This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Update: XM & TimeTrax
It appears that XM is taking the TimeTrax software (that I mentioned yesterday) a bit more seriously than I thought. News.com is reporting that XM has actually discontinued the XM PCR unit that TimeTrax uses to record songs.

"Distributors and subscribers alike have speculated that the withdrawal of the PCR from the market was a direct consequence of the TimeTrax controversy. A source close to the company agreed that the TimeTrax situation had influenced the withdrawal of the hardware."

Of course, now the $50 PCR units are going for over $300 on ebay. Nothing like a "discontinued" label in an ebay listing to suddenly make prices skyrocket. Hopefully this new demand for the PCR will mean more sales of TimeTrax, too.
Monday, August 30, 2004
TimeTrax angers RIAA - hooray!
The RIAA is at it again. This time, they are targetting a guy who wrote software that allows him to record XM satellite radio broadcasts onto his PC so that he can listen to them later.

The guy, Scott MacLean, claims that he wrote the software out of necessity. XM would broadcast concerts and other programming at times that didn't make it practical for him to listen.

Now, instead of allowing users of their service to benefit from Scott's hard work and innovation, XM and the RIAA are figuring out if they can sue the guy. That's the spirit!

I am wondering how much of a case they will have since this WIRED article mentions that TimeTrax makes an "analog" copy. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act only governs, as its name suggests, digital copy protection. I have a feeling (and am hoping) that TimeTrax falls into the same protected category as the VCR.

If you use XM, buy TimeTrax for $30. I have a feeling this guy is going to need some money for a lawyer.
The 2004 VMAs sucked
Apparently the producers of the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards don't understand the whole awards show formula. You basically invite all of the biggest stars, hand out a bunch of awards and have a bunch of really great live performances. That's it. Pretty simple. And most people are used to having it work that way.

Well, this year, MTV decided to turn that formula on its head by inviting mostly MTV-affiliated stars (Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Simpson, P-Diddy, etc.), handing out all of the interesting awards (Breakthrough, Direction, etc.) before the show and having a bunch of uninspired medley-type performances with either two or three bands performing in succession or having guest stars in the single artist performances.

It really seemed like the focus was totally on the hype and production of the show itself, but not on the content. Here are some of the lowlights:

1. Stars arrived on boats -- This may be the dumbest thing I've ever seen on TV (and I've seen a lot of dumb TV). John Norris, dressed in wardrobe from a Broadway "Miami Vice" revival that apparently never got made, would greet the stars as they exited their rented yachts. In addition to the other stale questions like "What do you think of Miami?" (which the answer almost always included the word "sexy") or "Have you ever arrived at an awards show in a boat?", Norris would invariably ask the stars to comment on the boat. What?! It's a rented boat, John. That's the equivalent of going to the Oscars and asking the stars about the limo they arrived in. Who cares?!

2. Hinting at outrageous surprises (that never came) -- OK, there is nothing more desperate than constantly asking the stars arriving on the red carpet who they want to see ("Hilary Duff, who are you most excited to see tonight?") and then following up their answer with "I don't want to give too much away, but _____ has a few surprises in their performance tonight."

Of all of the performances, the only one that delivered on the hype was Alicia Keys. She performed "If I Ain't Got You" with Stevie Wonder accompanying on harmonica, then she and Stevie were joined by Lenny Kravitz (see point #3 below for more on this) for a great rendition of Stevie's "Higher Ground." Unfortunately, the audience was so young that I doubt any of them even remember the Red Hot Chili Peppers' cover of "Higher Ground" from 1989 much less the original.

The thing that makes a performance from the past (like Madonna's "Like a Virgin" performance) so memorable is that they were more spontaneous (i.e. they didn't do 10 promos before the show saying that Madonna was going to gyrate on the floor and flash the camera). You can't create a memorable performance by saying things like "You just witnessed history! Give it up for Stevie Wonder!"

3. Product placement was ridiculously obvious -- I understand that stars and companies use these shows to promote their projects and products; however, I prefer that kind of thing to be out in the open. For example, LL Cool J did the now-cliche promotion of his album during his scripted remarks as a presenter (complete with girls wearing t-shirts that had video screens on the front that were showing LL's new video). That's fine.

However, what I object to was the more subliminal promotions that took place. During Jessica Simpson's performance, the faux audience (all of the people in the middle of the arena were somehow involved in the show; they often held up signs with the winner's names or faces on them) held up their mobile phones and illuminated the screens like lighters. Problem is that they were all holding up the same model phone. And, that same phone maker ran commercials throughout the show.

Also, as I mentioned in point #2 above, Lenny Kravitz was featured on the show twice (once as a performer and once as a presenter). Coincidentally, last night was the official launch of the Gap's new "How do you wear it?" ad campaign that features Sara Jessica Parker and... Lenny Kravitz (ta da!).

4. Used sorry MTV "personalities" as the faux host -- Sway (the mush-mouthed Stewart Scott of MTV), Gideon Yago (the droller-than-Kurt-Loder, ironically non-ironic bore) and Suchin Pak (the chipper over-enunciator) should go back to their college internships. Those three are just painful to watch. Plus, when you place any of them next to elders Kurt Loder and John Norris, the whole thing just looks ridiculous.

5. Beat everyone over the head with reminder to vote -- When they weren't reminding you that Ashlee Simpson's performance was brought to you by Pepsi, MTV was lecturing everyone to vote. The low point in all of the political promotion was when they brought out the daughters of the Kerry and Bush. Regardless of which pair was speaking, half the crowd was booing. Even Carson Daly, who mixed the MTV Kool-Aid for years, made a snide comment about how much that segment sucked.

The show concluded with a performance from Outkast during which the faux audience waved political signs urging people to vote (in case we missed the message earlier).

Next year, please just pay Dave Chappelle a couple of million dollars and let him produce and host the whole thing. At least then the show would be intentionally funny.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Happy Birthday Miles!

Me and Miles at Chuck E. Cheese

Today is my son Mile's 4th birthday. He decided that he would like to spend the day at Chuck E. Cheese. After two visits to CEC in the past 2 weeks, I'm glad the boys' birthdays are another year away. Plus, Sunday at CEC is much crazier than a Wednesday afternoon (which was when we went for Mahlon's birthday).
Friday, August 27, 2004
A day with Tufte

Tufte's autograph in my copy of "Visual Explanations"

I attended Edward Tufte's all-day "Presenting Data and Information" seminar today and it was really great. First of all, if you've ever read any of his books, you know the guy is brilliant. What was so impressive to me was what a great speaker he was, too. He really has a command of the material and an ability to make it very interesting (which is tough when you are discussing analytical design for 6 1/2 hours).

One of the key themes of the seminar (and of his work) is that analytical design should model itself after analytical thinking.

He also handed out a preview of the sparklines chapter from his upcoming book "Beautiful Evidence." Sparklines are basically word-like graphical representations of data. I really like where he is going with this concept. It allows for very rich data displays in a very small area. To see sparklines in action, check out the sample chapter on his website.

After the seminar, I was able to get one of my books signed. In addition, after the signing, I was able to watch him give another attendee an impromptu critique on a design project. Pretty cool.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Evidence iPod users are insane
This NY Times article almost reads like something from The Onion. It chronicles the complaints and conspiracy theories about the iPod's Shuffle feature (which randomly cycles through the songs stored on the device). Many users, including the 3 nitwits interviewed, are claiming that the iPod has favorite artists or that it can sense (or can't sense) their mood. I had to read the entire thing to make sure there wasn't some disclaimer that the article was a parody.

Here are some of my favorite parts:
1. From a guy who thinks his iPod knows when he needs some inspiration while biking: The iPod "knows somehow when I am reaching the end of my reserves, when my motivation is flagging,'" Mr. Greist insisted. "It hits me up with 'In Da Club,' and then all of a sudden I am in da club."

2. From another guy who, for some reason, has a Ruben Studdard song on his iPod: "It really likes Ruben Studdard," the winner of "American Idol's" second season, Mr. Angus said. This, despite the fact that he only has one song of Mr. Studdard's - the soulful ballad "Sorry 2004" - stored on his 20-gigabyte player. "There's nothing worse than when you are having an intense workout and Ruben comes on," he said, "but it seems to always happen to me."

3. From a woman who thinks her iPod's Shuffle function should know her mood: "It was totally not reading my moods," she said. It would play upbeat music when she was feeling low, and dark, somber selections when she was feeling upbeat.

I love to give Apple users a hard time; however, this is almost too easy.
A Dirty Shame
Wow, I just saw the trailer for the upcoming John Waters film "A Dirty Shame." I'm not even going to attempt to describe what I just saw; however, if you know John Waters' films, you know what to expect (if you don't know what I'm talking about, just watch the last 10 seconds of the trailer).

It stars Tracy Ullmann, Chris Isaak, Selma Blair (who has some incredible prosthetics) and Johnny Knoxville as residents of a small town that suddenly becomes obsessed with (drumroll please...) sex. BTW, the film (and the trailer) are rated NC-17 for "Pervasive Sexual Content."
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
More copyright legislation
For a group that is supposed to be weeding out terrorists and other "evil-doers," Congress sure spends a sh!tload of time (and out money) trying to kill technological innovation and limit the fair use rights of consumers. Orrin Hatch is proposing more legislation on behalf of the MPAA and RIAA. This time, it is the Inducing Infringement of Copyright Act (SB2560).

In a nutshell, the act "would hold technology companies liable for encouraging people to infringe copyright." The bill is intended to shut down file-sharing networks; however, it sounds devices like DVD burners could be targets as well.

According to the WIRED article, several consumer electronics and technology groups have proposed different wording of the bill saying it should only apply to "only someone who distributes a commercial computer program that is 'specifically designed' for wide-scale piracy on digital networks could be held liable for copyright violations."

The MPAA and the RIAA need to develop strategies to deal with (and benefit from) digital technology instead of using our tax dollars to protect their content.
Cucumber of Doom
There is a great new game that will be coming to a game console near you some time in 2014. It's called "Cucumber of Doom." My soon-to-be 4-year-old son Miles conceived the game last week and it sounds like it could be a big hit (if we can get the licensinge issues worked out).

Basically, Junkbot, the main character of the Lego.com game of the same name, and the Care Bears are battling the Evil Mr. Pickles. Mr. Pickles is trying to gather up all of the world's cucumbers and make them into pickles. Junkbot and the Care Bears have to stop him.

He is still fleshing out the whole idea and I'm sure by the time he learns how to design and code the game, he will also have the plot worked out, too.
No Joe Schmo 3
Apparently, there is not going to be a Joe Schmo 3. This is a big bummer since I thought JS2 was one of the best shows this year. Everything about it (the concept, the acting, the two suckers they duped) was great.

However, according to this post on the Schmo Blog from creator Rhett Reese, the plug appears to have been pulled on the show. While details aren't given, it sounds like ratings weren't as high as they needed to be to justify another season.

"The best I can do to ensure everyone that there will be more shows like 'Joe' is to remind people to view television intelligently. I know it’s 'just TV,' but do your research, check your listings, tune in to whatever looks good, and then turn off the tube. Don't just flip on the remote and watch whatever's on, or vegetate while one show ends and the next begins. That’s the reason why so many bad shows do so well!"

To me, part of the blame for the low ratings falls on SpikeTV. What did they expect the show to do at an 11:05 PM time slot right after wrestling? I guess all I can say is that "it's time to take a walk down the Last Chance for Love Trail of Tears."
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Lego Star Wars game in April
GameSpot is reporting that Eidos has announced an April 2005 release date for a multiplatform Lego Star Wars game. It will be based on the prequel trilogy of "The Phantom Menace," "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith."

While I am not sure why in the hell anyone would develop a Lego-based Star Wars video game, I guarantee that my kids will be glad they did (I think I just answered my own question).
Axons are Hot
OK, the whole Halo 2/ilovebees.com thing is getting weirder. There is now a links page on the ilovebees.com site that lists GPS coordinates and times under cryptic headings like "blip," "jersey" and "hey_soldier."

According to posts on the GameSpot message boards, the coordinates are for payphones. At the specified times listed on the links page, calls will be made to those payphones. If someone answers the payphone, inputs the correct username and password, that "axon" is considered hot. When two of the axons under each heading become hot, a .WAV file with info about the game is posted on the ilovebees.com site.

As of this posting, two .WAV files are available:
Jersey
Yes_or_No
Rockwell was right
According to this News.com article, the Rbot-GR virus allows hackers to spy on unsuspecting users by taking control of their webcams and microphones.

I have been considering getting a networked webcam (like the Veo Observer) that would allow me to log in to it remotely. The thought of hackers being able to tap into the camera makes it a little less attractive. The security analyst in the News.com piece suggests turning off your webcam when not in use; however, that kind of defeats the purpose of having a networked camera.
HD on portable hard drives
If Mark Cuban gets his wish, in the future, we will be consuming a lot of HD content via portable hard drives instead of DVDs.

In a recent post on BlogMaverick.com, Mark goes over some of his ideas about the future of content delivery. As with most of Mark's posts, it is an interesting read.

In addition to his ideas on content delivery, he also details some recent experiments he has done with keychain hard drives. Basically, he has been ripping movies to them and then watching the movies on his laptop.

Check out the full post here.
Monday, August 23, 2004
Gaming learns from Hollywood
News.com (via a NYTimes content share) has a really interesting article on the state of the video game industry. Gaming, which is an $11 billion industry, is still not considered as mainstream as the motion picture industry. This article examines efforts (often borrowed from movie studios) that game studios are making to attract more gamers and to create secondary revenue streams.

Halo 2's launch will include some of these efforts with everything from action figures to CD soundtracks.

The article also has some interesting data on how much it costs to create and market a game and how those rising costs will prevent game studios from taking some of the risks they've taken in the past. According to the article, the average games costs $10 million to produce and another $10 million to market.

Check out the full article.
FreeiPods.com sucks
As my loyal reader(s) know, I'm not a fan of Apple or their products. However, when I read on WIRED.com that the whole freeipods.com thing was legit, I figured I would get one. After all, I could use it to download music off of the Real music store using Real's Harmony software (that has Apple so p!ssed off).

So I completed the sign-up process (which was very easy) and sent invites to 5 people (also very easy). Then, I took a look at the free offers that I had to choose from. All of them sucked - AOL, Columbia House DVD Club, BMG Music Club and credit card offers. And, despite text to the contrary, all of the ones I clicked on required a credit card number.

Since I really didn't want an iPod to begin with, I decided to bail out. Hopefully none of the people that I sent invites to get spammed now that freeipods.com has their e-mail address.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Sears' consumer electronics line
Just when I was finally getting used to the softer side of Sears, they turn around and launch their own consumer electronics brand. The line, which is called Veos, will launch with a 65-inch projection TV as its first (and only) product.

Made by semiconductor company Brillian (Sears is actually their first consumer electronics contract), the Veos TV will use LCoS (Liquid Crystal over Silicon) for its display technology and will retail for, get this, $8,000.

This is a curious strategy IMO. Sure, the digital TV market is hot right now. However, Sears isn't a brand that people associate with digital technology. So they will have to change customer perception of their brand, then they will have to educate the Sears customer on what the hell LCoS is (which is little know outside of the high-end home theater enthusiast audience) and why they would shell out $8,000 for it (especially when the DLP or CRT rear projection sets that Sears carries from other brands will by $4,000-$6,000 cheaper).

This will be an interestin product to watch. On the plus side, at least they didn't develop a TV with a printer in it...
GGR as #9 business movie?
MSNBC, who everyone looks to for their opinion on American cinema..., has compiled a list of the Top 10 business movies.

One of my favorite movies of all-time, "Glengarry Glen Ross," is included at (a way too-low) #9. Here is what they say about it:

"'Glengarry Glen Ross' (James Foley, 1992). Delivering a lethal pep talk to a group of real-estate salesmen, Alec Baldwin has the role of his career in this superbly acted treatment of David Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a business that devours its workers. Al Pacino is a dynamo as the most aggressive of the salesmen. Jack Lemmon plays an aging loser whose sad situation echoes Arthur Miller’s 'Death of a Salesman.'"

"Put that coffee down!"
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Happy Birthday Mahlon!

Amy, Mahlon and Mile's ear at Chuck E. Cheese

Today is my oldest son Mahlon's 7th birthday. The photo above was taken during his 3-hour visit to Chuck E. Cheese. I was only there for an hour on my lunch break; however, I felt like I needed some Ritalin when I left.
I Heart Huckabees
David O. Russell has a new film coming out called "I Heart Huckabees." Eric Brinley turned me on to the trailer and it looks very funny. It stars Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin and Naomi Watts. I'm not sure what it is about exactly, although there is mention of an existential detective.

I really like David O. Russell's earlier work, especially "Flirting With Disaster" (which featured "Somebody Else's Body" from Urge Overkill on the soundtrack).

Check out the trailer at Quicktime.com.
CNET's Show Us Yours

SportsCenter on ESPN HD

My home theater is going to be featured in an upcoming CNET editorial feature on the best user systems. I am currently gathering the necessary photos (they want a shot of every component! unfortunately, I have a million or so components) and filling out the questionnaire. I'm not sure when the feature will run; however, I'll post a link when it goes live.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Freedom of Music Choice

The battle between RealNetworks and Apple continues to intensify. Real has launched a music advocacy site called "Freedom of Music Choice" which calls for all digital music companies (although their logo seems like they're talking to one company in particular) to support open standards that give consumers a choice of where to buy their music.

In addition to this lobbying, the site also promotes the recent price cuts at the RealPlayer Music Store. Individual tracks are $.49 and full albums are $4.99 (Half of what iTunes charges). And, of course, the files will play on the iPod (which is what started all of this in the first place).

I still don't understand Apple's "closed system" approach to the iPod (actually, it's not limited to the iPod, but it's the only Apple product that actually has a strong share of its market). Other than supporting the elitist, us vs. the world mindset of most diehard Apple users, it really makes no sense.

Why shouldn't users be able to buy their music wherever they want to and then play it on their iPod? Seems like the more places the music is available, the more opportunity Apple has to cross-promote the iPod.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Har Mar Superstar & Vladivar Vodka
Turns out that Har Mar Superstar is the official "front man" for Britain's Vladivar Vodka. Har Mar's official website lists this clip as "not suitable for any medium." It is pretty damn funny, though.

There are a couple of more tame versions here and here.
HALO 2 Beta Leak?
Gaming-Age Forums has republished a post that originally appeared on the official Xbox forum. It provides details of the beta version of the game.

One of the coolest (rumored) features is the support for 4 players on a single Xbox during online play. It will also (supposedly) include an "Assault" mode which sounds a lot like the bomb maps in Counter-Strike (i.e. one team plants a bomb and another team tries to defuse it).

GameSpot's Rumor Control column posted a story this morning that suggests that the leak is probably real (since Microsoft pulled the original post from their forum). I guess we'll have to wait 87 more days to find out.
Madden NFL 2005 vs. ESPN NFL 2K5
GameSpot has a very extensive comparison of Madden 2005 and ESPN NFL 2K5. It is broken down into 11 different sections (things like Offense, Defense, AI, Graphics, etc.) and has an accompanying video feature with each (I told you it was extensive).

If you don't care to read/watch all of the segments, their conclusion is to buy both. However, if you only want to buy one football game, they choose ESPN NFL 2K5. You should, too.
Preseason on NFL Network
The NFL Network is rebroadcasting all of this year's preseason games. They aren't shown live; however, they usually run them within a couple of days. It's a great way to check out your favorite team or even scout out some Fantasy Football players.

I was able to catch a little bit of the Vikings - Cardinals game on Sunday morning. Larry Fitzgerald, one of my Fantasy players who I predicted to be a sleeper, didn't look so good. He had 1 catch for 5 yards and left with a sprained ankle.

In all, NFL Network will be showing 54 preseason games in 25 days. Check out the full TV schedule to see more. The Vikings' next game (against the Falcons) will be broadcast Saturday at 1PM.
WinDVD 6's Trimension DNM
I downloaded a trial version of WinDVD 6 over the weekend and I must say that I am completely blown away by their new Trimension DNM (Digital Natural Motion) feature. It makes regular 480i/p material look like HD. And it is not one of those subtle effects where you think you sort of notice it. It is literally a night and day difference. And that is saying something considering how good I thought the picture looked using Zoom Player Pro and FFDShow.

In fact, I am probably going to ditch ZP Pro and FFDShow and use WinDVD 6 exclusively.

I'll admit that the effect of Trimension DNM takes some getting used to. And it isn't something that I'm going to use on every movie (since it does make it look more like video than film). For something like "Starsky & Hutch," it is perfect. For "Lord of the Rings FOTR", I switched it off.

If you're interested in HTPC and want the easiest and best-looking (IMO) DVD software, then download a trial of WinDVD6.

Of course, the merits of Trimension are being debated in a thread titled "WinDVD6 TrimensionDNM - Trash or Treasure?" over on AVS Forum.

BTW, in addition to the Trimension DNM feature, WinDVD 6 also includes new support for HD Video and DVD-Audio. See the full feature list here.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Your own postage stamp

An example of the stamp design interface

Stamps.com has an arrangement with the United States Postal Service that allows anyone to design and print their own postage stamps. The current price is $16.99 for a sheet of 20 stamps. You can goof around with various designs at photo.stamps.com.
Sonic comes to Xbox
GameSpot is reporting that all 17 of the Sonic the Hedgehog games are coming to the Xbox in a single collection this holiday season (and for a price of only $19.95).

This is great news for the Morton household. After my sons wore out "Sonic Adventure" for the Dreamcast last month, I picked up a used Sega Genesis console (for $12 from EBGames.com) and a couple of Sonic games. While it is cool to play the games on the original console (instead of shelling out the $ for a GameCube), it will be nice to have the same games for the Xbox.

Plus, having the Sonic games on the Xbox will leave more time for me to play NHL '94 (one of the best sports games ever made) on the Genesis.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Who needs record companies?
CNN.com has an interesting article on the reunited Pixies and their approach to the record industry the second time around. Basically, the band, which has no new album to shop around, is avoiding record companies altogether. They are choosing to make money selling concert tickets, t-shirts and cds of their live shows (at their live shows).

Of this more low-key strategy, Black Francis (speaking as Charles Thompson in the CNN piece) says, "It's a revenue stream...I'm not saying we could sell lots of records if we sold them out of our garage or the Internet, but you know what? We might. It's a crazy time." He later adds, "We're in a situation where we don't have to make records anymore to be asked to go into a studio and make music. Because of all the cross-marketing that goes on these days, it's like everyone's getting called to make songs for a movie, or for a web site, or a commercial."

I think it is great to 1) see the Pixies back together and touring and 2) see a band with as much credibility and popularity as the Pixies choosing to ignore the major labels. I think more artists of their stature should follow their (and Prince's) lead to produce and distribute their own music. After all, if the bands already have the fanbase and an internet presence, what do they need the labels for anyway?
Time to switch teams?
No, not that team! My ESPN NFL 2K5 team.

Last night, I finally met up online with my archnemesis Toonce66 (Erik Eckel) for a little online football. This was our first meeting this season; however, last season, we played dozens of times. And, as he will freely admit, I owned him. Owned him!

This year, I decided I would play with my favorite team, the Vikings, instead of playing with one of the game's better teams like the Eagles or Panthers. Erik, of course, chose to go with one of the better teams, the Eagles. I wasn't surprised by his choice, but I was surprised by the performance of mine.

Other than the first play of my first possession, which was an 80-yard TD to Randy Moss (15-yard pass, 65-yard run after the catch), the rest of the game was a disaster. The Eagles corners and safeties have an uncanny ability to leap 10, 20, maybe even 30 feet into the air to intercept passes. By the middle of the 3rd quarter, Culpepper had tossed 6, yes 6, interceptions.

Knowing that my cause was a lost one, I conceded defeat 28-7.

Since I know Eckel didn't get any better at football in the offseason, I have to place the blame squarely upon my supporting cast. So I've made the tough choice to ditch my Vikings for a team that can be a little more competitive with the Eagles.

BTW, those of you with Xbox Live can look for me with Gamertag... sMoRTy71 (surprise!)
Only 2 million watching HDTV
SFGate.com has a really good overview of the state of the digital television market. Basically, the sale of digital televisions and related hardware has been slower than expected. This was kind of surprising to me, since I've had two HDTV sets over the past 3 years. However, according to the article, only 11 million HDTV sets have been sold since they first came on the market in 1998. Considering that a total of 25 millions TV sets are sold each year in the U.S., that 11 million represents less than 10% of TVs sold since 1998.

More surprising to me was the fact that only around 2 million people are actually viewing HD content on their HDTVs. The article cites many possible causes including confusion over hardware, cost and lack of content (which are all very valid arguments). One of the more interesting causes, that I hadn't considered before, is that some people think that their analog TVs already receive HD signals (since many shows display the "Broadcast in HDTV" at the beginning of the program). I don't know how many people actually fall into that category, though (considering the number of VCRs that still flash "12:00," it could be quite a few).

If you're looking for a good primer on the digital television market, check out the rest of the article here.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
Military Clears A-Team Of Charges
According to The Onion, The U.S. military has finally pardoned the A-Team, so they no longer have to live life on the run.

According to the article, it was "a typo which attributed crimes committed by the H-Team to the A-Team." For all of their troubles, "the court will award Peck, Murdock, and Baracus honorable discharges, a written apology from Decker, and 32 years' back pay."

Peck claims that the team is still not convinced that the deal is legit, so they will have a backup plan:

"We formed a backup plan in case things turn out to be on the jazz," Peck said, using the team's code phrase for a troublesome situation. "Murdock's gonna perch a helicopter on top of the courtroom. B.A. found a broken Howitzer in a junkyard, got it working again, and got it mounted in our van. We also have a whole team of troubled teens B.A. befriended and taught valuable lessons. They placed explosives throughout the courtroom and along our subterranean escape route. If need be, they'll blow that courtroom apart."

Peck admitted that their escape plan might be too crazy to work, acknowledging the possibility that he will be punched in the face during the escape. He also noted that stacks of cardboard boxes might break the falls of the military personnel thrown into the air by the A-Team's explosives.

"Just to be safe, I romanced a beautiful court stenographer and convinced her to smuggle some smoke bombs in with her," Peck said. "All in a day's work."

Read the full story here.
HDTV calibration
CNET Reviews has a good column on the merits of getting your HDTV calibrated. Many people will spend a buttload of money on an HD set; however, they don't ever adjust the picture settings which, out of the box, are set waaay to bright. Plus, many of the adjustments needed aren't even accessible via the TV's menu system. So the only way to really get the most out of your HDTV is to have it calibrated.

If you're debating whether or not to shell out the $400-600 for a professional ISF calibration, check out this column first.
Another HTPC screenshot

At the urging of some friends, I am including another screenshot from "Starsky & Hutch." It's not so much to see the image quality, but more because the image is so damn funny.

The shot above is of the sketch that Big Earl (Will Ferrell) does of Hutch (Owen Wilson) as a dragon. Big Earl has some sort of kinky dragon fetish that he forced Hutch to indulge in order to find out information.

HTPC enthusiasts will notice the FFDShow OSD visible in the upper left. I am running the new preview SSE2 version of FFDShow with Denoise 3D Fast, Resize at 1440x960 with Lancoz 4, and YV12 output.

View the full 1440x960 screenshot
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Service Pack 2 -- so far, so good
I finally got around to installing Windows XP Service Pack 2 tonight. I had been putting it off since I have 5 XP boxes to upgrade. Fortunately, MS has an option that only requires you to download the 266 MB file once.

After placing the .exe file in a network share, it was a pretty uneventful process to upgrade all of my machines. Each update took about 20 minutes to install.

Other than the Security Center that popped up after I restarted, I haven't really noticed any difference in SP2. I guess that's a good thing.
Situation: Comedy
Bravo is currently accepting submissions for their upcoming reality series "Situation: Comedy." The show, which sounds a lot like "Project Greenlight," will follow aspiring writers as they compete in a contest to select the best sitcom script.

The winner only gets a paltry $25,000 for their efforts (and an agent), so they must be hoping that being on cable TV for 10 episodes is worth something to the contestants.

I've always been interested in contests like this; however, I always procrastinate when it comes time to get the submissions together. The deadline for submitting a 30 minute script is September 18th. Maybe I'll get inspired to write something before then...
Fark Sells Out?
According to this WIRED article from last week, Fark.com is/has been selling prominent placement in its community-submitted list of links. Many blogging advocates (and competitors of Fark) are questioning Fark's methods saying that blogs have yet to slide into the cesspool of sponsorship that many popular websites and e-mail newsletters currently splash around in.

While I'm not going to go so far as to say that blogs shouldn't accept ads or sponsorships, I do think that blogs, since they are more personal in nature than a standard website, need to make sure that they clearly identify what is real content and what is paid advertisement. Trust and credibility are the keys to engaging readers of a blog. It is why so many people are attracted to them (and often repelled by traditional media). Once it seems like there is an agenda other than the author's, it becomes more like every other media outlet.

To my dozens of loyal readers,
You can rest assured that sMoRTy71.com will never be offered (nor will it accept) advertising dollars.
Monday, August 9, 2004
HTPC screenshots

Screenshot from "Starsky & Hutch"

As I posted yesterday, I finally got my HTPC's DVD playback to where I am happy with it. I am resizing the video to 1440x960 and applying various filters in FFDShow. I've taken some screenshots to demonstrate the image quality I am able to achieve with the aforementioned apps.

Check out the full 1440x960 screenshots below:
"Starsky & Hutch": Cheerleaders
"Starsky & Hutch": Big Earl
Vikings preseason revenge?
The Vikings open the preseason on Saturday with a rematch against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs on the last play of the game -- the Arizona Cardinals.

Although I am a huge Vikings fan, I am eager to see how Larry Fitzgerald (my Fantasy Football sleeper pick ) performs under Dennis Green's offense.

Check out the Vikings' full 2004 schedule here.
Sunday, August 8, 2004
HTPC is complete (for now)!
OK, it has taken about 6 months or more; however, I finally have my HTPC configured and working to my satisfaction.

The final tweaks, which took the longest, involved getting the highest quality playback of DVD video. I used a combination of ATI Catalyst 4.7 drivers and Powerstrip to get my display running at 1728x1000i (to eliminate any overscan) with the desktop centered.

I then configured FFDShow, ReClock 1.4 and Zoom Player Professional to present DVD video at 1440x960 (double DVD resolution) using Lancoz 4. I also added the denoise3d filter (0,0,5) in FFDShow for further noise reduction. After setting my video card latency to 64, I am able to achieve all of the above with only about 60% CPU usage (as opposed to 100% prior to ReClock and latency tweak).

The resulting picture quality beats the hell out of my standalong DVD player.

In addition to the DVD playback, I am able to listen to Rhapsody through my AV receiver (via a digital audio output), watch and record TV (via SageTV 2), burn shows to DVD (from either Sage recordings or from my TiVo), rip DVDs to the HDD and surf the web.

Learn more about my HTPC setup here.
Saturday, August 7, 2004
CD & DVD cover art finder
For those of you building HTPCs and looking for a place to get your DVD and CD cover art, look no further. SlothRadio.com has a robust search engine that allows you to search by format (CD or DVD), size and keyword. Very cool.
Friday, August 6, 2004
The King of Punk Funk is Dead
According to CNN, Rick James was found dead in his home this morning at the age of 56.

Although he just re-entered the spotlight thanks to "Chappelle's Show," I first became a Rick James fan when I was 10. That's when I got his "Street Songs" album in one of those "Get 12 albums for a penny" record club promotions. The album featured "Super Freak", "Give It To Me, Baby," "Ghetto Life" and "Fire and Desire."

To this day, I still listen to that album on a regular basis. It will (and should) be remembered as a funk masterpiece.
Thursday, August 5, 2004
Star Wars Battlefront website
Lucas Arts has launched the official website for the Star Wars Battlefront game which will be released on Septemeber 21 (the same day that the original trilogy is released on DVD for the first time).

While the site is fully populated with content yet, you can view screenshots, read about some of the vehicles and view a clock counting down to launch day (which is currently 47 days away).

One cool feature of the website is the ability to change the soundtrack to the site. If you click the speaker icon in the top right of the page, a small interface slides open that allows you to select various songs from the movies to listen to as you browse.
High Definition TiVo Hack
According to a post on Slashdot from earlier this week, a group calling themselves the HD TeAm claim to have created a software hack that allows bash access to HD TiVos. Previously, it was believed that the only way to get bash access to the HD units was through a hardware modification. By using such a hack, someone could extract the digital high-definition files from the unit and share them with others.

The HD TeAm also is willing to release the software to the public as long as enough people make donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

You can read more about the hack in the original discussion thread started by the HD TeAm.
Guerilla Gigging
First, let me say that I think the whole flash mob thing is really, really dumb. I mean who wants to see a bunch of dipsh!ts standing around pointing at the sky.

However, some punk bands in Britain have put an interesting spin on the idea with spontaneous concerts that are being called "guerilla gigs."

Basically, the bands use SMS, IM, e-mail and online forums to announce shows that may take place within hours. For many bands without major label support, this is turning into a great way for them to build a loyal fan base. Check out this WIRED article for more..
Wednesday, August 4, 2004
FCC lets TiVo users share shows
Wow! The FCC has sided with TiVo and (more surprisingly) against the powerful MPAA and NFL lobbyists in the battle over TiVo's plan to allow users to share digital recordings with up to 10 other people.

The MPAA and NFL claimed the technology would lead to more piracy (you can pirate TiVo recordings now, BTW), but the FCC disagreed and said "TiVo's security system will be 'appropriate for use' when receiving digital TV signals broadcast over the airwaves."

This is really encouraging news considering the stranglehold the MPAA and RIAA have on the rights of consumers when it comes to digital media.
NHL 2K5's Pass N Go feature
ESPN's NFL 2K5, which will sport the same $19.99 price tag as NFL 2K5, has a really cool new feature called Pass N Go.

It lets you pass the puck to one of your other players while still retaining control of the passing player. This allows you to move the passing player into scoring position and then call for a return pass. Cool.

Check out GameSpot's video showing the Pass N Go feature.
From the makers of Trogdor...
There is a new game, called "Peasant's Quest," from the makers of the Trogdor game. It features "lush 16-color" environments and "2-bit mono" PC sound.

The trailer is pretty funny. I've only played a couple of minutes of the game, though (but I think I like the trailer better).

BTW, shout out to Eric Brinley for sending this to me.
When convergence goes wrong
Epson may be pursuing the most useless convergence category ever conceived with its Livingstation televisions that combine a projection TV with a printer. Yes, a printer. You know, it's perfect for all of the times you've wanted to print a TV show...right?

And why does Epson think that this product category is going to resonate with consumers? According to this News.com article, "The company sees television-based printing as a natural meeting point for its core business--imaging--and its emerging efforts in the market for large-screen televisions." Ah, so you make TVs and you make printers, so why not make a TV printer? Nice.

On top of being a really bad idea, the Livingstations start at over $3,000 for a 47" set. For that kind of money, you could be a 47" TV, a PC with a TV tuner card and a printer (and still have money left over).
Another blow to Fair Use
321 Studios, the company behind DVDXCopy and other software that allowed users to back up DVDs and games that they owned, has ceased operations. This closure was inevitable after a court ruled against 321 in February saying that their products violated copyright law. You can read more about the closure in this WIRED article.

So, thanks to the DMCA, we, as consumers, only have a right to back up the things that the RIAA and MPAA say that we can back up. Because if we back up something that has copy protection, then we are in violation of the DMCA.

IMO, limiting our rights to Fair Use is only going to lead to more piracy. For example, if I buy a DVD and then am told that I can't make a back up copy of the DVD without being considered a criminal, then I have to start wondering why I would buy the DVD in the first place. Why not just rent it from Blockbuster and rip it to a HTPC since according to the DMCA, both of those actions would be a violation.
Tuesday, August 3, 2004
Icerocket.com
I was reading Mark Cuban's blog today and stumbled across IceRocket. It is a search engine that Cuban is affiliated with.

While it borrows some features from Google, like a Product Search, Images Search and Web Search, it adds a couple of interesting features that I hadn't seen before:

1. Find a Friend: Icerocket indexes sites like Hot or Not, Face The Jury and SinglesNet and lets you search those sites based on a set of criteria like gender, age and location.

2. Quick View: You can open up the web page for any search result within the search results page itself, so you don't need to leave the results screen in order to determine if the site has what you were looking for.

3. Screenshots: All web search results have accompanying screenshots so you can get an idea of what kind of site you're looking at results for.

I'm not sure if all of these features is enough to make me switch from Google; however, they are cool to play with.
Phil Phister on "Airline"
If you happened to be watching A&E last night at 10:30 (OK, I realize that is a long shot), you would have seen Phil Phister (America's Top Strongman and a high school classmate of mine) on the show "Airline."

While the show's premise (follow people around as they take plane trips) is pretty dumb, it was interesting to see the segment on Phil who was traveling to a competition in Venice Beach (which he won).

BTW, there is a feat that Phil performed on the show that we all can try. He is able to pass a quarter through his wedding band.
Finished the boys' bedroom / HTPC
Whew, what a weekend. I spent much of it trying to get the boys' bedroom in shape while they were out of town (which was no small feat). To make the task more difficult, I decided to build them a Home Theater PC (HTPC) and run data and coax cable lines to their room, too.

Well, I finally got it all finished last night. The PC I built will allow them to watch TiVo, watch DVDs, play computer games, browse a specified set of internet sites, listen to music, play with their digital turntable and check the weather (Mahlon loves to check the weather).

In order to make the aforementioned tasks as easy as possible, I built them a custom front-end in myHTPC. I also created a custom IE home page that features links to all of their favorite sites.

Below are some photos of the clean room and the HTPC:
Room angle 1
Room angle 2
Room angle 3 (before HTPC install)
HTPC
Monday, August 2, 2004
No more lost prisoners!
The Ohio prison system is planning to test using RFID tags to keep track of both prisoners and guards. The tags will be embedded in a wristwatch-like device that can alert prison officials if a prisoner tries to remove it. It can also send an alarm if a guard is knocked down.

While I think this is a great idea (especially considering how much I love the potential uses of RFID), it makes you wonder why it is so easy to lose track of prisoners in the first place.
TiVo vs. Broadcast Flag Wavers
Rob Pegoraro of the Washington Post has an excellent commentary on the FCC's broadcast flag requirements.

Most of the focus of the article is on the battle between TiVo and the NFL/MPAA. Pegoraro goes into much more background about the underlying debate than I've seen in other coverage of the topic.

It's a great primer for anyone interested in broadcast flags and the threat they pose to freedom and innovation.
Listen to Har Mar's "The Handler"
Har Mar Superstar has his upcoming album "The Handler" available for preview on his website (You'll need RealPlayer to check them out).

BTW, I finally saw "Starsky & Hutch" this weekend. Har Mar plays the role of Dancing Rick who does the disco dance-off against Ben Stiller.
Sunday, August 1, 2004
Living without TiVo recordings
I turned on my TiVo this evening to catch up on all the shows I had recorded over the past couple of days. Much to my surprise, anything I recorded today has audio, but no picture.

I called TiVo customer service and found out that there is a software update needed to repair the problem. Unfortunately, they said it could take up to two weeks to get the update. Two weeks?! What the hell am I supposed to do without TiVo for two weeks? See, I never watch shows when they are aired, so I am basically out of luck until the update occurs.

I was able to go to a website they have set up for junkies like myself to try and get priority for the update. I don't know if it will actually help or if they're just trying to keep us all calm.

Anyway, if you have a 1st generation DirecTiVo that needs the update, go to http://research.tivo.com/310c2priority
"No new Xbox in the next year"
Steve Ballmer announced last week that there will be "No Xbox in the next year." This comment has sparked speculation as to whether Ballmer meant within the next 12 months or within the calendar year of 2005. Either way, it's going to be awhile before we get our hands on it.

I am actually not that upset with this announcement. I have been concerned that MS is trying too hard to keep pace with the development of Sony's PS3. Plus with Halo 2, Star Wars Battlefront and Conker: Live and Reloaded all coming out in the next 6 months, there should be plenty of great games to keep us occupied.

About Shawn Morton

Married father of 6; VP of Social Media at JPMorgan Chase; gluten-free; gadget enthusiast; hair metal aficionado; #Movember man View more on LinkedIn.