Monday, July 30, 2007

If these guys can do it, what was Ashley Simpson's deal?

Not sure how they pulled this off, but very cool...


Lip Dub - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger from amandalynferri and Vimeo

Comcast: Don't sue us, we'll sue you...

Service companies love to change their terms of service or services, they do it all the time - and most of those times the changes happen without uproar since the ToS changes are typically pretty small. Actually, literally very small - the service company usually notifies their consumer base with tiny 3-point font notes that arrive cleverly disguised as junk mail. Or, if you are lucky, a small 3-point font addendum to your monthly bill. That was the path that Comcast chose when they decided to change their terms of service with you this summer.

Let's see...what were the ToS changes....well...it looks like, oh, they are moving the Anime channel out of the premium package...well, I guess that's ok...and....they moved a couple of the sports packages around....fine. Hmmm...upped their service fee a bit...well, I guess that's expected....and it looks like they want me to wave my rights to sue them in cases of negligence or fraud...I guess that....wait, WHAT???

Yup - read your bill closely, kids. By not responding to a carefully worded "opt out" clause, you have 30 days to "opt out" of giving up your rights to sue Comcast if they rip you off. (If you are freaking out right now and think you are running out of time, you can opt out with Comcast online.)

The US Court of Appeals has woke up to the fact that, hey, big companies do things all the time to inconvenience their user bases. Huh. What a shocker. The case that pushed them over the edge was an AOL user named Joe Douglas who woke up one morning to find out that his account had been transfer to "Talk America," when that company bought a segment of AOL's business. AOL didn't even bother with wasting all that paper with 3-point font, they just made a change to their ToS on their website. (If you want to read about it in excruciating detail, here's the filed petition with the US Court of Appeals.) In this case, the court ruled in Douglas' favor, stating that it wasn't reasonable for a consumer to be checking a service provider's website every day for changes in the ToS.

The system is still broken, tho - technically, Comcast did notify its users that they were changing the ToS, but the language was dense and the important "you can't sue us, neener-neener!" phrase was buried in with several relatively unimportant ToS changes. Companies like Comcast are playing fast and loose with these rulings, and many of their tactics are bordering on deceptive practices.

So, for now the best we can do is read each bill from your service providers, credit cards, etc carefully when they arrive each month. Annoying, but I don't want anyone depriving me of the fun of joining a class action suit should the need arise...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

i...Phone....home

...oh, like this posting won't generate a crap-storm in my inbox.

So - turns out, analyst's initial predictions of 500,000 - 1 million iPhones sold in the first 2 days was a little off. Um, by several hundred percent. AT&T earnings figures released yesterday show iPhone activations at 150,000. The stock market responded by slapping both Apple and AT&T in the ass. (Apple down 6% to a still impressive $134.89/share, and AT&T down a percentage point to $39.68.)

Now, I'm not slamming Apple's marketing and construction of a great consumer product here (although not subsidizing the phone was a ridiculous thing to do), I am - again - pointing out their naivety in dealing with carriers. Getting in bed with AT&Tingular and forcing users to get on a 2 year, expensive contract with a specific carrier on top of the $600 you are asking them to shill out for a phone (which, by the way, is not supported by a great number of businesses - so you can't even get your workplace to defray the cost), was a silly leap of faith of the consumer market.

Steve has shown this sort of "leap of faith" before. Remember the NeXT Cube? (Remember, I'm 900 years old.) Steve decided to market this machine only to colleges and universities. His rationale? "Have you seen the budget for the University of Michigan?" he asked at a press conference. "That isn't a university, its a fortune 500 company!" Uh, Steve? Have you been to, like, the architecture department at the University of Michigan? They have, like, $500.

NeXT cube: great product, bad leap of faith.

To be fair - and, actually, I don't remember seeing this mentioned anywhere else... those activations were in last quarter (Q2) - with all the activation problems maybe the missing 350,000 subs activated after July 1 (Q3).

Well...we'll know in a few months. In the meantime, run out and buy your Harry Potter book, since that took the spotlight off the iPhone. You only have a few days before the Simpsons' movie takes the spotlight off of Harry...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Is the Googy-Man Buying a Phone...?

...or, more accurately, a whole lotta phones?

So - the 700MHz band of the radio spectrum is up for sale, and Google kicking the tires and pulling out its HUGE wallet. What's the big deal?

Set your Wayback Machine to the time when UHF (uh, that's Ultra High Frequency, not that odd movie with "Weird" Al Yankovic) was "adopted" by television in the late 1940's. (I say "adopted," because there was no concept of auctioning spectrum bands in the late 40's, people just used frequencies until things got very crowded.) It was chosen for a reason - that specific frequency band is very energetic, and penetrates a lot of things - so it is excellent for slipping it's little radio wavey self through your brick or wood wall so your "rabbit ears" on your TV can pick it up. (Uh, for those under 25: a "TV" is a "television," a primitive broadcast receiver used as entertainment before there was an internet, "rabbit ears" was a dipole antenna used for television reception - although in this drawing it, admittedly, looks like a pair of ovaries - and a brick wall is that thing your mom would through plates against when dad came back stinking of gin.)

Flash forward to the mid-90's, when the FCC declared that by 2009 (the date was extended from the original 2008 deadline), all terrestrial (over-the-air) television broadcasts would be required to be a digital broadcast, and gave terrestrial broadcasters the slice of the spectrum that would be required for such a broadcast. In return, however, their analog broadcast bands (47MHz-88Mhz and 174MHz-230 MHzfor VHF broadcasts, and 300MHz-3GHz for the UHF broadcasts) would get returned to the pool of available spectrums... (Jeez, that preamble all kinda came out in one giant, electromagnetic, geeky orgasm didn't it?)

....sooooo....that brings us to today. The 700MHz band is going up for auction, and cell carriers want it. Verizon wants it, Sprint wants it, and AT&T wants it... it's more spectrum, and the signal that can be carried would be clean and be perfect for cell phone transmissions....

...or wi-fi/wi-max transmissions.

Enter Google. Google wants more than just all of your personal data and web habits, they want the 700MHz band. They also - not coincidently - want all the extra "dark fiber" buried in the US. (Without having another existential geek-gasm: "dark fiber" is a term used for the bazillions of miles of unused fiber optic cable that was laid in the ground during the dot com bubble by no-longer existing teleco wannabes like "Global Crossing." Those companies went belly up or experienced extreme "financial stress," and the fiber remains underground, unused.)

So, let's add all this up, shall we:

  • 700MHz is good for high speed communications with decent range and energetic enough to penetrate solid structures
  • Google is considering bidding on this band, to the consternation of Verizon and the other 900 pound cellular gorillas
  • Google is also looking for people with expertise in locating and identifying the owners of dark fiber
  • Google is playing around in setting up massive municipal WiFi networks
  • Google has more money than your Daddy will ever make in a million lifetimes, regardless of who your Daddy may happen to be...yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Miss Hilton.
So, Google buys the 700Mhz band and the dark fiber, pays a couple of guys named "Ed" to put up a few thousand transmission towers, wires them all together with their brand, new fiber - puts out that google phone we've all heard about (or works a deal with Apple...or, you know, buys Apple)....

...be afraid, Verizon, be very very afraid! Rejoice, cell phone toting public held hostage by your cell phone carrier! Weird out, activists worried about Google making that final connection between your information and the pipeline that carries that information about!


Despite my concern over Google become an information-datamining-warehouse-evil-behemoth, only a company the size of Google with the resources of Google could take on the current cell phone giants by changing the underlying infrastructure. Moving to an IP-based mobile communication world ultimately gives the consumer a real, true choice. Not just a choice between AT&Tingular and Verizon, but a choice between traditional cell phone network technology and a real, wireless broadband infrastructure.

It also means, of course, that Google really will own that wireless pipe that your information is traveling across.

...oh, but we live in interesting times, don't we?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Future is so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades...

...ok, I don't want to get into the habit of doing movie reviews in a technology/society column - in fact, this may be the only time - but Danny Boyle's recent entrant into the SciFi genre, "Sunshine," is absolutely worth a mention. Boyle, who scared the living bejeezus out of us with "28 Days Later" - as well as made some of us swear off of drugs for life with "Transpotting" - takes us (literally) into the heart of the sun and humanity with a time honored tale: take a few humans (8, to be exact), give them a purpose in life, throw them into a crucible and then watch what happens.

It has been many, many years since I have seen a film that qualifies as (what used to be called) "hard science fiction." There are no monsters here - other than those we create for ourselves - and there are no fantastical elements. This is pure, unadulterated technology + people. (Hence, ripe fodder for this column.)

It is some time in the future - the when doesn't really matter, because it isn't that far off - and the sun is growing dim. Desperate times call for desperate measures - and humans concoct a way to essentially re-light good old Sol using a nuclear bomb the size of Manhattan. Two problems: 1) it requires a crew "on site" to place it and set it off, and 2) they tried once before and that crew was never heard from again. Ready, set...go.

The science here is really quite good - although speaking as an ex-astrophysicist - it would take more than a huge nuclear bomb to "jump start" a star, nearly everything else in this film is completely within the realm of reality...including the method the Icarus II uses to get close to the surface of the sun. The effects are unapologetically exact, and the film maker assumes - rightly so - that if you can't keep up with what's happening, the hell with you.

In a time where people's conception of science fiction consists of giant alien robots coming to earth disguised as trucks and cars, Sunshine is a breath of fresh air in a genre gone seriously stale with simple, easy-to-understand (not to mention: absurd) plots.

...I now return you to your regular scheduled blog.

Drivin' Down the Highway....

...ok, so you have all this great digital music, podcasts and audio books floating around the hard drives of your life. (Sounds like a bad song from the 70's: "Hard drives of my life." How do you get them into your car in a way that won't annoy the crap of yourself? (Cuz, its pretty easy to get annoyed doing this stuff.)

I have two cars - and I tend to outfit them identically. Mostly because my limited brain can only memorize one list of controls as I'm whizzing down the freeway at 95 miles an h...uh....at the legal speed limit of 60 miles an hour. For nearly 5 years my cars have been equipped with systems from Phatnoise, Inc, called Phatboxes. Wonderful, nearly perfect machines that had almost no marketing behind them. They hit the market at the perfect time with the perfect solution, but - save for a series of limited run TV spots - they weren't marketed very well, and so very few people knew about these things. (They also took a left turn into home audio, which was a huge mistake.)

The system consists of an in-car docking station that allows for cartridges of up to 120Gigs in size to be inserted in a car player (Phatnoise calls these cartridges a DMS - Digital Music System). (There is a docking station for your computer that allows you to sync up your music and playlists.) The unit is controlled by most major unaltered head decks that support alphanumeric display and CD jukeboxes. (The usual digital playback function selections - genre, artist, etc. - replace the standard CD functionality: disk skip, next track, etc.) Kenwood also made a system of head decks that specifically connected to the Phatboxes - Kenwood rebranded the system as the Kenwood Music Keg.

The best features of the system came a few years later when Phatnoise licensed AT&T's natural voice technology to make a system Phatnoise called "SSA Voice Indexing." This is the system that sold me on the Phatbox. Nothing is safer when you are whizzing down the freeway (AT THE LEGAL SPEEDLIMIT, MASSACHUSETTS, CALIFORNIA, NEW YORK OHIO and KENTUCKY! Now, clear those charges, please!) then an audio system that you don't even have to look at while driving. Seriously. It is that good.

But, alas, I replaced the Phatboxes recently. Why, if I liked them so much? Strangely enough: the rise of the podcast caused the discord. Like it or not, Apple currently owns the digital audio category...and I am hopeless addicted to podcasts. Listening to podcasts in my house, gym, public transport and my car involved no fewer than 3 devices that had to be synced nightly. (The iPod and the 2 phatboxes.) While this was fine for music, which I add at a slower interval to my digital archive, addiction to daily podcasts require daily syncs. Opening up the trunk of my cars and bringing the phatbox DMS' in each night and remembering to bringing them out to the cars each morning was getting seriously annoying.

So - just as I abandoned my wonderful iRiver music players for the iPod (try finding iRiver accessories at an airport when you forgot something at home), I found myself forced to find an appropriate iPod solution to the car audio problem.

For years, however, there just wasn't one. Lame aftermarket attempts by Phillips, Kenwood, Harmon-Kardon and others, as well as partnerships with auto makers like BMW, Acura, Infinity and others resulted in a confusing mish-mash of head decks, navigation systems, satellite radio, and 3rd party boxes. (Don't even get me started on that "FM transmitter for iPods" bullshit.) Installations were a nightmare, and the results were underwhelming - with non-alphanumeric head decks displaying crap like "Disk 102 - Track 22" as a way of navigating through your 10,000 song library. WTF boys?! I've seen the Apple iPod API spec -- you have COMPLETE control of the iPod, and get query all of the metadata on each MP3 or AAC track. You make the GD head deck yourselves - what, exactly, is the freakin' problem? Either you support this viral little musical player, or you don't.

I knew if I waited long enough, something interesting would happen - and it did. The grand old dame of car audio, Alpine, figured it out. "Why don't we, " they postulated on their own, "assume that everyone on planet earth owns an iPod as their primary music player? Why don't we also assume that they like to use the iPod's interface for navigating their music?"

...and then they added one more leap of logic...

"Why don't we call Apple up on the GD phone and get them to help us out?"

Hmm. Good idea.

The result was the Alpine X-001, a truly beautiful creation that completely integrates all of the iPod functionality (except video playback) and User Interface design in a single DIN unit. A hidden cable attached to the iPod's interface to allow complete control of the unit, with an intuitive display user interface that mimics (imperfectly of course) the iPod user interface screen. The large scroll wheel in the center takes the place of the iPod click wheel, and some of the scroll wheel functionality feels a little first generation - but the effect is wholly convincing: artists, genres, albums, podcasts and playlists are easily accessed - and album art is even shown on the tiny iPod-sized screen.

The unit takes both XM and Sirius as satellite providers (I have Sirius), and uses the scroll wheel in a similar manner to access the satellite providers' offering. CDs are not accepted here - the assumption is that you are a digital child living in the digital age, and have no need for actual bulky media like CDs.

Best part? Even though the system is designed from the ground up for iPod support - it is, oddly, iPod proof. The cable that connects the iPod to the X-001 also connect to standard USB-2 ports. In fact, anything that supports a FAT32 or FAT file system can be accessed with the X-001. This means that music stored on a thumb drive, or even my dearly departed iRiver, can be displayed and played back via the X-001. Very, very cool.

The music sounds great - of course, it's an Alpine - and the system boots up incredibly fast. It isn't without its drawbacks, naturally. The "Saved Stations" feature is basically useless, as it stores the stations with unalterable titles like "Station 1," "Station 2," etc. Big help, thanks Alpine - and the bluetooth phone integration feature (oh, did I neglect to mention that?) doesn't display caller id information on the display. Uh, why?

However, at $399 a pop (MSRP), it was impossible to resist. The X-001 looks great, and installed easily in both of my cars. (I seriously miss the SSA Voice feature on the Phatboxes, though. Oh well, can't have everything.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quick Vista Tip: "Fixing" Your iPod


Just a quick note. When attaching a storage device (iPod, camera memory card, etc) to a Vista computer that was formatted with FAT32 under XP, you will be greeted with a disturbing dialog box saying that Vista would like to "fix" whatever device you've just connected.

Uh, don't click the "fix" button.

What is going on is that there is an archival bit on the hard drive or device you've just connected that Vista needs to have reset. You can do this quickly (and harmlessly) with the following command line:

chkdsk (iPod or other device drive letter): /f

Done. You'll never see the "Scan & Fix" dialog for that device again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Entertainment Weekly: 2.0 - The Talent of the New Media World

The story so far....

Episode one: creating the market, concept and technology for podcasts (perhaps parented by the flashy-clothed Adam Curry, perhaps not).

Episode two: create a distribution channel so people didn't have to go and hunt for these things themselves. Slight modifications to already existing Really Simple Syndication technology solved that little dilemma. This allowed iPodder (oops, I mean Juice) to be created as a simple podcast catcher. The resultant podcasts can be placed anywhere your listening-deprived heart desires. Oh, yeah, and...iTunes does this too, just not as well.

Episode three: add video and stir. The next logical evolution in this rapidly adopted medium was to add video to the content. The first person out the door with a video podcast production is mired in hazy history, but many believe it to be a serialized comedy podcast about zombies from Rocket Ace Moving Pictures called Dead End Days. (October, 2003). (The first true production that could be called a "video blog" was from Steve Garfield, released in January of 2004.

Episode four: get this stuff OFF the computer and your iPod and onto a TV set where you can have a proper dinner in a little metal tray while watching these things. As I wrote about in April, technologies now exist to move this stuff to your television. I'm currently using the popular TVTonic on my Vista Media Center, but other solutions exist from Akimbo, Apple, and now TiVO, for getting video podcasts directly to your television.

Which brings us to the inevitable ---

Episode five: the rise of the internet long-tail media stars....

Oh sure, watching a cat fall onto a bunsen-burner on YouTube is fun, as is watching that whacky guy from down the hall in the dorm squirt beer out of his nose...but, uh, those "talents" don't really have any staying power. The secret to long life and viral addiction for internet media is the same as it is for all media. Get someone, or a collection of "someones," that has enough on-air (on-IP?) presence that you want to see that person again and again. Someone who consistently brings in viewers (downloads?) and who becomes a fixture - not just in their chosen media - but on other media as well (print, radio, social networking sites, twitter, etc.)...

How do you know when that person has reached that level of achievement in this weird new media world? Same as you did in the old one - they pull a Katie Couric: moving around the podcast-sphere with much fanfare when new opportunities and career advancement are dangled in front of them.

Judging by the recent spate of Couric-esque moves, we've definitely reached Episode five. A quick, non-inclusive list over the past few weeks includes:

  • Jim Louderback leaves Ziff-Davis to become CEO of Revision 3. (I like how Yahoo refers to the new media space as "niche television.") Although not always on-air (on-IP?) talent, Jim has been a guiding force behind ZDTV's TechTV, and hosted "Fresh Gear" for quite a while. When he was at ZD Media's internet division, Jim helped launch DL.tv and "Cranky Geeks" (hosted by the ever-cranky John Dvorak, who frequently takes potshots at Louderback). Both DL.tv and "Cranky Geeks" are coming to TiVO-cast.
  • Speaking of Head Crank Dvorak, he apparently picked up a VP spot at the PodShow. I don't think he is an on-air presence over there (yet), and I have no idea how this effects his relationship with ZD Media...if it does at all.
  • Veronica Belmont, fanboy favorite (yeah, including me), on CNET's amazingly entertaining Buzz Out Loud podcast announced she was leaving last week to move to Mahalo.com (ma-HA-low), where she will be given her own video podcast (presumably of indeterminate length).
  • Karina Stenquist of MoBuzz.tv, another fanboy favorite (again, including me), left MoBuzz.tv last month to pursue other options. Karina has been replaced by Susan Hickey, who has her work cut out for her filling the easy non-talking-head style of Karina. Karina hasn't landed anywhere else, yet - but she was rumored to be seen wandering the halls of Google. Hmmmm. Has she slipped into urban-legendhood already?
There are more, of course...Tom Merritt, another CNET staff...er..castmember isn't leaving Buzz Out Loud, but his voice on the podcast nation is spreading. (Check out the brilliant "East Meets West" with Roger Chang.) Leo Laporte's TWiT empire is growing with frightening speed, and in it's wake TWiT is creating new "long-tail superstars" like Amber MacArthur, Paul Thurott, and Steve Gibson. Over at Revision3, Kevin Rose and Alex Albrech are household names among the digerati (diggerati??) as they out Wayne "Wayne's World" ... and, of course, over at ZD is John Dvorak with his collection of seriously cranky geeks.


Want more proof that these guys and gals are the new media elite? Quick - name 4 prime-time news anchors. Yeah, didn't think so.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Twitter is as Twitter Does...

...so, I was out with friends at a fine drinking establishment in Palo Alto last night - and the conversation turned to, as I find it often does these days, social networking in general...and Twitter in particular.

The conversation moved into that bizarre, twilight realm I find myself in when I am talking about twitter, jaiku and pownce.

Me: "...so, you have this group of friends...or, uh...not...and you send out small notes on what you are doing."
Female Friend: "Like IM?"
Me: "...uh, no. No, not exactly. IM is point-to-point, twitter is more of a broadcast."
Male Friend: "To your friends?"
Me: "...well, yes. And to strangers."
MF: "Total strangers?"
Me: "...uh."
FF: "Why would I do that?"
Me: "...uh."
MM: "Oh, so its an engine for stalkers?"
Me: "...uh."
...and so on.

I didn't get frustrated trying to explain twitter, because last night was - for all intents and purposes - the exact same conversation I had when I was first introduced to Twitter. "Why," I asked, "would I volunteer this stuff to the world at large...and more importantly, why would I give a crap what other people are doing?"

Twittter, Jaiku and their ilk are contradictions.... they are, at once, egotistical and voyeuristic. They are both a brand new concept, and a 30 year old concept. (Anyone remember CB radio?) It is simultaneously irritating and fascinating.... and, it can gobble up your monthly text message quota if you aren't careful. They call themselves "mini-blogs," but that is disingenuous to both blogging and twittering. You aren't blogging with these technologies - you are not really offering an informed (or uninformed) opinion about the world, or reporting on a fact necessarily. What you are doing is contributing small observations of your world to the world.

That, in fact, may be why this phenomenon is so engaging and enraging at the same time. You are performing the virtual equivalent of standing on top of a rock and yelling "I am here!" at the top of your lungs - if you are lucky, you will here a voice in the wilderness returned to you -- if you are unlucky, that voice in the wilderness is merely your echo. It is at once engaging and an act of lonely desperation.

Clive Thompson, in an excellent Wired article last month, postulated that Twitter creates a climate of a "social sixth sense." Each message, individually, is just annoying chatter - but taken in aggregate it provides the listener with a touching portrayal of each person in your social circle. After listing to the "tweets" (as each, 140-character-or-less post is called) of your friends for a month, you find yourself suddenly in tune to how they are doing. This gives you a "social leg-up" the next time you meet them in the real world. You know, without ever having discussed it with her, that Susan's mom was in the hospital, so you ask Susan how she is doing. (BTW, I found it amusing that Thompson posted his twitter name in his article and then later complained via a tweet that all these people were trying to friend him because he posted his twitter name in his article.)

I think that Thompson put his finger on an important point - but there's more to it than that. By participating in twitter, you not only get aggregate knowledge of what your friends are up to, but you get aggregate knowledge of what the world is up to...

...that is not as grand and as pompous as it sounds, btw. Consider David Troy's mashup application, TwitterVision. TwitterVision provides you with a world map, and a random sampling of tweets and the source tweet location, as an overlay. Watching TwitterVision is addicting - and provides you with a profound sense of what the world is thinking. Where Thompson points out that twitter gives you an aggregate view into your friends over time, TwitterVision provides you with an snapshot view of the world over an immediate time slice called "Now."

Social networking at its finest? Maybe, maybe not. But it provides us with a powerful glimpse of what is just around the corner.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Form Over Function? Not always a good idea...

...for technology, architecture, relationships...anything, really - but let's concentrate on technology for a second.

Don't get me wrong - if you can design something to be practical and beautiful, do it. If you can't - go with the practical. And, no, this posting is not about the iPhone for a change.

Microsoft's XBox360 is really a gorgeous device. I own two of them, and they are not only amazing game consoles - they are purportedly capable of generated all the graphic effects for the first "Jurassic Park" movie in real time. They are excellent media center extenders, allowing me to place high definition television throughout my house (relatively) inexpensively. The machine itself is small and svelte - looks good underneath a plasma screen - and, via wireless controllers, does not clutter up the living room.

It is also a runaway hit - with 10 Million units sold by end of 2006, and a projected additional 15Million to be sold by, well, right now. By any standards for any consumer electronic device - it wins.

The internet, however, gives us a bit of a darker picture. XBoxes (or XBoxen, for you Brian Regan fans) are flaming out. A lot. 30% failure rate. Again, that's a lot. For anything. Really. I can't stress it enough.

So what's going on? To produce these stunning graphics and high definition, 30fps video playback, the XBox360 employs a high-end GPU (Graphic Processing Unit) and a specially designed CPU (Central Processing Unit), and each one is on almost continuously. For folks who don't know how this all works, its ok - but you just have to remember a simple rule: to move an electron through a gated operation in a chip requires energy. That electron gets moved whenever there is a calculation to be done - which, for high end graphics, happens a lot. Each chip generates between 110 degrees and 150 degrees when running on all cylinders...which, again, happens a lot.

All of this would be fine, if the heat was managed properly...and attempts were made, but within the constraints of the beautiful form of the case. The machine is air cooled, with two small fans at the back of the unit - and a heat pipe (a piece of heat conducting copper tubing) runs from the CPU to the back of the unit. Well thought out...

...the GPU, on the other hand, has a traditional heat sink (a large, metal mass with metal fins to allow for passive air cooling) attached to the motherboard. Because the heat from the heat sink is contained by a narrow cooling channel (again, because of the design), the heat has nowhere to go. The heat is, unfortunately, transferred directly to the motherboard, causing warping and reflowed solder.

Did this information come from Microsoft? Nope. It came from a man who bought 8 of these things due to failures, and took them apart to determine the cause. (In fairness to Microsoft, although they were slow to respond with an explanation for what happened, they are going to take a 1 billion dollar hit - that is billion with "B" - and extend the warranties of the XBox360 owners by 3 years to make up for the design defect.)

How did so obvious a design flaw make it into the wild? The desire to make it pretty first overrode the desire to make it dependable. Apple has been - rightfully so - driving the consumer electronics world towards making devices that have a sex appeal that people want to own, not just need to own. It's not just marketing, it aesthetics - and it makes sense. We have to live with toasters, televisions, music players and computers - so make them look good, feel good, and operate intuitively. However, think through the consequences and don't rush to market without examining all the possibilities. Could MS have put out a device this gorgeous and not had the heating issues? Absolutely. Want proof? Someone did it - here's a modified XBox that is liquid cooled, nullifying the heat issue. It still looks just as cool - actually, it looks cooler.

Form and function on equal footing. There's an idea.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hitting Two Birds with one Stone...

....very clever.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

It's 4th of JulyPhone!

Ok - so, here we are - on the other side of iPhone Phriday (yeah, I'm gonna have fun with words for a while...sorry), and I'm curious as to where we are....

I saw the lines on 5th avenue, I saw the mini-lines outside all of the AT&Tingular stores all throughout Manhattan. (You guys looked just iAdorable in your little iFolding-Chairs waiting in your little iLines.) Amusingly, heading into an Apple store on the Monday after iPhone Phriday revealed....plenty of iPhones. So, how'd they do?

Apple is notorious for not giving out sales figures - but because they are a public company, they will have to eventually. The last unofficial reports I heard placed sales/activations at 500,000 over the weekend (iPhriday through Sunday) - short of the 3,000,000 I heard rumored as first assembly line run of the product that would be "needed" for opening weekend, but still very respectable. (As there has never been a cell phone "event" like this before, I can't find any comps for other phones in terms of weekend sales figures - I suspect the initial Razor phone up there back when it, too, was a status symbol -- but that's just guessing.)

Assuming the 500,000 is close to reality, and knowing that a few of those days over the weekend fell into Q2, it's probably a reasonable guess that Apple can declare 200,000 - 250,000 of those units on the Q2 books. So - not bad, at $400-$600 a pop.

Next, I heard all of the podcasts from the Apple lovers and the Apple haters -- so I can kinda get a balanced idea of what people thought of the phone. (I was particularly amused to hear Veronica Belmont say that she bought one on impulse when she was getting a phone for her CNET review, and its still sitting in the box while the specter of Buyer's Remorse hovers over her shoulder.)

Positives:

  • Best user interface ever. I believe it - Apple is very good at this, very good.
  • Satisfying phone experience - fun to use.
  • Nice that you can activate without dealing with AT&T directly -- well, except for the folks that had issues
  • Music player is excellent.
  • Screen very readable during the day
  • WiFi works as advertised
Negatives:
  • No 3G - stuck on the goofy AT&T EDGE thingy
  • Hard to get pictures off the phone wirelessly. (You are stuck emailing them.)
  • 6 button pushes to get to the "make a phone call" point.
  • Touch screen keypad. This was almost a universal dislike. No tactical feedback, tricky to use, only goes landscape in the safari browser
  • No 3rd party apps. We knew that tho.
  • A significant portion of people had problems activating. An unidentified AT&T spokesperson said "We weren't expecting this kind of response." What?
So - drop me a note, tell me what you think. Do you like this thing? Worth the wait? Is this a typical Apple Generation 1 device, or is it ready for primetime now?