Bolt-on

Dvdres Driving across California yesterday, my daughter was watching Mary Poppins on an iPad and I couldn't help but notice the iPad is a great entertainment device, but also has touch screen games, music, and more.

I thought about how a lot of cars come with drop-down DVD players bolted into headliners (usually as a costly $1k+ option) and I instantly remembered how people used to have phones bolted into their cars, with numbers that were specific to only reaching someone when they were in that specific car driving, back before we all walked around with our own phones.

Chalk it up to another product disrupted by the mobile device maker.

Privacy and semi-permanence

Remember Merton, the chat roulette improv musician? I checked his youtube page today to see if there were any new videos (lo and behold, he uploaded one a few weeks ago I hadn't seen), and I eventually watched the older ones again.

I remember the first one was really amazing because it was both funny and touching to see how people reacted. I recall when the random woman requests "fireflies" that she almost looked like she was going to cry, and it brought out an emotional response from me while watching it the first few times. There's something amazing about making someone laugh and almost cry in the span of a minute that makes you an instant fan of their work.

What's weird is that if you watch the original video today, you'll see that woman is now a giant blur. You don't get any emotional connection that was there. Later in the video a guy in a backwards ballcap is kind of made fun of and he's now blurry too. 

I understand the need for privacy and it's not like the guy behind these videos got model releases from everyone, but it's sad to see a major internet meme take a hit by blurring a really touching scene in what was otherwise an innocuous appearance by a random person.

update: the unedited original is on Vimeo. See how different (and better) that version is?

Caraoke: Let’s fucking do this

(if you want to hear the original song, listen here)

A friend recently confessed he was really into karaoke and before he could ask I had to decline ever doing something as crazy as singing in public. I'm crippled with embarrassment whenever I have to dance or sing (or do anything kooky) in public, so karaoke is out, but I realized I actually like to sing when I'm alone and no one is watching.

Then I thought about American Idol and reality shows and singing alone and then it hit me: people sing in cars all the time! Karaoke in cars = Caraoke! We have the technology: hidden cameras, microphones, bluetooth audio, and OnStar-type microphones in many cars. Loved ones that suspect you're a private car singer can sign you up (without your knowledge :) and record you singing on the way to work. Each week clips of people singing are played, the person singing is contacted and surprised (and sometimes incensed with anger, hey it makes for great TV) and the best singer wins something each week.

Why isn't this an actual show? Hollywood, make this hidden camera singing show happen already.

Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus

Cognitive-surplus A few weeks ago, a random email asked if I wanted to take part in helping promote Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus on a blog book tour. As a follower of Clay’s writing for many years, I enthusiastically said yes, and they sent a hard copy of the book (I ended up buying a kindle version and read it on my iPhone, since I prefer that to printed books these days).

Simply put, Cognitive Surplus is a fantastic read that is loaded with real-world examples as well as tons of research that ties all the concepts together. The gist of the story Clay weaves is how we’ve spent the previous 50 years staring at televisions but the internet enables us to finally talk back, and even tiny slices of the time wasted watching TV when applied towards some collective output can result in massive repositories of information like Wikipedia. He shows many contemporary examples of online collaboration beyond Wikipedia.org and breaks down the motivations for contributors that cites plenty of sociology, psychology, and economics research to back his points up.

I’ve seen Clay speak at many conferences in the past and I’ve enjoyed, quoted, and argued many of his previous essays on his (sadly now languishing) site. I read his last book Here Comes Everybody as well, and the one thing that really blows me away about Cognitive Surplus is how he completely and utterly envelopes the points he wants to make. I feel like his previous work would touch on a whole bunch of issues but never really get to the heart of why things are the way they are, but in this new book he drills deep on every point with plenty of examples and studies to back him up. I’ve seen some criticism of various aspects of the book, where readers either think the trend of free collaboration online is short lived or that it’s not part of a larger trend as Clay sees it. Clay is very much a futurist in some aspects, and his expertise has always been in spotting interesting new trends very early on, and describing them to large audiences right before they take root and become the norm.

I feel like we’re on the cusp of a real revolution now thanks to the democratization of online tools. Back in the early days of the web and even blogging, you had to be a programmer, developer, or at least technically minded enough to write your own software, publish your own HTML, and manage your sites using many disparate tools. It was very much like the days of very early television where the guys that could control the cameras wrote all the shows because there wasn’t any other way. In 2010, we thankfully have a ton of simple to use tools like Twitter, Tumblr, and Posterous that take the need to be a programmer or developer out of the equation and simply let anyone say what they want with minimal knowledge and minimal friction. In the future, we’ll see these tools used in ways we never thought possible and when the next unknown random person makes a post that becomes worldwide news, I’m sure Clay Shirky will be there to tell us all about it, and I very much look forward to reading about it.

Apple and Toyota

Screen shot 2010-07-15 at 10.43.40 AM

I've had an iPhone 4 for about three weeks now, and so far I've found better reception and fewer calls dropped when compared to my previous 3GS iPhone. I do have one area of poor reception at home where calls dropped about half the time on my old phone, but it hasn't happened once with the new one.

I've seen a youtube video or two of people that can produce a drop in their reception by touching the lower left of their phone, but I can't reproduce it. I've heard news of class action suits, official responses from Apple, and even an upcoming news conference at Apple tomorrow.

The whole thing reminds me of what Toyota has went through in the past year over their Prius. Right from the start, the story sounded fishy to me, that cars were suddenly accelerating uncontrollably. As Toyota officials got hauled in front of congress I wondered if there really was a technical issue with the cars or if it was more about American lawmakers scoring points with constituents by knocking down a foreign-owned #1 car company (remember Gung Ho?).

Early on, someone noticed that a majority of affected Prius owners tended towards very old, where driver error becomes increasingly common and I was surprised to find it didn't really gain much traction in the whole story of the Prius recall. In the end, driver error was the culprit in all but one case.

I'd argue that after decades of the Ford Taurus being the #1 car sold in America shifting to the Toyota Camry, there was a lot of pent-up resentment with Toyota's success. The Prius is certainly a success in its own right, showing that American consumers wanted better economy so badly they were willing to sit on six-month long waiting lists to get their new Prius, and they were willing to pay $25-30,000 for a sparsely appointed economy car that without hybrid technology probably could have sold for $15k.

Same goes for Apple. The iPhone has taken over the mobile market, eating up profits from other makers over the last few years. Apple has been steadily gaining market share in the laptop market as well, and the same decades-old lingering annoyances with all things Apple (pretention, absurdly high costs, "cooler than thou" factor) feels like it's resurfaced with the iPhone 4. The moment the opportunity to strike against Apple presented itself, people pounced.

I'd say there are likely a small number of iPhone 4 handsets in certain areas of low reception affected by how they are held in such a way that the phone can drop calls. Maybe it's 1%?Maybe it's 5%? It's the best phone I've ever owned and likely the best phone made to date, but headlines declaring "Product Maker releases good product" don't sell pageviews as well as "iPhone 4 antenna FAIL!!!"

My favorite way to watch the Tour de France

Versus TdF iPhone app on the iPad

I'm traveling and trying to keep track of the Tour while on the other side of the country, so I've been experimenting with a few options. I first tried to find free feeds of the Tour online but they're often flakey and not in English. I watched the Versus channel on TV when I was around in the mornings but there are frequent advertising breaks and pointless filler pieces telling you the background stories of various riders.

Then I tried the Versus Tracker for $30, but I found the video a bit choppy and since it's all in Flash, it would make my macbook air's fan run like crazy and drain the battery within an hour or two (and stages can be 3-4 hours long).

Finally, I tried the Versus iPhone app for $15, and while just about everything about it is buggy (the app crashes when you try to do various tasks, news feeds don't update, twitter links can't be followed, etc), the Live Tour video playback works wonderfully (and is stable), especially on an iPad. I find each morning I can run it for several hours on an iPad (on wifi) that barely drains 10% from the battery.

Also, the video is a raw feed of the entire race without any interruptions. No ads. No NBC Olympics-style docu-dramas about each rider's struggles. Just plain racing from nearly the start through the finish with Phil and Paul doing play by play.

The folding Palm bluetooth keyboard works great on an iPhone

I made a quick video showing how those folding bluetooth keyboards setup and collapse, and give you the ability to write using a real keyboard:

Sadly, the same keyboard I got for $43 on Amazon in December is now over $100 from a reseller. You could probably find one cheap on eBay. 

A folding keyboard is a handy thing to have in a backpack that lets you write pages of text if need to and are away from a laptop or desktop.