Boing Boing redo

I gotta say that I’m enjoying the Boing Boing redesign so much that I’m actually breaking down and making a real blog entry about it (as opposed to a witty twitter quip, or simple delicious link, or a lowly screenshot posted on flickr).

I thought the old design was showing its age and the ad layouts were very distracting (the jokes about it looking like NASCAR weren’t too far off). I even sent a mockup of a cleaner layout to Xeni and Cory a couple years ago, but I never thought it would change and assumed it would putter on for several more years in its previous state. I don’t know what prompted the change, but the new look is a great improvement. It’s way cleaner, easier to read, and the ads are no longer distracting. I disagree with Nelson on the change (though I agreed with his previous assessment). At this point in the lifespan of Boing Boing (one million dollars!), I no longer compare them to other blogs and instead to major media outlets, so I’m cutting them slack on three ad zones. Look at any page at even nicely designed media sites like the New York Times and you’ll see 3-5x more advertisements. So among top-shelf media sites, their advertising is barely noticeable.

I’m also happy to see a new gadget blog that’s unlike all the other million gadget blogs out there. It helps that it’s authored by my all time favorite gadget blogger, a man that deserves a medal for getting hired to write a regular column on Gizmodo, only to get fired after Gawker editors and readers took his first essay way too personally and seriously. It’s clear from day one of this new Boing Boing blog that this won’t be another shopping or wishlist gadget blog. Free from all the pointless gadget lust that powers other sites, this looks like it’ll be more along the lines of “interesting crap someone built that looks cool/works in a cool way.”

Bottom line, it was a great surprise to see Boing Boing’s new layout and direction today and I think it’s a huge positive change (and adding comments was nice too).

Testing out .Mac, iMovie ’08, and the Panasonic AVCHD

I used PCs on a daily basis for about ten years, but over the last three or four years I’ve become a full-fledged Apple fanboy convert. I buy a new mac about once a year or so and have tried out pretty much every product they’ve released over the last few years. So when Steve Jobs debuted iLife ’08 and mentioned iMovie worked with the new AVCHD format available in $700 Panasonic cameras, I bought one to give it a go.

Today I put all this new software and hardware to the test. I carried the video camera around and shot a few things during a visit to the Oregon Garden. I came home, imported all the clips into iMovie, arranged a few and threw a song on top of it. Finally, I uploaded it to my “Web Gallery”.

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Here is the resulting 3 minute movie


Quick review of each aspect

Panasonic HDC-SD1 Camera

This is a great camcorder. I’ve had and used a couple mini-DV camcorders over the last few years and this was easier to use and packed with more features than I was used to. My favorite thing is that it writes all video to a special 4Gb SD card (most card readers can’t understand it, so I just use the included USB cables with the camera). What is great about ditching tapes and simply using a memory card is the unit is much lighter than a camcorder that uses tapes, and if you’re reviewing ten previous recorded clips, say clip 1, and you hit the record button, it’ll start recording clip 11 in the right place (no more fast forwarding or taping over previous video).

It charges fairly fast and video looks fantastic on my 46″ 1080p LCD. I can’t believe a little $750 camcorder can do such nice high def stuff. About the only downside I’ve found in use is the microphone which is about what you’d expect (only works well if someone’s standing directly in front of it speaking) and if I really wanted to film a nice movie I’d need some external microphones.

So far in two weeks of using this, I’m finding that since I don’t have to fumble for tapes or worry if I’m taping over something, and since it’s small and light, I use this much more than my previous camcorders.

iMovie ’08

iMovie is completely different in the new iLife suite. David Pogue has written a scathing review because they changed everything compared to the old version and actually removed some functionality, but I followed the use-case presented by Jobs in the last Apple demo: I recorded some clips about a trip and assembled them really quickly in the editor. Compared with iMovie ’06, I’d say the new version is much easier and faster to make short videos. I used the previous version on a handful of occasions and found myself using the help files more than the iMovie tools themselves. With iMovie ’08, the things Steve Jobs did in his demo pretty much covers the entire application. I edited my movie in about 20 minutes total, which is at least twice as fast as me doing the same thing in the old version. The “skimming” feature where you mouse over clips is incredible and really handy for testing out sections of clips you want to cut.

.Mac and the Web Gallery

I’ve never been much of a fan or user of the .Mac service. I only had to pay for it once when coworkers used to share some tools and I let my membership lapse until today. So far it seems like a nice backup space to keep 10Gb of files but mostly I wanted it for the tight integration with iMovie. I have to say it’s really, really easy to upload something to your .Mac webspace by simply clicking a menu item and telling iMovie to do its magic. Time will tell if it’s worth keeping for more than a year but so far I really like the photo galleries and movie player pages.

A smarter audio manager

Here’s what I typically do in the course of a day.

  • Start iTunes, play some new songs while I code, read email, and surf the web
  • About every 15min or so, I run across a youtube video, mp3 link, or vimeo post that I want to watch, so I…
  • pause iTunes, let the video/music play in my browser, then return back to what I was doing

Here’s the rub: anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours later, I’ll realize I’ve been sitting in a room wearing headphones with nothing coming out of them. I don’t mind it, but I do wish I could have an app that could manage iTunes automatically for me.

This is my wish: I start playing iTunes music, surf along while some magical app watches my sound output. When something else sends output to the soundcard (I’d have to disable iChat message alerts), hit pause in iTunes for me, then when the soundcard is clear, push play on iTunes automatically (maybe with a bit of cross-fading to bring it up smoothly).

Is this impossible? I think I’ve seen something like this before — it doesn’t seem like it’d be impossible for a computer to manage for me.