Monday, January 12, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Sweeps the Golden Globes!

Trip to Whistler

Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but I didn't really run into as many articles about it as in past years so I wonder if that's a bad sign for the future of the conference? Anyway, there's still plenty to talk about. Before I get down to it, I wanted to share a video I put together about my trip the week before last with my brother and sister-in-law to Whistler, B.C. for my first ski trip ever:

The Pintos Go Skiing (Public Cut) from Eptiger on Vimeo.

If you have a decent computer, I urge you to please click through to watch it in HD (they don't allow HD embedding). I shot the footage in 720p with my Flip Mino HD (and the pictures are from my standard Canon PowerShot SD 450) so the quality is pretty awesome. I had a lot of fun on the trip and it was really beautiful out there, so I hope you enjoy the video!

It was my first time editing with Windows Movie Maker HD, which came with my copy of Vista Home Premium, and I was impressed. I was skeptical starting out because it defaults to a mode where you drag and drop pictures/videos and transitions (Storyboard mode), but I later figured out that there's a drop down to toggle to Timeline mode, which is what iMovie users will be familiar with. Overall, I liked it more than iMovie. I last used iMovie on a Mac Pro with 8 cores and 8 GB of RAM, and it was quite unstable and prone to crashing. Conversely, I worked with Movie Maker on this laptop, which is a Core 2 Duo with 3 GB of RAM, and it was very stable. The main features that iMovie seems to have over Movie Maker are with regard to sound: volume control in particular. However, I liked that Movie Maker had 4 layers: video, text, video sound, and music. So I could modify text without having to re-render video, and transitions could also be modified without having to re-render video. Little things like that helped really speed up the editing process, though playback was choppy on my computer, which I'm guessing is just because my computer only has two cores. Plus, Windows DVD Maker works just as well, in my opinion, as iDVD. I'm actually shocked as to how much more popular iMovie is (granted, I was using an older version, not one of the newer ones) when editing feels so much more fluid in Movie Maker. Anyway, hopefully I'll be able to do videos more often now.

The Golden Globes

Tonight was the Golden Globes, and I actually turned on the TV in just the nick of time to catch all of it. I felt like the winners were pretty worthy overall, and I thought it was really awesome that Slumdog Millionaire swept the Golden Globes winning 4 awards: Best Picture (Drama), Best Director, Best Score, and Best Screenplay. I never would've predicted that a film pretty much exclusively starring Indians would sweep the American Golden Globes so soon in my lifetime, and it just makes me proud that people can see a movie that more accurately reflects life in India. Plus, even though it's a British film it shows that Indians can make better films than 3 hour musicals.

Another great part of the ceremony was Heath Ledger winning Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight, but I was disappointed that it wasn't up for any other awards. If he lost to like Tom Cruise for Tropic Thunder though, I think that even Tom would be a little pissed. They just showed one scene from the movie when he won, but I was hoping for a collage of scenes from all his movies. Anyway, Nolan spoke very well on his behalf, and I was moved. The other award I was excited about was Wall-E winning Best Animated Film, because it was one of my favorites from the year. Lastly, I have to say that I was surprised, but pleased, that Anna Paquin won for Best Actress in a TV Drama for Tru Blood. I thought the show could've been better, but she was definitely great in her role.

Apple's Macworld Keynote

It's funny how many people predicted that Jobs would be part of the Macworld keynote, and yet he didn't make an appearance at all. Instead, the keynote was a Schiller-only affair. Still, there wasn't a whole lot announced. The biggest thing was that iTunes is now fully DRM free, which I guess is bad news for Amazon MP3 (except for that I think the customer experience is better on Amazon than in iTunes), with variable pricing: $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29 (with more supposedly falling in that first one than the third one). If you want to convert your already purchased songs to be DRM-free, just pay Apple $0.30 more per song. I don't think that's a very good customer experience, but I guess Apple doesn't really care since it took them this long to go DRM-free anyway. One last thought on the subject: I think that Amazon has been raising the bar on the retail customer experience for years now (and competitors have done the same to us), and I would definitely say that Amazon contributed to this happening. Part of the beauty of a free market economy, I suppose.

If you're an iPhone owner, I guess you'd care that you can now buy songs over 3G instead of just WiFi, which I'm guessing wasn't possible before because AT&T didn't want the traffic on their network. Aside from a boring iLife presentation (although it is cool that you can learn how to play music in GarageBand now), the only other big thing was a new 17" MacBook Pro built of aluminum, which they claim is the thinnest laptop of its kind and costs $2800. The coolest thing about it is a non-removable battery that they claim lasts 8 hours on one charge. They made a big fuss about how revolutionary this battery is, but many are saying that it's really the same Lithium-polymer technology that has been around just molded out of more of it to fit in this small form factor. Regardless, it's very clever and gives consumers something that they really want and often need. It was the most impressive announcement they made at the keynote, in my opinion.

Are the days gone of flashy Apple keynotes with lots of exciting new stuff? Not necessarily, but I think that Apple has run out of cards and is now having to try to innovate once again, something that's challenging and time consuming.

Phone News

I guess that CES brought out a lot of phone news. I was kind of surprised to see LG's Watch Phone, which is a fun novelty and a bit utilitarian, but doesn't seem entirely usable. It is just what it sounds like: a phone in a watch, but it's controlled by a wheel button (and has two normal buttons on either side of it). Still, it does look very Bond-esque.

Palm has produced a phone that, I'm completed shocked to say, looks impressive: the Pre. It's a slider phone with a full Qwerty keyboard and an atractive form factor. It is not the same OS that has been on its Treo series and includes a browser based on Webkit (just like the Android browser) rather than the craptacular Blazer. As an owner of a Treo, I can tell you that I didn't think I'd ever buy a Palm device again, but these pictures made me think twice: the Web OS seems quite slick and almost like Mac OS X with the way the "gesture bar" allows you to choose applications. You can see the CES demo here, which makes it looks like an iPhone with a keyboard, but that's exactly the phone I've been looking for (well, on an open platform like Android though, ideally). I guess the lesson to be learned here is Palm is not out of the market yet. I'm sure I'll be talking about the Pre soon (heck, I may even buy it if it ends up being as good as it looks).

Sling Media did a demo at Macworld of the SlingPlayer Mobile that will basically let you watch TV on your iPhone and control your SlingBox-enabled DVR through it, I suppose with maybe a more advanced interface than TiVo's interface for controlling its DVRs. It's a cool product, but I have to know more, including price points, to pass judgement on it. I can see the value in being able to watch TV on my phone, but I don't know about paying a monthly fee for it (or would it piggyback off of your home service so that they only cost would be the one time price of the application?).

One last piece of phone news: Garmin is coming out with a phone called the nuvi Phone, and even premiered a video about it at CES. As you can imagine, it's centered around its GPS functionality. The deal here is that you can do something like send a friend a picture of where you are and their nuvi Phone could take them exactly to where that picture is, or stick the phone to your windshield to be your car GPS. It'll be interesting to see if they can pull off a good phone UI, and I wouldn't underestimate them since they built such solid GPS products (I love my nuvi 660).

Big Twitter Hack

I'm really only reporting on this because this article has an image where someone wrote on the FoxNews feed "Breaking: Bill O'Riley is gay". That's just way too funny. Anyway, they were one of the victims (which included BarackObama) of a hacker who hacked into the account of someone on the support team who had the authority to change the sorts of settings on people's accounts that could have their passwords resent to the hacker. The 18 year-old hacker responded to requests for access to accounts readily and didn't post on any feeds himself, but probably just did this for fun and to prove how insecure the site was. The fact that a simple dictionary attack (yielding the word 'happiness') worked means that they didn't think through security at all - why didn't they impose a maximum limit on bad password attempts? Even 10 would be reasonable enough to prevent an attack like this.

I'm going to sneak in one more bit of security news: Netcraft has discovered that 14% of SSL certificates online are potentially unsafe due to the ability to create a fake Certificate Authority (CA) to verify certificates based on the slight vulnerable MD5 hashing algorithm. I know, that's a lot to explain. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) allows one to talk to someone else online (like a bank) over an encrypted connection (i.e. no one can eavesdrop). A third party CA issues certificates vying for the identity of that someone else as well as providing public keys: one half of the encryption equation. Anyway, part of this handshake to get keys in place for the encryption process involves a hash function (a function that provides a fixed-size output for a variable input, which is a one-way function or else you could know the input from the output), and the fact that it has become easier and easier to find collisions in MD5 (i.e. find possible inputs for a possible output), it is not so hard to fake being a CA for SSL ciphers that use MD5. The risk to you is probably minimal, but the percentage of MD5 certificates out there is just kind of shocking since SHA-1, an alternate hashing function, has been preferred for years now.

Final Notes

Ok, it's past my bedtime so now for the rest of the news.

This is a great video if you ever wondered how the Internet works. It's really quite accurate and interesting.

I love listening to TWiT, so I have to plug this article about why Leo Laporte's online empire represents the future of TV.

Polaroid is bringing back its flagship camera with a digital camera that basically has a small color printer built into it. I don't know if I really see the demand for this product anymore though, especially since they're going to be lower quality than taking your memory card to Wal-mart or some other store with machines that can print out your photos in really good quality for a few dimes each.

LG has started a partnership with Netflix where their new TVs will have integrated access to Netflix's streaming service, which is similar to Amazon's partnership with Sony. Of course, you have to subscribe to Netflix to take advantage of this.

Obama has asked to push back the transition from analog to digital for television, which you could claim is so that people who don't know better don't lose TV access months after he becomes president, but it's also because the PR for explaining the situation to people has not been very good and could use some more work.

I'm pretty sure that I'll be buying a TiVo HD tomorrow, so maybe I'll have it in time to talk a bit about it next week. Of course, I'll also be getting Burn Notice Season One and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Season 3 tomorrow, which are both awesome shows, but I'm sure you're all less interested in them. Until next time, I hope you all have a good week!

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