Monday, December 28, 2009

What MS has been up to

The Courier is Microsoft's entry into tablet computing, albeit with a twist. It's not a tablet, it's a booklet. A hinged, double-screened notebook computer with a combination touchscreen and pen stylus user interface. It looks sexy as hell, and this demonstration video illustrates how it will likely work.

I love this! I've been ragging on Microsoft pretty hard for the last couple of years, and with good reason, frankly. But this is great news for consumers, and maybe, along with the advent of the new Windows 7 operating system, and the Bing search engine, could keep Microsoft relevant, even if they are lagging seriously behind in the smartphone arena.

What's more, it could keep Apple, Google, and Amazon on their toes. It does seem like MS is targeting a very different user need with the Courier. I think most people are expecting the new Apple iSlate to compete more with the Amazon Kindle, and it's own iPod Touch, than with HP and Dell's tablet offerings.

I can't wait for Christmas 2010!

Apple iSlate vs. Amazon Kindle: eBook Steel Cage Match!?

The Apple rumor mill is now projecting that all the activity around an overgrown iPhone-like device will not be an Apple "netbook", or tablet computer, but rather an eBook reader, set to compete with the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook. Supposedly called the iSlate (yeesh...), the Apple reader will have a separate part of the App store dedicated to eBooks for the device.

This makes a lot of sense, in the wake of certain publishers who have released their book publications as iPhone apps, rather than as PDFs, Kindle Books (.azw format), or .mobi (MobiPocket format). The advantage of this for Apple is that it leverages their current iPhone/iTunes Store momentum and infrastructure, while maintaining ease-of-use for customers. It does, however, mean more VHS/Betamax format wars for consumers.

Right now, it looks like Mobipocket and other formats, used by open-book readers like Sony, the Nook, Philips', and others, are fighting an uphill battle, at least in the U.S. The Big 3 in the electronic publishing industry are PDF, MobiPocket, Kindle Books. But even though an iPhone app is not really a file format, is is a method of delivery, which is ultimately what the file formats allow. Amazon and the iTunes Store offer convenience of delivery, sync, and portability, while PDFs offer print options and ubiquity due to a 15-year head start. Since Amazon purchased Stanza, buying books from the Fictionwise book store has become more disjointed and harder to do. IPhone app-books, in contrast, are becoming easier and easier to download. Another advantage for iTS users is that they can purchase their audiobooks from the same place, to the same devices. Amazon's Kindle does "read" certain books to you, but reviews of the auto-reader are mixed.

No doubt Android (Google's smartphone OS) will be incorporating app-books into it's store soon, if it has not already. That, together with Google's recent eBook moves and it's ginormous search-engine audience, could be the beginning of a slow death of Amazon's initial raison d'etre. I foresee an Apple vs. Google fight to the death in most consumer information markets, including eBooks.

Good thing Amazon has leveraged it's cloud computing and fulfillment infrastructure into separate businesses. Wonder what Microsoft is up to?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Austin shares it's Smarts

Austin has teamed with German auto maker Daimler-Chrysler to debut a new type of "company car" for city workers. The program will use the company's very popular, and very eco-friendly SmartforTwo cars, which are itty-bitty little things, and go for, like days, on mere lighter fluid. Or something like that. Workers get to walk up to any car that's parked, swipe a card, get in and drive off. Kind of like cops do with their cruisers.

It's not quite the Singapore solution of charging people (a lot of) extra money to drive into the city instead of using public transport, but since we don't have a tremendous amount of public transport anywhere in Texas, this is a pretty clever second.

I love that Austin is at the forefront of international innovation. It really is a forward-thinking and fun place to live. Of course, there is a downside.

Sign documents on the go from your iPhone

Zosh iPhone application video demo from Joshua Kerr on Vimeo.

Zosh has just released an iPhone app that allows you to sign PDF documents. From your iPhone. And date them.

I'm sure there will be privacy concerns, which the company should address through a well-crafted and well-implemented user service agreement. But this really is technology that is long overdue, and is the implementation of e-signature technology that we've been expecting since the year 2000, when President Clinton signed that act into law.

Goodbye, fax machines. And good riddance! (J2, and fax makers everywhere, are you paying attention?)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Google Nav kicks payware apps in the nads

Google just announced a FREE beta version of a turn-by-turn mobile GPS navigation app, with voice and text input. Right now, it's just for Android OS 2.0; iPhoners will have to wait. (Incidentally, this is another reason that, contrary to my earlier post, Android phones will gain momentum, ugly though they may be.)

Attention Garmin, Tom-Tom, and AT&T Nav: "My name is Google Montoya. Prepare to die."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

GMusic? Nooks and crannies

It sounds like the name of a new rapper, but Gmusic (Google Audio?) is the next service to bring legitimacy to Android, and another nail in Amazon's coffin. Searching for music by

Along with this one.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Google (almost) launches eBook store

as I was saying...

In 2010, Google will put the hurt on Amazon's book-selling business with Google Editions. Amazon should still do okay (for a while) as an online department store and cloud storage provider, though. and are DOA.

Talk about blowing a lead... yeeesh.

Fix for duplicate iPhone 3.0 Calendar contacts

After updating to iPhone OS 3.0, I noticed several duplicated Calendar events and Contacts. I found this fix, which works like a champ.

Note: choose "Delete from my iPhone" when you delete the MobileMe account. This will wipe out your contacts and calendar until you re-establish the MM link, but it's the only way to bounce all the dupes on your phone at once.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Zeo Sleep Thingy

I don't know what this is, exactly, but I'm pretty sure that I need one.

Monday, October 12, 2009


From the You Mean to Tell Me... department, MS deals another blow to their fans, just after releasing cool new mobile and desktop operating systems.

I swear to God, if it was not for the fact that Microsoft is walking around with $60 billion cash in it's pocket, I'd say this was dead company walking.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

iPhone or Android? Place your bets!

Apple just bought Placebase, the private label mapping company behind Policy Maps. This is yet another indication that Apple and Google, once united against Microsoft, have begun to creep apart.

As a small team of fledgling iPhone app developers, this leads me to wonder whether to bet on Apple's iPhone or Google's Android as the main platform for our wares. Google is ultra-capitalized, but Apple knows hardware, and the company has been around almost as long as Microsoft. While the iPhone owns the smart-phone mindshare now, Google is making steady, quiet inroads, just as it has always done- with search, with advertising, with Gmail, with Google Maps, with Google Docs, and more. It's hard to bet against either one.

The futurist in me wants to bet on Google. But the iPhone is just so damn sexy! How can anyone resist it? *sigh...* I'm going with Apple, for now.

Any takers?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Google introduces Fast Flip

I sound like a broken record, but Google is The Great Disintermediator, and their latest application, called Fast Flip, is another example. Google is the *ultimate* long-tail aggregator.

5 years from now, people won't go to Amazon to search for millions of books, or Netflix to search for millions of movies, or iTunes Store to search for millions of songs; they will just go to Google to search for anything, and Google will present the content, hosted elsewhere, in a standardized fashion- a search engine. Perhaps later they will add cool community review and ratings features like eBay, Amazon, and iTunes.

[Thanks to my buddy Kai Dupe for the heads-up on this.]

Monday, August 10, 2009

More Kindle competition

My buddy Barton just sent me this link. Seems like Plastic Logic, powered by a Barnes & Noble bookstore back-end, is the Kindle's latest competition.

Watch the demo videos, and observe the graphic goodness and touch screen awesomeness.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Oh, yeah, baby!!!!

Get some.

How to compete with Facebook

I resisted Facebook for a long time. When I finally joined, I was pleasantly surprised by how many old and new friends I connected with. But I was equally disappointed with the amount of spam and "noise" that clamors for my attention on the site, like being stung by 1,000 mosquitoes.

When I started the Texas Film Scene, it seemed like we were in direct competition with Facebook. In fact, I even started a "Facebook Group" for Texas Film Scene, in an effort to lure people to our Texas Film Scene site, which offers many more features and community engagement. I told folks, it's like "Facebook for Filmmakers, but without the noise."

Lots of other community sites are doing the same thing. Facebook is the Mother of All Social Networks, despite being Johnny-come-lately to MySpace. But that all things to all people ethos is what stops it from being really useful. It doesn't provide the tools that specific groups of people, like Texas filmmakers, need.

Philip Greenspun discovered this way back in 1992, and his predictions have been spot-on.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Teens don't Tweet

Ain't this a b&$^@?

Seems the tech community has been broadcasting in an echo chamber. For all the talk of how the new microblogs help us oldsters connect with the young 'uns, turns out the kids don't much Tweet. At least not according to a recent study of 25,000 Nielsen Company survey respondents.

In fact, the main users of Twitter are 25-54 year olds. Which is not a bad thing to know, because sometimes you want to talk with someone who doesn't answer to "What's your major?" But it definitely will cause a lot of companies who thought they were being clever to rethink their spam-tweet campaigns.

Too clever by half, it seems.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's ON!

Steel cage death match! Google Android vs. Apple iPhone! Only one winner: YOU, the consumer! Er, sorry. Flashed back to watching wrestling in the 1970s with my Grandpa Whaley.

My friend Kai Dupe sent me this Fast Company editorial about the iPhone. Now, it is just one person's opinion, but these are some pretty tech-savvy opinion makers who are loudly touting the virtues of Android on HTC phones. The ones at Gizmodo, it should be noted, have a different opinion.

Whatever. It doesn't matter which is better. What matters is that they are both great phones, with more to come. More competition means more consumer choice, and more bang for the buck. And with Microsoft's $65 billion clawing it's way back in the game, things will only get better. Oh, yeah- and Pre.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Got a second job?

I'm gonna need some extra cash in September to pick up one of these. London's Financial Times has confirmed rumors of an Apple "tablet" computer to hit shelves in late Q3 or Q4 this year, reports Wired magazine. Dang! Glad I waited on the iPhone 3Gs.

This could be a perfect solution for my wife, who really only needs to surf the Web for 90% of her computer use. The rest of the time is work, which requires her to run Windows in a virtual machine on her Macbook (ugh). If we can do that on this tablet, life would be grand.

I'm thinking of flipping burgers on the weekends.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Here is a good review of the sexy new Palm Pre.

I was a Palm Treo 650 user for a couple of years, and had much love for Palm after they acquired the BeOS operating system, which later became the PalmOS. The Treo had many great things going for it out of the box, some of which have been missing even in the iPhone3G (though the new 3Gs covers 99% of them).

Sadly, Palm fiddled while it's market burned, spitting out new smartphones in quick succession- the Nokia N- line, dozens of Windows Mobile devices, the new Android-based PDAs, and of course, the iPhone. Now they are back, with what purports to be a great phone. Even better for all smartphone users (including us iPhonians) is the $99 all-you-can-eat plan from Sprint. Sprint's network ranks third in the U.S. behind Verizon and AT&T, but it appears that the combo of a sexy, functional new Palm smartphone, plus a (relatively) low monthly data plan is pressuring AT&T and others to reduce their prices, too. That competition is great for everyone.

Let's hope it's not too little, too late for Palm.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Android lives on

OK, I was wrong when I declared Google's mobile phone operating system Android to be DOA.

Like everything Google does, Android has improved. Google's "release it now, and improve it later" strategy has been effective for everything from it's venerable search engine to Gmail, Calendar, Picassa, Google Docs, Google Books, and all it's various Labs programs.

Now the hardware makers are stepping up. I am a hardcore Apple iPhonatic. But I love Google's apps, despite the occasional worrying cloud outage, I think Google rocks, and I trust them with my data, at least as much as I trust any ginormous corporation.

The one trump card that Apple currently holds for me is iTunes, and the associated iTunes store, which not only syncs my phone to my computer, but also connects to my TV. I could probably find ways around the TV, what with all of Netflix' hardware parnters, and other devices that stream data from my media computer to my tele, but buying and syncing music (especially podcasts) is a big deal for me.

Now, if Google opens a store to compete with iTunes, either partnering with or competing against Amazon, well, then, look out. I might just have to jump ship.

What would be a great store name for Google? How about "The G-Spot"?


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Personal WiFi Bubble

Oh, I gots to have this.

I can imagine how useful a personal cellular router will be when my rug-rats are old enough to have their own laptops, and we are all in the family van, driving across the state to Mee-Maw's house.

No doubt by then kids will be born with the WiFi DNA gene built-in- a true "cellular" router.

(OK, don't quit my day job, I get it.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mighty Ju-Ju

Mozilla has released a beta versions of an application/Firefox browser plug-in called Prism, which allows any Web site to be saved onto your desktop as a stand-alone application (albeit, one which connects to the Web). When clicked, the application launches in it's own little browser window, connects to the Web, and functions as you would expect from that Web site.

This is powerful stuff.

It turns the humble Web browser from a "portal", through which all applications must run, into a platform. Prism is based on technology created for Site-Specific Browsers, or SSBs.

I can easily see Web 3.0 applications using AJAX- the fancy code that enables drag-and-drop, desktop-like behavior on Web sites, like Gmail or to turn Web applications into "Netware," similar to Apple's iTunes. Google Gears and Adobe's Flex are already moving in this direction.

Lightweight, net-aware applications that deliver the power and control of mainframe-type distribution, along with the speed, ease of use, and flexibility of desktop client apps? No more C#, Java, or Objective C, just JavaScript! Truly write once, run anywhere.

Oh, yeah. This is mighty powerful ju-ju. Microsoft, Sun, Apple? You hear that?

Update: Good article on similar technologies here. Thanks to Tanya for the link.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Steampunk iPhone?

No, wait... make that just plain "punked" iPhone.

Cube-dwelling colleague Eduardo Mena introduces his new "iPhony", which he used to gain access to iPhone Alley here at the office. Sneaky fox!

Upon second look, it's amazing that we were fooled by the dust-covered, doorless, AM/FM/Cassette tape boombox, state-of-the-art, circa 1981. And that phone- a prepaid Circuit City (r.i.p.) talkie, it's held on by Scotch tape!

Oh, how could we have been so blind?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Center for Disease Control recommends iPhone app

Some may call it morbid, but I sure wish I was this clever. Blogger Barry Schwartz has released the Swine Flu Tracker app for iPhone.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Now, if this isn't a great reason to own an iPhone, I don't know what is.

Robert Dugan, I'm looking at you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

No Sketchup for you!!!

Now, this is funny.

Google's Sketchup training videos, hosted on YouTube, went dark.  Note the "no longer available" message in the video screen.

Did I mention that Google owns YouTube?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Outsource your personal computing

I've used all versions of Windows, many versions of the Mac OS, and many other operating systems, including most flavors of Linux. As this article points out, they all have their pluses and minuses, and these days, switching between one and the other is not a really big deal. My main gripe against Windows was that I was always having to play Network Administrator at home, and I just don't have time for that.

A few years ago, I made a list (yes, I'm that type-A) of all the things that I do with a computer, like writing documents, doing my taxes, storing music, etc. Then, I made a list of all the programs (applications) I use to perform those tasks. Next, I made a list of all the file types that I use when using those programs (.doc, .xls, .html, etc.). Finally, I made a list of all the places I need to be able to access those files. I put all of that stuff in a spreadsheet grid, and checked off whether they could be done in Windows, Mac, or Linux, and with what applications.

It sounds complicated, but the idea was a simple one: what computer system and programs could I use most cheaply, reliably, effectively, that would be available wherever I need it?

With the advent of Gmail, Flikr, Google Docs, Ning, and other such services, the stuff I actually need or want to store on my computers at home has changed drastically. In fact, there is almost nothing that I want to store exclusively on my home comptuers. With secure lock-boxes in the cloud like or Amazon's S3, it makes much more sense to have at least a copy of your critical documents stored off-site, just like big companies do, in case of fire or other disaster.

Walking around with a portable computer in my palm has made the need for wireless access even more acute. I access and edit documents, photos, music, books, and Websites all the time, from everywhere. About the only thing I must have a home computer for is audio recording and video editing (I'm an actor, y'know!). But even that I would do online, if I could; sadly, that technology simply doesn't exist yet.

My impression is that our computers are becoming more "dumb terminals" to the cloud. Yes, it's cyclical, and we've been down this path before. But never have we had such a powerful mainframe as the Internet.

Is this true for you, too? What, if anything, do you HAVE to have on your home computers, and nowhere else?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

iPhone training available

Since I purchased my first-generation iPhone in 2006, (and my 3G phone last year) I have learned an awful lot about the device, and how to make it a productive part of my personal and business life.  I can show you the same tips and tricks.

The iPhone has replaced the following items that I used to carry:
  • printed maps
  • watch
  • business cards
  • calendar
  • wallet photos
  • to-do list
  • voice recorder
  • iPod (which had already replaced my radio, CDs, and other MP3 players)
  • paperback books
  • camera
  • day planner
  • laptop computer (for 95% of my travel)
  • diet tracker
  • time sheets
  • phone (duh!)
  • shopping list
  • restaurant guides
  • travel itinerary
  • Rolodex
  • USB thumb drive
  • calculator
  • expense tracker
  • mileage log
  • personal ID info (family SSNs, passwords, etc.)
  • personal journal
  • business receipts
  • language guides.
If you would like to learn how to maximize your iPhone's potential benefits, email me.  I will be happy to provide personalized training for you, your friends, business, or non-profit group, at reasonable rates.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Get the heck outta here!

OMG! Have you seen this yet?!

Hardware APIs for the iPhone will enable all kinds of cool, useful, Star Trek-like devices, like the kind forecasted by this guy. And this device API may be useful for a little app that I'm writing, too. The Device is almost here.

New features
Some highlights from the OS3 demo video:
  • Spotlight Search across ALL apps on the entire phone, including:
  • Search Email, and continue search back on the server, if result not found on the iPhone
  • Cut, Copy, Paste across all apps
  • Notes Sync
  • Hardware APIs
  • WiFi auto-login
  • Stereo Bluetooth (A2DP)
  • Anti-phishing and Auto Fill on Safari
  • VPN on demand
  • Peer networking via Bluetooth and Bonjour for auto-discovery (no pairing!)
  • CalDAV and calendar subscription support
  • Undo
  • Landscape keyboard on all major Apple apps
  • Voice Memos
  • Send photos, maps, vCards, audio files, and more via MMS.
Dead phones walking: Android (DOA), Windows Mobile, PalmOS, Symbian. And all "netbooks."

Holy cow, this is big. Not just big for Mactards like me, but big for mobile computing, and the way we think about it. Think mobile:
  • medical records
  • fitness measuring
  • password valut (already here)
  • smart wallet (who needs credit cards???)
  • passports
  • car maintenance records
  • car computer interface
  • smart home controller
  • mobile server that plugs into dumb terminal (keyboard, monitor, mouse and extra storage), either at home, work, hotel, or client site.
800 Million Downloads in 2 years
Remember Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's rant about developers? Guess what, Steve? Apple's got 'em.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

iPhone: Lifestyle Companion

I was just thinking out loud to some friends how cool it would be if one of those heart rate monitoring straps you see people wearing at the gym, or while running, could talk to my iPhone, and keep data on my workouts and activity. After all, Apple already has partnered with Nike for running stats.

But if this post from March of 2008 is right, then Apple is waaaaaay ahead of me, complete with patents. So much the better. Now, if they would just hurry up and release it, I would buy it! This is the kind of useful, easy tech that really improves lifestyles. Not just pretty accessories, but functional (and pretty) accessories. And with the new iPhone OS 3.0 SDK out, I expect big things from iPhone apps in the months to come.

IBM missed the personal computer revolution, which Microsoft rode to dominance. Microsoft missed the Web browser revolution, but recovered in time to dominate again. Now a third platform- smart phones- is rapidly emerging as the new mainstream. Palm was there first, then Nokia, then Microsoft. But it is Apple who has (1) developed the sexy hardware that everyone wants (the iPhone), and (2) opened it up to third-party developers, the same way Microsoft did. It was those third-party developers that helped MS entrench itself in the PC world; but they have been slow to react to Apple's one-two-three punch of iTunes, iPhone, and App Store. And Apple continues to innovate rapidly, hardly giving competitors a chance to catch their breath.

Google's Android OS and Microsoft's Windows Mobile have the best chance of catching Apple (Symbian will die on the vine), but I think they will remain as far behind Apple as the Opera browser is behind Internet Explorer.

If these patent rumors are true, it will be the straw that break's Android and WinMobile's backs.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Knock, knock- who's there? Not Microsoft

When you weren't looking, Google went and did something very sneaky, and veeeeerrrry cool.

If you've got an iPhone, or an Android-based phone, you can now edit your Google Spreadsheets. Not a lot, but some. And, as we all know, Google is like a locomotive: once they get rolling on a feature set, they just keep coming, and with a helluva lot of mass behind them.

I wonder what Steve Ballmer was doing while Google burned up the mobile phone world? Bill Gates wouldn't know, because he's banned Apple products in his house. (Seriously.)

What ELSE could you do with a 10-inch touchscreen?

I mean, a 10-inch screen has simply got to be a netbook computer, right?  


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

What's that noise?

Now, this is just sad.

When I was a musician, every studio engineer was upgrading their studio from plain ol' "CD quality," 16-bit, 44.1kHz sampling to 24-bit, 96kHz sampling. The result was something much, much closer to the smooth sound of freshly-pressed analog, with even more dynamic range. Assuming you had the audiophile speakers (and ears) to hear the difference.

MP3s were handy for portability, but the crushed dynamic range, loss of bass, and the "TSSHHHH-TSSSHHH-TSSSSHH" of cymbal sounds was just too much for us serious musicians. Harrumph.

Stanford University professor Jonathon Berger has been surveying his students for six years, to find out what audio signals they prefer: uncompressed 44.1kHz original, lossless AAC, or a variety of MP3 bit-rates: 128, 164, or 192.

Guess what?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Dead sexy

From the Apple Rumours department, comes news of a new Apple netbook this fall. A netbook is a stripped-down computer for lightweight duties, primarily Internet access.

I'm not sure that I actually need a netbook, what with our two iPhone, two Macbook household, and all. But this does indeed look like something I might need to budget for.

You know, just... because.

UPDATE - March 11
Reuters has confirmed the 10-inch touchscreen orders.  OK, now you can start to get giddy with anticipation.


I've really been wanting to do this for two years.

The instructions for jailbreaking your iPhone are getting simpler and more foolproof (in my case, idiot-proof), and Apple's factory reset provision makes it a safe bet if things go horribly wrong.

The apps listed in this teaser are exactly what might convince me to spend 30 minutes (I'm guessing) jailbreaking my baby:
  • Use your iPhone as a 3G modem with your laptop.
  • Record video using Cycorder.
  • Unlock your iPhone installing a simple program, so you can use a pre-paid card when you go out on vacation instead of paying outrageous roaming charges.
  • Follow speech turn-by-turn directions in a GPS program.
  • Copy and paste (yes, copy and paste).
Cue the "scary anticipation" music, please...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

One step closer to Star Trek

Question:  What's more impressive than the iPhone?  
Answer:     The iPhone hacking community.

The video here demonstrates a movement known as "mainstreaming," which, in this case, is all about making the iPhone a true mobile computing platform, by enabling it to connect to an external keyboard.  The magic happens via Bluetooth, so you have a tidy, wireless connection, but it requires a jailbroken iPhone.  Don't ask me if it works; I don't have the cajones to jailbreak my phone.  But thank goodness these guys do.

"What about an external monitor for the iPhone?" I hear you say.  You mean, like your high-def LCD TV?  Already here.

This puts us one step closer to Philip Greenspun's ubiquitous Device, and that much closer to the Star Trek communicator

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Apple one-ups everybody

I just popped for the new iLife '09, specifically to get one feature:  Faces, a new technology in iPhoto.

For many months, I've been using Google's Picassa, both the online photo storage cloud, and the desktop photo editor/organizer.  There is also a Picassa Uploader plug-in for iPhoto, which is pretty cool.  Both Picassa and Flickr are great photo management solutions, but sorta Web 2.0  They are still a pain in the ass (PITA) when compared with working on your client computer.  What is great about them, though, is that they allow anywhere-access via the Web.  But frankly, even basic photo editing and organization with these services (or Facebook, or Shutterfly, or MySpace, or fill-in-the-blank) is cumbersome.


Apple released the new iPhoto '09 with this kick-butt feature called Faces:  you tag a face in a photo, and it remembers that face, and creates a "Polaroid" of that person.  You can build up your Polaroid collection, and then tell iPhoto to churn through your entire photo collection (16 GB, in my case), and tag every single photo with every face that it finds from your Polaroids. Holy crap!   You can then create Smart Albums using the tagged faces, and upload said albums to any Web-based service, including Apple's own Mobile Me.

Mobile Me used to suck.  Lately, it sucks much less.  I did some test uploading of albums to my Mobile Me account (for which I pay $99/year, and get 20 GB of combined storage), and the result was quick, painless, effective.  My albums appeared on MM, were easy to manage from the Web, even easier to manage from iPhoto, and looked a helluva lot prettier than Picassa, and somewhat prettier than Flickr.

Given Yahoo's financial history (Yahoo owns Flickr), I am a little worried that Flickr could go bust at any moment, as have other Yahoo services.  Google's Picassa gets better all the time, but it is still very clunky.

iPhoto's integration with Mobile Me offers a user experience closer to what iTunes users get with their iTunes/iTunes Store integrated experience, and it is probably the main reason that there are 160 million iPods out there, and only 3 million Zunes.  This close marriage of hardware (computers, iPods, iPhones) with client applications, and cloud storage service is what Apple needs to push in order to stay ahead of Google and Facebook. 

"Um, don't you mean Google and Microsoft?"  No, I mean Facebook.  More on that next time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Google keeps bringing the heat

Google just announced Tasks for mobile devices, including the iPhone.

ToodleDo's otherwise excellent iPhone app and Web service, which replaced my ToDo app, which replaced my OmniFocus app, may have just been replaced.

Yes, I do get tired of spending time and energy to divine the "ultimate" app for my purposes. But some of that is just the cost of doing business, and my feeling is that the effort will pay off in the end with slightly increased productivity, and greatly increased peace of mind. Part of the appeal of these apps to me is the "external brain pack" factor, which allows me to quickly offload my vagrant thoughts onto a more permanent medium. That medium used to be a lined sticky note stuck inside my daily calendar/journal thingy. It was a good, flexible, and simple system, which has been surprisingly hard to beat. But it was also not traceable, and it was hard to track both new, unprocessed thoughts, and sorted "to dos" all in the same space. It became unwieldy after a while. Capturing new to dos electronically, with online sync, is a little more sterile, but a lot more scalable and reassuring.

The new service is still buggy, as you can see in the below photo, so I'd give it a month or two. But after that, look out.

Offline Web mail? Oxymoron?

Gmail is going offline.

OK, not totally. But their new, "offline" service allows you to use Gmail in your Web browser even when you are offline. It behaves just the way it normally would, according to a Google press release (cleverly disguised as a Google Labs blog post), by saving a snapshot of your last Gmail session in your computer's memory ("cache"). You can then do everything you are normally used to doing in Gmail, but your outgoing messages will be stored in the Outbox until you are re-connected to the Internet.

The new service uses Google "Gears", which is a browser plug-in that taps several Google application programming interfaces (APIs), in order to make your Web-based apps function like native desktop applications. So, you must install Gears to make offline Gmail go.

This raises a question for another post: how in the world is Google making any money from all this? Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Personal trainer

I simply MUST have one of these: Sega's new personal Love Trainer.

The very thought of a Japanese drill sergeant verbally kicking my ass into shape as I get busy is so appealing that I'm willing to spend any amount of money, even in the face of full-scale economic depression, to have one.

About the only thing that would be better is if R. Lee Ermey was the voice of The Love D.I.
"You call that fornication?! Hit it! Harder!! What's the matter, soldier? Do you want your mommy? Step aside, limp-dick. Let me show how a REAL Marine does it!"
[Apologies to Stanley Kubrick.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One remote to rule them all

I was at my friend Robert Dugan's house, when he whipped this baby out to flip channels on his 800-inch TV. The new Harmony Universal Remote from Logitech is supposed to control ALL of your home theater devices, including the naughty vibrating cinema seats you got for Valentine's Day.

Being the electronics consolidation junkie that I am, I became instantly infatuated. I am always looking for ways to simplify my device setups, whether it's recording studios, video taping and editing, home computer networks, or home theater. Our house isn't that big, so I try to maximize space, and simplify the command-and-control structure. This remote fits that bill. The forums say that the latest firmware even support AppleTV, which I love.

But all this power will cost you. At $250 for the penultimate version, I will probably need to take out a second mortgage to pay for the remote.

It may be worth it.

UPDATE (01/21/2009):
Forget the above remote. I'm holding out for this one. Thanks to Tracy for the heads-up.

Friday, January 16, 2009

iPhone ebook reader

I've been wondering about getting a Kindle, especially in light of just having moved my heavy, boxed-up book collection to a new house. Ouch, my back! But the $400 price tag is a real barrier for me, and the utility of having just one mobile device for phone calls, contacts, calendars, Web surfing, iPod (music, movies, audiobooks), and various other data and applications is hard to give up.
The iPhone's answer to the Sony eBook Reader and Amazon's Kindle is Stanza, an application which allows eBooks of various formats to be saved natively and read on the iPhone, even without an Internet or network connection. It also allows direct downloads from many different publishers. But the form factor for reading is smaller than the Kindle or eBook Reader. So the question remains: To Kindle, or Not to Kindle?
The author of this article makes an excellent point:

[T]he ebook is software and I have little doubt that I’m right about this. There will be some people who are prepared to buy a Kindle (or the Sony equivalent) in order to have a device that’s purpose-built for reading books. But if you can get equivalent functionality from an iPhone or iPod, then you’re not going to be happy to pay over $300 for the Kindle just for the privilege of buying ebooks. If ebooks were difficult to read on the iPhone/iPod then Stanza would already be dead in the water, but that’s not the case.

There’s already a Beta version for Google Android and one will likely be developed for RIM. There are also versions for the Mac and Windows...

So for a time there were purpose-built wordprocessing devices, but it quickly became obvious that word processing was a software app, and the word-processing devices went the way of the dodo.

Amazon missed a golden opportunity to leverage both their brand and the popularity of the iPhone (and Google's Android, for that matter) by not launching an ebook reader application of their own. They could have totally pre-empted Stanza. But now they have allowed Stanza to get a significant market jump on them in the software e-reader market, one that may be too much to oevercome.

I think I'll stick with my iPhone and Stanza for a while, thanks, Amazon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Outsourcing for fun and profit

Developer Ethan Nicholas quit his day job after his iPhone game iShoot became an overnight smash hit. But what if you have a great idea for a high-tech application, but no computer skills? Enter ELance.

ELance is a marketplace of tech professionals who take on contract jobs or projects. It is a great place for supplemental, or even full-time income for programmers. But for non-programmers, it is an outsourcing botana platter.

Carla White relates her success story in developing an iPhone application, like Nicholas. Except she did not program it. She outsourced it on ELance. Internet-based resource meeting places like ELance put big business concepts like outsourcing at the fingertips of your average Joe, a trend started by Kinko's (now FedEx Office) two decades ago. Moore's Law predicted ever-more powerful computers for less money each year, a fact which has democratized technology for both small businesses and individuals. The same is true with business processes, including outsourcing.

Nicholas Carr wrote a white paper for Harvard Business Review a few years back (now a book), in which he suggested that companies could no longer count technology- even proprietary technology- as a competitive advantage, because can and will be copied and improved upon by rivals. What matter more, he suggest, is ideas.

Actually making outsourcing work for you may be harder than ELance's blog suggests. There is still the considerable problem of managing the project, so that you get what you wanted. Information technology (IT) projects are notorious for running over time and budget, and not devliering what the users want in the end (read: Windows Vista). But if you can pull it off, ELance could be a perfect way to get your application built without having to spend months or years schooling up on programming.

Ironically, MIT professor and Web tech icon Philip Greenspun wrote that what is hard about developing Web-based applications is not mastering the technology involved, but coming up with an idea worth building.

So it is with all businesses, and all art, for that matter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hi-tech offense

How do you apply high-tech to winning football games? We've already seen improvements in equipment and stadiums, but the real technological advance in football has always come from innovative new play-calling, like the forward pass (football used to be a ground-only game, like rugby).

Piedmont, California high school coach Kurt Bryant has utilized an all-new formation, called the A-11 Offense, to allow greater play-calling flexibility, and give his under-sized team an edge over bigger, stronger, faster teams in the Bay Area. It's working.

Bryn Swartz asks in this excellent article whether the A-11 could seep into NFL playbooks. It's not as far-fetched as it sounds. I have always thought that Texas Tech Red Raider coach Mike Leach's "pass blitz" approach, a run-and-shoot on steroids, would be a great fit for the NFL. Peyton Manning is almost there already, after all.

But this new A-11 could take that idea even further than Leach did. The A-11 allows almost continuous, high-speed ball movement, which does not give the defense a chance to set and plan, but only to react and chase.

In a league that is always changing rules to allow teams to score more points in order to elevate the "excitement" factor (groan), the A-11 offense could be just the ticket.

Technology (from the Greek techne, meaning skill or art, and logia, meaning logic) is about the systematic application of knowledge to an art or skill. It is not about gadgets or hardware. In this case, it is about what businesses call process improvement. Kurt Bryant rejected the legacy process of staid old formations and play calling, and began thinking outside the tackle box.

Ironically, when the A-11 is run in a hurry-up, no huddle drill, it looks a lot like rugby! Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Device has arrived (almost)

A few years back, one of my favorite tech gurus wrote a great essay called Mobile Phone as Home Computer. He referred to The Device, which would be essentially the "brains" of your computer system crammed into a mobile phone, which could then be plugged into various screens, keyboards, TVs, and other accessories, at home, at the office, in your car, and on the road.

Portable USB stick-drives on steroids, basically. With a phone.

Well, guess what? The NIMble, from Touch Revolution, looks very much like the precursor to Greenspun's device.

My wife has limited call for an actual computer, these days. Mostly what she needs is Web access. Her email is Web-based, and she refuses to us a local client to download it, preferring to log in each time (don't ask my why). With many of our photos stored, and even editable, online, what she really needs most is a Net-enabled terminal. If that terminal was also smart enough to run Google's Android, and provide additional functionality, like making phone calls, so much the better. NIMble fits that bill. Ditto for the kids.

The next step from here, and it does not seem like a leap, is for the NIMble to ship with a mobile phone handset that syncs data (music, GoogleDocs, contacts, calendars, and to-do lists) with the mobile phone. Right now, Google's mobile operating system is only missing an answer for the iTunes Store, but Amazon is working on that.

If da Goog were to partner up with record labels or movie studios (hey, why not? Apple did it in 2000, when it seemed crazy), then we could be very, very, close to Greenspun's Device, and then some.

Apple, are you listening?

Phone projector

Logic Wireless is releasing the Logic Bolt, a phone with a built-in projector, next month, for about $450.

One of the reasons I bought the iPhone was to consolidate my primary mobile tools: phone, full contacts database, calculator, calendar, notes, to-do list, maps, iPod, and to get wireless access to my email and a good (!) Web browser. The Treo did a pretty good job of that (for example, it never replaced my iPod or paper calendar and to-do list). The iPhone does it much better.

My friend Kai and I are both speakers. Sometimes, it is necessary to have an LCD projector, but they are bulky to carry when traveling. Even small ones get heavy when lugging around in an airport. If this phone/projector technology works, then it could, at the very least, lead to a micro-sized projector that is much easier to carry. At best, it could be incorporated into a smart phone that caters to speakers, trainers, and C-suite execs.

I doubt that that the iPhone would be able to incorporate projector technology and retain it's design aesthetic, unless maybe it used LED technology. Hmmm...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

To Kindle or not to Kindle?

I've been contemplating purchase of the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I don't know if I like the idea of yet another device locking me into a proprietary format for my digital purchases.

This review looked fairly complete and honest to me, and I was wondering if anyone else has used the Kindle, and would mind sharing their experiences here in the comments?

Talk amongst yerselves.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

OMG, this is funny

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

And so is this:

Much of it very true. And yet, sadly, I would still rather use my Mac and iPhone than Windows and Linux (I've done all three for years). The pain of being a Windows system administrator at home is just too much to bear.

Maybe Windows 7 will change my mind.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Apple Media Server?

I have long awaited the release of an official Apple device that would allow me to record, store, and share my digital media (photos, music, and movies) wirelessly with all of the TVs and computers in my house, and even sync to my iPhone, but without hogging up storage space on my family computer.

AppleTV? Nope. Apple's Time Capsule? Nope. ReadyNAS? Nope. (UPDATE: Things may have changed.) But now HP has released a version of their popular home media server that says it is Mac-friendly. We'll see.

Caveat emptor, as the Engadget flame-throwers are dissing it a bit (of course, consider the source).

There are now other wireless combo NAS and media-server solutions for Mac that didn't exist 2 years ago, when I was looking diligently, including:
This one is probably my favorite so far (my buddy Joe has one):
We use my wife's Macbook with 250GB drive as the "family" computer, while my MBP is my "work" computer. I have experimented with sharing the iTunes library over our wireless LAN using Bonjour, and it works well. I point my MBP's iTunes Library source to her computer's iTL over the LAN, and it streams audio just fine; have not tried video. I have not yet tried syncing my iPhone to my MBP, yet, but will do so in the near future. Our Contacts and Calendars are synced via MobileMe, so I only need to sync up media. Other people do something similar; they just use an old Mac (or even PC) to be their iTunes media servers.

If you have played with this stuff, let me know what you are using.

[UPDATE: And here is another one!]

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Technology should be useful and easy

Hence, this blog.

I am a gadget freak, even for the stuff I have not bought or cannot afford. Watching the advancement (and sometimes, regression) of technology is fascinating to me. I am not a professional technology columnist or author, just an interested citizen.

Our home is Mac. My client's work sites are Windows. I am an artist- actor, writer, musician, and have made a living using those skills. I also have a consulting business for the last 15 years or so, mostly with clients who are entrenched in the corporate Windows world. So, I've used both platforms, and am comfortable with both. There are many things I like about each, and many things I don't. On balance, I prefer the Apple experience, even at a price premium. I have used regular cell phones and smart phones, including the Palm Treo 650 (running the Palm OS, formerly BeOS), and currently, Apple's iPhone. I use Google apps a lot.

I am a tongue-in-cheek Apple evangelist at work, and the resident "iPhone expert", to quote one manager. But I am not really a Mac zealot, as much as a zealot for any technology that is useful. For most of us, useful means "easy to use, and productive, and relatively cheap". These definitions vary by user, of course, but I'm in the tech industry, both as an artist and as a consultant; I work with computer programmers and computer programs every day, and I am constantly amazed at how little importance is given to the user experience in software.

And I don't just mean for your Grandma. I mean for computer geeks, too! There are lots of useful programs out there which are just soooo complicated to use that developers make mistakes with them. Often. A lot of them. Which means business users mistakes. Which means that you, the consumer, who buys stuff (electronics, financial services, cars, home loans, etc.) from these companies may also experience these mistakes, like problems getting a refund, getting your account hacked, or delivery of the wrong item, or to the wrong address.

So, just for fun, I'll chronicle my findings of technology that gets it right: useful, cheap, and easy to use. Feel free to disagree, or compare notes.