Nov 27, 2005 - podcasting    No Comments

How I Love (Pod|Vid)casting

Extended holiday weekend … a chance to catch up on a variety of things. Given the options of:

  1. Watching regular television
  2. Watching movies on cable
  3. Watching DVDs
  4. Watching Video-on-Demand (VOD)
  5. Watching/Listening to Vidcasts (videoblogs) or podcasts

I find myself increasingly moving in the direction of #’s 3, 4, and 5 (with 5 becoming the fast favorite). Frankly, regular TV blows (duh), and has for some time. Lame concepts, rehashed plots, and commercials … those flippin’ commercials that you see every 5 minutes (if you’re fortunate, you won’t see the same commercial every single break … if your fortunate). Same companies pushing the same crap over and over and over again. I know, I know, I wrote about this before. I can’t help myself … I find the entertainment industry unbelievably frustrating these days.

Sadly, cable channels are beginning to follow in their footsteps at a more and more irritating rate. I used to really enjoy watching the SciFi Channel (which is sad, because now that they’re doing their own B-rated movies, I’d enjoy a mindless film from time to time … but …), the Food Network (it’s my personal chef side), Biography, The History Channel, and others … until they took the concept of commercials and cross-bred it with cross-promotion. Now, you have the same number of repeated interruptions to whatever you’re attempting to watch. But, rather than pepper you with spots for floor wax, spot remover, or the latest and greatest in SUV technology … they run ads for other shows on their own networks, and they do it with even more idiotic frequency than the major networks run “traditional” spots.

Even public television is beginning to go overboard. Granted, you don’t get commercial interruptions during the program (unless you’re watching during a pledge drive … and there seem to be more and more of those happening nowadays, too), just between shows, where you see one “underwriter” mentioned after another. And the “mentions” now take the form of 15- to 30-second commercial spots (but they’re not “commercials” … because public television doesn’t do “commercials” … you say toe-MAY-toe, I say toe-MAH-toe, doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s the same damn thing).

The folks from the premium networks (HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, etc.) must watch their fair share of public television, because you now see the same over repetition of “ads” promoting other shows on the same networks. And now that there isn’t just a single HBO, Showtime, or whatever channel there are entire networks of them (HBO Family, HBO Latin, Encore, Showtime Family, etc.) they can cross-promote shows from one channel to the next, providing an even broader selection of spots to assault us with.

Pay Per View (PPV) and Video On Demand (VOD) can aleviate commercial overload, assuming that you either:

  • are willing to put up with the fees the cable companies charge to rent a player that’s compatible with their networks, or
  • subscribe to a service like TiVo, and are willing to accept their restrictions on content utilization (including, but not limited to, their systems ability to delete content from your system after a period of time, whether you wish that content deleted or not), or
  • are technically savvy enough (and equipped with some disposable income) to construct your own personal video recorder (PVR), which is becoming easier with the evolution of systems like MythTV, but still doesn’t necessarily integrate into a home theater system in a straightforward way.

And heaven forfend if you should opt out of television and want to listen to music. You can:

  • use iTunes from Apple, locking yourself into their software’s “interesting” (transaltion: designed by people who apparently never bothered to ask the user community how they do things) method of managing music. The price ($0.99/song) is right (though the record labels want to change that), and it works for many … but …, or
  • subscribe to audible.com, locking yourself into their proprietary format, or
  • use software like WinAmp and rip your own music (again with the technically savvy)

Depending on the path you choose, you may find yourself limited, hobbled, frustrated, or harrassed by the RIAA (which seems to have carte blanche to act as a private collections agency/enforcement unit with almost complete impunity).

In a word … make that two words … no thanks.

I love what’s happening in the podcasting and videoblogging world right now. New content … fresh content … niche content … things you’d never see through other commercial channels (because they wouldn’t be able to figure out how to monetize it sufficiently) … and, most important, content created by regular people for regular people. Plus, because it’s “time shifted”, you can listen watch what you want when you want to. Save shows for later and listen/watch them again. Got an idea for a show of your own? Grab an iRiver (or similar player w/ a microphone) and dive right in.

It’s giving the regular media channels a headache they so richly deserve. They can’t control it … the can’t monopolize it (in spite of Apples iTunes 4.9 launch which, initially, pushed “indie” podcasters out of the limelight as the networks rolled shows out … until people realized that the network’s “shows” were just the same crap they’ve been slinging in a new package with a pretty pink bow) … they can’t even figure out how to monetize it (making some of them question the viability of the medium: “If I can’t figure out how to make money with it, it’ll never be popular enough to worry about.” Wrong).

But enough of the rant. Check it out, it’s worth exploring. To start “casting your own web”, check out some of the following places:

  • IndiePodder.org — Adam Curry manages the top-level of this growing OPML-based directory (meaning the individual categories are managed by people from around the world) of podcasts.
  • PodSafe Music Network — Loaded with music that is safe (i.e. free of RIAA interference) to listen to (and use in your own podcasts)
  • PodNova — An online podcast aggregation service (simple and easy to use). Access your feeds from anywhere.
  • MeFeedia — An online video cast aggregation service. Relatively new, easy to use.
  • Juice — Open source “podcatching” client for Windows, Mac, and Linux (soon). Can be tied to your PodNova account to automatically keep up your current list of feeds, downloading new casts as they become available (so you can plug them right into your player without having to go hunting for them).
  • FireANT — Video feed catcher/watcher

If you’re interested in getting started with your own podcast, one of the best sources I can mention is Podcast411. Rob’s done a remarkable job creating a library of tutorials that can get you off and running.

Me? Yeah, I’m working on a couple shows (completely different genres). When they’re ready for prime time … you’ll be the first one to know.

Oct 23, 2005 - entertainment, observations    No Comments

Corteo: The Show Moves On

I finally went to see Corteo this afternoon, catching the last show before it leaves Minneapolis and heads for San Fransicso. As I said back when Alegria was in town, if you ever have the opportunity to see a Cirque du Soleil show, go.

Sitting in the 4th row back from the stage, it was almost too close (the show is heavily aerobatic, with people flying on wires all over the place), but it was definitely worth it. I’m not even going to try to describe the performance, it simply cannot be done with words, you have to experience it for yourself. And the DVDs, the music CDs, and the TV airings on Bravo don’t get you there either. Yes, they’re good … but they only give you a taste … and it’s simply not the same. I find myself comparing the evening to the MasterCard commercial series:

  • Tickets: $70
  • Parking: $10
  • Bag of popcorn the size of your head: $5
  • Chance to see Cirque du Soleil: priceless

I went alone this year (was trying to get some friends to go … and they were interested … just not enough to commit to a date so we could get tickets. Their loss.) and, although watching those lithe, limber athletes bounding around both sky and stage (reminding me how out of shape I am … and how old I’m getting), it was still fantastic. Even better was seeing that Minnesotans have grown up a bit from when Alegria was in town: not a single cellphone went off during the performance (at least, none that I could hear). The opening announcements I found creative yet subtle when dealing with this:

“… after the show, please remember to turn your cellphones and pagers back on …”

No “please turn them off, now” message like the last time (for all the good it did … just read my post) … just a polite reminder to turn them back on when you leave. Inverse psychology, if you will. I like that.

And still, there are some things that are so traditionally “Minnesota un-nice” … I think they’re typical of human behavior regardless of the state or city … like trying to get out of the parking lot after the show. Rather than go into a diatribe around each instance, I offer the following “Tips of Parking Lot Etiquette”:

  • When entering the lot, think ahead. It may make perfect sense to put the car as close to the exit as you possibly can, but parking in the aisle you know people are going to be driving down when their trying to leave means you’ll have to make a jackass of yourself backing out into the exit lane when you want to go.
  • If you must park in the exit aisle, go find a restaurant or bar and have a cocktail (or two) after the show. Wait for 30 minutes (or an hour) before trying to go extricate your car. You’ll have more fun, and spend less time waiting.
  • When walking to your car, remember that there are people in large, heavy, metalic motorized vehicles that are already trying to leave … walk through them at places that will do the least damage to the flow of traffic. You may find that things are easier for you to get out when you finally get into your car if you let more people ahead of you do the same.
  • Since we’re all trying to do the same thing (leave), show a little courtesy for the people around you. Honking your horn, flashing your brights, or riding up on the trunk of the car in front of you because they’re not moving as fast as you’d like them to (nevermind that they can’t go forward right now because the traffic light at the exit is red) isn’t going to get you out the door any faster.
  • While I’m on the subject, keep in mind that we all have to squeeze out the same exit … so share. Just because you’ve got an SUV doesn’t make you special (stupid, probably … special, definitely not). Wait your turn.
  • Last (but definitely not least), relax. Be patient. You’ll get out just like everyone else.

In short, think. The very people who don’t think of those around them … are the same ones who get so mad when someone else’s lackof thinking directly impacts them.

That said, even the antics of my fellow Minnesotans didn’t tarnish the evening. It was a damn good show. If you ever have a chance … GO.

Oct 4, 2005 - podcasting    No Comments

Podcasting vs. 500 Cable Channels … the winner? (psst … it ain’t cable)

Catching up on my podcasts (I listen to way too many of them … but I can’t help myself), I’m listening to Adam Curry’s Daily Source Code for September 22 right now, as Adam’s doing a bit of comparison/contrast on the popularity of podcasting here in the states, while the concept is a little slower getting off the ground elsewhere around the globe.  To summarize, Adam believes:

  • Podcasting is popular here in the US because people are fed up with what radio/TV are currently offering … the technology now exists both for you and I to both create and share content (audio now, and video coming) … and people are “voting with their ears and eyes” by hunting down something new.
  • In the UK (for example), the media (BBC) does better programming, so there’s less frustration or dissatisfaction … hence podcasting, while growing, is growing slower.

I completely agree.  The networks (and I’m talking television, cable, and radio) have done a wonderful job packaging up pablum that the unwashed masses have greedily consumed.  Problem is … we may be unwashed, but we like a bit of variety in our diet … and the networks are doin’ a poorer and poorer job with the meal planning (to continue the analogy).  What with all the talk of obesity in America, you could extend things even farther and say that our media habits are as cholesterol-and-sugar-heavy as our eating habits, except that it’s our minds that are getting fat, slow, and lethargic.  Spoon feed the same boring … well, crap … and see what happens?

But I digress.  Here’s another angle to consider:  Remember when cable (TV) first made its appearance?  Remember all the promises made by cable/broadband proponents?

  • Enhanced TV (with additional embedded content)
  • 500 channels (or more) … you could literally find anything you want to watch

That was then … this is now:

  • Enhanced TV … if you have a High Definition TV and you’re watching one of the few programs that use it
  • More channels than before … not 500 … unless you count the 20 channels of in-car NASCAR + 20 channels of football + 20 channels of baseball + multiple ESPN channels + all the HBO channels + all the Showtime channels (that show the same movies) + … get the picture?

Why has it been this way?  Simple:  money.  It costs money to fire up channels (tv, cable, radio, doesn’t matter) … money to produce shows.  Where do you get money?  Advertisers … but it comes with a price:  the advertiser then controls (or, at the very least, influences) the programming.  And, it costs a lot of money.

Not with podcasting.  In fact, anyone can create a podcast.  All you need is an iRiver and a trip to Rob’s podcast411.com website (and podcast) to go through his tutorials and you’re off and casting … and you can podcast about anything you want.  You can even do video casts … with nothing more than your home movie camera if you choose.

Welcome to 500 real channels with content that spans the map.  Check out indiepodder.org or podnova and see for yourself.

Oct 1, 2005 - science    No Comments

The Universe Is Huge. What We Are … Isn’t

If you’ve ever wanted to know how big/old/whatever the universe is … now we know.  So, the answers to questions that have been plaguing scientists (and the occasional quiz show) are as follows:

  • 13.7 billion years old (accurate to 1%)
  • 73% dark energy, 23% cold dark matter, 4% atoms
  • Expanding at 71 km/sec/Mpc (accurate to 5%)
  • Expand Forever

Now we know.  Man … we (i.e. that which you and I actually see in this universe) are only 4% of what’s there … ponder that the next time you encounter some self-important person who thinks the world of themselves, their beliefs, or their causes …

… it’ll help you put them in perspective.

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Oct 1, 2005 - javascript, xml    No Comments

When mixing JavaScript and XML, sometimes things act strangely

I was tweaking a script I use to manage podcasts (bridging the gap between iPodder and WinAmp), I needed a date formatting function. No problem, the DateFormatter from Gazingus.org is an excellent module (if you need date formatting in JavaScript, get it, it rocks).

Problem is, I’m writing Windows Scripting Host format scripts (using their XML schema and generating .wsf files) and I came across some interesting behavior in the cscript engine. If the engine incounters a ‘<‘ (“less than”) symbol in a JScript block, it bombs with the following error:

Windows Script Host: Expecting a valid name

Even more irritating, you’ll get the error even if you comment out the offending line (doesn’t matter which way you do it, line comments (//) or comment block (/* … */) … which tells me that it’s the XML parser part of the engine that’s barfing (it doesn’t get to the JScript engine). This took a little while to figure out … and if you think like an XML parser, it (sort of) makes sense: it hits the ‘<‘, thinks a new XML element is being started, and doesn’t like what it sees next (in the case of the date formatter, it usually was a number).

Ok, fine. Now what? Well, the solution (at least, my solution … I’m sure there are others out there that are more elegant) was to rewrite the logic converting all less-than comparisons to an equivalent greater-than comparison. For example:

formats['DD'] = ( date < 10 ) ? '0' + date : date;

becomes

 

formats['DD'] = ( 10 > date ) ? '0' + date : date;

and so forth. The logic still holds … it lets you plug it into a WSH file without generating a parser error … and it’s still a cool chunk of code.

Save yourself the trouble of rewriting Gazingus’ script, here’s a copy with the “patches”. I’ll post my iPodder script after I add some comments.

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