Friday, October 26

Comcasts' leaked talking points memo

I had to repost this. It's just amazing. Lying to your customers is step one for Comcast. I think this pretty much makes the case for the need for net neutrality laws.

Re: Leaks: Comcast's "We Don't Throttle BitTorrent" Internal Talking Points Memo
You may get customers who are contacting us with regard to several articles which were published recently, accusing Comcast of blocking or otherwise filtering customers' Internet traffic. An in-depth AP story suggests Comcast is hindering our customers' ability to use BitTorrent, a peer to peer file sharing program. If a customer contacts us to inquire about this, please use the following talking points.

Comcast does not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent

We respect our customers' privacy and we don't monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior, such as which websites they visit. Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site...

We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good experience online and we use the latest technologies to manage our network. This is standard practice for ISPs and network operators all over the world.

We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network both for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.

If a customer asks:
I read that Comcast is limiting customer access to BitTorrent. Is this true?

No. We do not block access to any applications, including BitTorrent. We also respect our customers' privacy and don't monitor specific customer activities on the Internet or track individual online behavior, such as which websites they visit. Therefore, we do not know whether any individual user is visiting BitTorrent or any other site.

We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good experience online and we use the latest technologies to manage our network. This is standard practice for ISPs and network operators all over the world.

Are you working with Sandvine as these reports claim?

We rarely disclose our vendors or our processes for operating our network both for competitive reasons and to protect against network abuse.

Please do not deviate from the responses above. If you have any questions about this issue, please reach out to Brian Becker, Gene Bridges or myself.

Michael S. Groman
Manager / IP Support
MD-DE-RCH Region

IP, it's not intellectual property, it's Intellectual PRIVILEGE.

Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights are not physical goods. They don't behave like physical goods. They cannot be stolen like physical goods. They are not rights. They are economic incentives. It's time we start calling them what they really are. IP is "intellectual privilege".

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 24

The Best of Lonely Tree: Fog, Tree, Road

I'm honored to have one of my photos chosen as The Best of Lonely Tree :)


Keychain GPS

GPS technology is getting there. And by there I mean the proverbial cheap and simple.

I've been telling people for a while I'm waiting for a GPS unit that costs $50 or less, has an on/off button, can record for 24+ hours, has a USB port and fits on a keychain. No screen, no maps, just a button an on/off button and a USB. Bonus points if it can run on a standard AAA or AA battery you can pick up anywhere.

Why? I don't need to know where I'm at. I don't need some complex device that I need to keep charged constantly.

What I need is something I can throw in my pocket or keep on my kechain that can passively record my bike rides and other various activity for fun things like route sharing, mapping, analyzing the proverbial fitness data like speed, distance, vertical footage and other data easily deriveable from GPS data, and finally syncing the GPS location/time data with other data such as photographs and videos for geo-tagging and mapping happiness.

So where are we at on this little dream?

Well, the Freedom Keychain GPS still retails for anywhere from $80 to $100 so it's a bit over my $50 price point but it's extremely overshot all my other expectations. It can run for 10 hours without a charge and it turns out there's no need for USB output. It has Bluetooth. All the better. With Bluetooth it can theoretically add GPS support for any bluetooth compatible device from your smart phone to your laptop.

There's only three questions that aren't clear.

1) I don't see anything about passive date/time recording. Can it actually record time/location in a standard format like GPX?

2) What kind of software is available for my Mac?

3) Apple has announced they're opening the iPhone up to developers in February. Soo... when am I going to be able to get software for my iphone that lets me tap into this GPS data in realtime and mash it up with things like google maps?

I've got to say. Other then the fact that it doesn't seem to passively record time and location (at least in so far as I can read) it seems like it's already well exceeded my expectations.

I'd also like to point out pretty much every new cell phone has GPS built in. The only reason we don't have more GPS aware apps that mashup google and gps data over wireless data is because cellular providers are morons. Not just any kind of morons, but evil morons.

Tuesday, October 23

3 major things that annoy me about Apple Quicktime on the web

It has became abundantly clear that Apple Quicktime has some major failings for video playback on the web. There are many issues but right now I just want to focus on three extremely obvious things Apple is doing wrong which is pushing video makers, video watchers and video hosting sites away from quicktime.

1) lack of fullscreen playback in web browsers

2) lack of support for linux

3) conflicting keyboard shortcuts make playing quicktime videos in Firefox and safari painful.

Quicktime has no fullscreen playback in the browser

I could name off the top of my head over two dozen video hosting websites from to Youtube to that have fullscreen playback as a stock feature of their video players. Nearly every single video hosting company today uses Flash as their default playback mechanism and nearly every one has a button right in the default player that allows for the immediate playback of their videos in full screen.

Counterpoint this to Apple Quicktime. Apple just recently stopped requiring users to pay $30 to buy a Quicktime Pro license to be able to play videos in fullscreen mode among other things. Having to pay to play videos fullscreen has always been a thorn in the side of quicktime authors and their fans and thank you apple for finally allowing fans to view videos in any manner they choose... but... Apple has not included in either the menu or as button in the web browser player a fullscreen playback option.

In an age where everyone and their mother has fullscreen playback as a default feature of their video Apple has fallen way behind.

No quicktime support for linux

I've been dabbling in linux for years. For the last year or so I've been using the very nice linux distribution Ubuntu on my primary desktop computer. My one major failing with the Ubuntu platform is there's no browser plugin for playing back all the quicktime formats in the browser.

Quicktime is available for Windows so why hasn't Apple released a version of Quicktime for linux or at least worked with open source developers to create a plugin that will play back Quicktime videos in web browsers on linux. Clearly linux and particularly Ubuntu are a large part of the future of desktop computing.

Macromedia Flash does have an available plugins for linux, which is yet another reason why it's so popular with video sharing sites. So why not apple?

Apple Quicktime has conflicting keyboard shortcuts in Firefox and Safari

I recently upgraded to Firefox (a very nice release) that makes the browser much more "mac-like" in both appearance and usability. There is however one thing that they carried over from Safari that's just plain wrong.

Firefox now uses the key commands "command-option-left arrow / right arrow" to switch between tabs. They copied this shortcut combination from Safari.

The problem is in their infinite wisdom the Safari team had used the same key commands to switch tabs as to play quicktime movies forward and in reverse. Therefore if you have have any Quicktime video in a web page and you flip through your tabs left or right it will automatically start the video playing in forward or reverse.

Add more tabs with more videos and what you have is a major mess with multiple videos playing, your speakers squawking gibberish, and very quickly these videos start stuttering and skipping as your hard drive and your processor get over taxed and up comes the "multi-color spinning pizza of death" (or "the spinning beach ball of death" as some prefer to call it) mouse cursor as your system becomes somewhat unresponsive making it increasingly hard for you to undo what you've just started in .5 seconds by skipping between a few tabs using command-option-left / right.

That my friends is piss poor experience and usability do to one of the most obvious errors in usability. First do know harm. Or better the number one rule of implementing quick keys: First make sure no other commands use the same key combination.

We're talking pretty basic and obvious stuff here.

I find it both funny and extremely bad that Apple, who's focus on usability is legendary, has completely missed this point with perhaps the most used application on the mac OS, Safari. I find it even more humorous that Firefox has replicated the issue by bringing the same keyboard shortcuts conflict to the Firefox browser. No doubt many people are running into this usability bug on a daily basis in some shape or form.

The only workaround I know at present is to use control-tab and control-shift-tab in firefox to switch tabs. This works on mac, not sure about windows or linux. No idea on a work around in safari. You also cannot change these keyboard shortcuts in safari, firefox or quicktime with the Mac OS system wide "Keyboard Shortcuts" control panel because none of them can be selected via the menu so they're not scriptable. I've also checked the "about:config" settings in Firefox, and done some initial digging around in the system and library folders on the Mac OS. Still there appears to be no way to change these settings. If you know of any please leave a comment. :(

In summary

In summary it has become increasingly clear that Apple Quicktime supported formats such as MP4 have huge advantages when it comes to video syndication and distribution. They scale well to high definition, they're downloadable and portable unlike many Flash videos and they're playable on a wide range of devices from iPod's to Tivo to the Zune and Sony PSP. However, when it comes to web based playback of video Flash is kicking Apple and everyone else's butt (including Windows Media and Real Media).

Flash has become so popular for web based playback because it has such highly customizable playback interface and streams so well. In many ways flash is fulfilling much of the promise of what many used to call "interactive television" or "interactive media".

Instead of being able to click on the skirt of model as she walks down the runway to get more info on the item or purchase it... Instead of "choose your own adventure" in video interactivity has been primarily obsessed with a few key features such as the ability to share a video via a wide range of options and the ability to click through and view a whole host of alternative videos, content, links and meta information that goes with the video (and don't forget commenting). While these forms of interactivity are nothing like the slick ideas we were so focused on in the past they are in many ways far more powerful, robust, interactive and meaningful then anything we'd previously imagine. As I'm fond of saying: The future is nothing like we thought it would be and yet so much better.

Where as purchasing a skirt worn by a model on a runway is one of those silly ideas of the past. The present reality of interactivity is thousands of people seeing a video on a website like youtube, sharing the url with their 14 million friends via IM email and other means, favoriting it, downloading it, remixing it, posting it to their own blogs and thereby potentially effecting great change in the "hearts and minds" of a nation. The later example may not be as slick and shiny an idea of interactivity as the first but in is in it's simplicity of technology and the sophistication and ubiquitous social nature far far more power.

As the market evolves instead of these online viewing and offline viewing paradigms converging they seem to be at least for the moment diverging. While the the iTunes Podcasting Directory and podcasting with it seems to go one direction web-services like youtube seem to be going another. Both are equally as important though.

Meanwhile the core user group, video bloggers / video podcasters and the web-services that best represent their interests like and are increasingly offering MediaRSS feeds that contain many different enclosure formats for playback in various situations including Flash for playback on the web, low res Quicktime for playback on the iPod and various hand held devices, and the latest greatest buzz high definition MP4 or h264 encoded videos for playback on HD television and/ or with video aggregators like Miro.

The point is video will get more ubiquitous. Platforms will become more varied. They will become simultaneously higher definition and lower resolution. They will also simultaneously become longer in form and shorter. More personal and more aimed at entertaining or informing a general audience. Simultaneously more interactive and more passive.

The cell phone and ubiquitously connected wifi handhelds like the iPhone are one of the next hot platforms. And more and more videoblogs are also finding their way onto high definition TV screens in the living room via media centers and set top boxes like the Tivo and AppleTV. And of course with great new linux distro's like Ubuntu 7.10, aka. Gutsy Gibbon, increasingly a larger share of the general public is going to be using operating systems other than Apple and Microsoft. Let's not forget all the proprietary operating systems in handheld devices and set top boxes either. While web playback is the key the video space is increasingly becoming about far more than just the two primary operating systems Apple and Microsoft.

This is not be a winner take all game. In fact there's room for many different codecs and many different formats, sizes and resolutions. The web browser as in so many markets is the key platform. However as this market evolves whomever pays the most attention to and puts the most resources into bringing video these evolving markets like linux, cell phones and set top boxes is going to obviously take a key position in this market.

Right now Flash has very quickly (really since the advent of youtube only a couple years ago) taken the upper hand with web based playback. Apple has a very strong position with portable devices with the iPod and AppleTV (bringing media to the pocket and the living room). Apple would also seem to have a lead in the cellular market with the iPhone, but Flash has very bright prospects there as well with it's ability to be customized for streaming and playback over 3g and wifi. We'll see how it all plays out.

Thursday, October 18

Will Apple Open the iPhone?

From: Will Apple Open the iPhone?

It's rumored that some major players already have been given the iPhone development kit. The list is said to include gaming software maker Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Google (GOOG), which has already built versions of Google Maps and its YouTube video site for the iPhone. Electronic Arts declined to comment, while a source at Google indicated that the search company hasn't been give early access to the iPhone kit.

Meanwhile, companies that specialize in software for wireless phones are jockeying for Apple's attention. "We've been working with the Web interface for some time but would love to embed our technology on the iPhone itself," says Brian Bogosian, CEO of Visto, a privately held software outfit that specializes in e-mail software for mobile phones. Similarly, a startup named iSkoot, which offers an application for making Skype (EBAY) phone calls on mobile devices, says it's eager to adapt its software for the iPhone platform.

All I want for Christmas is a new iPhone which works with my choice of VOIP carriers so I can make free calls anywhere there's wifi. I figure that adds an immediate $150-$250 to the price as skype phones start at $150. But it's way more than that in long term benifits. The convienience of VOIP on the iPhone will make it even more compelling still over the long term. And this is just ONE application that can be brought to the iphone overnight. Once apple opens the doors to the long tail of innovation the network effect takes over. The true value of the iphone will skyrocket blowing the value curve/ value proposition for all other cellular companies. They will eventually have to stop playing favorites with controling services and features on phones on their networks with bullshit service charges like text messaging, and streaming video feautres and accept that allowing others to create and market these feautres which will run on these phones will cause the value of their cellular networks and the utlizization of their cellular networks to skyrocket, just like web services created value for internet service providers to sell broadband.

The problem is *sshat cellular companies still think we're in a cable tv paradigm where they can block millions of innovative services and instead opt to sell you one or two like text messaging at ridiculously inflated prices. That paradigm is dead or dying. User perceptions in the market are changing rapidly. Customers will no longer be willing to pay greatly inflated prices for a very limited selection of services. They will come to expect on cell phones as they have on the web best of breed apps regardless of who the cellular carrier intends to favor. The iPhone is perhaps the greatest symbol of that change. If cellular carriers don't respond to this shift in paradigm from service provider to common carrier access provider innovation will route right around them, just like VOIP on WiFi.