Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Weather is Nice Outside

Summer Came Early?

Winter hasn't really ended yet in Seattle - evident in that it was snowing last Thursday. I'm going to use today's incredible weather as my excuse for not reviewing the Slumdog Millionaire Blu-ray. I do have it though (Amazon's magical ways somehow got it to me the day after release). For now, I'll say that I was disappointed with the Blu-ray but I'm still happy with it overall. I just don't have to time right now to go into details so you'll have to come back next week to learn more!

The time I would've spent going through all the special features and writing the review went instead to walking around outside today and putting together this short video from it, which is half just huge flowers and half cityscape (please click on the 'HD' in the lower right corner once it starts playing to see it in HD, or just click through to the YouTube page and watch it in HD there):

It was shocking how perfect the weather was. I used to consider T-shirt and shorts weather to be weather where you'd sweat too much wearing pants and shoes, but it didn't feel too warm at all out. It's funny how not only was the market packed but there were even more cars than usual going through Belltown. Not to get too religious here and divert from my typical tech focus, but it's really humbling to be one person witnessing such beauty from a higher being. I didn't think I'd enjoy it so much since I couldn't find anyone else free to go with me to the BBQ competition in the market, but it was nice and relaxing. I'm not even usually a big flower guy but when you see so many huge, colorful flowers it's hard to not stop and notice them.

Time Warner Screws 4 More Cities

Most of the nation already has a well-developed hatred for Comcast, and the rest turn their anger towards Time Warner Cable - the other massive cable monopoly. A while ago they tried out a tiered Internet program that charged customers by how much bandwidth they used, and now they're rolling it out to Austin (*tear*), San Antonio, Rochester, and Greensboro. I suppose this is better than it going out to all their markets, but it's not a good sign if they're pleased enough to expand this trainwreck. Having to pay $55 a month for 40 GB of bandwidth is an enormous price jump, especially in a place like Austin or San Antonio where salaries aren't as high as other parts of the nation to cover such a price gouge and may have people turning to DSL instead. I can see it doing one or more of a few things. People could cut out cable TV to get a beefier Internet plan, especially families with teenage kids and tech geeks. People could use the Internet less and less for rich content ending in a big lose for online on demand video services, Netflix streaming, YouTube and Hulu, and any other beefy sites. People may look into alternatives like WiMax (or, as I mentioned earlier, DSL).

People are definitely getting pissed about it whom are soon to be affected. If enough people get through to local government and complain to Time Warner, it's possible that they can nip this in the bud. It's sad that we have to encourage grassroots movements to get companies that provide major utilities to not spit in the faces of their customers. I don't know what's more reviling to me, their discouragement of the expansion of the Internet in our homes or the fact that they're trying to profit off the naivete of the average person who has no clue that Internet infrastructure costs are only going down with time and extra bandwidth doesn't really cost them extra money. If they want to start their lowest bandwidth plan for $30 at 100 GB and then charge $50 for like 250 GB, that I can understand. The rates they're intending to charge though are basically highway robbery. If you're going to be affected by these changes, please fight back. You're not just fighting back for yourself, but the other cities they may expand to if you accept it willingly.

YouTube's Upcoming Re-design

I don't like to usually talk about features and re-designs that haven't happened yet, but I just found it interesting that YouTube is planning on changing its navigation to focus on "Movies, Music, Shows, and Videos". What does this mean? It looks like they're feeling the pinch of not having had a lot of success with monetizing their content. While one side of that coin is keeping their number of unique visitors strong and engaged the other side is attracting advertisers to trust them and to display their advertisement with the desired brand image. With the first three tabs clearly delineated as premium outside content, advertisers may feel more secure not being mixed in with people hurting themselves and strange clips from other countries.

In my opinion, this is an extremely risky move for YouTube. I don't see it ending well, but it's really hard to predict how it'll turn out. I don't want to say it's a stupid movie because Hulu being locked up (to the point of the HTML being encrypted) has really painted them in a corner. Their PR has been really terrible since they denied Boxee the ability to stream their content, and plus there's the fact that they only have the last few episodes of any given shows. I don't know if YouTube can strike up much better deals than Hulu since Hulu is backed by NBC Universal, but they may be able to differentiate enough from Hulu while keeping a good reputation with advertisers to attract more content, money, and happy customers. I think this is the right time for YouTube to give it a try, but I definitely worry for them. They were built on user-generated content, and branching out in the online world is never as easy as it looks.

Microsoft's Brand Image

Typically, I'm not a fan of John C. Dvorak's columns. I feel like he often says crazy stuff just to get people talking about something. I guess that's not so bad, but I feel like I can't believe him half the time. Anyway, I still think he's a smart guy and occasionally agree with him, like regarding his article about Microsoft's brand image getting worse. When Songsmith came out, everyone was railing on how stupid it was. If it was some Silicon Valley startup though, you know everyone would be praising its creativity. Let's take a bad Microsoft product: Internet Explorer. If Safari was the same thing as Internet Explorer, Mac users would still claim that it's the best browser out there because they think it came from Apple. It's amazing how many ridiculous features Apple releases for the iPod and iPhone that no one uses and yet everyone seems to love. Who really uses cover flow? Come on.

I feel bad for Microsoft. They're really trying hard to improve their image, and I think Windows 7 is a big step in the right direction. I never thought before about how much the company who makes a product matters in its reception and popularity. I guess it's always existed in things like cereal and detergent and products like that, but I never thought about it really in software.

Ton of Quickies

Ok, I'm seriously about to cough up a lung here, so I need to wrap this up and get to bed.

Wikileaks put up some fun facts about Western countries that are censoring their people, like that Norway, Denmark, and Finland have an unregulated censorship agreement with their ISPs.

PC World has a really great article about old pieces of technology that used to be very popular but are now almost never heard of. A lot of them are actually still available, it turns out. Like did you know that MiniDisc got upgraded to Hi-MD? Or that Iomega still sells Zip disks? I thought it was funny that Circuit City made their list.

Palm Pre demos have been fed to us to keep us interested in the device with no release date yet, but some of the 3rd party developers are clearly taking advantage of the background processing ability that Apple refuses to put into the iPhone API. Taking a stance on development opposite of Apple is what's going to save Palm, if they handle it properly.

What are the 10 skills developers need in the next 5 years? The list is debatable, but I think soft skills, web development, and "development hygiene" will definitely be key.

Digg launched the Digg Bar. It never works for me in Firefox because my Firefox seems to have a huge bug where it can't load Digg at all, but I'm sure the Digg Bar is peachy. It gives you short URLs with a little toolbar to make sharing easier - no special add-ons necessary.

Conficker didn't destroy the world yet, but it has create an enormous botnet. Fun fun.

Samsung announced the world's first WiMax mobile Internet device: Mondi. WiMax will get you faster speeds than 3G (probably on par with DSL, I'd imagine) and probably better rates than normal phone data plans, but WiMax isn't available everywhere.

A friend of mine released a really cool add-on for Firefox last week that lets you check movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes really easily. Check it out! More cool add-ons here.

The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 could give the president the power to nearly shut down the Internet. Basically, he would be able to designate some private networks as "critical" and order the limitation of traffic to these networks in an emergency situation. The bottom line is that it's too broad and needs better language to keep from giving up too much power.

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