This is what Shawn Morton would look like if he had been made of LEGO sMoRTy71.com -- the personal website of Shawn Morton
Sunday, October 31, 2004
FFL: sMoRTy71 147, SSCovered 90

While I was vacationing in Florida, I was only able to catch a few minutes of some of the games last Sunday. However, without access to a PC, I couldn't really check my Fantasy scores. After seeing that Priest Holmes had scored 3 TDs, I became very interested in seeing how I was doing. So, while waiting in line for the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disney World, I called my friend Pat and asked him to check on my scores.

Turns out that I was crushing Erik Eckel's Scattered Smothered and Covered team 140 to 90. Each of us still had one player yet to play. Ashley Lelie added 7 points on Monday night to take the final score to 147 - 90. 147 is the highest point total scored so far this year in our league.

I retain a 1.5 game lead in my division. Eckel is still bringing up the rear (3.5 games out) in his. This week, I face the surging Louisville Hotspurs (who have won 5 straight) without Deuce McAllister who is on a BYE.
sMoRTy71 returns!
Just wanted to let my loyal reader(s) know that I am back from vacation. I spent the last 10 days in Florida either lounging around on the beaches of Sarasota or humping it all over the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando. I didn't drive a car (after we arrived at Disney), check e-mail, write a blog post, read an RSS feed or check my Fantasy Football scores (well, I did call my friend Pat to get an update while waiting in line at Disney). It was great. So now, after a 14-hour drive home last night, I will slowly be ramping things back up here smorty71.com.

You can check out some of my Florida photos on Flickr. I will slowly be adding descriptions of what each photo is over the next few days.
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Morrissey in Louisville
First, let me say that Morrissey's performance was terrific. His voice and stage presence were great. His band was tight. The crowd was really into the show. And he even had these giant lighted letters, like KISS uses, that spelled out "Morrissey" in red.

Unfortunately, there were a couple things not related to the music that really diminished the quality of the show for me:

1. Peta: The first thing I see when I walk into the Palace is some drone in a Peta T-shirt pushing a clipboard at me. He apparently wants to trade the possibility of winning a Morrissey poster for my signature on his Peta petition. I declined his offer and told him that I wasn't down with Peta.

On top of that, there's a table with all sorts of Peta propaganda including a TV showing images of animals being slaughtered.

Then during the show, Morrissey had to make a point of bringing up Peta and mentioning that all of the band members were vegetarians.

My problem with all of this is that I don't care what anybody at the concert had for dinner. Not one bit. Even if I did, I wouldn't support an organization like Peta who funds terrorism (bankrolling members of ELF who bomb research facilities that test on animals) and preaches hate (harrassing and threatening employees of animal shelters).

2. Politics: I understand that Morrissey's music often talks about politics; however, I don't particularly care to hear him talk about it between songs, too. Twice he took shots at Laura Bush. Even though I don't care for the President's policies, I don't have a personal issue with his wife. I guess I just don't want to be preached at about anybody's politics even if the beliefs are similar to mine. That's not what I paid to see.

So the musical portion of the show was great (a nice mix of new stuff, old stuff and Smiths stuff), but I probably wouldn't go see Morrissey again considering all of the other crap that he feels he needs to subject his customers to.

BTW, I went to the show with my friend (and militant Republican) Pat. He had a much more extreme reaction to the show. Read his take here.
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley
Rolling Stone is reporting that a new documentary of the life and music of Jeff Buckley premiered in New York on Saturday. Titled "Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley," the film has been in the works for the past six years and features interviews and performance footage from all stages of Buckley's career (from his early Sin-e performances up until his drowning death in Memphis in 1997).

I am very eager to see this film. I have been a fan of Jeff Buckley since I first saw the video for "Last Goodbye" back in 1994. I was actually living in Memphis at the same time that Buckley was; however, I didn't know it. I even saw an ad in the Memphis Flyer for one of Jeff's shows (which was at some really crappy dive downtown), but figured that it couldn't be that Jeff Buckley. It wasn't until he went missing that I realized that it was him.

In addition to interviews and performances by Buckley, the film also features other artists who enjoyed Jeff's work. Apparently, Skid Row does a cover of Jeff's "Eternal Life" live. That has got to be quite a sight.

If you haven't heard any of Buckley's work, definitely check out "Grace." It is an amazing album. I believe it made Rolling Stone's list of the best albums of the 1990s. "Forget Her," which didn't make the original Grace release, is one of my favorites. You can check out the video here.
HBO and Fair Use
HBO has decided to place limits on how their OnDemand content can be used by their customers. In a nutshell, users will not be able to make a copy of content from their OnDemand service. Here's the explanation of the policy from the HBO website:

"HBO has begun using a copyright protection mechanism that helps to enforce existing copyright laws. The technology is known as the "Copy Generation Management System for Analog" or CGMS-A. You will still be able to make one copy (analog or digital) of a program that airs on either HBO or Cinemax, but you will not be able to then further duplicate that copy. However, cable subscribers will not be able to record HBO-On-Demand (HOD) or Cinemax-On-Demand (MaxOD) programs. Since HOD and MaxOD already provide the viewing conveniences afforded by having a personal copy of a program (i.e., the ability to watch what you want whenever you want to watch it), HOD and MaxOD subscribers do not need to copy HOD and MaxOD content. (This does not affect DBS satellite subscribers, since HOD and MaxOD are not currently offered on those platforms.)"

Engadget's coverage of this policy had one of the funnier lines I've heard regarding fair use:

"People are already on HBO about the fact that this caps fair use, but they don't seem to care, as they are looking to protect their content from the evil people who want to watch it."
Turn that TV off
Have you ever been sitting in a bar or restaurant and wish you could turn off the omnipresent TV that seems to attract everyone's attention? If you have, then Mitch Altman has a product for you. Mitch has developed the TV B Gone which is a keychain fob that blasts hundreds of remote control "power" codes with the single click of a button. The result? All TVs within range of the TV B Gone go off.

Mitch claims that he was tired of going out with friends and having everyone zone out watching the TV.

I've tried to check out his site since reading about the TV B Gone on WIRED yesterday; however, it appears all of the press coverage has resulted in Mitch exceeding his daily bandwidth.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
Interview with TiVo's CEO
Engadget has a really good interview with TiVo CEO Mike Ramsay. He talks about everything from TiVo to Go to The Induce Act to their recent deal with Netflix.

Ramsay sees broadband playing a bigger and bigger role in the delivery of video content (thus the deal with Netflix). He also hopes that TiVo can be the UI for accessing all of the various types of digital content that will come into the home whether it is from cable, satellite or broadband.
FFL: sMoRTy71 91, Pursuers 81

I am right in the middle of the toughest part of my FFL schedule. In Week 5, I played the highest-scoring team in the league (to a tie). In Week 7, I will face the third highest-scoring team. So I needed this win in Week 6 against Jay Garmon's second highest-scoring team the Trivial Pursuers.

Even with Daunte Culpepper scoring 44 points for the Pursuers, I was able to pull out the 10-point win. I have to thank Michael Hines, who inexplicably dropped Deuce McAllister two weeks ago, for the 20 points that Deuce got me. That ended up being the difference in the game. Michael, you may be 2-4; however, you're #1 with me.

I now have a 1.5 game lead in my division.
Monday, October 18, 2004
More about I Love Bees
While the novelty of the whole I Love Bees viral marketing thing for Halo 2 wore off for me several weeks ago, some people continue to take it a little more seriously.

WIRED is reporting that many people are treating the ILBs "game" as an entirely separate experience from Halo 2 with some people braving Hurricane Ivan to answer a damn payphone.

I know that some people think playing video games is sort of dorky; however, this whole ILB thing reminds me too much of the ultra-dorkiness of flash mobs.

I don't mind if the ILB fans have their fun by running around and answering payphones in Iowa, but don't tarnish the good name of Halo 2 fans by lumping us in with flash mobs.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Miles meets a Care Bear
Toys R Us had a "live" Care Bear at each of its stores today from 11AM until 2PM.

Well, because Miles is absolutely crazy about the Care Bears, we arrived promptly at 11AM. The Care Bear at our Toys R Us just so happened to be Cheer Bear who is Miles' favorite.

As you can see from the photo, Miles was too nervous to sit on Cheer Bear's lap. After the photo, they had some Care Bear crafts for the kids to do. Miles made a Care Bear picture frame for himself and his friend Lydia (who is also crazy about Care Bears).

Mahlon, conversely, spent most of the time at TRU rolling his eyes and trying not to get too close to the Care Bear.
Friday, October 15, 2004
Suggestion for Google Desktop
OK, as I mentioned yesterday, I love Google Desktop. Love it! But the whole idea got me thinking of ways that Google could extend the functionality and make it really, really cool.

What if Google could integrate the member profile and the 1GB (or more, if needed) of storage from Gmail with Google Desktop to allow users to index several PCs (work PC and home PC, for example) and actually upload the files to the server for access from anywhere. Indexing could replace updated files on both machines so that the files would always be up-to-date.

I would love to be able to access files from my home PC at the office and vice versa without the need for VPN or Remote Desktop. And with the single interface, it wouldn't matter where a file originally came from.

I know there would be potential privacy issues involved if hackers were able to get access to a user's files on the server; however, users could use Google Desktop's exclude feature to prevent sensitive information from being indexed and uploaded.

And I guess users could end up indexing other people's PCs and forming mini file-sharing networks, but there are so many other tools for that that I doubt this would be used in that way.

So, Google, if you're listening, please make this happen.
Grounds for an RSS divorce
Talk about timing. Just a couple of days ago, I commented on the inevitable pimping of RSS. Today, WIRED has an article on sites that are starting to use ads in their feeds.

Of course, advocates of RSS advertising spout the same old b.s. about users needing to understand that free content isn't really free. Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix, said, "Folks understand that if there's not a way to monetize content, there's not going to be content." That's such a cop-out. If you can't create a business model where you can make money and meet your customer's needs (users choose RSS for the fact that don't see ads), then you need to get of that business. Taking money for ads in RSS feeds is low-hanging fruit that won't sustain your business long-term and will drive away your most loyal users.

Jason Calacanis, founder of Weblogs, doesn't seem to get it either. He recognizes that users of RSS feeds are the most loyal audience; however, he doesn't think they should be treated any differently (better) than those who use a website:

"Visiting the website is dating; getting a daily e-mail is going steady -- but subscribing to an RSS feed, well, that is like getting married to a news source," he said. "It's really the highest commitment you can make."

If using a site's RSS feed is like a marriage, then advertising in them will be grounds for divorce.

News is a commodity item. You're never going to be able to differentiate your product on the content. Why not differentiate yourself by taking care of your most loyal users or coming up with a sustainable business model that doesn't involve ads? I guess that be too much like work.
Thursday, October 14, 2004
Parlez-vous Halo 2?
According to GameSpot, pirates have leaked a French-language version of Halo 2 onto the internet. As for the potential penalty for downloading the leaked version, GameSpot warns:

"It should be noted that players who download the game illegally could face a maximum penalty of $100,000 per instance for copyright violations."

I think I'll just wait until November 9th.
Google Desktop Beta
Google has launched yet another cool product today. Google Desktop searches files on your computer using the familiar Google.com interface. With Google Desktop, you can search e-mails from Outlook, Word docs, Excel docs, and web pages you've visited.

And to make it even cooler, if you search via Google.com, your Google Desktop results are featured as the first item in the Google search results (i.e. "982 results on your computer"). Wow!

The feature is in Beta and can be downloaded here.
AT&T Wireless sucks!
First of all, I hate having a cellphone. Hate it. However, I've accepted the fact that I have one. Well, AT&T Wireless is trying their best to make me hate it even more than I already do.

We used to be T-mobile customers; however, we decided to get rid of our cellphones about a year ago, so we dropped their service. Well, a couple of months ago, we decided to get service again since my wife was returning to work (and, as a nurse, she is often driving pretty late).

While we were going to go with T-mobile again (since we never had a single problem with them), AT&T Wireless was offering some ridiculous special that included 2 $250+ phones, a $49 per month rate (plus $10 per additional line), no activation and free shipping. We figured that nothing upfront and $59 per month was a pretty good deal for all we were getting...we were wrong. AT&T Wireless SUCKS!

First problem: We receive our first bill and find that we owe $110 instead of the $59 we were supposed to pay. According to the bill, we didn't actually have the plan that we signed up for. We had a plan that had fewer minutes. This resulted in us exceeding the minutes of the plan they had us under (although we were well under the minutes limit for the plan we signed up for). A call to customer service was useless. They said that they couldn't do anything about that bill; however, they would correct the mistake and switch the plan the next month.

Second problem: We receive yet another bill for $100+. We call customer service and we explain the promise made by the last CSR to adjust our plan. This rep say that they don't know what we're talking about and that the offer we were promised had expired. Screwed again. So we had to sign up for a higher-priced plan in order to get the minutes needed to avoid the $100 charges. This plan is supposed to be $69.

Third problem: One of our phones starts acting flaky. The microphone wouldn't transmit the voice signal sometimes. Other times, the volume of the earpiece was completely out. So we called customer service and they said they could send out a new phone for $14.95. We agreed. However, between the time we called and the phone arrived, the phone started working again. So when the package arrived, we refused delivery.

Fourth problem: We got our bill last night. The total is $85! You want to know why? They charged us the $14.95 for the other phone. We called back and said that we didn't accept the new phone. Turns out that the $14.95 was for shipping and that wasn't refundable. $14.95 for shipping? Come on.

So now we're stuck with a plan that is more expensive than what we signed up for and every month seems to result in some sort of charge to jack the price up even more. The customer service is absolutely horrendous. And to make it even worse, we're stuck with them for another year and a half.

I am seriously considering paying the cancellation fee and getting rid of the service. It looks like that will actually be cheaper in the long run. BTW, did I mention that AT&T Wireless SUCKS?!
FOX 41 HD screenshots
I mentioned yesterday that FOX 41 is doing HD now. Steve Hardin over at LouisvilleHDTV.com has posted some screenshots of last night's NLCS game between the Cardinals and Astros. Pretty impressive.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
ChattingAimBot
Do you like to play practical jokes on your friends? Do those practical jokes include 17-year-old girls named Ashley, Stacy or Jennie? If you answered "yes" to both of those questions, then ChattingAimBot is for you.

CAB allows you to unleash a bot on anyone who has an AOL Instant Messenger account. What makes CAB cool is that it will email a transcript of the conversation back to your email address.

I decided to try one out on my friend Pat who recently posted my high school yearbook photo on Flickr. While this doesn't sound all that bad, you obviously never saw my high school yearbook photo (Long, hairsprayed hair, gigantic glasses and a really bad suit jacket).

Anyway, I filled out this form with the required information. I made Pat's bot be 17-year-old Jennie from California. I told him that I had seen him on a local dating site and asked if he wanted to see my webcam. Using the status box, I was able to see if the chat was connected and how much time remained in the session.

I can't actually post the transcript because it is too filthy (that's what I get for sending it to Pat). Needless to say, if you want to have a little fun with some friends, give it a try.
FOX 41 finally goes HD!
I had all but given up on our local FOX affiliate (WDRB) ever making the switch to high definition. However, it appears that they stopped broadcasting off of their analog coat hanger and made the switch to HD over the weekend.

Because the quality of their previous attempt at a digital signal was so bad, I had stopped watching the FOX OTA signal and watched only the SD FOX channel on my DirecTiVo. However, last night, I hit the wrong button on my HD receiver's remote and was startled by the beautiful (although slightly compressed) HD signal from the Yankees - Red Sox game.

In addition to sports programming, the two FOX shows that I watch ("Arrested Development" and "24") will be broadcast in HD. See the complete list here.

With the addition of FOX, DirecTV customers in Louisvile now have access to over 13 HD channels (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, PBS, HBO, Showtime, Bravo, ESPN, HDNet, HDNet Movies, HD PPV, Discovery HD Theater), not to mention the 6 or 7 HD games each week for NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
RSS on my HTPC
As you've probably noticed, I've been really into RSS lately. I decided to add RSS reading functionality to my HTPC so that I can read feeds in the living room using my TV and remote.

First, I installed the Sage RSS extension for Firefox. I know there are other more full-featured RSS readers; however, I like the fact that Sage is attached to the browser so I don't have to deal with multiple apps (which is tough to do on an HTPC with a remote) in order to view the items in the feeds.

Next, I had to create a custom CSS file so that the feed summaries are readable on my 65" 1776x1000i display. I basically cranked up the headline font to 36px and the description front to 24px.

Finally, I added Firefox to the menu of the Beyond Media front end software that came with my Firefly remote.

This setup allows me to launch Firefox and Sage, navigate my list of feeds, read the summaries for each item and click through to the site (and back) using my remote only.

So now, I don't have to spend every waking minute in front of my computer monitor.
A-Team movie on the way!
According to Variety, "James Bond scribe Bruce Feirstein is writing the movie version of popular 1980s television series "The A-Team" for Fox." Stephen J. Cannell, who created the original show, will co-produce the film.

Unfortunately, the role of Bosco Albert Baracus (Note: the initials B.A. did NOT stand for "bad attitude" as widely reported) will not be reprised by Mr. T. However, he is expected to have some role in the film.

Because Variety is a subscription-only site, I am linking to the BBC article for those who want more info.
FFL: sMoRTy71 93, SF Reamers 93

Wow, what a week! I was facing the highest-scoring team in our Fantasy league without my best player (Priest Holmes had a bye). After the 1pm and 4 pm games on Sunday, I was down 93 - 28 (with 3 players left to play for my team). It was humiliating.

In the Sunday night game, my Ravens defense scored 33 points (which is ridiculous for a defense). So I was down 93-61 going into Monday night. I needed 32 points (to tie) from Brett Favre and Bubba Franks.

I watched part of the first half of the game, but decided to call it quits after the Packers were down 24-3. Well, while I was sleeping, Brett Favre and Bubba Franks scored 19 and 13 points respectively. For those of you good with math, that is exactly 32 points! Whew!

Now I am 3-1-1 and have a .5 game lead in my division. This week I face the second highest-scoring team in the league, The Trivial Pursuers (lead by Daunte Culpepper who is averaging 35.2 points per game) without the Ravens D, Marvin Harrison and Mike Vanderjagt.
Monday, October 11, 2004
RSS Calendar
OK, I realize I have been on kind of an RSS kick lately; however, I'm really digging all of the cools uses people are finding for it. The latest one I've found is called RSS Calendar. As the name suggests, it lets you create an calendar that you distribute via RSS.

In addition to allowing you to keep track of your own appointments, other users of RSS Calendar can save events from your RSS feed into their own RSS Calendar.

One of the cooler features is the ability to publish your RSS Calendar on your website. I am thinking about developing a new feature on sMoRTy71.com that keeps track of upcoming game, movie and music releases. If I can get the formatting right, I may give it a try.

Even if I don't use it on the site, RSS Calendar might just allow me to transition away from Outlook (until Gmail adds a calendar function or until Mozilla's Sunbird is finished).
Marketers will pimp RSS...
as soon as they figure out how. ClickZ, a site dedicated to that notable professional of online marketing, has posted an article on the marketing value of RSS. Apparently, it took Yahoo! adding an RSS reader to My Yahoo! for them to really recognize the potential of the format.

Anyway, some of the marketers quoted in the article question the value of RSS, in its current form, as an effective marketing tool. They claim it doesn't provide any real value because publishers can't directly tie revenue to their feeds. My favorite quote comes from the VP of Pheedo who longs for the day that marketers can do to RSS what they did to online and e-mail:

"Look at the history of online and e-mail...We could only do text in e-mail on day one. Now look what we can do inside an e-mail. We can embed audio, flash, HTML, track it, monitor it, serve ads. We're going to be doing that same stuff in RSS some day." Great, RSS spam!

I guess things like loyalty and brand affinity don't count for much anymore in the online marketer's mind. It seems to me that those metrics would be much more important in the crowded online news market.
Who the hell watches ELR?
Thanks to NFL Sunday Ticket, I watch a lot of football on Sundays (a lot!). So, every week, I hear a lot of promos for CBS' primetime lineup. The announcer will say something like, "And don't miss America's most-watched comedy 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'" I usually don't think too much about it (because it isn't football); however, this morning, I actually stumbled upon the ratings for the previous week.

I'll be damned if that show isn't the most-watched comedy. 18.7 million people watched it! How can that be? I saw part of the show once and it wasn't good. And I don't know one person who watches it. Not a single one.

Although I have nothing to back this claim up, I bet that if more people had TiVo, very few would consume shows like "Everybody Loves Raymond."
Sunday, October 10, 2004
"Pink" Floyd sues Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater, who has directed some of my favorite films ("Slacker," "Before Sunrise," "Before Sunset"), is being sued by three former high school classmates for using their names in his 1993 film "Dazed and Confused."

Bobby Wooderson, Andy Slater and Richard "Pink" Floyd claim that Linklater's film, which was released 11 years ago, has ruined their lives (I claim that the fact they still live in Huntsville, Texas may have more to do with it).

Interestingly, they filed their lawsuit in New Mexico because their statute of limitations had run out in Texas. I wonder if this lawsuit has anything to do with Linklater's recent commercial ("School of Rock")and critical success ("Before Sunset"). Otherwise, why wouldn't they have filed suit in 1993 when the film came out?
Saturday, October 9, 2004
Gmail Drive works
I read about Gmail Drive on Slashdot this morning and, being kind of a nerd, I thought that I would give it a try.

If you haven't heard about Gmail Drive, it is a little Shell Namespace Extension that creates a virtual filesystem around your Gmail account. This means that you can have a "Gmail drive" in your My Computer menu that allows you to drag-and-drop files that will be stored in your Gmail account as an e-mail attachment.

To keep your Inbox free of the clutter of your uploaded files, you can create a filter in Gmail to sort them. I have one called "Storage" that sends Gmail Drive files directly to it (bypassing the Inbox altogether).

While I don't have a real practical use for Gmail Drive, I think it is cool that someone has created the app. Hopefully my tests won't violate my user agreement with Google and cost me my Gmail account.

BTW, here are some screenshots of the Gmail Drive login screen, the Gmail Drive icon in the My Computer menu and an example of a file stored in Gmail via Gmail Drive.
Check out Feedburner
My latest blog posts
This is my Feedburner Headline Animator
I got an e-mail from Flickr that was pitching a service called FeedBurner. It is a service that extends the functionality of a basic RSS feed. For example, it will convert your RSS or Atom feed so that it is compatible with more readers, format your XML so that it can be readable in a browser and add tracking tags to your feed so that you can track its stats.

Another feature includes the ability to merge your Flickr photo feed with another feed. So instead of having two RSS feeds, one for my blog and one for my Flickr photos, I now have a single FeedBurner feed.

They also have the FeedBurner Headline Animator that allows you to plug in a dynamic little HTML snippet into your e-mail signature or your website. The snippet rotates through your latest RSS headlines.

Feedburner is free, so check it out.
Friday, October 8, 2004
Google SMS is actually cool
When I read about Google's new SMS service on the Google blog yesterday, my initial reaction was "so what?"; however, after checking out their SMS How to Use page, I think it could be very useful.

For example, let's say you're out shopping and find a sale on an item you're interested in like the Archos AV 420 personal video recorder. Using Google SMS, you can search Froogle to determine if the sale price is actually competitive with other retailers. Here is an example of the syntax you could use: "price Archos AV420"

Or let's say you're travelling and you want to find some place to get a good slice of pizza. Using Google SMS, you could search Google Local for restaurant listings in that area. In this case, you would use the following: "pizza 90210"

Check out the Google SMS How To Use page to see how the results are formatted. They also provide a printable tip sheet that you can keep with your phone.
RFID watch prototype
Technology Trends is reporting on an RFID watch prototype that has been developed at the University of Washington. The watch will, among other things, alert you if you forget items like car keys or your cell phone.

Gaetano Borriello, who developed the prototype, says that the watch is really just part of a larger building-wide system that he hopes to complete within the next year.

"We would have about 1,000 people using it and get a better understanding of what the future will bring while we still have a chance to do something about it. We want to explore not only how these systems would work, but also social issues like privacy implications."

As I have posted here before, I am really excited about RFID and what it could mean in the world of personal technology and home automation. I am very eager to see how Borriello's project turns out.

Here is the original press release referenced in the Technology Trends post.
TiVo for audio
WIRED published an article on podcasting this morning that I found interesting. I had heard the term before; however, I dismissed it as just some dorky thing that Apple drones did on their tangerine "computers." Turns out that it is actually something kind of cool. And because podcast advocates, like Adam Curry at iPodder, are using all the right buzzwords (TiVo, RSS, even Howard Stern), it's caught my interest, too.

In a nutshell, podcasting involves recording internet radio content and automatically downloading it to a portable music player. Once the user installs one of the various podcast apps and selects their programming, the rest happens without user intervention.

Howard Stern is mentioned in the article as a great candidate for podcast distribution. Considering his jump to satellite radio, he will be providing a digital stream of his show in 2006. If Sirius develops a way to record that stream, I may be a little more interested in satellite radio and podcasting than I am right now.
HackADay.com
The guys over at Engadget have launched a new website called Hack A Day that, as the name implies, posts a new hack everyday.

The site, which is in beta, has only been up about 10 days, so there aren't a lot of hacks yet. Today's hack is running OS X on your Xbox (which borders on blasphemy). Another one shows you how to read RSS feeds on your TiVo.

You can get their RSS feed here.
Win advanced copy of Halo 2
7-11 and Mountain Dew are teaming up on a contest to give away advanced copies of Halo 2 to winning entrants. There are other cool prizes (like a trip to Bungie's Redmond offices, Xbox consoles); however, I'd be content with getting my hands on Halo 2 a week before everyone else.

You do have to provide your e-mail, name, zip code and gender, so privacy nuts need not bother. Everyone else can enter here.

Mountain Dew drinkers get a free Halo 2 t-shirt for buying 10 Mountain Dew 2-liter or 20 oz. bottles and filling out this form.
I need a NowHouse
When I purchased my Hitachi 65S500 TV back in April, I made a deal with my wife that we could begin looking into buying or building a new house the following April. I figured she would forget about it by next April, so I agreed. Well...she hasn't, so far. In fact, she wants to start thinking about it now. I, on the other hand, am content to stay in our current house because I have put a lot of work into it (and still have a fair amount of work left before we sell it).

Today, however, I came across NowHouse.org. NowHouse is project based on Clever Homes' prefabricated, green-friendly construction methods. After taking a look at their designs and their building process, I am thinking that building a new house isn't such a bad idea.

I like the designs of Clever Homes because they feature modern exteriors, open interiors with a lot of natural light and can be built quickly with very little negative impact on the environment. They claim that their homes are comparable in price to traditional construction; however, the fact that they don't have any prices listed on their website kind of worries me.

Check the NowHouse project or Clever Homes for more info.
Thursday, October 7, 2004
Xbox TV
As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, Bill Gates hinted at a potential spectator component to Xbox Live that would arrive with the Xbox 2. Well, now GameSpot is reporting that Microsoft posted a job opening on its website (and later pulled it down) that described something called "Xbox TV" which would allow Xbox Live subscribers to watch games and tournaments taking place on XBL without actually participating.

Here is the CodeJunkies article that GameSpot references and here is GameSpot's take on it.
We still need a great HTPC UI
As Microsoft prepares to release Windows Media Center Edition 2005, I am (somewhat painfully) reminded that there is still not a great HTPC front-end application that makes the HTPC as easy to use as my TiVo. With all of the companies, including Microsoft, out there trying to figure it out, I still don't understand why we don't have one.

So, I am going to offer my wishlist of features (in addition to the basic photo, music and video features)for a front-end app in hopes that someone (anyone!) will build it:

Customizable, unified interface: I currently use the software that came with my FireFly remote. While it does a good job at allowing me to customize the "launch" screen with all of the applications that I want to access, I still have to open each application in a separate window with its own separate UI.

I want an HTPC front end that will keep all of the other apps within its UI. For example, if I select "Win DVD 6," I want Win DVD 6 to open within the UI of the front-end application. Think of it as putting a custom skin on each app.

Until there is a unified interface that allows you to add apps of your choice, HTPC will still not be as easy to use as they need to be for mass market success.

Truly universal remote control: Many apps and tuner cards have their own remote control; however, I have yet to find one that just works with everything. My FireFly is very close but it still needs some help with some apps like Rhapsody. Maybe the unified interface mentioned above would actually make it easier to create a single universal remote control.

RSS support: Because I don't watch the news on TV, I need to be able to access all of the dozens of RSS feeds that I use on my HTPC. Seems like a simple enough request. GB-PVR already includes that functionality via an RSS plugin. Again, this would require the unified interface and the ability to use a remote to make it worthwhile.

Browser that formats web for television display: The experience of using a browser on my HTPC is still not very good. Opera has created it "Opera for Home Media" technology; however, it is intended for the set-top box market. We need someone do to the same for HTPCs and include it in the (you guessed it) unified interface.

While there are probably more features that I could dream up, I think that these offer some of the basic funtionality that is necessary to make HTPCs more useful (and appealing to a larger audience).
Wednesday, October 6, 2004
UO & Pixies tickets arrive


I finally got my tickets for the November 17th Urge Overkill - Pixies concert in Chicago. Woo hoo!
Howard Stern to join Sirius in '06
Variety.com is reporting that Howard Stern will end his relationship with Infinity Broadcasting in 2006, choosing to sign with Sirius satellite radio instead. The 5-year deal is worth $100 million for Stern. Plus, because satellite radio doesn't use the public airwaves, Stern will not be subject to FCC fines and scrutiny.

Ironically, when I went to HowardStern.com to see if I could find out more info on the deal, I was greeted with this large animated ad for XM satellite radio.

As much as I would love to be able to listen to Howard here in Louisville, I don't know if I am ready to pay for radio.
First Impression: Snap.com
Yet another company has introduced a new search engine. This time, it is Idealab who is ready to take on Google, Yahoo, MSN, IceRocket, etc...

The site, Snap.com (interestingly enough, that domain used to be owned by my current employer), aims to help users refine searches until they get what they really wanted. According to Bill Gross' post on the Snap blog, the site was built to provide three things:

1. User control
"...you get to change the order of search results, refine search results instantly, and hone in on exactly what you’re looking for. We think you’ll love it. Give it a try. It works on any search, just refine by entering filter words in the field above any column, or click on any column to sort."

2. User feedback
"We take into account what happens AFTER people click on search listings at our site AND others, to use as feedback on the relevance, and get you better results up at the top. This helps you avoid dead end searches, and saves you time. We also can figure out, based on millions of users, what people are really looking for so we can put custom formats on search pages where previous users signaled their 'intent' by their follow-on searches."

3. Transparency
"We want to reveal every action and transaction at the site, so you know what we are doing and what other users are doing. We even are revealing OUR REVENUES. Our conviction is that you get better results because transparency prevents advertisers or others from gaming the system."

While I think the idea of using other user's searches to help predict the current user's intent is an interesting concept (and it seems cool to fiddle with the tools on Snap), I'm not impressed by the interface. For example, in the "Product Finder" section (do a search for "digital camera"), clicking on a product result doesn't take you to the website for that product. Instead, it displays information about that product within the Snap page. Unfortunately, that information is displayed down in the middle of the page (instead of at the top) and it isn't apparent what is happening.

I also think that there may be too many controls. Some people are just really bad at searching for stuff. I don't think that giving them a bunch of refinable columns in their results page is necessarily the answer.

Plus, the columns require too much thinking on the user's part. There is a column for "web popularity" which can be refined with a text box. What do I put in that box? A number. Ok, but what number? What is the range of popularity that I have to choose from? Is 1 the most popular? The same problem exists for the columns labelled "web satisfaction, "popularity" and "satisfaction." And what is the difference between "web satisfaction" and "satisfaction."

Most importantly, they don't have enough results about ME (And, no I didn't mean "sporty" when I searched)!

The site just launched yesterday and it is still in Beta, so it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few months.
VOOM Whole House DVR Demo
Check out this demo video of the upcoming VOOM Whole House DVR that was shot at CEDIA by The Satellite Guys. The system will consist of a central high-definition set-top box server with multiple high-definition set-top box clients throughout the home. Because the system is IP-based, it can handle simultaneous HD streams to each of the clients.

This looks like the first product that can rival some of the more high-end HTPC setups. In addition to HD video, it will support audio and photo viewing. One of the coolest features is the ability to "move" shows. For example, if you are watching a show on the living room TV, you can pause it and then move it to the bedroom TV. Sweet.

The Whole House DVR is due out in 2005.
Tuesday, October 5, 2004
Are the old Beasties back?
I've got to admit that the Beastie Boys attitude over the past few years has kind of gotten on my nerves. They've gotten too political and a little too soft (you don't apologize for "Licensed to Ill" or "Paul's Boutique"!).

However, CNN has an article on their latest tour (which they insist is a pageant) and they sound like their old selves. MCA explains the "pageant" concept:

"We should make it clear that this is not a concert tour, so much as a traveling pageant," says MCA, a.k.a. Adam Yauch. "We tried to gather feedback about the kinds of things that children are into and what came back to us was a pageant, repeatedly."

"It involves certain kinds of dress, certain kinds of festivities, celebrations, feasts or food. I'd like to emphasize the feasts, if I might," Yauch says. "You don't just nosh, you feast; you don't just throw on some clothes, you get dressed, and these are the differentiations."


And then, the dog show that opens the pageant:

"By watching the dog show, I get inspiration," Yauch admits. "'Cause you see them and like, they don't hold back, you know? And they know how to work the crowd. They get up there and they know when to use subtlety."

Finally, they go over their setlist for the tour:

"We go way back," Diamond says. "We do some songs from 'Toys in the Attic,' 'Rocks,' 'Dream On.' "

Yauch chimes in: " 'Destroyer' (referring to a Kiss record)."

"We also do some of our newer songs that we feel really proud of like, 'Dude Looks Like a Lady,' " Diamond says.


Welcome back.
FFL: sMoRTy71 70, Vanderlay 55

For awhile on Sunday, it didn't look like Vanderlay and I were going to score 70 points combined (our scores were 33 and 35 going into Monday Night Football). However, Priest Holmes came through for me once again, scoring 23 points. See the score breakdown here.

This win puts me at 3-1 in my division. Although Big Bitchsmacker is also 3-1, I have the division lead because he lost to me last week. Vanderlay falls to 0-4 and last place in his division.

Next up, I play the 3-1 SF Reamers who can score a ton of points thanks to Peyton Manning. I will be facing him without Priest Holmes (who is on a bye), possibly Mike Vanderjagt (who hurt his hamstring) and Brett Favre (who received a concussion on Sunday). I guess 3-2 won't be too bad...
The Crew of Halo 2

WIRED.com has a profile on 6 of the people responsible for the design and development of Halo 2. Some of the job titles highlighted include Cinematics Director, Environment Designer and Weapons Artist.

One non-Halo tidbit that I found interesting was that, prior to joining Bungie, Audio Designer Marty O'Donnell wrote the jingle for Flintstones vitamins. "We are Flintstones kids - 10 million strong, and growing!" I bet he'll be able to write a similar jingle about Halo players after November 9th.
Blogs as recruiting tools
News.com has an article on the growing use of blogs as recruiting tools. Turns out that both hiring companies and prospective employees are talking themselves up in blogs.

Some bloggers, who aren't actively seeking a new job, are being approached by company recruiters based on their blog posts. According to one blogger featured in the article, "That's the advantage of blogging--if you do it well and have interesting things to say, people pay attention."
Monday, October 4, 2004
WorkPoop.com
Have you ever wondered how much money you make when you are using the restroom at work? Yeah, neither had I...until I heard about WorkPoop.com. By entering in your hourly wage (you'll to calculate that if you are a salaried employee), your daily #2 time and the number of times per week that you have #2 time, WorkPoop.com will calculate your yearly poop pay.

For those who aren't sure how much time it takes, the site also has a stopwatch feature that allows you to start it when you leave your desk and stop it when you return. It then tells you exactly how much you earned.

In addition to the calculators, the site also has merchandise (surprise!) and a forum (which include categories "The Singles Stall," "Poop Stories" and "Women of Workpoop."
Gmail adds RSS functionality
I noticed that Gmail has added RSS support for your Inbox (look for the little "ATOM" icon under the toolbars in the left column). This allows you to get notified in your feed reader of choice when you get a new Gmail e-mail. Cool.

Now if they would just add a very basic calendar function, I could ditch Outlook altogether.
Gates hints at next Xbox features
In a recent talk with students at UC-Berkeley, Bill Gates made a brief mention of the next Xbox. One of his comments hints that the next-generation Xbox will allow for online gaming spectators:

"The next Xbox 'may not be good for productivity, but it will be fun,' he said. While not offering too many details on the device, he said communications will play a bigger part in the gadget, as will the idea of having an audience in addition to just players. 'It's not just one person sitting there shooting at artifacts,' Gates said."

While it might be cool to have all of your buddies watch you school someone online, I would imagine that most people would prefer to be playing games instead of watching them. I'll guess we'll have to wait and see how this actually manifests itself.
Sunday, October 3, 2004
Drewster911 = chump
The only reason I bring this up at all is because Drewster911, who really has no business playing a football video game, turned off his Xbox in the middle of the 3rd quarter (of a 17-0 beatdown I was putting on him on ESPN NFL 2K5) in order to avoid getting a loss on his record. On top of that, during the game, he would rapidly pause and resume the game (causing a strobing effect on the screen) any time I scored or sacked him or intercepted him. IMO, that is worthy of "chump" status.

I think that, from now on, I will post the Xbox Live Gamertag of any chump-worthy opponents I face online. Consider yourself warned, Toonces 66.
Saturday, October 2, 2004
Mahlon's first football game

Mahlon tries to put on his "game face;" however, his mouthpiece kind of gets in the way.

Mahlon had his first flag football game this morning. He played several different positions including offensive line, defensive line and tight end.
Although they don't officially keep score in this age group, the Chiefs scored 22 points and the Bills scored 6. See more photos from the game here.
Halo 2 is finished
According to a post on the Bungie website, Halo 2 is finished:

" We are basically done making Halo 2. Seriously. Barring any unexpected shenanigans, Halo 2 is done and dusted, simultaneously, for every region it will be released in worldwide. Oh, and Parsons has been hitting the sushi again...It isn't literally the last update of course, since there's lots to do and say between now and November 9th, but I can honestly say that there's no more updating on the progress of the game, since the game is done. Finished and shipped to a nebulous region known as RTC (Release To Certification) where it will be dumped from eight digital tapes onto a DVD and go through some final testing."


While it is good to know the game is finished, it is still something like 38 days away from release.
Friday, October 1, 2004
Amateur Revolution
FastCompany has an article on what author Charles Leadbetter calls the "amateur revolution." He includes Linux, rap music and astronomy as areas that have made great strides on the work of so-called amateurs.

While Linux sticks out from that list to me as something that wasn't the product of amateurs (it was more a product of collaboration among software engineers), I think we are also seeing an amateur revolution in areas that Leadbetter doesn't mention.

The most obvious is the effect that bloggers are having on professional journalism. Bloggers are constantly scooping and often duping the major news outlets.

And while it isn't really a revolution, I think niches like home theater PCs demonstrate the same phenomenon. You have a bunch of people who aren't getting what they want out of their consumer electronics devices, so they piece together components and make their own. Many of the developments/ideas of the HTPC enthusiasts are slowly making their way into PCs and consumer products.

In addition to the FC article, Leadbetter is releasing a paper on the Amateur Revolution in November.

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.