 2008

No more Rape or Racists?

Oh, good, I'm glad we got rid of rape and that there aren't any more racists in America. I mean, that must be why we don't get to use those ugly words anymore, right?

22 June 2008

I Kissed a Girl Redux

I heard Katie Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" for the first time today. When the DJ announced it was the next song, I wondered if it would be a remake of the song by the same title by Jill Sobule from my younger days. Well, the words were different, but it was exactly the same song. It was the exact same ethos of experimentation with the safe mention of a boyfriend so no one has to worry that this is a *gasp* lesbian song. I'm a little sad that mainstream pop songs haven't moved toward a more explicit acceptance of homosexuality as perfectly normal, but it could have been worse - it could have reflected the Girls Gone Wild kind of experimentation which occurs only for the sake of turning guys on.

It was an interesting coincidence (for me at least, maybe I'm the last kid on the block to hear this song) coming in the same week when a study was released that shows women's sexuality to be more fluid than men's. In other words, most women can be just as easily turned on by women as men, because it's the context not the person that is the trigger.

So, maybe the reason the song remains the same over this past decade is that the pendulum of mainstream attitudes toward women's sexuality has finally reached a happy medium resting point. Art just preceded the science to prove it.

20 June 2008

19 June 2008

Why Are You Trying to Make Me a Morning Person?

Over the past week, I've read two articles on becoming a morning person. Newsweek has a typical rehash of tips for tricking your body into doing the unnatural (and notes as an aside that it might be your genes' fault and not your lack of willpower that keeps you at the snooze button). More interesting is the Slate piece, that follows a woman and her boyfriend as they follow doctors orders to become morning people. Though the piece ends on the obligatory high note of making progress, it it fraught with the sheer agony and futility of trying to reprogram your internal clock.

But, seriously, in this day and age of telecommuting, offshore call centers, flex time and so on, is there really still this societal pressure to conform to some industrial revolution 9 to 5 ideal?

18 June 2008

My TIVo DRM Rabbit Hole

As I have said before, I love TiVo. It stands on its own as one of the best inventions in media in the past decade or so, and it has become an integral part of my media consumption experience.

However, since the introduction of TiVo To Go, I am often perplexed by the application of DRM technology. In some cases (TiVoCasts) it seems overly strict, in others (TiVo To Go for Portables) it seems like the easiest way to pirate I can think of.

I currently take advantage of the TiVo To Go feature in two ways - 1) I copy content over to my Desktop and external hard drive as just a cheap way of expanding my TiVo storage space. When I have more free time, I transfer them back to TiVo and I'm able to watch the season in order, at my own pace. 2) I convert to a portable format and watch on my Ocean on the T.

But yesterday, I stumbled upon the strangest thing of all. I previously lived in a household with two TiVo boxes under a single account. Now one of those boxes lives in Seattle and one came with me. We transferred account ownership of "Happy TiVo" to my name, to make sure everything was kosher. When that happened, my Media Access Key changed.
[In case you aren't a TiVo To Go User, the Media Access key establishes the trusted relationship between your TiVo and your computer. You can only transfer recordings to a computer with a matching Key. ] I thought that was weird and grudgingly dug through the TiVo menus to get to my new Key and enter it on my Desktop.
That was when I discovered that the two movies and the entire second season of Heroes I had stored on my Desktop were no longer considered valid files and could not be transferred back to the Happy TiVo from whence they came. Strange.
I ended up watching most of the second season of Heroes on my laptop while I was unpacking in my new apartment. By Monday, I had managed to set up all the components of my living room media center and was ready to watch the rest on my big screen.
But when I plugged in the external drive and tried to play them from my Desktop (I have a combo HDTV/giant monitor) Windows Media Player complained that it was an unrecognized format. After appropriate experimentation, I determined that the Media Access Key is not only required to transfer the recordings, but also to play them back! I had just lucked out in that I had not bothered to update the Key on my laptop, so it still matched the old recordings, allowing them to be played back there.

So, my situation is pretty unusual and it has a happy ending, but I think it's a great illustration of how convoluted things get when you try to apply fairly non-subtle forms of DRM to content. After all, I was actually using all the same hardware from start to finish, yet by the end, it was only by fluke that I had not been locked out of content I had every right to access.

12 June 2008

A Tale of Two Booths

Coming from a background in Post-Production, I am used to doing two main exhibitions each year - NAB in Las Vegas and IBC in Amsterdam. In a given year, I would also participate in one or more smaller or regional exhibitions. These were grueling tradeshows, consisting of 4-5 9-hour days filled with nonstop talking, constantly on my feet. The audience was there to consume. Sure, they wanted to be educated on which tool to buy, but they wanted to buy a specific tool for a specific need - say a color corrector panel or a film restoration system.

Now that I work for an intranet portal company, I've been to a few smallish events, culminating in a booth at Enterprise 2.0. It was like falling through the looking glass. The Demo Pavilion was only open for two short sessions on two of the conference days. And most attendees were interested in consuming ideas, not products. People were there to be educated on concepts and technologies - What is microblogging? How can Wikis help my company? - not necessarily specific products.

All in all, very interesting. Though I don't think there's any judgment or lesson to be drawn, I find the comparison quite interesting.

04 June 2008

Ode to the Subway

Last week was, on balance, a bad week for the MBTA. Overshadowing the fact that ridiculous gas prices are driving up MBTA ridership, there was both a fire and a trolley crash. However, despite all that, I couldn't help but stop and think about my great love for true rapid public transportation, be it the T, El, Metro, or U-Bahn. A good (or even just adequate) subway system cuts down on drunk driving, cuts down on any kind of driving and allows for freer movement of workers to better jobs. In more abstract ways, it helps create a better city. Cities with great metro systems, like New York, engage in a virtuous cycle of car-free living where essential services, such as food shopping, are easily accessible via public transportation. Because of the availability of these resources, fewer people are compelled to start driving and the cycle goes on. This can also help discourage the homogeneity of Big Box stores which require large amounts of square footage and, to an extent, creates real-world "long tail" niche serving stores.

Okay, okay, this is very rose-colored. And I acknowledge that public transportation generally underserves the poor and minority populations and can be plagued by choices made for political reasons, rather than due to sound planning. And, let's face it, every rider on earth complains about how terrible their system is, no matter how good it is objectively. But none of that diminishes the fact that metro systems bring real social, economic and environmental benefits to the cities they serve.

Personally, I can feel an added vibrancy to cities with a real metro system. The constant movement of people, the fact that I can get to any event or restaurant I choose at will. I first fell in love with the metro in Budapest and now make it a priority to learn the metro system of any new city I visit or live in. Besides empowering me to go anywhere I want, they also enable me to get wherever I need. I don't have to rely on unscrupulous cab drivers or any other questionable means of transportation and orientation.

In other words I love subways - for reasons both rational and irrational.

03 June 2008

Them's Fightin Words, Zoho

A couple of weeks ago, I read that online productivity suite Zoho now integrated with your Google ID. I thought that was pretty odd, since most people - like me - with a Google ID would probably already be using Google Docs. But as I read on, I saw this quote from Zoho evangelist Raju Vegesna

One thing we noticed is, when users try both Zoho and Google, more than 70% of them prefer Zoho. It made sense for us to do this. We want more users to try our apps.

So, it seemed like a good time to try Zoho. I had been initially annoyed by the dearth of features on Google Docs when I started with them over a year ago. But when I came back to good old Google about 6 months later, I was pretty pleased. However, as with all shiny new toys, eventually the love started to fade a bit and I began to see the flaws. Most annoying was the horrific tables support. When I tried to nest tables, everything just went to hell. And importing DOC and DOCX files with tables in them always yielded unexpected results.

So I gave Zoho a go. I immediately saw that there were more buttons in the GUI, while Google hides all but the most common features behind menus. Unfortunately, two really important buttons appear to be missing (or very well hidden in the clutter) - Paste as Plain Text and Remove All Formatting. At first, I dismissed this as a little thing, but it has become more and more frustrating over the past two weeks.
However, two great features far outshone this minor glitch. First is Templates. The second is Tables support. Google Docs has really abysmal support for nested tables. I know I mentioned that about a paragraph ago, but it really bugs me.
What ultimately keeps me from making the switch is the unfathomable fact that Zoho does not auto-save as I work. Wha? That's just not right. Google Docs is constantly saving new versions that I can quickly revert to if I make a mistake. Why wouldn't Zoho do this, too?

For now, I am sticking with both - using the appropriate tool at the appropriate time. Zoho is good, but not so good that I am willing to completely jump ship.

PS I aspire to have the job title "evangelist" one of these days.