Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Can I Borrow that Book? NO! Says Amazon

Amazon has crippled the Kindle ebook reading device with very restrictive DRM. They are going to have to do away with that, IMHO, before the Kindle will be able to take the world by storm, iPod-style, like I predicted when it was introduced. In promising news, the Kindle has been hacked to allow users to import non-Amazon content onto it. How long before someone hacks the Kindle to get purchased content off of it?

Squeezebox Duet

This thing is the answer to my prayers. I have (and love) the squeezebox), but the missus can't use it--not intuitive enough. Add a simple simple simple remote with LCD, and you've got pur heaven! If I can convince the wife to let me spend the $$$ to replace our old SB, I'll post a more formal review...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

DRM Doomed

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is the fancy term used to describe how content providers (publishers, record companies, film industry) place security restrictions on how their content is used. Corporate marketers have friendlier names for it like "Plays4Sure". It seems like a great idea for those corporate entities to protect their investments in the post-Napster age, right? Wrong. Here's why DRM is bad and as a concept is doomed to fail.

1.) Consumers don't want it, they just may not know it yet. One of the truisms in technology is that people are jazzed up by the latest and greatest, but what is the latest and greatest today is taken for granted as a feature tomorrow. Could you imagine a TV today without a remote control? Right now, CE users are so enamored of the latest breakthroughs like iPods, Slingboxes, Blu-Ray, and HDTV to realize the restrictions that are being placed on them. When the innovation in these types of devices stabilizes, people will start to notice that they can't do what they used to be able to do in the past with content that they legitimately purchased. People will start asking questions--What do you mean I can't transfer my iTunes purchases to a new device? What do you mean I can't stream HD content around my house on my slingbox? What do you mean I can't make a mix CD for my girlfriend? What do you mean I can't trade in an unwanted CD for cash?

2.) Lawyers will get involved. I buy a CD, I should be able to sell it to someone, right? Shouldn't that apply to downloaded content that I own? Wait until someone tries to sue a customer over this and the Supremes get involved. I'm no lawyer, but I think that the case is simple to make. Plus, once a case like that makes it to the Supreme Court, articles will be written, awareness will be heightened, and people will start getting upset, realizing the restrictions that are placed on them (see #1).

3.) DRM doesn't work. The amount of effort and cost that companies like Microsoft and Apple go through is huge, and the effort required for hackers to render it useless is small. It's a losing battle for corporations, and one that hits their bottom line.

That's great, you say. I just cited reasons that DRM is bad. No news there. But without DRM, how will content providers be able to protect and grow their revenue streams? The answer--Necessity is the mother of invention. Someone will create a better business model to address these issues and preserve and even grow revenue streams. In some ways we already see it. Product placement in pop culture has been around a while, though some do it better than others. Have you ever listened to those old time radio shows where the stars are hawking the goods before the entertainment begins? Maybe we will return to that. I wouldn't fast forward through Evangeline Lily telling (showing?) me that this episode of Lost was sponsored by Coppertone suntan lotion. or, "This episode of 24 is sponsored by Smith and Wesson." Maybe we see ads scrolling on the bottom of the screen like a stock ticker. I don't know what method(s) will prevail, but look for new innovative new revenue streams for content providers in the coming years. The networks are already streaming their shows over the web, embedding ads in the stream. Me? I wouldn't flip out if a Honda logo popped up on my iPod whenever a song from iTunes was playing, especially if it meant that I was getting music for less or for free. That's right--I could even see music companies GIVING AWAY music/movies if the alternative revenue streams were there. What do they care if they get their $1 from the consumer or from Budweiser? Plus, if NBC/Universal gives away its content, that sort of kills the illegal P2P market, right? The Neo-Napsters with their unreliable downloads and buggy software can't compete with that.

More information on DRM

Monday, January 28, 2008

Email for the Leisure Traveler

As a Geekazoid, people often ask me for advice on what types of gadgets to purchase, from computers to cell phones, DVRs, DVD players, TVs, etc. The problem is that there is no quick answer (except for the TV, where I always stay stick with the S-es--Sony, Samsung, Sharp). A 90-year old grandmother has different needs than a kid going off to college, right?

So the latest question is, "what is the best way to be able to check email and do light web surfing while I travel? The question came from a tech-savvy retiree (a.k.a., "Dad") who doesn't have a crackberry or a laptop for work. The question, as always with these things was, it depends....

So before I get to my answer, I separated the target audiences:
  • über-geek: Wants the latest and greatest, and wants to hack the heck out of it to brag to his friends.
  • executive: Someone who needs to stay connected to work, and the employer fits the bill
  • tech-savvy retiree/Dad: Already described.

So here are my recommendations:
The über-geek wants to be able to tinker, and to have something that nobody else has. For them, the Nokia N810 internet tablet is da bomb. Wi-Fi connectivity, GPS enabled, VoIP-enabled, camera, media player, bluetooth, QWERTY keyboard, support for SD memory expansion, all on an open source LINUX platform. This thing rocks, but really requires someone who is, at heart, a tinkerer. It is liable to cause frustration in other categories of users. At~$400, it doesn't infringe too much on the Doritos budget.

The executive wants to be able to connect to work email, do some light web surfing, and carry one device for email and phone. GPS is handy for unfamiliar locations. For that, I recommend the Blackberry Curve. Top notch email that will work with the office, built in GPS, voice-activated dialing, Wi-fi enabled, plus you can use it as a tethered modem for your laptop for those long delays in the airport. It is also quad-band, which means that it will work in North America, Europe and Asia. This device does it all, but it is best at email. Don't plan to do serious web browsing on this baby.

What about Dad? Well, his eyesight isn't what it used to be, so those small screens on the Curve and the N810 aren't the best. At first, I considered a laptop, but who wants to carry around 12 pounds of gear on top of all of those pairs of plaid pants? The solution? The all new wi-fi enabled MacBook Air from Apple (see ad below). .76 inches think, 3 pounds, 13.3 inch screen, all housing a shockingly simple and familiar Mac OS X interface. All that and it is environmentally friendly. The only downside is that it only supports wi-fi. Dad isn't staying at Josie's B&B too often, he's at major hotel chains that offer Wi-Fi. Still, in those exceptional cases, he can get a cellphone that supports being a tethered modem. The only downside that I can see to this solution is that on his fixed income, the $1,800 price tag may be a bit steep. Still, I'm willing to forfeit $1,800 of my inheritance for his technical betterment, as long as he lets me play with it....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

TV Utopia During the Writer's Strike?

Hardly any new shows on TV these days, right? Well, my two favorite shows happen to be strike-immune. The Wire is a few weeks into its final season and has kept true to form, and Lost starts this week, after its mind-bending finale from last season. So right now I am in heaven. Once these series run out of new episodes, I may have to join the picket line.

Plug in, Save The World

You know how even when your TV or PC is turned off, your components still give off little LED glows? That means that they are still drawing power. Power that you (and the earth) are paying for. Some poorly-engineered devices draw shocking (pun intended) amounts of energy.

A friend of mine told me about this green tech item. It's a power strip with a twist called the Smart Strip. It shuts down all power to selected items plugged into it when the main item is turned off. For example, it shuts down my speakers, external hard drives, printer, etc when my computer is off, but leaves on my DSL modem and wireless router for my wife to use. It works for me as advertised--I shut down my PC and all of my external peripherals (monitor, hard drives) power down. It costs the same as a typical power strip ($30-$40). The ones that I bought for my computer and TV will easily pay for themselves in a year. So what are you waiting for?

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Am I an Old Man?

Loved and hated No Country for Old Men. First 90 minutes had me on the edge of my seat. The Coen brothers demonstrated unequivocal prowess in creating suspense and compelling characters. Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin were mesmerizing, and didn't actually have any shared screen time. Then the last 30 minutes left me cold. I was bored, confused, and generally apathetic. I got it. Tommy Lee Jones became obsolete in the the age of drug crime. I didn't need that coda to tell me that. Was it me?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

E-cycle man!

I was looking for a way to recycle some of my old dust-gathering CE, and I came across a great website. is essentially a search engine by item (e.g., computer monitor) and location. It will give you a list of recycle centers near you who can process that item, and they even have a special section for recycling electronics. And I learned something new as well. Staples will recycle things that your city/town may not. They accept old office machines and computer equipment for recycling. Some types of items have a fee. I gladly paid $40 for Staples to take two old computers off my hands and do something good for the world.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Prediction Results

The nominations were announced. My predictions were close--

  • Best Picture: 4 for 5. I picked Into the Wild instead of Michael Clayton
  • Best Director: 2 for 5. Only PT Anderson and Coens
  • Best Actor: 2 for 5. Viggo and Daniel Day Lewis came through. Tommy Lee Jones? Really?
  • Best Actress: 4 for 5. I missed Cate Blanchett, thinking that all attention on her would be for her supporting actress performance in I'm Not There
  • Best Supporting Actor: 4 for 5. Missed Hal Holbrook, guessing JK Simmons in Juno
  • Best Supporting Actress: 4 for 5. Missed Saoirse Ronan in favor of Allison Janney, Juno.

My weaknesses:
  • I always stink at the Best Director category. In general I outguess myself, having trouble separating Best Picture from Best Director.
  • I guess that I gave too much love to Juno except in best director, where I should have.
  • I loved Michael Clayton on screen (one of my five favorites of 2007), but didn't think that the academy would. I missed that films nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.
Overall score 20/30, a barely passing 66.7%. Better luck next year!

Renfro and Ledger

Incredible and tragic the deaths of Brad Renfro and Heath Ledger. Freakish coincidence. Another level of strange for me--Before Brokeback Mountain, I constantly got them mixed up.

Oscars and Writer's Strike

They canceled the Golden Globes gala. It looks like the writer's strike might go on for a while yet. Unless something big happens, it will likely cancel the Oscars as well--people will not want to cross the picket line in limos. If the Oscars go on during the strike, I'm really interested to see how it would play out. Would the screenplay nominees even show up? What would the winners say in their speeches?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

T2.1: TV to Movie, Really Groovy...

Just watched the first couple of episodes of the new Fox series--Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Apart from some nice special effects and action sequences, it was borderline incoherent with vapid, shallow, and annoying (albeit attractive) characters. Still, it will probably do well due to the Terminator brand and lack of other content due to the writers' strike. Is it me, or do TV shows that are made into films have a chance at not sucking (Star Trek, Simpsons, South Park, The Fugitive), but movies turned into TV shows generally always stink? With the exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I can't think of one TV show that was a major improvement on its cinematic origin. Man, at least they won't turn Star Wars into a cheesy TV series. Oh crap.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There Will Be Gold

Holy smokes. Just saw There Will Be Blood and I was blown away. Daniel Day Lewis is the man. PT Anderson was probably like--OK Danny, just do your thing for 2.5 hours and we've got ourselves a movie! If there is any justice in the world, DDL is a lock for Best Actor Oscar. I predict Best Score, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and probably more. If you haven't seen it yet, run, do not walk to you local theater. It is worth seeing on a big screen with a super sound system too. Wow. Best movie I have seen in a loooong time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Macworld Predictions Come True

Some of my Macworld predictions came true. Apple announced a subcompact notebook (dubbed the MacBook Air) with an optional solid state drive. Also iTunes will begin offering HD movie rentals!!

Since I predicted like 8 things and two come true, that doesn't make me much of a genius. I didn't think that all of my predictions would come to pass, but I thought that I might have hit on more.

Here are all of the product announcements from the Macworld keynote.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Toshiba Cuts Prices on HD DVD Players

Desperate move, especially since I seem to recall that they were already losing money on every player. Too little too late?

Oscar Nomination Predictions

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. Here is who I predict will be nominated for the major categories.

Best Picture
  • No Country for Old Men
  • Atonement
  • Juno
  • Into the Wild
  • The Namesake (OK, just hoping here). More likely--There Will be Blood
Bet Director
  • Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
  • Joe Wright, Atonement
  • Sean Penn, Into the Wild
  • PT Anderson, There Will Be Blood
  • Ridley Scott, American Gangster
Best Actor
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
  • Sam Riley, Control
  • Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood
  • Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises
  • Christian Bale, Rescue Dawn

Best Actress
  • Angelina Jolie, A Mighty Heart
  • Ellen Page, Juno
  • Julie Christie, Away from Her
  • Laura Linney, The Savages
  • Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

Best Supporting Actor
  • Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
  • J.K. Simmons, Juno
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson's War
  • Casey Affleck, The Assassination of Jesse James...
  • Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton

Best Supporting Actress
  • Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
  • Allison Janney, Juno
  • Tilda Swinton, Michael Clayton
  • Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
  • Ruby Dee, American Gangster

Friday, January 11, 2008

Format War Ends, Blu-Ray is Victorious

It looks like other studios are going to follow Warner's lead and abandon HD DVD in favor of Blu-Ray. So feel free to buy your Blu-Ray players now (when I say free, I mean, $400). Hold back only if you think (like me) that downloadable HD content is going to kill them both. For the record, I'll probably be getting a Blu-Ray or a combo player in 2008 even though I think that's it is an intermediate technology because I'm just compulsive that way. I would own laserdiscs today if I had a job back when those things were on the market.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Next iPod Killer.... Literally

This just in from the Unnecessary Convergence Department. To me, this device is second only to this in its ridiculousness.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Macworld Predictions

Apple Will Announce at Macworld (January 14-18) at least two of the following, in the order of likelihood:
  • Higher capacity iPods (Touch, iPhone, most likely) ZZZZZZZZZ
  • Bigger Screen iMacs ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
  • More loosening of Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions on iTunes content
  • HD DVD/Blu-Ray Combination Drive option in new Mac Pros
  • iTunes Movie Rentals in HD
  • Subnotebook-sized PowerBook wih Apple's first solid state drive
  • New capability to run Windows apps natively in OS X
  • iPhone 2.0 with GPS and Bluetooth
I'm not so good at this prediction stuff, so don't go buying up stock based on this information.

Writer's Strike Got You Down? (Volume II)

Yesterday I suggested some TV shows to watch on DVD during the writer's strike. While I mentioned The Wire (which should still top your list), I neglected to recommend three other great HBO series:
By the way, I purposefully omitted some of my other favorite HBO shows (Sex and the City, Entourage, The Sopranos, and Curb Your Enthusiasm). Those shows already have a huge following and don't need a boost from me. Still, if you are one of the few that missed those, they are worth catching up on as well.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

See More Philip Hoffman, Judd Apatow

There are so many great performances and great work in 2007, I think that the Academy should add an annual achievement award (for this year only, at least). There are lots of contenders for it, but for me, the nominees would be:
  • Ridley Scott (American Gangster, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and the release of the Blade Runner Five-Disc Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD boxed set)
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Savages, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War)
  • Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story)
  • Josh Brolin (American Gangster, In the Valley of Elah, Grind House, and No Country for Old Men)
And, since I'm making up awards and nominees, I might as well choose the winner. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing--he has a legitimate shot at multiple acting nominations. Still, there's no contest--Judd Apatow not only had a hand in arguably the three best comedies of 2007, it is clear that his work is going to re-define how comedies are made, raising the bar for the whole genre.

LG/Netflix Plot Demise of the Red Envelope, Not HD yet

Read the NY Times article.

This mirrors iTunes/Apple TV's capability and Amazon's Unbox/TiVo partnership. It adds an extra layer of coolness over Amazon/TiVo and Apple in that we might theoretically see combination HD DVD/Blu-Ray players that support Netflix downloads as well. The first iteration of this capability will not be in HD, unfortunately. I predict pray that Apple will announce HD-quality downloads from iTunes at Macworld later this month.

Writer's Strike Got You Down? Don't Watch Reality TV...

The best way to survive the writers strike is not to watch reality TV (for shame, people!). No, the best way to make it through is to watch TV that's new to you. I won't bother recommending the obvious mainstream choices like The Sopranos, 24, Lost, etc. Here's my list of TV series worth watching that you may not have caught the first time around, in no particular order.

  • Twin Peaks (OK, so maybe this is obvious)

  • The amazing Baltimore crime/police dramas Homicide and The Wire

  • A couple of too-short-lived scifi series: Firefly from Joss Whedon and Dark Angel from James Cameron and with Jessica Alba

  • And in comedy, don't miss Police Squad, the precursor to the Naked Gun films

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Save Journeyman

Granted, I am a sucker for time-travel-themed TV and movies. Still, semi-objectively, I feel that Journeyman is one of the best new shows this season. Now it appears to be on the chopping block for 2008-2009. If you agree with me, join these folks in the effort to save the show. You can sign a petition and send the producers Rice-A-Roni through their site. Haven't watched it yet?

Incidentally, if you are a fan of journeyman or time travel in general, you will also want to check out the book, The Time Traveler's Wife, which clearly was an influence in the creation of this show.

Fresh Prince of Zion?

Was I the last person on earth to learn that Will Smith turned down the part of Neo in The Matrix? I guess that I should not have been surprised to learn this--he was probably offered every sci-fi/action leading male role in that era (The Matrix was released in 1999).

No surprise--I loved The Matrix. Though Smith rightly plays it humble and says that Keanu Reeves did a much better job than he could have, I can't help but think that The Matrix (and certainly its less impressive sequels) would have been just a touch better had Smith been involved. Keanu Reeves was clearly the weakest link in all three films. Thankfully, The Matrix was more story and action driven than character driven, or we wouldn't even be having this conversation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Down to the Wire

The best show on TV, The Wire starts its final season on HBO this weekend. I'm not sure how I feel about the focus on journalists this time, but I place my trust in the creator David Simon (who The Atlantic dubs "The Angriest Man on Television") and his team. I'll be canceling by HBO subscription once the series concludes. Now that The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm are wrapped, there's no need. I can wait for Entourage on DVD.