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Static in the Video Age

Xmas means many things, and one of the things it means is that we watch It’s a Wonderful Life, and for years it meant we put in the old VHS tape that the wife has and let it roll. Last year I ended up getting a VCR out of the closet on Christmas Day and connecting it to the old HDTV and watching it in all its glory.

This year I got as far as getting out the VCR, and before finding all the right cables, I figure I’d check if there was another option.

Netflix

The first thing I did was turn on the Wii and checked Netflix. It’s a Wonderful Life is not available for streaming, so that was a dead end.

I should also note that as much as I’m a technology nerd, I’m not a digital video consumption nerd. In the last few months I’ve watched about 200 episodes of Star Trek on my MacBook (usually while working in the office) but we don’t have a Blu-ray player or an Apple TV, and I’m the furthest thing from a home theater snob. I’d rather buy a DVD I can rip than rent videos online with limited usage and silly restrictions. I’m not a pirate, but I like to choose how I can use the media I buy. (All the music I ever bought from the iTunes store had the DRM stripped from it before I added it to my library.)

iTunes

Netflix would have been the easy option, since I’ve already got a streaming account, but since it wasn’t available, I moved on to iTunes. It’s a Wonderful Life is available on iTunes, but the last time I checked on iTunes video rental, there were all sorts of crazy restrictions I didn’t want to deal with, so I never seriously looked at it.

I probably would have paid $2.99 to rent it so we could watch it immediately, but the options seemed to be $17.99 to buy the “HD” version, or $9.99 to buy the “non-HD” version. (It wasn’t filmed in HD, so HD, bah, whatever.) I thought about the lock-in to the Apple/iTunes ecosystem and figured it might be worth checking if Amazon had a better option…

Amazon

Well, I don’t know if the Amazon option was better, but the film was available for $9.99, the same price as the “non-HD” version on iTunes. At this point I didn’t feel like doing a comparative analysis of the various online video rental systems and just went with Amazon, assuming it would be more open than Apple. There was a link or two about downloading, so I figured that was a good thing, and with one click, I bought it.

I ended up streaming it so we could just watch is ASAP, and we did, and the quality was good (well, better than an old VHS tape anyway!) and it all just worked.

After the movie I wanted to check on the downloadability, and discovered that Amazon has a player that is only available on Windows. Bloody Hell, what is this, 1999?

They also have a list of 350+ Amazon Instant Video Compatible Devices… none of which I own. The Roku player is on the list, and I considered getting one a few years ago, but after Netflix became available for the Wii, I forgot about it. I tend to use the Wii or my MacBook for most of the video streaming we do, so I never thought I needed a dedicated device.

So now I’ve got a video I own through Amazon, that I can’t download, but can stream. I’ve probably been an Amazon customer for 15 years, so I guess I should trust them, but It’s a Wonderful Life is over 60 years old. Will I be able to watch it 30 years from now? Should I even worry about such things? While buying music online went from a DRM mess to a more open world, I don’t know that video will go the same way… And yes, there is the pirating option, but personally I’m not a fan of that approach. Blame it on my desire to see things move towards openness.

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iPod Ouch

iPod Ouch

Remember when the iPod Touch 4G came out? My daughter sure does… it was about a month after her birthday… the birthday where she got an iPod Touch. The 4G had a camera, so she was a bit disappointed. I told her this was her first (harsh) lesson of the Apple World. A newer, better, faster, and shinier model will always be right around the corner.

Fast forward one year… She loves her iPod Touch. Sure, it doesn’t have a camera, but that’s fine. One day she tells me (while very upset) the the screen has a crack in it. I know she’s careful with it, and she claims she didn’t do anything that would have damaged it, but she does live in a house with many “rambunctious” siblings. I trust her, and tell her we’ll take it to the Apple Store and see what the options are. (It’s still usable, but the crack is pretty annoying.)

At the Apple Store, a kind and helpful employee says that since we do have AppleCare, we can use our “get out of jail free” card, and they’ll actually just swap the iPod for another one, at no charge. After a big, big thanks from us, and a warning to “be careful!” from the employee, we’re on our way. I figure it was the least they could do for the thousands of dollars I’ve spent with Apple over the years. (Oh, the original iPod was engraved with her name, so a tiny loss there.)

Fast forward to the release of iOS 5. I’m all set to update the iPod Touch, and it seems stuck at version 4, not wanting to update. It seems odd… I know we bought it right before the launch of the 4G model. I check the model number, see on Apple’s web site that it’s a 3G, and try again. No dice. I then dig through Apple’s Support Forums, where there are some notes about confusion between 2G and 3G and mislabeled model numbers. At this point, my daughter reminds me that we got a replacement, and we then start to believe that we were given a replacement model that was older/different than the original model we brought in. #damn

So at this point, were not even sure which model we originally had. After digging through my orders on Apple’s web site, I finally determine that we originally had a PC086LL/A, which is indeed a 2G iPod Touch. So no mistake on Apple’s part there… it’s all on us.

So what’s left? Not much. I just explain to her that even though you buy a piece of hardware from Apple, you can’t expect to run the newest software on it 16 months later. Of course it still works, and does all the stuff it did before iOS 5 came out, and that’s just fine right? We get so tempted by the new shiny stuff though… the stuff the tech sites hype up and convince you that you need.

That said, I still use the iPod I got back in 2005. It still does everything I need an iPod to do. It doesn’t run any apps, it just plays audio. But I fear those times are gone… and we’re stuck in a world of constantly wanting new hardware to keep up with the new software.

Ouch indeed.

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Thanks, Steve…

Steve Jobs
Image by Tsevis

I can’t imagine a world without the innovation Steve Jobs brought to it.

The first Apple product I used was an Apple ][+, which was purchased by my brother (also named Steve) in 1980 (or perhaps 1979, and probably with a little bit of help from our parents.) I fell in love with it. I wrote BASIC programs, and I saved them to cassette tapes, and I created LORES and HIRES graphics, and eventually we got a mouse for it, and I used MousePaint to do some pretty awesome mid-1980s computer graphics.

When I was in college, I got my first Mac, an Apple Macintosh IIvx, and I used the hell out of it. I designed things, did page layouts, created graphics, edited photos, and learned all the tricks of the operating system. Like my brother, instead of buying a car, or taking a trip, I got a computer… and all of that was probably more influential to my career path and what I do today than anything else.

I fell in love with computers and technology because of Steve Jobs, and I would not be what I am today without his contributions to the world.

Thanks Steve, you will be missed by many.

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Mozilla == Mozilla

Mozilla

Dave is a cranky old man, and I say that in the nicest possible way, because really, I’m one too. Cranky old men like things the way they like them, and sometimes that means, the way they were before you damn kids came and messed everything up. And you did, really, you did.

Dave is not happy with the Mozilla folks and their Firefox browser.

Personally, I don’t think browsers are done or feature-complete yet. I say this because I’m dealing with developing web sites, with HTML5, with the <audio> and <video> tags, with codecs, with multiple computers/devices, etc. and it’s not perfect yet. Firefox 4 was a welcome upgrade from Firefox 3.x in my mind. Speed increases, Mozilla Sync, and a few other features were worth the small inconveniences I faced along the way. (Granted, I was running the beta for more than 6 months on one machine, so I wasn’t surprised by anything new.)

I’d admit that I am definitely a fan of Mozilla. I may even know a few people who still work there, but I’m not a Mozilla developer, or part of their marketing department, I’m just someone who wants to see them succeed.

And why do I want to see Mozilla succeed? If you notice the graphic above it says “We Believe in an Open Web” and while Apple and Google both have browsers, they’re both in a constant battle for mindshare and eyeballs, and ultimately are interested in making a profit. Mozilla is a non-profit organization that (and I hope I don’t sound naive) has an interest in keeping the web open and free. (I didn’t even mention Microsoft because they only make a browser for one single platform, and it’s a platform I don’t even use, except for testing.)

I’m a fan of freedom, and ultimately I believe that freedom (on the web) is better served by Mozilla than by Apple or Google. I fear the closing of that freedom, and think that supporting Mozilla may help prevent it.

And oh, the beauty of open source! If Dave really wants the keep using Firefox 3.x, there is nothing stopping him. It’s open source. The code is available. Hell, look at what the TenFourFox team is doing. You want Firefox 3.6 to live on forever? Start working on it, or hire some developers. This may not be entirely realistic, but it is completely possible.

I should note something here about Mozilla providing Firefox (software) for free versus Osbourne selling computers (hardware) for money. Maybe I’ll fill it in later.

Years ago when things were looking grim for the web, I always though some company would come out with a web browser that would do away with the ‘View Source’ command. I mean, sure, Chrome hides it, but Apple finally managed to get rid of it with Mobile Safari. Ugh, Mobile Safari… I wish I could run Firefox on an iOS device. This closing of the web concerns me.

I know all the cool kids abandoned Firefox, but to me, that’s like abandoning freedom, and I just can’t see doing that yet…

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iSight vs. Logitech C910

In my Photo Booth post I talked about using a Logitech C910 instead of the built-in iSight camera on a 2007 iMac. I wasn’t happy with the quality and ended up using a Logitech HD Pro USB Webcam C910. The Logitech camera worked much better on the iMac, so I figured I’d compare it to the built-in iSight on my 2009 13″ MacBook Pro.

iSight - Color
MacBook iSight – Color

Logitech - Color
Logitech C910 – Color

Comparing the two images you can definitely see the difference in color temperature. The iSight leans more towards red/yellow while the Logitech leans the other way. (Note that the Logitech has a slightly wider field of view as well, so you may have to move in closer.) The only light in this room was a CFL bulb with a lampshade over it, and the glow of 3 monitors. Besides the color, the sharpness of the image is what really stands out. The Logitech is way sharper.

iSight - Black and White
MacBook iSight – Black & White

Logitech - Black and White
Logitech C910 – Black & White

Taking color out of the comparison, and just looking at a greyscale images, the sharpness of the Logitech over the iSight seems even more noticeable. As I’ve said before, the iSight is a tiny little camera, with a tiny little lens, and a tiny little sensor. It’s great that every MacBook contains a camera, and for general video chat, etc. it’ll do just fine, but if you need better image quality, it’s nice to know you can get it for a reasonable price.

The Logitech also has the advantage of being able to view things on the other side of the Mac, and be placed a short distance from the Mac itself. The images on the 2XL Networks Photo Booth site were taken with the Logitech, and we’ll be testing it out with Make: Live as well…