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.