Topics and Experts

These are some topics of interest to me and some of the personalities I follow on Twitter to learn more about them.

Physics
Neil deGrasse Tyson @neiltyson
Dave Goldberg @askaphysicist
Phil Plait @BadAstronomer

Language
Mignon Fogarty @GrammarGirl
Erin McKean @emckean

Food / Health
Darya Pino @summertomato
Tim Ferriss @tferriss
Belmont Butchery @BelmontButchery

Politics
Steve Silberman @stevesilberman
John C. Dvorak @THErealDVORAK

Finance / Tech
James Altucher @jaltucher
Kevin Rose @kevinrose

General Science
Bill Nye @TheScienceGuy
Salman Khan @khanacademy

Comedy
Albert Brooks @AlbertBrooks
Brian Malow @sciencecomedian
Larry Miller @LarryJMiller
Chris Hardwick @nerdist
Seth MacFarlane @SethMacFarlane
Adam Carolla @adamcarolla

Technology
Steve Gibson @SGpad / @GibsonResearch / @SGgrc
Bob Frankston @BobFrankston
Chris Messina @chrismessina
Jim Louderback @jlouderb
John Draper @jdcrunchman
Eric Schmidt @ericschmidt
Andy Rubin @Arubin
Matt Cutts @mattcutts
Tim Berners-Lee @timberners_lee
Gina Trapani @ginatrapani
Leo Laporte @leolaporte

Critical Thinking
John Allen Paulos @JohnAllenPaulos
Richard Dawkins @RichardDawkins
Sam Harris @SamHarrisOrg
Penn Jillette @pennjillette

Access to Media

My friend Michael Rollins recently posted a blog entry called Music: Ownership vs Access about bit lockers for music. Due to a problem with comments on Blogger that day my response didn’t get recorded. I thought I’d post it here, mostly because it’s a bunch of words I wrote and that’s what I put on my blog. So I guess I’m cheating to get a blog entry out today. For this to make sense you should read his blog first.

To me it’s all about access. I don’t need to own media any more. In fact, I don’t want it. I don’t buy movies any more, I watch them on Netflix. And I downgraded to the streaming only plan ($7.99) so I don’t even watch DVDs or Blu-Ray any more. While the Netflix streaming collection is nowhere near complete, it’s constantly growing and it already has 10s of thousands of hours of video I’ll never get to. There are probably 200 movies and TV shows just in my instant queue, and I long ago stopped adding to it.

The Amazon cloud service gives you 5 gigs free, and they bump that up to 20 gigs for a year if you buy one album. They just ran a deal yesterday or the day before on the new Lady Gaga album where if you bought it for $.99 that counted as your 1 album and bumped you to 20 gigs.

One thing I find strange about this service is music I bought on amazon before they started the cloud service isn’t in my locker. For example I bought the Stand By Me soundtrack, which I remember loving when I was a kid. Turns out it’s pretty terrible, so I deleted it. Now to get it in my Amazon cloud locker I have to download it again (from Amazon) and upload it back to Amazon. WTF.

Another cool thing about the Amazon service is you can put pretty much whatever you want in it, from what I understand. In addition to storing and streaming your music you can keep docs there.

Also, while you’re right in saying this exact business model hasn’t been tested in court yet a very similar one has, and it didn’t go well. On TWiT Triangulation episode 12 the guest is Michael Robertson, founder of mp3.com. He tells the story of his battle with Universal over my.mp3.com, which was one of (if not the) original music bit lockers. The difference there was you didn’t have to upload your music. You just had to put the CD in your drive and let the software analyze it. Once it figured out what CD you had (based on the unique waveforms, like Gracenote) it unlocked that album in your locker.

Michael Robertson is back at again with www.mp3tunes.com, which is like Google music or the Amazon cloud product, but it’s been around for like 5 years. They also have a product that works along with mp3tunes called dar.fm, which is basically an online DVR for radio. Very cool. mp3tunes.com has caught the attention of at least one label (I think EMI). I think they want mp3tunes, google, amazon, and anyone else running a bit locker to have some special license. They point to things like server de-duping to say that when I upload a track I purchased then stream it back to my PC I’m not really listening to the one I bought anymore. As in, it’s different bits.

And then a correction:

I have to correct something I said yesterday in my comment here. I said in order to get the Stand By My soundtrack (which I bought from Amazon and later deleted) I’d have to download it again then upload it to back to Amazon. But after reading their FAQs I see now that I would have to *buy* it again, download it, then upload it to the cloud service. I assumed once I bought it I’d be able to download it again any time, but that’s not the case.

Living Up to the Hype

I’m not going to do any product reviews here because they’ve been done a million times on a million websites and because I don’t want to spend the time. I’m just going to point out a few products that have been hyped up like mad and actually live up to the hype (based on my personal experience.)

1) Dyson DC25 Ball All-Floors Upright Vacuum Cleaner – For years I resisted, assuming they were all hype and stupid Americans were supposed to think they were awesome because they’re really expensive and the ads have a guy with a British accent.  Well, no, they really are awesome. Worth $400+? Yes.

2) Apple iPad 2 – Perfect? No. Worth $600? Yes. I would like to get in to more detail later on my issues with iPad, but overall the good really does outweigh the bad here. There are plenty of things I would like the see changed and maybe we’ll get them in a post-Jobs iPad 5. But for now this is the best there is, and it really is pretty great. I’m using my laptop less and less in favor of the iPad. No, we’re really not in  the post-PC era Jobs talks about, but this is the first step. I love my Android phone but if you’re looking to make the leap to tablet computing don’t bother with those other toys on the market.

3) Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones – Audiophiles should just skip this section. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have all kinds of hearing loss, I rarely listen to music, and I don’t know anything about acoustics. What I do know is that these things are great. They’re super comfortable (I wear them about 8 hours/day) and the noise isolation and canceling is great. If you’re sitting next to someone speaking you’ll still hear them (faintly). It doesn’t block out 100% of the noise around you. What it does block out is noise you may not even be aware of right now. It’s the low mechanical drone of the heat pump, the ceiling fan, PC cooling fans, the forced air… so fans, I guess. You pop these bad boys on and all of that stuff just disappears. Worth $300? Well, yeah, I guess so.  I tried some competing products and couldn’t find anything that really compared so I guess (like Dyson) they get to charge whatever they want. Load up on AAA batteries – I go through about 1 every 4 days.

4) Portal 2 – 2 Player collaborative mode! Do I need to say any more? It’s $55 on Amazon but if you order before 4/23 you get a $15 credit. Do it! Do it now!

Wired on iPad

Wired made the May issue of the magazine free on the iPad app so I thought I’d give it a try. I downloaded the app, then the 300+ meg issue and headed for the back deck for some reading.

I popped on my Oakleys, sat in the rocking chair, and hit the power button. Nothing. I hit the power button again. Nothing. Weird. Tried the Home button. Nothing.

And that was the first thing I learned from the iPad edition of Wired – you can’t see a damned thing on the iPad screen with polarized lenses. Off the the shaded front porch to continue this experiment.

The issue opened with short video which I suppose was meant to be funny, then dropped me off at the cover. Okay, that was really annoying. I swiped past the cover and landed on an interactive Lexus ad. This was neat for a few seconds, but then I was ready to move on. I couldn’t swipe off the page because swiping had been hijacked by a feature of the interactive ad. That’s when I discovered the pop-up slider on the bottom of the screen which will take you directly to any page.

Next another ad, followed by the Table of Contents. This is where I started to learn how the flow would work. You get a page with content (an article) and you see a certain amount on the screen at one time. If there’s more to it there will generally be some design element of the page to indicate it’s continued by scrolling down. Swiping to the right won’t take you to the next page of the article, it will take you to the next article. Occasionally it’s a little hard to tell if you should keep scrolling down or if you have reached the bottom. Once I realized how this worked I was pretty happy because it meant I finally wouldn’t have to deal with my single biggest problem with magazines – “This article is continued on page 215”.

Then another interactive ad for Qwest. This one was pretty good. You could spend way more time on that ad than anyone could possibly want to spend. If you navigate away from this ad and come back it sends you all the way back to the beginning. Shame.

It was pretty front-loaded with ads (as magazines tend to be) including another interactive ad for Dasani that took me a few minutes to realize was an ad. I thought I was learning something. Then I saw the tiny text at the top that said “ADVERTISEMENT” and I felt dirty.

“Why TV Ads Drive You Mad” was the first article with interactive elements. It had two audio clips with a visualization so you could compare them. From there many of the articles had some interactive piece, ranging from simple animations of common submissions in MMA to a video of vasectomy. I wish there was a feature that allowed me to unwatch that one.

The app crashed on me 3 times. Twice on relaunch it took me back to where I was. One it took me about 5 pages back. Occasionally I found it difficult or impossible to swipe to the next page, even on pages without any interactive bits. I realize now that if you put your finger on the page and pause for just a second before swiping it almost always works (except in the Lexus ad). There were a couple of other times where a video just started playing randomly, and once it scared the crap out of me. These little videos really contributed nothing at all to the magazine.

One thing I should note is that I almost never read Wired cover-to-cover in one sitting, but I did this time, and maybe in record time. I guess it was just that engaging.

When I first started hearing about magazines coming to the Kindle I remember saying to a friend that I would buy Kindle editions of magazines, but not Wired. I’ve always enjoyed the whole Wired experience (even the ads) and I didn’t want to miss out on that. Since then I’ve only subscribed to one magazine on Kindle – 2600 – and it’s one I really only get for the text. Nobody gets 2600 for the design elements. So I was happily surprised to see that on the iPad and with this app Wired may be even better than it is in print.

But no, I won’t be reading next month’s issue on the iPad. Not because of any problem with the app or the experience, it’s a simple financial decision. I already have a subscription to Wired and I pay $1/issue. If I want to switch to the iPad edition I’ll have to pay $3.99 a month in addition to my print subscription. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe I’ll reevaluate when my print subscription runs out, but I can’t see paying 4X more for the same magazine.