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December 27, 2005

HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray and Beyond

There is quite the battle shaping up in the push to define the format for high-definition DVDs. This New York Times article talks about the issue (as well as the more general issue of high-definition DVDs vs. other distribution methods, such as on-demand). The problem, of course, is that having two formats confuses users, makes content publishers and hardware manufacturers have to hedge their bets, and delays adoption of the whole thing.

It's similar to the VHS vs. Beta battle for video-cassette recorders. That one was Sony (Beta) against a consumer electronics industry consortium (VHS); this one is shaking out as the consumer electronics industry (Blu-Ray) vs. the computer industry (HD-DVD). This is a quote from the article from someone at HP: "It all boils down to Microsoft and Sony wanting to dominate the connected home. It's a showdown between consumer electronics and personal computers over convergence."

This isn't a new fight; I wrote about the digital rights-management issues a while back. It's now hitting closer to home because it is becoming entangled in the game console wars: Sony's new Playstation 3 is supposed to support Blu-Ray, and although I know nothing about Xbox plans, I assume it is intended to eventually support HD-DVD (more general disclaimer: I know nothing about *any* of Microsoft's plans in this area; I'm just being a spectator here, no internal Microsoft knowledge was used in writing this).

It's not clear which is the tail and which is the dog (is Sony using the Playstation 3 to boost Blu-Ray, or using Blu-Ray to boost the Playstation 3?) but in any case the high-def format is turning into one front of an epic battle -- perhaps the epic battle, the final confrontation in the war over whether computers can win the living room -- and you can see Microsoft lining up its weapons: the HD-DVD format, DRM plans, Xbox, Media Center, etc. You could picture it expanding even more, pulling in mobile devices (which are already under Robbie Bach), and then beyond that to MSN, and external companies (Yahoo! probably lines up with the content people; what will Google do?). Should be quite interesting to watch this all play out.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 23, 2005

Using iPods Like Memory Sticks

I was reading a "Rolling Stone" interview with Pharrell Williams (of the Neptunes) and he mentioned that when Q-Tip (of A Tribe Called Quest) wants to send him new music, he puts it on an iPod and sends it to him.

It struck me as strange because to me an iPod is something you buy and keep to play music on; it's not a storage medium you would use for exchanging data (with the understanding that the person receiving it would keep it, or reuse it, or whatever as they saw fit, but certainly NOT feel any obligation to return it to you). In other words, I don't expect people to treat an iPod like we used to treat a floppy disk.

Now of course Q-Tip probably has more money than the average Joe, but still my surprise at this might be a sign of fuddy-duddyism. I mean, people certainly use USB memory sticks to exchange data (although they might want them back), and an iPod Shuffle, in particular, doesn't really pretend to be much more than USB memory stick with an audio output jack and a volume control.

They are even priced pretty close. At Best Buy you can buy 1 GB USB memory sticks for about $100; a 1 GB iPod Shuffle is $129 direct from Apple. I've seen both of these cheaper elsewhere; 1GB iPod Shuffles for $99, and 1GB memory sticks for even less, but I think it's reasonable to say that the Shuffle costs 20%-30% more than the plain USB memory stick. Interestingly enough, the 512 MB Shuffle lists for $99, while 512 MB USB memory sticks are going for more like half of the 1GB ones. I think this shows that 1) the premium for the iPod-ness is constant ($30 or so) which makes sense, and also that for an iPod Shuffle, where you are planning to fill it with songs that take a few MB each, having twice as much storage just gives you twice as many songs, but for a USB device, where you may be copying giant files over, doubling the size may enable a scenario that is simply impossible with the smaller one (for example for this demo I needed a 2 GB image copied, so having two 1 GB memory sticks would have been useless), so it will command more of a premium (in particular going from 512 MB to 1 GB puts you past the amount of data you can store on a CD-ROM).

Yes you can still buy floppy disks; they cost about 33 cents each, so 1GB worth of storage is over $200. So in addition to being one uninterrupted data store and looking cool, an iPod Shuffle is cheaper per megabyte than floppies.

Posted by AdamBa at 04:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 19, 2005

Zippy Explains It All

You may be unsurprised to hear that I enjoy the comic strip "Zippy the Pinhead", even though it makes no sense most of the time. Zippy helpfully took some time out from his usual barrage of non sequiturs to try to explain what was going on, a story arc that I much enjoyed:

I'm not usually as random as Zippy, and I'm obsessed with third of a yard eBay auctions and Amazon.com data mining instead of giant roadside figures (well, I occasionally think about GRFs), but I do like to throw in obscure references in my writing. In these days of RSS feeds it is best to have nice informative titles for your posts, but I can't resist titles that harken back to obscure J-Pop songs, Bill James Baseball Abstract, or old science fiction. For those PSMCM-o-philes seeking further enlightenment, the reading list would include, at a minimum, the "Demon Princes" books by Jack Vance, Snarfquest by Larry Elmore, the collected "Pogo" by Walt Kelly, Ball Four by Jim Bouton, "Watchmen" by Alan Moore, and Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder. If you figure it all out, maybe you can explain it to me.

Posted by AdamBa at 09:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 18, 2005

Seattle Weather Forecasts

Below is the weather forecast from yesterday's paper. Note the descriptions for Tuesday and Friday:

One of the problems with writing Seattle forecasts in winter is finding new ways to say "45 degrees and rainy", so I can understand the desire for occasional flights of fancy.

Speaking of weather, I was at Best Buy in Bellevue yesterday and there were people lined up to buy Xboxes that would become available at 8 am this morning. The guy in front said he had been there since 8 am yesterday (Robert Scoble evidently talked to the same guy). Last night driving home around 11 pm the temperature was 27 degrees, so those people were in for a chilly night. I asked inside and someone said they had 200 Xboxes on launch date. Then Bill Gates visited that specific Best Buy at midnight and when he realized they were going to sell out he switched to forward air controller mode and ordered a targeted air strike of 200 more units. But ever since the BillG hot read they have not received any more. This morning every store was supposed to receive a minimum of 20 more, but the store was hoping, due to their volume of sales, to get at least 50. There were definitely more than 20 people waiting in line out front yesterday at 1 pm, so some of them may have endured a freezing overnight and then gotten nothing.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:17 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 16, 2005

Converting between characters and their ASCII value in Monad

For some reason a lot of the programs I write need to convert between a character and its ASCII value (like "A" to 65 and back). In C this was easy because a string was an array of chars and a single char could be treated as an int, but as we move into languages that try to blur the distinction between char and string (or between char and string and int, as Perl does), you need more explicit ways to convert. Especially if your language doesn't support declaring ranges with characters like ("A".."Z").

In Monad, you might think you could just do [int]"A", but this gives an error:

MSH> [int]"A"
Cannot convert "A" to "System.Int32". Error: "Input string was not in a correct format."
At line:1 char:6
+ [int]" <<<< A"

What you have to do instead is first convert the string to a char, and then you can change it to an int:

MSH> [int][char]"A"

(Before you ask, I'll explain that the casting of a string to a char will fail if the string isn't one character long:)

MSH> [int][char]"AB"
Cannot convert "AB" to "System.Char". Error: "String must be exactly one character long."
At line:1 char:12
+ [int][char]" <<<< AB"

To go the other way, you can't just cast the number directly to a string, because then it will convert it to its string representation:

MSH> [string]65
MSH> $([string]65).GetType().FullName

So what you do is cast the number back to char:

MSH> [char]65

Arugably you should go all the way and cast that entire thing to a string (as in [string][char]65), but Monad will treat a char like a string in most cases. So in the string to char to int conversion you need to explicitly cast it all the way to an int or it will "tip" back to being a string, but going from int to string you can stop at char and Monad will do the rest.

As a test, understanding that the EndsWith() method on System.String takes a string argument, and "HA".EndsWith("A") is true, which of the following is true:

  1. "HA".EndsWith(65)
  2. "HA".EndsWith([char]65)
  3. "HA".EndsWith([string]65)

The answer (no peeking) is #2; it successfully converts 65 to a char "A", which is then automatically converted to a string "A". The others both pass the string "65" as an argument and therefore return false.

Posted by AdamBa at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 14, 2005

Looking for a Good "Hit in Crotch" Movie?

Amazon, continuing its endless quest to slice and dice its database to amuse freaks like me, has added plot keywords to its listings. For example you can find all movies with the Hit in Crotch keyword. Or perhaps you want to relax with a nice Fart Scene. The URL implies they are from IMDB but I don't see them available directly from there (even through other things that Amazon shows, like goofs and quotes, are on IMDB).

The keywords for "Shrek 2", as an example, are "Sequel | Donkey | Gingerbread Man | Honeymoon | King | Knight | Ogre | Princess | Puss In Boots | Queen | Wolf | Blockbuster | 3D Animation | Assassin | Dragon | Factory | Flatulence | Husband Wife Relationship | In Laws | Magic Potion | Magic Wand | Mermaid | Mother Son Relationship | Mud Bath | Rivalry | Rock Concert | Scene During End Credits | Stepsister | Toad | Transformation | Horse | Prince | Puppet | Second Part | Sword | Bar Scene | Best Friend | Dance Scene | Father Daughter Relationship | Father In Law | Love Potion | Mother Daughter Relationship | Mother In Law | Party | Red Carpet | Talking Animal | True Love | Villainess | Pitchfork | Prejudice | Racism | Redemption | Arm Wrestling | Destiny | Hit In Crotch | Harp | Shark | Fire Breathing Dragon | Magic | Newlywed | Cgi Film | Fart Scene | Computer Animation". Makes it sound like "War and Peace" (with bonus crotch-hitting).

I don't know why but this stuff attracts me like a moth to the flame. Actually I think it's clever of Amazon to do something like this...to the extent that I would ever consider using another online bookseller (which I wouldn't right now) or consider switching to Amazon from somewhere else, a pointless feature like this might be the one that makes me switch. Enough of them and you get everybody.

Posted by AdamBa at 03:52 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 08, 2005

Vintage Lego Auctions

Lego, in honor of its 50th anniversary (you DO know it's the 50th anniversary of Lego, don't you?) has decided to auction off some mint-in-box Lego sets from the 1970s. There's a page on the Lego site, and you can also look directly at the eBay listings.

(Hmmm, Lego's feedback score is only 98.7%. They have 386 positive and 5 negative. Who would bag on Lego? These are the 5 negative comments: "u suck", "LEGO did not complete the transaction. - Item was actually sold out!" [a few others reported the same thing, but as neutral feedback], "It took 2 emails & 3 phone calls to conclude purchase. Won't buy from again.", "Rec'd. damaged. Returned for exchange. Rec'd letter today - no longer available.", and "1month later no goods, dispatch notice shows wrong address, wont reply to emails". Sounds like a bunch of whiners mostly. Lego to the fore!!)

This stuff is incredibly tempting, of course, because it's mint mint mint and they come "direct from the LEGO vaults". This brings up the mind-blowing vision of the Lego vaults...I picture them like the Inca treasure hoard in the Tintin book "Prisoners of the Sun", except the earthenware pots are filled with unopened 928 space sets and the like.

I especially like the London double-decker bus (which I swear I owned as a kid, because I remember it went to Piccadilly) but for $177.50 and counting I'll pass. I've got another eBay obsession right now, which I'll write about once I'm done buying enough of it.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:07 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

ICE Your Phone

I saw this mentioned in Consumer Reports...evidently there is a move afoot to put contact info in your cell phone where the name starts with "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) so that if you are in an accident and can't give contact info, emergency personnel may be able to use the ICE entry to know who to call.

Snopes has a good entry about this: it evidently originated with a British paramedic, it's more for hospitals than emergency personnel, you should still have written contact info, etc.

Posted by AdamBa at 10:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 07, 2005

Reasons for Thousand Bloggers

I was thinking about public Microsoft bloggers and how they can amplify internal complaints. For example if bloggers start to complain about Microsoft cutting its towel service, then it might get picked up by others and thrown around as an example of something-or-other -- much more than it might otherwise be. If you search for Microsoft "towel service" you get hundreds of hits, and the majority of them are complaints about Microsoft cutting it. Not that you are likely to search for this, unless perhaps you were curious if Microsoft DID offer a towel service, but that is the imprint that the term is currently leaving on the Web.

But, consider this justification. Microsoft is cutting its towel service because it is trying to show Wall Street that it is being serious about saving money, in an effort to boost the stock price. But something like cutting towel service is really not worth putting out a press release about. So how do you get the word out? Ballmer is gambling that the number of annoyed/disgruntled/departing employees caused by no towel service will be less than the number of annoyed/disgruntled/departing employees prevented by a rising stock price. But it's like "Dr. Strangelove" -- it only works if the other guy knows! So who is going to spread the word to Wall Street that Microsoft is getting serious about cutting costs? Why, it's the bloggers, of course. They (we) can take the minor message about towel service and whip it into a frenzy, until it reaches the ear of a stock analyst, he bumps his rating in Microsoft, and presto we can all afford to buy our own towels.

I'm not saying I'm going to use this to justify public complaints about Microsoft cuts...just an idea I had.

Posted by AdamBa at 06:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 01, 2005


Hey, it's actually legitimately snowing here in Redmond. Not sticking yet, but reasonably dense snow coming down.

Seattle is just on the edge of getting snow. It is coldest here when it is clear at night and the clouds aren't trapping heat. But, it rarely gets much below freezing, even at night. And to have snow you need precipitation, which doesn't happen with no clouds. So to get snow in Seattle, you typically need it to be cold at night, then have precipitation move in in the very early morning, before it has a chance to warm up.

That's why when it snows in Seattle it almost always snows overnight. It's very rare for it to be clear in the morning and then start snowing during the day. In fact before today, the only time I remember that happening was back in December 1990, when we had 14 inches of snow, all of it during the day. Normally with the overnight snows people just don't come to work if they can't make it, but that time everyone was already at work, and people had to get home. I was living in Capital Hill at the time and I had to creep home in my car (the edge of the highway literally was a continuous row of abandoned cars), inch up the hill trying not to get stuck, and then skate my car down the inclined alleyway that had the entrance to the parking garage of my apartment building (took me a couple of go-arounds to accomplish that).

Then I stayed home from work for 2 days, which was convenient except I had to drive a friend to the airport, so I had to venture out in the snow. There was no real telecommuting back then so I just punted the 2 days (flex time, ya know). My wife, who lived within walking distance of campus, went to work both days and was rewarded with membership in the "St. Bernard's Club" (which I think came with one of those car kits with a flare, blanket, tire pressure gauge, etc).

Posted by AdamBa at 11:34 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack