Saturday, March 29, 2008

My iRiver Clix2 Review

**EDIT** I mention that you can't listen to music while playing Flash games, which was true when the product was released. However, the new firmware update fixes that problem, so I apologize for not checking that out.

I got a new mp3 player a couple of weeks ago and I love it so much that I've been dying to review it. It came out last Spring (though my model came out later in the year since it's 8GB), but since I didn't find a video review that had audio and video I thought I'd fill the gap. You don't have to watch the video to enjoy my written review, but I think the visual will help (just turn down the volume if you hate my dorky voice; I apologize for the cluttering).

My iRiver Clix2 Review from Eptiger on Vimeo.

I hope that wasn't too tough to watch: it was my first try at a video review. I recommend at least skimming it just to get a feel for the navigation (again, turn the volume down if you want).

Given that my iPod Shuffle barely stays on my armband anymore (I had to glue back the USB part because it so easily snapped off at the gym one day), I tried to replace it last Spring with the Sansa c250 and miserably failed. After that, I decided to pay attention to quality, not so much price, in searching for a small, flash-based mp3 player with a screen so that I could not only play music at the gym (from a playlist created on my computer), but also listen to podcasts on the bus and possibly even watch video podcasts. After doing a lot of research, I narrowed it down to the Cowon D2, the iRiver Clix, the Creative Zen, and the iPod Nano. After reading the reviews and deciding the features I wanted that they had issues with (the Zen's expansion slot is actually almost useless), I decided that it was either the Nano or the Clix, and when iRiver offered a $40 rebate it was pretty much a no-brainer. I have to say that it was a surprisingly smart decision: this is, without a doubt, the best mp3 player I've ever interacted with aside from the iPod Touch.

Let's start with size, style, and navigation. This device is pretty much as small as you really need to be. It's definitely a little bigger than a Nano and a little thicker, but I never jumped on the "I want the thinnest mp3 player in the world" bandwagon so it's pretty reasonably thin to me. It easily slides into one's pocket. It's not even that heavy because I don't really notice it at the gym except for when I have to rotate the armband on my arm occasionally (I bought a silicone case and armband from the iriver store). I think it gets big points on style for just being really sleek, smooth, and black. It's not adulterated with any symbols on the face, and the information on the back is quite reserved. Even the side button labels aren't too big (after playing with it for just a bit, you won't need them). What's really impressive is the navigation though. I was a little skeptical about the d-click navigation, but it's more intuitive to me than the iPod wheel. I love that rather than copy the iPod or the Zune, they went for something fairly original here in just having these 4 giant buttons on the edges of the device. It's pretty easy to use with just one hand if you're wearing a jacket and don't want to have to look at the screen, and there's never any confusion with icons on the screen to help you navigate. Holding the right button always brings up a side menu, and that's the most complicated thing you need to understand. I had the hardest time navigating my old Sansa, so this was a breath of fresh air for me. The only other buttons are power, volume, hold, and the smart key. I'll admit that the hold button can be a little tricky to get to, but I think you'll get used to it. Also, the volume buttons may seem backwards if you're looking at it from the wrong angle, but I got used to that pretty quickly. The smart key is excellent: it can turn the screen on/off, change the orientation, play/pause, go to the home screen, start/stop recording, shuffle, or do a/b repeat. You just change a quick setting and that's it! I think that key was a stroke of genius, because I may care more about easy of play/pause than battery life so I may want it to play/pause rather than turn the screen off, etc.

The next thing I want to cover is music. It supports all the most popular music file types and any Windows Media Player-based subscription services (including Rhapsody with free firmware update). The sound quality is very nice, in my opinion. I'm far from an audiophile, but I noticed a difference immediately from the sound I'm used to hearing out of my Shuffle. You get a full stereo effect, and you can really get immersed in your music, even at the gym (because I bought this thing primarly for the gym, I may keep referencing that) where it's relatively noisy. You can create however many playlists as you want on the computer, which I've only managed to get working on the iRiver Plus 3 software. That's the software that came with the device, and it's not bad though I wouldn't make it your new music management program. I've decided to betray the memory-hungry iTunes for Media Monkey, which does an excellent job of letting you auto-tag your songs from Amazon. Plus, when it tags your album art, it puts it in the tag (iTunes just dumps them in a folder), and the Clix will only show album art from the mp3's tag. I recommend adding all your music folders to iRiver Plus 3, and then just create playlists with the songs you want in your favorite music program and drag them into a playlist in iRiver Plus 3. Then, just load them onto the device this way (you don't even need to actually use this playlist on the device, it' s just to keep the songs in one place). This way, it'll automatically be organized on the device. Otherwise, if you just drag-and-drop, you have to rebuild the database on the device. By the way, file transfers are quite fast. Anyway, it does support MTP mode if you really like Windows Media Player, but I like UMS/MSC for loading videos and pictures easily in Xplorer2 and using iRiver Plus 3, which is quite lite. I don't even know how to load themes (see below) and Flash games on there in MTP mode (I haven't tried MTP). In addition to the album art and song information, you get the progress bar and what song is coming up next, which really comes in handy. You can also set the equalizer settings, change the playback speed, change the scan speed (very handy for long podcasts), show lyrics, rate it, and change the playback mode (e.g. shuffle, repeat once). You can also build-up a quick list on the device just by holding the right button when showing songs to get to that menu with all those options and adding a song to the quick list. You only create one of these, but I can't imagine that you'll need more than one of them.

It also supports podcasts and Audible, though Audible books are only usable in MTP. You can choose MTP or UMS/MSC mode, but you have to format in between changes so make sure you back-up the device before doing so. It claims that podcast support is only in MSC/UMS mode, but if they're just .mp3s then I can't see why you can't use them in both modes. I think it means for mypodder support, which comes on the device by default. You don't need mypodder though: all you really need to do is drag and drop songs into a 'Podcasts' folder in 'Music' and you can get to them straight from 'Podcasts' on the device rather than searching artist or genre or anything (though in MTP mode, you may need to). I really wish you could bookmark in podcasts, but I heard that you can in Audible books. Oh, and one thing about UMS/MSC mode: unlike the iPod you can drag your content to and from the device. So it doubles as a flash drive (on the iPod, you can't take your music from it, only put it on).

The FM Radio it sports is quite nice. It does an excellent job of auto-presets, and I only have trouble with reception where I have trouble with cell phone reception. My radio on my Sansa never worked, so believe in this device having a real radio, which you can record from. You can also record your voice (apart from the radio) because it has a mic built-in, and you can turn on a setting that will ignore all noise except for your voice. This works surprisingly well: the recording is nice and crisp, and you can even choose the quality.

I should probably mention that the AMOLED screen it supports is incredible. It also packs a Lithiom-ion polymer battery, which is just the next generation of Li-on. It has the same problems, but it's cheaper to make and more robust to damage. Anyway, the AMOLED screen has no backlight: it's just ridiculously bright on its own because it holds its charge so well, and it has a 180 degree viewing angle. Plus, since it requires less power (made of organic material) you can get 5 hours of battery life on just video and 25 of just audio. You can completely charge the device in just 2 hours (via mini-USB, or the cradle accessory that no one seems to like). I can attest to this being pretty accurate, though I haven't worn it totally down. Like any Li-on, it'll degrade over time, but I imagine it'll take a long time for most users.

This screen does a very nice job with your pictures and videos. You can create playlists with your pictures and play them in slideshow mode with music playing in the background. It really shines on video playback though: it's like you're watching video on a nice LCD TV except that it's been shrunk to 2.2". If you get the silicone case then you can even use the belt clip as a kickstand to place it on the table while you watch your video. I've managed to watch a 40-minute TV show with no problems, and the audio even came out quite well. It's really ideal for video podcasts (e.g. Revision 3), but I've put a couple of DVD movies on mine. Sure, it's a little smaller because the letter boxing is more on widescreen films (I haven't tried a full screen because I don't own any), but still watchable in pieces. I've been converting my movies to .avi using iRiverter because it only supports OpenXvid .avi (and some strain of .wmv), and I've found iRiverter to be the easiest (plus, it runs nicely in the background without disrupting the speed of your computer much at all). iRiver includes media conversion software on the software disc, but you can see all your options here. I managed to convert a DVD in about 80 minutes and a TV show in under 20 minutes on my old school P4. I like that it will remember your place in your videos (this can be turned off), too, and you can set the scan speed.

My absolute favorite part of this device though is how customizable it is. Because it's running Flash Lite, you can create your own themes (with animated backgrounds and a different background for each day of the week) or download them online. The Korean iRiver site had a contest last year so there's a ton of really nice ones floating around (just check the ClixHere forums for them). These are some stills from one of my favorites:

You can also add whatever fonts you want (as long as they're true type) to be used pretty much everywhere text is displayed on the device, which includes foreign language fonts. Not only is one unique in having this device since a lot of stores don't seem to carry it, but you can be unique from other Clix users in your theme and font, and you can change it as often as you'd like to keep you from getting bored with it. How many other mp3 players let you do that? Since they're small in size, you can put a lot on there and still keep your mp3s and videos even if you have a 2GB model (it comes in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB). Oh, and you can change the screen orientation (configurable to that smart key button, if you'd like) in case you don't like it being in landscape mode. It feels natural in any orientation, though I always use landscape just as a personal preference.

The last thing to talk about are the extras. If you have any text files with maybe a todo list or something, you can drag them right onto to the device and read them. It also has a handy alarm clock with a nice quick alarm option (e.g. 10 minutes from now). The best extra is the flash games: they provide you with a bunch of games already and I've found more free ones from browsing the ClixHere forums. They're really fun and include a frogger clone, blackjack, sudoku, a tetris clone, pacman, and many others (plus applications like a calculator or memo pad). Anyone who develops in Flash Lite is free to create content for it! There's also a bunch of other settings including sleep timer (can sleep or power-off) and screen brightness.

I think that about covers it. You probably think I'm a little nuts for writing such a detailed review, but I wanted to be thorough because there's just so much to talk about in this tiny little thing (and iRiver has no idea how to advertise it, clearly). As you can tell, I'm thrilled with it and I had to really think hard to find any bad points. Just to give you a quick summary...

-Very nice battery life (Li-py)
-Extremely bright, high quality AMOLED screen
-Intuitive navigation (D-click and smart key work great)
-Fast! It's quick to charge, load content onto, and skimming pictures and videos and such on the device.
-Not intrusive at all at the gym (lightweight, nice form factor, good with the misticaudio silicone case)
-Impressive sound quality (even on low-end headphones) and video quality
-Completely customizable (theme and font)
-Actually usable FM radio
-Flash games!
-You can create playlists on the computer (my Sansa couldn't) or a quick list onthe device
-Voice/FM radio recorder (can filter out noise for the mic)
-Stylish (and unique)
-Fun to use (I still haven't gotten bored with it)
-It actually has a very customizable equalizer

-Expensive ($240 retail for the 8GB red line, but you can find it cheaper at Amazon)
-Hold button can be hard to get to
-You have to get used to the volume keys' orientation
-No bookmarking on podcasts
-The iRiver Plus 3 software is nothing special, but if you drag-and-drop music you have to rebuild the database on the device
-An output to TV would've been nice
-If you really want to be nit-picky, the screen could be a tad bigger, but then you'd lose some of the nice form factor and big easy-to-find buttons

If you want other opinions, I love the Pocketables one, and the Anything But iPod one isn't too shabby either. I highly recommend this device if you're looking for something in the iPod Nano market but with a bigger screen and more features.

I have plenty of news to talk about that hopefully I'll get to later this weekend. Tomorrow is the Travis County Democratic Convention though, so I'm going to bed!

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Sorry to be so tardy in writing this post, but this week has been absolutely ridiculous granting me no more than 4 hours of sleep a night for half the week. I think that things will be better now, and I'm real excited about my new iRiver Clix mp3 player. I'm planning on reviewing here, hopefully with video footage as well, as early as next week because I feel that it never got the attention it deserves. You'll find out why right here, so stay tuned.

What I want to talk about first of all today though is one of the best Joel essays I've read: Martian Headsets. He never disappoints me, and I someday aspire to be able to elicit the kind of nuggets of wisdom on my blog that he does, but until then I'm going to explain why this essay is so important. Developing the NSC site for me was fun and not really that bad until I started a part of the site where I allow members to review their professors and I turned to ext-js. I love ext-js, don't get me wrong, but Javascript is a complete pain to deal with for cross-browser compatibility. It wasn't long before Safari purists complained to me, and so I complained back asking why anyone would use Safari. In any case, I ended up just worrying about IE 6, IE 7, and Firefox, and even then one of the pages screws with the layout in IE 7. Getting it to work simultaneously on all 3 browsers was grueling, and people sometimes don't understand why I praise Firefox and tell them to use it. From my perspective, I've had so much more success writing code in CSS and Javascript and just working in Firefox as opposed to any IE browser. People also don't understand why certain sites don't work in IE or don't work in Firefox. These are both reasonable concerns, and that's why I feel that it's important to read this essay.

Something I really took from it that I really didn't quite grasp before is that these specifications for "web standards" and how browsers should be rendering pages aren't as glorious as people like to claim they are. I've probably been guilty of putting a little too much stock in them, and I apologize for that. With a concept as complicated as the Internet, I think that the current state of affairs with the browser wars was pretty much inevitable. There's this many-to-many mapping now between the browsers out there and the sites that they support because each version of IE, and some other browsers, add compatibility quirks with regard to how their interpret code. So we face a stalemate between browser compatibilities now. People have to write hacks to get their sites to work in certain browsers and walk on pins and needles. The only solution is a little far-fetched, but I like to think (when I'm in my happy place) that it's someday possible: all the browsers actually agree on the same set of standards in mind-numbing detail and focus instead on security and the user experience. In any case, IE8 now is facing the very real war of pragmatists versus idealists. The idealistic perspective is what I just mentioned: stick strong to standards and force everyone to conform to the them. The former is to focus on backwards-compatibility with the older version of IE. Currently, the idealists are winning, and it will definitely cost Microsoft dearly if they do win. If Vista has taught them anything, I hope that that it's to temper this idealism with pragmatism and try not to screw your market share. We'll see what prevails in the end.

The FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction is almost complete with the Verizon and AT&T coming out on top. They took the C and D blocks for $9.4 and $6.6 billion, respectively. Apparently, Google only bid to reach the reserve and force open standards. Will this mean better cell phone coverage? I hope so, but only time will tell.

Yahoo has decided to release a very positive outlook for 2009 and 2010. It's so positive, in fact, that it surpasses the predictions made by pretty much any of the analysts forecasting their revenues. Whether or not Yahoo believes this prediction, which I'm sure they do, I believe that the real purpose is two-fold: to put confidence in the investors that they're in control and to try to raise Microsoft's bid in case they can't get out of being taken over. Relations between Microsoft and Yahoo seem to be a little calmer, but Microsoft still hasn't budged on its offer and investors don't sound like this new outlook gives them much more faith in Jerry Yang. Meanwhile, Microsoft has snatched up web analysis company Rapt, Inc. I imagine that they're trying to compete with Google Analytics here. I think that Microsoft strategy needs some work because they're falling into the Yahoo trap of competing with specific Google services rather than offering something out-of-the-ordinary that will bring them users. While I've said before that they do both have some great applications (Yahoo and Microsoft, I mean) they're lacking in user bases, and that's another thing for them to work on (hopefully together). You think they'll create an online university to compete with Google Code University (which, for the record, I think was a pretty neat idea)?

In the meantime, AOL has decided to buy social networking site Bebo for $850 million. I definitely got the feeling that this was under-covered, probably because AOL isn't as sexy as they once were. You may not have heard of Bebo because it's huge in Europe but not so much in the U.S., so maybe AOL is trying to expand Bebo's prowess to the U.S.? If it integrates well enough with AIM, it's not impossible. Now that you can do remote desktop in AIM, its professional user base is probably growing. Facebook had a response, that perhaps wasn't planned with this in mind: IM on Facebook. We're not sure yet if it will be built on Jabber or if they'll provide an API for it, so for now it'll be only for Facebook. I'm guessing that it will work similarly to GTalk as far as just pure functionality and I believe their goal is to keep people on Facebook longer so that it can continue to evolve into this web desktop that people often buzz about.

This is pretty neat news: Mininova is launching a closed beta to test out video streaming researched at Harvard with the Tribler team involved, as well. It sounds like it will work similar to how current torrents work: as you receive packets for the video stream you'll serve it to others trying to stream the video and use the "Give-to-Get" algorithm to ensure that the video becomes truly on-demand. I'm really excited to see what comes out from the other end of the beta and I have high hopes because I've always been fascinated by torrents and I'd love to see that technology applied in a more widespread legitimate way, even if it's directly through torrents. Video streaming, after all, has really exploded in the past few years.

Last, but not least: Miro has released a new update to Miro with plenty of performance improvements and bug fixes. Miro is a heavy application, but really awesome if you can afford the RAM.

I'll leave you with the new Wall-E trailer, which is really cute and very entertaining.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Legal Torrents for Movies?

No, I'm not referring to a new site. I'm talking about an interview that TorrentFreak had with the creators of The Pirate Bay, who have been in the lime light because of their upcoming trial. Anyway, one of the big quotes from that interview is their advice to the movie and music industry to start their own torrent site and put The Pirate Bay out of business. Would this ever happen? I kind of doubt it. Yes, there are several popular movies on BitTorrent, but how many people do you know who have tried it? Why would you pay $20 for a digital copy of a movie that you can only watch on 2 computers? The over-arching issue here really is DRM. Releasing DRM-laden movies on BitTorrent is like if someone orders a hamburger and you only give them half of it. How many years did it take the music industry to turn to DRM-free mp3s? It will take at least that long for the movie industry to come along. I have a feeling that they eventually will come around, I just don't know when. So if I believe they're guaranteed to eventually ditch the DRM why don't I think they're likely to use torrents for distribution? Simple: control. These companies like to have a lot of control, hence DRM. Getting rid of DRM will be losing a lot of control for them, and I think it'll be a while longer before they lose control of distribution to a peer network, despite how well-constructed BitTorrent DNA is. I'll admit that it's possible though, but getting studios to come together on a torrent site won't be much easier than getting the labels together (I have no idea how Amazon MP3 pulled this off). I think they'll associate torrents with the enemy for a long time, and not be trusting of it. But I'll be optimistic and say that it's possible, just not in the near future.

The more content that Hulu has been getting, the more street cred it has been receiving. In case you don't remember, this site's goal is to provide television shows on-demand (current and past) for free. You can think of it as a competitor to Joost, only it's not hard to use and has popular TV shows. NBC's defection from iTunes was a pretty bold statement, I think. I've been using it to watch Firefly and other stuff since the writer's strike began and I never missed my television set during that time (though I did use it to watch DVDs). That article makes a good point that they should advance television to the next level with this with more interactive features and discussion, which I definitely agree with. I think that it should become an integral part of IP TV, as time progress. I've been reliant on Hulu and Miro for the past 3 months, to be honest, so I can see these two ideas combining later on. Anyway, the big news is that Hulu is public now. That means that you can see my favorite Superbowl ad and much more at Hulu; you won't be disappointed:

Mozilla released Firefox 3 Beta 4 just a couple of days ago and apparently the GUI has been retooled to play nicer with the Vista UI experience. In fact, it's designed to look native to the OS you're in and integrate more tightly with OS X, Windows, and Linux. I actually haven't played around with the new Beta much myself, but so far so good (I don't have Vista anyway, so I wouldn't be able to attest to the above claim). Apparently, they've been putting a lot of effort into improving their memory usage. Reading that post was really cool to me, but if you haven't had a course in Operating Systems then it'll probably bore you to tears. I just thought it was cool because you can tell that they've really been digging deep to improve complaints about crashes and memory leaks. I just love it when developers are so responsive to the concerns of their customers. I think IE has been gradually learning lessons like this from the Firefox team. If you look at the development of IE 6 as opposed to 7 or 8, you can see how radically different they are.

I just want to make a quick note about Dropbox because I think it's really cool. You can see a tour of it here, and it's basically an online back-up and synchronization service that is still in beta. I think the concept is phenomenal: it will synch your data across multiple computers and with the online backup of your data. It kind of reminds me of Drobo. It works without inundating you with details but providing you with data integrity (an underrated issue nowadays in the mainstream) and and synchronization. I worry about its speed as you work with larger files, but I'm sure that they've been designing it with scalability in mind. I'll let you guys know if I get in the private beta.

I've never been a big fan of Nine Inch Nails (I liked the crazy video for "Closer"), but I've always retained a certain degree of respect for Trent Reznor. Since they're no longer tied to a record label they decided to release an instrumental album called Ghosts, and I really dig it. They've followed in the footsteps of Radiohead and released the first 9 tracks for free. What's really awesome is that each track is associated with a picture that helps convey the mood of the song, and I don't think I've ever heard of a band doing that before. If you decide you like it, you can buy the whole album (36 tracks) for just $5. The first 9 tracks are actually pretty good, I recommend trying it out. They're also selling hard copies in different editions with DVDs and vinyls and such for more money. What's great is that all that money goes to them, and none of it to a record label.

Before I close out here, I have to say that I find Hillary Clinton's recent antics ridiculous and unacceptable. She is supporting John McCain over Barack Obama! If you're a Republican and you support McCain, then that's fine. I respect that you believe his policies and you can vote for him, that's cool. However, it's ridiculous if you're a Democratic nominee for the candidacy of President of the United States and you betray your party for someone whose beliefs are completely contrary to that of the Democratic Party. Obama has a lot of experience as a community organizer, Illinois legislator, and Senator. Being a first lady does not count as experience. She was a Senator for a few more years, but how much more did she get done than Obama? Her negative campaigning just aggravates me. I'm trying so hard to respect her and what she has accomplished in her career, but the mudslinging does not help, especially when you antagonize what may be the only hope for your party to regain control of the White House. Even some of her front-line supporters are defecting. She's being hypocritical in her attacks, and if she didn't make these ridiculous claims then people wouldn't be so harsh on her and she'd have a much better chance of winning. Can't she see that? She's only going to hurt this Party's resurgence by giving material to McCain if Obama wins (which is becoming more and more likely now that he's erased her gains last Tuesday in just one week). Ok *sigh*, I'm off my soapbox.

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl

This post is long overdue, so I'll be talking about some old news. I've just been so busy lately, and dealing with election stuff all night on Tuesday while having a midterm this morning didn't help things. Before I get to the news, I want to get on my soapbox real quick. I want to encourage the few of you who actually read my blog, as well as any transients, to speak your mind whenever possible except when it's intentionally offensive or slanderous. Someone made a ridiculous comment on my last post and I feel that now is as good a time as any to say that I blog because I think I have useful commentaries about what's going on in technology. I'm fairly young to this industry though I've been keeping up with it for a long time, and despite my rudimentary knowledge of politics I think my viewpoint is sometimes useful there in helping others understand my demographic. Don't let anyone make you believe that your opinions are trash. Stick to what you believe in and don't allow yourself to be censored or bullied into silence. Opinionated people make the world go round.

Ok, I'm off my soapbox now. I drove way out to Slaughter Lane last weekend to see The Other Boleyn Girl since it appears to be the only theater in Austin showing it. When a movie has Natalie Portman, Eric Bana, and Scarlett Johansson, it's probably worth seeing. The movie is intended to be a historical drama (based on the book of the same name) that takes place under the rule of King Henry VIII when he has an affair with the Boleyn sisters and breaks from the Catholic Church to form the Anglican Church. The book is known for drawing a lot of criticism on the historical bits and pieces that it pulls together, and the movie distorts the book further probably moving it to be even less historically accurate. So when it says "based on a true story", you should probably insert "loosely" in there. You have to come to this movie knowing to expect a twisted, dramatic romance movie that really falls under historical fiction.

Maybe I was naive to think well of this movie, because it got pretty bad reviews. I would say that I "enjoyed" it, except for that it was pretty depressing for the last hour or so. It's a pretty bleak picture of the greed of their father distorts the lives of these sisters and ultimately turns one harshly against the other. A number of critics disagree with me, but I thought that the acting was great. I definitely believe the female leads, though the King could've definitely been more kingly at times. Still, that's more a fault of the screenplay than the acting. The sets are incredible, as are the costumes. You definitely get the feeling that you're in 16th century England in the House of Tudor. The movie definitely comes to a halt in a particularly graphic rape scene. It's graphic aurally, not visually. So the climax of the movie ends up being, in a way, its lowest point. I just found that kind of interesting. I thought the dialogue was appropriate without being too haughty or annoying. I really believed what the movie was telling me, even if it was fictional, and I felt like it did a good job of turning a tale we don't know a whole lot about into a sordid tale of sex, love and betrayal. If you're feeling adventurous, give it a shot. I give it a B+, personally. That having been said, I can't see it again for a long while much like I can't see Brokeback Mountain again like ever (though Brokeback was considerably more depressing).

I'm definitely glad to finally say that the format war is over! Blu-ray has officially won as Toshiba announced that it will no longer produce HD-DVD players or recorders by the end of the month, though it will still keep a stockpile of media for those who already bought a player. This isn't to say that studios won't still release movies in HD-DVD or sell them in that format, but that's not likely to last long. If you bought an HD-DVD player: sorry. Don't say you hadn't been warned though if you bought one this year since I've been talking about studios focusing more on Blu-ray. One Japanese store is actually letting customers who bought an HD-DVD player from them trade it in for a Blu-ray player. I'm amazed at this act of kindness and customer loyalty, and don't imagine that anyone will be doing that stateside.

Maybe no one cares about this but me, but Stage 6 has finally closed up shop. I personally liked the site and felt like it was a great idea because it was trying to be a high-quality YouTube by encoding videos in DivX. Unfortunately, I don't think it ever gained the popularity in needed to sustain itself, and so on goes YouTube's monopoly over user-created videos.

Ready for your daily dose of net neutrality news? Sandvine, a company that sells the technology to ISPs used to throttle BitTorrents, has seen its sales drop 88% in the past year. Why? Maybe ISPs started to realize that this stuff is more trouble than it's worth. Comcast is actually being sued by a number of people in D.C. who are outraged by the throttling and are claiming false advertising of "unfettered access" to the Internet. Sandvine's "technology" is actually pretty shady, in my opinion: it injects RST packets over your connection that reset the flow of data prohibiting seeding of torrents. The FCC is siding with the plaintiffs: they acknowledge that disrupting the flow of data over the Internet to their users shouldn't be allowed and are calling for transparency in how ISPs are running their networks. Does it burn, Comcast? It's like when a boy punches his little sister and she complains to their mother, but when the boy promises that he didn't do anything the mom believes the sister and starts to crack down. Comcast claims that they're not throttling, though they clearly are. This should be interesting.

If you're a Democrat then odds are good that you've been watching the national news networks lately more than usual. I never watch CNN but I've been finding myself trying to get to a TV with cable for the live election coverage. In any case, I think that Fox News is infamous for being the worst of all these networks in the quality and right-wing skew of their reporting overall. I thought it was pretty cool that one comedian they had brought on to tell Huckabee jokes went on a really short rant live on Fox News against them before they interviewed some scantily clad Star Trek girls. Like I said last week, something is wrong when the crap we're being fed is about Britney Spears and Star Trek girls rather than our deteriorating health care system, or net neutrality, or even the long-term effects of deficit spending. I'm glad someone took a small step in the right direction.

And now, we find ourselves back at Yahoo. I apparently missed that a few weeks ago they fired their whole design innovation team. This was especially funny because of how uninspired their designs often are. Yahoo Live alone is enough proof of this, but there's also their ever-retro homepage and ailing mail interface. It's not going to help them much, but maybe now they can try to redesign themselves to help out their stockholders. More importantly though, they're seeking protection from Microsoft under Time Warner. I briefly mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but now they're really pushing hard on this. The deal would be that they'd control AOL and Time Warner would get a stake in Yahoo. Similarly, they'd be satisfied with control of MySpace in exchange for giving a stake of themselves to News Corp. To make matters worse for Microsoft, they don't have to hold another shareholders meeting until July, which could further delay a proxy fight and give Yahoo more time to seek an alternate route to the takeover.

Let me reiterate that this dance they're doing is ridiculous. Steve Ballmer is deadset on acquiring them, and he *gasp* actually has ideas for how to effectively integrating their services with competing (or similar) Microsoft products. AOL is not the best brand for Yahoo to take on and I honestly do not think that MySpace has legs on it. It's going to burn out sooner than later as bad press for it grows and its young user base outgrows it. Besides, I don't even know how likely Time Warner or News Corp is to go for these deals (I can't find information on if they suggested these deals, but I imagine that Yahoo did); they seem to be kind of one-sided. I will give credit to Yahoo for this onePlace thing they've unveiled. It's meant to be your mobile hub for online content and services, and it looks nifty, but I hope they're planning on porting it to the iPhone SDK and I hope that they'll port it to Android also. I see those two platforms as being big within a year from now. Anyway, at least Yahoo isn't letting this stuff get in the way of their businesses.

Going back to Microsoft real quick: they've made Internet Explorer 8 available to test drive (hmmm, you think this is because of the early release of Firefox 3's beta?) while admitting that it's not feature-complete. Some of the improvements they boast are better standards-compliance, integration with eBay and Facebook, and better functionality with AJAX pages (I'm really not sure what this means). The only thing on that list I'm impressed with is the standards-compliance thing, because they're making a better effort this time than IE7, but we'll see how it ends up. Meanwhile, Firefox has hit 500 million downloads, which I think is pretty awesome. I love seeing underdogs do better.

Joel Spolsky published a couple of articles on about entrepreneurship that I recommend reading. One of them is about how it's important for top leadership in the company to not lose sight of what the lives of their employees is like and the other is about how to not write off ideas that may seem crazy without trying to believe in it first. I'm a firm believer in the latter, and I think you kind of have to be in this industry. Who would've thought that Facebook would've taken off the way it has? Or even YouTube, for that matter. It's an ever-challenging field that requires extreme optimism, at times.

Since I haven't done the Saturday 9 in a while, I'm going to give last week's a shot:

1. Did your mother go to college, if so where?
Nope, I don't think she had the chance to India (though she always wanted to).

2. Do you have a relative that is a lawyer?
I'm pretty sure I have a cousin whose husband is a lawyer, but we don't keep in touch with them much at all.

3. Do you have a relative that is a doctor?
Yes, but not an MD, just a PhD ;)

4. Did you take music lessons as a child? If yes, do you still play?
No, but I took guitar lessons in high school (just a class at school, actually) and I've been playing classical guitar off and on for about 5 years now.

5. Did you go to summer camp? If so would you send your child?
I think I did, but it wasn't very good. I think I'd send my child if I really liked the program and they enjoyed it and learned from it as well.

6. Do you believe that alcohol relieves stress?
To a certain extent, definitely. It's a nice, easy, short-term solution to stress. It's not healthy to always depend on alcohol to relieve stress, obviously, but it's nice for a lazy Friday night.

7. Have you ever performed on stage? If so tell us about it.
Not quite, though I have played guitar in front of a pretty big group of strangers in my high school's courtyard. I've also sung at a karaoke club if that counts.

8. What things do you find easy to remember ?
Things that I enjoy learning about (often techie stuff).

9. What things do you find easy to forget ?
Things that are way too complicated for me to understand or really boring/useless (*cough*DigitalLogicDesign*cough*).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

My Precinct

The Caucus Precinct 247 in Travis county (in Austin, Texas) went to Obama. 19 delegates for Barack Obama, 8 for Hillary Clinton.

I'm sure no one cares, but just for those who are Googling it up out there ;)