Some stunning developments in the world of net delivered entertainment today. First came a salvo from NBC that said it was opting out of their contract to sell its television shows via the iTunes store starting this December. NBC reportedly wanted more control over content bundles as well a “flexible” pricing structure. No doubt bolstered by Universal’s recent decision to go month by month in their contract with the iTunes store, NBC attempted to gain the upper hand with Apple and publicly announce that Jobs & company weren’t playing fair. Apple’s insistence on simplicity and a single price meant the network would have to remove its programs from the largest online media store in the world.

It didn’t take long for Apple to fire back. The computer company issued a press release that in effect said NBC was insisting on raising prices by a whopping 250%, making episodes that were once $1.99, now $4.99. So rather than force consumers to pay almost $5 for anything from a 1/2 hour episode of The Office, to a full hour long drama like Heroes, Apple decided to not wait until December, but pull the “plug” now. I love this bit:

“Apple’s agreement with NBC ends in December. Since NBC would withdraw their shows in the middle of the television season, Apple has decided to not offer NBC TV shows for the upcoming television season beginning in September.”

So in other words, NBC’s not going to get shit. Apple won’t post any episodes from the upcoming season of such fan favorites as Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, The Office and 30 Rock. Never mind the fact that the iTunes single-handedly prevented NBC from canceling The Office in the first place, or that you can TiVo these shows for free now, or even that higher-quality versions of all of these shows are available hours (not days) after they are aired via bit torrent. No, NBC thinks it knows what’s best for their customers and it has demanded that Apple start charging more than double for something that just frankly, isn’t that good.

This move will do nothing to help NBC and everything to give Apple even more bargaining power with other content providers in the days ahead. I can’t wait to see NBC try to sell an episode of The Office for $4.99 on NBC.com or even via Amazon Unboxed. I’d sooner save my pennies and buy the DVDs for a fraction of the cost than pay over $100 for a low quality, DRM locked season of Heroes. Who wouldn’t?

Jeremy Horwitz of iLounge has written an open letter to NBC concerning their arrogant strategy. He hits the nail directly on the head, and I sincerely hope the suits at NBC read it and take it to heart. We’ll get our shows via DVR or torrent for free, piracy will increase, and NBC will lose millions in revenue because the peacock didn’t know when to shut up and smile. Sounds like a fair trade to me.

UPDATE: An interesting side note. NBC will be launching its own video website in October named Hulu. What’s Hulu you ask? Although just a fun, rhyming name to us, Hulu actually means “cease” and “desist” in Swahili. Speaks volumes about NBC and their level of competence in this entire affair.

Twice this week, my friend Talos spotted a Google Car cruising the Greensboro streets. The first time was at the intersection of Wendover and Penny, and the second was further up Wendover near Spring Garden. Both times he managed to snap picts of the high-tech automobile thanks to his trusty iPhone. The gadget blog Gizmodo first reported on Google’s picture-snapping auto fleet some time ago. The company has been criss-crossing the nation to document street views of major cities for its online mapping site.

So if you’re driving in the Triad and spot a car with a strange looking periscope thing strapped to its roof, make sure you smile nice and pretty for the camera. You never know, you might be immortalized forever on the pages of the world’s most popular search engine. Remember, no road rage people!!

If is any greater rivalry in the world of professional sports, I don’t know what it is. For as long as anyone living can remember, the battle between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees has been stuff of legend. This season is no different from any other and this August, the Bronx Bombers are making their usual bid at the championship. There is only one small problem, the Red Sox are 8 games up in the AL East and look to be on a roll.

Tonight marks the start of a decisive 3 game series that could make or break the Yankees chances this year. The Yanks enter the series from a disastrous road trip in which they took only 2 of 6 games. The Detroit Tigers and and Los Angeles Angels beat up on the Yanks to increase their 4 game deficit on the Sox back up to a full 8. Underestimating them of course, would be a mistake so I’m trying to keep my enthusiasm in check as we gear up for what could be the best 3 games of the season. Given the roll they’ve been on, I have no doubts that the Sox will take at least 2 of 3 from Jeter and gang. Because the Yanks will want to show the home town crowd they are anything but push-overs, I predict the Sox will lose the first game tonight, but will sweep the remaining two match ups handily. I’ll update this post, for good or bad, as we go.

There is a little friendly rivalry going on over at Dave Caolo’s blog. Dave’s bet a Yanks fan that the Sox will win 2 of the three and a blogger named Whit named just the reverse. The stake are quite funny, so head on over and check it out. No matter how the series turns out, fans in both camps are in for some great baseball over the next few nights. This is what we live for, so settle in, pop some corn and savor the moment. As long as Gagne doesn’t royally screw up, I have a feeling this is going to be GOOD.

UPDATE: Yanks win game 1 with a score of 5 to 3. So far my prediction is right on the money. Let’s hope it holds for tomorrow. There is a good chance with Clemens taking the mound with his 5-5 record vs Josh Beckett’s 16-5 season. Manny out with back strain, hopefully nothing serious.

UPDATE II: Well, I guess I won’t be quitting my day job to run a psychic hotline anytime soon. The Yanks play mediocre baseball, but the Sox play worse and lose the second game 3 to 4. Yanks move to 6 games back, Manny looks hurt enough that he won’t be playing tomorrow and I see that broom in the corner starring at me. Meanwhile, Dave Caolo is hating life right about now.

UPDATE III: Manny’s back must posses some awful omen demon power or something because the Sox just got swept by the Yanks. If you had asked me to put money down on this series, I would have bet that the Sox would take at least one, if not two. In that case, I’d be out some $$$. I’m not about to jump off a ledge or anything yet, but Francona better figure out just went wrong this week, or we’re in trouble.

“Do As I Say…”

August 27, 2007

News today that GOP Senator Larry Craig was arrested back on June 11th at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for lewd conduct complaints. Talking Points Memo reports that on Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct. He paid more than $500 in fines and fees, and a 10-day jail sentence was stayed. He also was given one year of probation with the court that began on Aug. 8. I love this bit:

“A very quick check of Craig’s record on gay issues turns up the fact that he voted in favor of an Idaho Constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and also voted in favor of last year’s Federal Marriage Amendment doing the same thing. Though it should be noted that neither of those votes is directly at odds with engaging in lewd conduct in a public men’s rest room.”

I’m not sure which is worse… that we have yet another “family values” GOP hypocrite in our midst or that the Republican leadership hid the truth from the public (and his constituents) for over two full months. Either way, his behavior was bad enough for Mitt Romney to scrub all mention of Craig’s participation in his campaign from YouTube.

Anyone wanna take guesses about how long it will take Fox News to run a picture of him with a (D) next to his name instead of an (R)? I’m willing to bet you credits to navy beans it happens sometime tomorrow.

UPDATE: Fox News decided to go the subtle route and not display ANY indication of what party Craig belonged to in their miniscule coverage of the event. It’s quite clear that anyone who insists that Fox News is fair or balanced when it comes to how it treats liberals vs. conservatives is fooling themselves.

UPDATE II: Craig is history. Sens. Coleman and McCain have now called for Craig to resign. In addition, a new Idaho poll taken yesterday of 600 adults in the state says that 55% of those polled want Craig to go with just 34% saying he should stay in office.

UPDATE III: Republican Senator Larry Craig has resigned, effective Sept. 30th.

UPDATE IV: Looks like he spoke too soon. He’s now reversed his position and has decided to serve the remainder of his term, much to the dismay of the GOP leadership. Craig is the gift that just keeps on giving.

China’s Choking

August 26, 2007

Interesting, if distressing story today from the New York Times about China and its rush toward industrialization. It seems that China’s pollution levels are reaching staggeringly bad proportions thanks to a heavy increase in coal fired power plants. China has lots of coal, maybe more than any other nation on Earth and they intend to use it. The problem of course, is that coal is dirty, both for the environment and human health. The increase in China’s pollution output has created an environmental disaster and has made cancer their leading cause of death. This bit is especially distressing:

“China’s problem has become the world’s problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides spewed by China’s coal-fired power plants fall as acid rain on Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo. Much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China, according to the Journal of Geophysical Research.

More pressing still, China has entered the most robust stage of its industrial revolution, even as much of the outside world has become preoccupied with global warming.

Experts once thought China might overtake the United States as the world’s leading producer of greenhouse gases by 2010, possibly later. Now, the International Energy Agency has said China could become the emissions leader by the end of this year, and the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency said China had already passed that level.”

Back in 2005, Al Gore touched on the challenges facing China and its increasing number of coal fired plants in his award winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. I’ve captured the segment dealing with China and posted it on YouTube as an interesting tangent to the NYT piece. It seems that China’s pollution problems have only grown worse since the movie was made which doesn’t bode well for China or the U.S.

Given the problems the United States has had dealing with greenhouse gasses and our lack of global responsibility in regard to the climate crisis, it seems unlikely that the Chinese will fare better any time soon. It most likely will be decades before the communist government there decides to do something about their nation’s contribution to global warming. Given the rate at which things are changing around the world, I don’t think any of us can afford to wait that long.

Spock Don’t Know Jack

August 24, 2007

Just prior to the launch of the iPhone, I posted a quote from my favorite Vulcan, which seemed to portend the mindset of those who decided to partake in the gadgety goodness. Having owned my piece of the future for one month and ten days, I am here to tell you that when it comes to the iPhone, Spock, thankfully, don’t know jack.

My purchase of the iPhone has lived up to all of the advanced hype and then some. Sure some will say that I’m just a fan boy caught in the expansive reality distortion field radiating from my phone. But those who know me will tell you that despite my love for Apple, if I’m not satisfied with a purchase, I don’t have a problem saying so. Years ago I got the royal screw from my favorite fruit company when I bought the infamous Apple IIvx, which was supplanted just 4 months later by the Centris line of Macs. I’ve never let Apple off the hook for that one, even to this day.

Thankfully, the iPhone is light years away from my IIvx experience in every way imaginable. Here are just some of the ways the iPhone lives up to the hype:

The User Interface – Once you hold it in your hand, touch the controls, scroll photos, and pinch a website larger or smaller, you’ll wonder why cell phones have never done this before. The user interface is quite possibly the best single thing about the iPhone. It’s elegant, snappy, clear & thoughtful.

Mobile Safari – Sure it quits sometimes, but it more than makes up for this shortcoming by being the single best answer to the internet on mobile devices. Enlarging text, clarity of page renders and great bookmark management all add up to a real winner.

YouTube In Your Pants – Being able to search and view YouTube videos at will, any place and any time is freakin’ fantastic. Once the entire catalog is converted to H264, I don’t think I’ll ever watch funny cat movies on my Wii ever again.

All the Little Things – The use of Helvetica throughout the UI, the gorgeous hi-res screen, how easy it is to make a phone call, visual voice mail, and yes, even the battery life are all great on the iPhone. They all add up to an experience that makes me want to take it with me where ever I go. The same cannot be said of my old Sprint phone.

It can’t all be a love-fest can it? No, sadly there are a few things that are not as good as they could be. They include (in order) AT&T, a missing official SDK, AT&T, finger and ear prints, no games, and did I mention AT&T? It’s not surprising that the weakest part of the iPhone is the part out of Apple’s control, namely the spotty network coverage and poor customer service of AT&T. With the news today of multiple methods to unlock the iPhone from the shackles of you-know-who, I suspect there will be some very happy potential customers who will now take the plunge.

The first question people always ask when they spy me with my iPhone is “How do you like it?”. My answer is always the same – “It’s just fantastic, I love it!” It’s the first time in my life I think I’ve ever spoken ill of Mr. Spock. See what you’ve done to me Steve!

Un-Friendly Avenue

August 24, 2007

Tonight after work I swung down Friendly Ave. to pick up dinner from P.F. Changs at the Friendly Center Shopping Plaza. The good news is the road work that has been going on for the better part of a year two years seems to be coming to a close. The bad news is the section of West Friendly from Westridge Road down to the Shops at Friendly Center is a classic example of civil planning gone horribly wrong.

Although the city technically widened Friendly by 2 full lanes, driving on it actually feels more cramped and crowded than it did before. This is because of the new median divider the size of the Neutral Zone that somehow made its way smack-dab into the middle of this once beautiful thoroughfare. Left turns can only be taken at certain points along the median, creating an almost one-way street effect that is anything but pleasant. God help the poor folks who live along this stretch of Friendly. Getting to and from their homes must now be a little slice of paved hell. If I was in their shoes, I’d be down at City Hall raising cain like there’s no tomorrow.

Sometimes I just don’t understand why cities decide to alter roads, change traffic flows and generally screw things up for us little people. If Friendly had simply had one lane added to either side, and left the center turn lane alone, the new construction would have been quite welcome. Instead we have confusion and bottlenecking. I was looking forward to the completion of Painter Blvd., but now I’m not so sure.

HOL•E Cow!

August 21, 2007

The website of buynlarge.com seems like just another online marketing space dedicated to touting the wares of yet another global conglomerate. The site offers news about the latest and greatest coming out of their R&D labs, mission statements and core company values. A seemingly endless number of divisions including robotics, engineering, government, energy and even aerospace all are pumping out impressive contributions to improving our daily lives. There’s only one catch… none of it is real.

In fact, Buy n Large is just one of the latest installments in the relatively new field of viral marketing. The site is the fictitious home page of the central character’s creator in Disney’s upcoming animated feature WALL•E. Due to hit theaters in June of 2008, the film is purported to be the last of the “original ideas” brainstormed by PIXAR’s John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter & the late Joe Ranft. Given the incredible track record of animated features that the Disney/PIXAR partnership has produced, WALL•E looks to be the team’s latest computer generated masterpiece.

The amount of effort and attention to detail that can be seen in the Buy n Large website, a destination that is pure fiction from start to finish, should come as no surprise for fans both young and old. These artists relish the opportunity to hone their craft and weave entire universes in which their characters can romp and play. The site is filled with in-jokes, flies in the face of corporate America and gives WALL•E an instant, credible backstory. BnL press releases tell how the “company” managed to ship over 5 million video game consoles in its first week of launch and touts its system of 10,000 weather control satellites, all with a straight face. BnL even manages to poke gentle fun at Disney and PIXAR themselves by announcing “Pix-Vue Animation Studio’s next film would be based on a lovable duck that can walk through time.” Classic.

I’ve always admired the talented folks at PIXAR and the wonderful creations they’ve shared with us. Browsing through the seemingly endless pages at buynlarge.com, I’m reminded of why. This skilled group of artists, designers, animators and producers love every aspect of their job. From bringing 3D characters to life, right down to creating a phony website to promote their film, they see every aspect as part of a whole. As John Lasseter has said on many occasions, PIXAR’s primary purpose is to tell stories. Stories that the audience will relate to, recount and treasure for years to come. Spending some quality time surfing BnL’s website reveals WALL•E to be a fun adventure filled with wit and irony for kids of all ages. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go browse their corporate store for a new garden bot. Oh, right. Damn!

Still “Unbeatable”?

August 20, 2007

According to Salon, it turns out that when Rudy Giuliani said he spent as much, if not more time at ground zero than the rescue workers, what he really meant was he spent more time at Yankees games. I know what you’re thinking, it’s easy to get the two locations confused, but somehow Giuliani did. Reports Salon:

“By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 90 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16. By his own standard, Giuliani was one of the Yankees more than he was one of the rescue workers.”

It’s amazing how this inept excuse for a leader keeps inserting his foot squarely in his mouth, but there it is, once again. It probably doesn’t matter what he says however, since as I’ve written previously, some people think Giuliani and to a “lesser extent” Fred Thompson are “unbeatable”. Uh huh.

UPDATE: Not to be outdone by Rudy’s penchant for jack-assery, it seems that Freddo has seemingly violated FEC election laws by raising more money for his non-campaign that most of the other GOP front runners. At this rate, Frudy should be able to get a bead on his true electability VERY soon.

Et tu, iMovie?

August 19, 2007

Having worked in the design industry for over a decade, I’ve often been called on to dabble in various forms of media. Print and packaging design, multimedia presentations, website and icon design (of course) and every now and then, digital video editing. With Apple’s recent announcement of iLife ’08, I was excited to check out the latest updates to both iPhoto and iMovie. iPhoto’s new features and reorganized user interface are a marked improvement from previous versions. Sadly however, iMovie, as David Pogue recently noted, has taken a big step backward.

I was skeptical of Pogue’s critical points in his review until I tried the program out for myself. Almost instantly I could tell that the new skimming feature was going to be more trouble than it was worth. Because it’s initiated simply by rolling the mouse over a clip, you find yourself accidently skimming video you never intended to view. In addition, iMovie 8 has removed almost all control over audio, and the familiar time line for editing clips has bowed out. I grew overwhelmingly frustrated, especially since I had come from iMovie 4, and was expecting, perhaps a bit too much. After wrestling with the program for over 2 hours, I gave up and turned to a copy of Final Cut Pro HD that I installed long ago, but never learned to use.

In a matter of hours I was able to edit a short sequence exactly the way I wanted. This isn’t surprising since Final Cut Pro, as the name suggests, is the tool of choice for professional video editors. As I became familiar with the application, I managed to put together a short promotional video for Pixadex as a test. I’m pleased with how it turned out and will use it as the basis for a series of short video tutorials for IconBuilder over at the Iconfactory.

In retrospect, I definitely think Apple decided to dumb down the new version of iMovie to give Final Cut Pro some breathing room. Like The Talk Show’s Dan Benjamin, I’m a firm believer that the program was becoming too powerful and was being used for projects that went beyond “home movies” of people’s kids. Even Pogue admits that he used iMovie for all of his NYT video reviews, something that sounds like it should have been done with a professional editing solution. Unfortunately, with the price of FCP being so prohibitive, average users can only hope that Apple will decide to put back some of the missing features from version 6 in the months ahead. Perhaps sensing people’s dissatisfaction with iMovie 8, Apple decided to make version 6 freely available. Kudos to them for doing it, but in the meantime, I’ll be rediscovering the joy of video editing. My only regret is that it’ll be thanks to Final Cut Pro instead of Apple’s humble iMovie.

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