Thursday, September 28

Weird Al does it again

I know I'm a week and a half late with this thing, and it's already been all over the Internet, but I just wanted to post it here because it's awesome...

Tuesday, September 26

Getting Things Done: A hipster PDA is my vade mecum

OK, I found out about this phrase a couple of weeks ago and I'm sick of trying to figure out how to slip it into a conversation or blog post. It's a terrific term; the Latin-derived vade mecum (and, look! I even put it in italics like a real publisher would do with a foreign phrase).

This just encapsulates such a great concept. You know that guy who always has a particular thing with him, no matter what? When I was in college, I had a pen on my person at all times. People would never ask if I had a pen, they just asked to borrow it... it was my vade mecum.

In fact, I still carry a pen around. (The Pilot G2 .5mm is writing like a charm, by the way. In fact, the ink cartridge on mine busted just yesterday, and I had to run out to Target on my lunch break just so I could buy another pack. I'm really attached to the little buggers.)

But my newest vade mecum is my Hipster PDA: the small stack of index cards I keep with me to track all my personal reminders. Well, it's not particularly new, but it's certainly the most useful thing I carry around these days. Hats off to one Mr. Merlin Mann for introducing the concept to the blogosphere at large.

So isn't it great that there's a term for that? By the way, vade mecum does not encompass just anything that somebody constantly has in their possession. For instance, I had a particular hat I wore from my junior year of high school through my sophomore year of college almost every day... but that wasn't a vade mecum. To fall under that conceptual umbrella, an always-available object must be something useful or something its bearer uses as a reference.

Like my pen and my stack of context-sensitive index-card action lists.

from's Word of the Day Archive:
vade mecum \vay-dee-MEE-kuhm; vah-dee-MAY-\, noun:
1. A book for ready reference; a manual; a handbook.
2. A useful thing that one regularly carries about.

TV Shows Available Online

Well, in my last post, I mentioned that ABC had not jumped on the bandwagon of offering full episodes for free on the Internet via a streaming player. Well, it seems that they have gotten off their duff and finally done so, and now all of the Big Four have epiodes available online.

It seems that only the most recent episode of each show will be on their respective websites, so you will have only a week to check out an episode before it's supplanted by the next one. In most cases, the shows can be seen only in a small box on a Web page... however, CBS has a full-screen button on their player and ABC has a larger box for those with higher bandwidth.

Here is the Internet television lineup:

ABC - Full Episode Player

  • Desperate Housewives

  • Grey's Anatomy

  • The Knights of Prosperity

  • Lost

  • The Nine

  • Six Degrees

  • Ugly Betty

CBS - Innertube
  • The Class

  • CSI

  • CSI: Miami

  • CSI: NY

  • How I Met Your Mother

  • Jericho

  • NCIS

  • The New Adventures of Old Christine

  • Numb3rs

  • Shark

  • Smith

  • Survivor

  • The Unit

NBC - Rewind
  • The Biggest Loser

  • Heroes

  • Friday Night Lights

  • Kidnapped

  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

FOX - Fox On Demand (via MySpace, Windows only)
  • Bones

  • Justice

  • The Loop

  • Prison Break

  • Standoff

  • Talkshow (with Spike Feresten)

  • Til Death

  • Vanished

Friday, September 22

Seattle Grace Hospital kicks the detectives' tails

So, Grey's Anatomy (far and away the best returning show on television) soundly beat the flagship CSI series in Thursday night's ratings. It was 25.4 million to 22.6 million if you're keeping score...

In fact the only other show I really care to watch this season are How I Met Your Mother (8:30 Monday on CBS). I'm also trying out Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (10:00 Monday on NBC) and Smith (10:00 Tuesday on CBS). I liked the Studio 60 and Smith premieres enough to give them another go, but I'm holding the "no thank you" card in reserve. They both run a little later in the evening than I really care to stay up on weeknights.

The best part about this season of television, though, is the number of shows available on the Internet. Full episodes of many primetime shows, as well as a number of clips and featurettes, are available for free streaming:
CBS - Innertube
NBC - 24|7 Video
FOX - Streaming
CW - Video Hub

The CW has no full episodes available, but there are some clips for fans to enjoy. I'm not particularly enamored with any of their shows, so it's no big loss for me. Conspicuously absent is ABC, which was the first station to try out streaming last season. It seems they're relying on iTunes for their online distribution, with the $2-per-episode charge instead of free access with ads. At least they finally added Grey's Anatomy to their download offerings, and the show features prominently on the iTunes TV Shows main page.

All in all, it looks like television and the Internet are starting to get along, and the concessions network moguls have made will force fewer people to be pirates just to keep abreast of shows they like.

'Grey's Anatomy' beats 'CSI' in ratings - Associated Press

Thursday, September 21

Composer to Stage Mass Cell-Phone Ring

In a move reminiscent of John Cage's 4'33", jazz composer and professor David Baker plans to invite the audience to activate their cell phones en masse during a performance next month.

"Concertino for Cellular Phones and Orchestra will open the 20th anniversary season of the Chicago Sinfonietta classical music festival," reports Reuters (article linked below).

An interesting idea that I would love to experience... but does it deserve to be programmed in a concert of art music?

Cell phone concerto may be music to your ears� |

Wednesday, September 20 - Do movie downloads click?

Mike Snider of USA TODAY has compiled a chart (seen here) comparing the movie download services offered by Amazon and by Apple. It's a pretty good chart (a factual error I noticed yesterday has already been corrected), but their conclusion is no surprise. "For most users, movie downloads are not ready for prime time," Snider says. "Eventually, digitally distributed home video might supplant packaged media. But for now, the hassles far outweigh the rewards."

Gee, isn't that what I said?

Saturday, September 16

Free TV Downloads Foreshadow iTunes Movie Experience

Apple is freely offering iTunes Store downloads of last season's finale episodes for three series-- Grey's Anatomy, Lost, and Desperate Housewives-- in a promotional deal they're calling the "Million Hit Lowdown." Apparently they're offering one million of the free downloads well as half-hour "catchup" specials from Entertainment Weekly to describe premise and characters for the uninitiated. Here's the iTunes Store link if you would like to go and check it out for yourself. (Did you notice that all three shows available in this promotion are products of Disney/ABC?)

I was intrigued when I found out about this while browsing the Store on Thursday night. Grey's Anatomy was on the television at the time; right when I started to tell my wife about what I'd found, there was an ad for the free downloads on the TV-- a very weird coincidence.

In any case, I downloaded the special and finale for Grey's. As I've seen every episode to this point I'm hardly one of the "uninitiated viewers" who are undoubtedly the target of the EW special, but I was more interested in the process of downloading and viewing the videos than I was in the actual content of the shows.

Though the recap episode was undoubtedly broadcast as a half-hour spot on some network or other, the removal of commercials in the download made it only 22 minutes in length and 219 megabytes in disk space. The finale, which was a double episode spanning two hours of ABC's schedule this past May, weighed in at a hefty 85 minutes and 955 megabytes.

I'm not quite sure how long the downloads actually took to complete, since I clicked the "get episode" button on both shortly before going to bed. The next morning, however, I awoke to see both shows fully downloaded and present in my iTunes library. After spending the day in the office, I came home last night to try out the videos with my wife.

The short special was good-quality on our 19" CRT (this is the one with an antenna that we use for TV shows; our 27" CRT is only hooked up to a DVD/VHS player). It looked like any other programming we watch on that set; better, actually, because the video was piped in directly via RCA cables and not tuning into an over-the-airwaves broadcast signal. I used the S-Video-to-RCA adaptor that was included with my PowerBook to get the video onto the set. The first half of the long-form episode was good as well, but in the second half there were some tiny video skips in places. The audio played just fine, though.

It was obvious that the second half (which was technically "another episode" though they were originally broadcast back-to-back) was edited differently; the places where ABC had inserted commercials had five or six seconds of black, while the first half had had the scenes fade right into each other. Whatever differences there were in the editing process may have caused the viewing artifacts, but their very presence was a bit annoying.

In an attempt to figure out the problem, I tried again this morning with the PowerBook hooked up (again via the S-Video adaptor and RCA cables) to our 27" television set. I watched the entire finale again, this time careful to make sure that iTunes was the only application running. I doubt that my menubar email notifier was the problem, but this time there were no video stutters. Another problem surfaced in this attempt, though: black areas of the screen were a bit fuzzy. Areas of color looked fine, and textured blacks like hair and clothing showed up all right, but flat blacks like shadows of people, an on-screen plastic telephone, and the digital black fades between scenes stood out with some degree of pixellated gray blotches. These even showed up when viewing on my PowerBook's LCD screen.

I'm sure the upgraded video resolution in the iTunes Store that is new since Tuesday makes these images better than they would have been before, but it's still not quite the quality I would want for my personal video collection. If I want to be able to have television programs or movies available for multiple viewings, I'll stick to DVDs displayed via my set-top player. The only reason I would ever purchase a video from iTunes would be to see a television episode for which I had missed the original broadcast. The quality is good enough for something like that, but I wouldn't spend money on full seasons of shows that can be seen in better quality (and with extra features) on plastic discs from Amazon or Target.

All in all, I'm glad that Apple gave us this opportunity to freely try out the new video quality offered by iTunes. It kept me from wasting $10 to find this out with a low-quality copy of The Sixth Sense or O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

NOTE: I'm not saying that my experience couldn't have been better with a higher-quality television or more efficient cabling. But I don't have the money for a plasma TV with DVI inputs. Something tells me, though, that a high-definition setup couldn't have done a whole lot to improve the VGA-resolution image that was being output from the computer.

Wednesday, September 13

Do I know Steve Jobs, or what?

An excerpt from an IM log from Monday night (speaking of my predictions for Tuesday's "It's Showtime" Apple announcement):

(10:54 PM)
me: I'm thinking larger-capacity nanos and a WiFi computer-to-TV conduit
  like an Airport Express - Video
Jeremy: mmm
  I could live with that
me: and, of course, the iTunes Movie Store
  but that one's almost a given at this point
Jeremy: mmmmm
  one can only hope
  and drool
  what do you think, $5?
me: I sure hope so
  but it'll probably be $9.99

I totally called it (except for iPod Games and the new iPod Pequeño). But who wants to play Tetris with a click-wheel, anyway?

I love the design of the new nano... even though it does sport a kind of retro iPod-mini-resurrected look. I guess styling the mid-size device after the full-size line one didn't work as well as they thought it would, so they're back to aluminum and multiple colors. The new larger-capacity nano (8GB) is the only black one available, though... Apple's "black tax," i.e. charging more to get the same device in black, lives on.

The movie store looks interesting. I'll probably try it out, but just one at first. I'll hold out for the wireless computer-to-TV device to go live next year before passing judgment on the new Movie Store (which, by the way, carries library titles for $9.99). New releases are priced at $12.99 for preorders and the first week of availability, then they become $14.99. No hint at how long it will take "new releases" to get shunted off into the "library" category. It's cool, though, that new films will be available on the iTunes Movie Store at the same time as they are released on DVD.

The new itty-bitty iPod shuffle is interesting, but I'm not fond of an MP3 player with no screen whatsoever. Even if it is small enough to look like a disembodied control interface.

Finally, the performance by John Legend that concluded the event (which I watched later in streaming QuickTime video) was pretty good. He's a decent piano player, but the songs were much too repetitive for me to really enjoy them.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, the new iTunes 7. Smooth new interface, but it still can't show me most of my video podcasts in full-screen and I have no idea why. I'll use iTunes for audio shows so I can sync them to my 1G iPod nano, but I'll stick with the Democracy player for video.

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The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.