Home Theatre 0.1

Okay, so it doesn’t qualify as a real home-theatre setup, but I’m finally getting around to upgrading the media playback in the living room. Because I wanted to keep the TV hidden in an existing cabinet, I’m limited to a 32-inch screen. Not so easy to find in a world where anything less than 42 inches isn’t even on display at some stores. I opted for the largest high-rated 1080p set I could find and that would fit in the furniture, a Sony 32XBR6. Blu-Ray discs (eg, Discovery Channel’s ‘Planet Earth’) look great when played back via my son’s PS3. But what really shocked me was how good standard DVDs look when upscaled. Sweet.

Next was a trip to Comcast to pickup an HD-DVR. I already have three TiVos (one dual-channel HD on an older 32″ 1080i), but given that I won’t be watching all that much over-the cable content on the new setup, I didn’t want to pay the price of another HD TiVo. From just an hour or so of playing around, I’d say that the picture quality of the Comcast box is as good as the TiVo, but the on-screen UI and (in particular) the remote control are truly the worst I’ve ever seen.

Warren’s PS3 leaves when he goes back to Long Beach this weekend, so I ordered a Sony BDP-350 Blu-Ray player. Should be good enough. And to replace my 20-year-old stereo, I stayed in the Sony family and bought a STR-DG920 receiver. Since the DG920 can decode almost any 5.1, 6.1 and 7.1 audio format, I could go with a Blu-Ray player with limited decoding options. At least I think that’s right. We’ll see. Finally, to get to real 5.1 audio I ordered a Sony SA-W2500 subwoofer and SS-CN5000 center speaker to add to the front and rear pairs I’ve already got.

It’s definitely an entry-level system, but it’s a huge step compared to a week ago. Oh, and I upgraded my Netflix account to HD for another $1 per month. About one-third of the titles in my queue are available in HD, and I moved most of those closer to the top. If I’m not online, you’ll find me in the living room.

Problems at Podango

Late Saturday night I (and many others) received an email message from Podango stating “Our ability
to continue operations past the end of this year (2008) is in question” and suggesting that customers get their files off of the Podango servers ASAP. Last year a company that I co-founded with Michael Geoghegan (GigaVox Media) sold a system we called GigaVox Audio Lite to Podango, who renamed it Show Builder Lite. The sale included all of the servers, software, users — it was a free service — and their data to Podango. It was a complete and exclusive transfer of these assets, and Michael and I have therefore had no involvement in the operation of Show Builder Lite since that time.

Some people have asked the question, “Can’t GigaVox run the service again?” That’s highly unlikely. First, the service belongs to Podango at this time. Second, after a reshuffling of companies, I am no longer associated with GigaVox. I’m committed full-time to running The Conversations Network. That doesn’t mean that someone else couldn’t acquire Show Builder Lite from Podango, but that’s what would have to happen.

SpokenWord.org Alpha 0.6

Alpha 0.6 of SpokenWord.org now seems fairly stable. The biggest change since 0.5 is the deployment of Categories as I blogged about a few weeks ago. I decided to copy the iTunes taxonomy after all for a few reasons.

  1. Although the sub-categorization is poor, the top-level categories are reasonable.
  2. All taxonomies are flawed.
  3. You can spend the rest of your life trying to tweak a taxonomy.
  4. No matter what you do, a lot of people won’t like your sense of organization.
  5. I can pass the blame onto Apple.
  6. Since most programs are submitted to SpokenWord.org via RSS and with <itunes:category> elements, we get automatic categorization of the majority of programs.
  7. When we generate RSS output, there’s a decent chance we can automatically include an <itunes:category> element that iTunes will accept.

TSA Using X-Ray to Find Stuff Worth Stealing?

My Sony Reader was stolen from my checked luggage on a UAL flight from SFO to OGG two weeks ago. From talking to a few frequent travelers, it appears as though such thefts have reached epidemic levels. In this case I’m particularly suspicious of TSA rather than United Airlines simply because the Sony Reader is fairly thin and I thought it was pretty well hidden between layers of clothes. IOW, the use of an X-Ray machine would have helped the Bad Guys know it was in there. Instead of protecting us, are TSA employees using federally funded X-Ray machines to help them find valuable electronic gear for them to steal? Traveling with more and more electronic gear (laptop, camera, e=book reader, iPod, etc.), it’s no longer easy to fit it all into carry-on luggage.

Update: From the TSA web site:

TSA Week at a Glance (December 8, 2008 – December 14, 2008)

  • 11 passengers were arrested due to suspicious behavior or fraudulent travel documents
  • 19 firearms found at checkpoints
  • 7 artfully concealed prohibited items found at checkpoints
  • 13 incidents that involved a checkpoint closure, terminal evacuation or sterile area breach

Why do I get the feeling that TSA is aiding and abetting more crime than they’re preventing?

NY Times Electronic Options

As long-time readers of my blog know, I’ve played with many different ways to read the New York Times electronically. There may be even more choices, but here are the ones I’ve used:

  • iPhone app
  • Amazon Kindle
  • RSS (using Google Reader in my case)
  • Electronic Edition (using iBrowse)
  • Times Reader

A year ago I bought a Kindle, and thought that was a pretty good solution. The only problems were (a) browsing the paper was a bit slow, and (b) I couldn’t see those great (often color) NY Times graphs and charts. I really missed them. I ended up selling the Kindle for $200 more than I paid because the physical device drove me nuts. I’m hoping the 2.0 Kindle is better in terms of buttons along the right-hand edge, etc., because I really like the Kindle concept.

When the 2.0 iPhone came out, I canceled my print subscription and  read the entire paper on the iPhone for a few months. The app has always been buggy for me. It crashes literally every few minutes. But again the concept was good. Remarkably easy to read full-length articles on such a small device. Missed those graphics, though, so I broke down and re-instated my print subscription.

Throughout all of this I subscribed (and still subscribe) to the NYTimes Technology RSS feed simply because that gets me stories a bit more quickly than by other means. But I don’t read other sections in that manner. Great for headlines but not as satisfying for reading the entire paper.

Now I’m away from home for two weeks and my print subscription is on vacation hold. Print subscribers have two more options. First I tried the Electronic Edition. The one cool thing it ofers is the ability to see entire pages in much higher quality than on newsprint. It’s a bit shocking to see the type, graphcs, photos and ads (wow, the gorgeous ads!) in high-res format. But the Electronic Edition is literally an electronic version of the hardcopy paper in page-layout format. So if you start an article on page 1 and it’s continues on page 8, you have to break up your reading just as you do with a hardcopy paper. Seems so “non-electronic” in that sense.

But I’ve now settled on the Times Reader, paticuarly since they released a Mac version earlier this year. Its’s truly electronic in that it’s organized article-by-article rather than page-by-page. And the articles are large and very easy to read. Nice and crisp on a laptop display, and perfectly formatted for that size screen. Most of the grahics are within the screens, although some are a click away. It’s a very responsive app, with pre-caching apparently running in the background. And perhaps best of all, it will download an entire edition that you can read it entirely off-line. Seven-day archive, too.

So as of now, I’m reading The New York Times using the Mac version of the Times Reader, and I’m generally quite happy with the solution.

What about you? What have been your experience with these and other electronic alternatives to the hardcopy Times?

Website Editors Wanted

Here at The Conversations Network we used to recruit website editors and audio engineers on an ongoing basis, but we’ve had such a terrific team for so long, that I can’t even recall the last time I had to put out the word for new volunteers. Now, with a bit of attrition in the ranks of both our website editors and series producers and a new channel on the way, it’s time to add to the team once again.

If you’d like to help us write descriptions for our programs, track down and crop photos and sync the occasional slideshow, here’s your chance. Ours is an all-volunteer organization although we do pay wine money (a little more than beer money) thanks to donations from our paid members. It’s not enough for you to quit your day job, but you’ll get a whopping US$15 for each description you write – US$25 if you also sync a presentation’s slides to the audio.

You’ll find details on TeamITC (as we call it for historical reasons) and our Apprenticeship Program on The Conversations Network web site.

Bad RSS

From the TMI category for most of you, but of interest to at least two readers…

We’re getting some bogus RSS feeds, some from otherwise respectable media sources. One class of problems has to do with GUIDs (Globally Unique IDs). In particular, we’re seeing a single GUID being used for different programs, which violates the whole idea of a GUID. We thought we could depend on GUIDs as the sole mechanism of identifying a program, but when a site re-uses its GUIDs, the effect is that the programs appear to change more than once every time the feed is scanned, which drives our updating logic crazy. Here’s what I think we’re going to do:

  • If any <guid> appears more than once in the current <item>s of a feed, we’ll never depend on GUIDs for that feed again.
  • If we’ve never seen such a duplicate GUID, we’ll use each <item>s GUID as it’s supposed to be used: to uniquely identify the program.
  • If we’ve ever found a duplicate GUID for a feed, we’ll look at the <title> elements and the <enclosure url= attributes.
  • If either the title OR the url for an item match one that’s in the database for this feed, we’ll assume the scanned item is just a modified version of the program previously found. The reason is that we tend to occasionally see a site change the title or the media filename of a program, but rarely both at once. (If they do change both at once AND they’ve ever used dupe GUIDs, there’s not really much we can do. We have to assume it is indeed a new program.)
  • IOW, if the GUIDs have been bogus and neither an item’s title NOR media URL can be found in the database, we’ll assume it’s a new program.