Monthly Archive for September, 2007

Video: An overview of the Wireless iTunes Store on iPod touch

Episode 9: The iPod Touch
In an arguably very special edition of Channel65, Jerrick Lim corresponds with Senior Mac Daddyologist Kevin Lim reporting live from the Buffalo Apple Store in New York and taking a closer look at the brand new iPod Touch.

As hinted earlier, here’s the video of me playing with the iPod touch made as a collaboration with the Tech65 crew once more. In this short review, I pay special attention to how the Wireless iTunes Store works. I know plenty of friends who’d love to get one, but wishing it came with a bigger hard drive. It’s product differentiation at work, and Apple’s playing it smart with their 160GB iPod Classic.

How did Peter Parker stack up against Master Chief?

Blogosphere dominance: Halo 3 vs. Spiderman 3
See the live trend chart version on BlogPulse

Data Mining blog did a comparison between halo, resident evil and borne, so I thought I’d do a little better…

All over the web (actually about 351 news articles from mainstream and online sources), the predictions for Halo 3 were clear. As yesterday’s LA Times noted, “… the video game is expected to pull in more than $150 million in sales in 24 hours. By comparison, “Spider-Man 3″ blitzed box-office records when it took in $151 million at theaters during its three-day opening weekend in May.”

So now that Halo 3 (major video game) is out, how did it do over Spiderman 3 (major motion picture)?

As seen on my chart comparing “Halo 3″, “Spiderman 3″ and “Resident Evil” (ironically, its both video game and movie), you can see the results for yourself. It’s still a bit early to tell, and I don’t have the financial figures, but an initial look at the amount of buzz in the blogosphere (tracked by no. of blog posts) gives us a clue as to how many people have likely bought and played Halo 3. As seen in the chart above, the amount of “Halo 3″ related posts in the first 24hrs might not trump that of Spiderman 3, but it’s certainly more than half. Since video games are typically less accessible media compared to movies, these numbers are quite impressive.

Still, what would the opening day sales be like? Well, given that a movie ticket might cost around $12 while a present generation video game cost around $60, that’s a five time multiplier for every sale made. Even with the roughest of estimates, I think that if Halo 3 captured just over half of the bloggers who watched Spiderman 3, that’s two-and-a-half times more dough to roll around in.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, what makes the video game business tantalizing is the potential profits. For Sony Corp., the estimated profit margin for “Spider-Man 3″ is 46%, according to entertainment research firm SNL Kagan. Microsoft Corp., which publishes “Halo 3″, has the potential to see a profit margin of 90% or more for the game.

The LA Times article breaks it down further for us, including how Spiderman 3 weighed in about $400 million to make and market, while Halo 3 around $60 million. Do give it a read to learn more about these industries differ, and how we might start to see an entertainment shift towards the use of digital actors, independent production (corporations).

While we see the lower cost online media (e.g. blogs, videocasts) eroding advertising dollars from traditional print media (e.g. newspapers, magazines), it’s not as simple for movies to lose appeal compared to video games. However, I might see a shift occur where ideas might break in video games first before hitting the movies (a shift in being prime media).

UPDATE: The figures are finally out. Microsoft announced that the Xbox 360 exclusive game “Halo 3″ has officially become the biggest entertainment launch in history, garnering an estimated $170 million in sales in the United States alone in the first 24 hours. Yes, Halo 3 eats blockbusters like Spiderman 3 for breakfast.

The Magnitude of Halo: Is this our modern day classics?

Halo 3 (USA Today)
See the web version of this USA Today article…

With less than ten hours to the release of Halo 3, USA Today last week posed the question of whether the trilogy of Halo could bear the status of “classics”, much in the likes of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

While our perception of classics instinctively triggers us to think of something written in ancient times, it does remind us… whatever happened to the fairy tales and stories almost everyone in the world had some variation of? Where are the myths and lores of today?

Roger Travis, an associate professor of classics at the University of Connecticut, told USA Today that he certainly doesn’t have any problem putting Halo on the shelf next to classics such as Beowulf.

Perhaps classics indeed transcend according to where we presently share the most meaning. Where it once was spoken (fairy tales), then written in books (William Shakespeare), drawn in comics (Superman), made into radio broadcasts (War of the Worlds), filmed as movies (Star Wars), we now have shared meaning in the realm of video games (Halo).

Interestingly, while each step of the media transcendence affords the user / audience a richer and more complex experience (greater sensory), it also starts to decrease in accessibility and longevity.

In terms of accessibility, old fairy tales simply required the natural ability to listen and speak (with basic language cognition), video-games as purveyors of our modern lore require greater skill as well as prosthetics, such as the game console, networking know-how, and a higher reflex to perform well in the game. In essence, a greater digital divide, entitling only the elites the ability to experience a new found classic, while the rest reverting to hearsay.

In terms of longevity, Moore’s Law already dictates the exponential increase of processor speeds, rendering computing technology obsolete at a faster rate. While we can always retell classic tales of the Little Red Riding Hood to our children, how are we to explain the complex myth of Halo when Xbox 360s (or any game console) become irrelevant in the near future.

On the survival of ideas, I’m brought back to the idea of memes, most popularly experienced as nuggets of Internet phenomena (see popular memes). According to Susan Blackmore, memetics is an intellectually rich but controversial field which seeks to explain how our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection acting on replicating information, just as organisms evolve by natural selection acting on genes. A key question is why certain memes (such as stories, songs, technologies, games, theories, lectures) survive at the expense of others. Researchers like Susan explore factors in the propagation of “selfish memes” that may be passed virally from human to human based on genuine utility or through trickery. Thankfully her Oct 2005 lecture is available as a podcast, so do take a listen.

Given the rate of thinning in our shared meanings (existent in classics), I have this fear that we as an intellectual race are running on fumes (i.e. no energy left), where our dependence on our past has us mashing and remixing our culture into degenerating variations, with oblivion just over the horizon. Is there a specific depth to our intellectual well, and if so, is it drying up?

Video: Heard about Pfingo? Kevin chats with the Tech65 crew

Everybody knows Skype. Everybody loves Skype. But has Starhub gained itself a huge advantage with Pfingo here in Singapore? Daniel and Jerrick discuss the unique features of Starhub’s VoIP offering with Senior Mac Daddy-ologist Kevin Lim, over in Buffalo. Watch original episode on Tech65.org.

When I was approached by Rebecca of Edelman (Singapore) to look at Pfingo, I agreed simply because I had a jet-setting friend in IBM who had been raving about it. Studying abroad, it made sense for me to find the best way for chatting up folks back home, so finding a decent VoIP solution has been a ongoing quest for me.

What’s Pfingo?
For starters, pfingo is short for phone-finger-internet-on the-go. It’s actually three things:
1. pfingoTALK = VoIP
2. pfingoACTIVE = IM, Push content
3. pfingoMAIL = email service

A Lesson in More = Less?
Perhaps it’s an Asian thing, but most of the web services I see coming out of Singapore like being “all-in-ones” (e.g. VelvetPuffin). Unlike our American counterparts who focus on doing one thing well (e.g. Skype, Meebo), I wouldn’t have cared for Pfingo since it was simply all over the place, offering too many services, most of which I was happily using elsewhere (e.g. Gmail, Meebo). Perhaps some might love the fact that Pfingo does so much, but for me, I fell for the VoIP service, which is actually it’s unique strength over anything I’ve used before. I felt that the VoIP feature should simply be marketed to gain top of mind share.

Why did I start using Pfingo more?
As an ex-Vonage customer and now Skype Pro user, Pfingo was the only VoIP service which could offer me a Singapore telephone number for my VoIP account. Perhaps it’s the way the Singapore phone numbers are regulated, but while I could get my own phone numbers for most other countries on Skype, Singapore seems to exclude local phone numbers from being used by foreign companies, giving Starhub (which runs Pfingo) an edge in offering local VoIP services.

How do I personally use it?
For friends in the States, I use my iPhone (under AT&T).
For friends back in Singapore, I use Pfingo.
As backup to call anywhere, I use Skype.

How much is all this?
Having tried various VoIP services, I would think that Pfingo is competitively priced. They have a Basic plan ($1/mth) and a Pro plan ($8/mth), with the main difference being whether you wish to get free outgoing local calls. All calls to PfingoTALK numbers are free as seen in the pfingoTALK Price Plans.

Pfingo gives you a Singapore telephone number
Unlike Skype, Pfingo uses standard SIP protocols, allowing you to use plenty of third party tools to integrate with the service. On my wifi-enabled Nokia e61 cellphone (I don’t even need a SIM card), I was able to get Pfingo running, but only after getting help from the awesome support staff at Starhub (setup does get a little tricky). After that, it works rather flawlessly and voice calls were much clearer than Skype. While Starhub offers a Windows VoIP client which even supports SMS (nice one), Mac users aren’t left out as we can also use a SIP-client from CounterPath that works great with pfingoTALK called X-Lite. It’s a beautiful client I should add, with plenty of slick features all for free. The Pfingo dev team runs a blog over at Livejournal and there are easy instructions there for setting up your X-Lite Mac client.

Plenty to read about Pfingo…
Watch for more hacks via their handy developer blog, unofficial blog as well as their Pfingo forum. Here’s their beginner’s guide and a how to on calling overseas. Strangely, those blogs haven’t been updated in a while.

Disclaimer: Since I was a Pfingo trial user, I’ve been given a Pro account for a year. Free or not, I wouldn’t really care to blog about something if i didn’t think it’s worth mentioning, so Starhub’s latest venture definitely rocks my boat.

It’s grunt work which brings people together…

Teaching & Learning Center helpful colleagues
Good times with Pit Fee, Sireesha, Gautham, Sandeep. Chris and Arun joined in later too.

It was a typical Friday afternoon at the Teaching and Learning Center (yes, it’s TLC!). I had finished giving my blog workshop and realized how life was made so much easier thanks to the slew of useful online videos this year.

I started with the broad idea of what Web 2.0 through “The Machine is Us/ing Us“, used CommonCraft’s “RSS in Plain English” before walking participants through Google Reader, and finally finished off the workshop with a little video on Creative Commons (via Ivan’s Blogging talk). Interestingly, student journalists from the Spectrum (our campus newspaper) seemed interested in a story of how instructors plan to use blogs for their classes / research, so don’t be surprised if you see something from this in the papers.

But what could beat this highlight of my Friday? The kind-hearted darlings known as my fellow student assistants at the TLC. While we’re all busy working on our individual projects, a priority one was given to three of us to start labeling workshop mailers to be sent out next week. While we busied ourselves to it, one by one colleagues who walked by decided to chip in to get the job done sooner. Before you know it, everyone got into the labeling fever.

Along the way, we traded stories, talked about music and that’s where I was reminded of some funny bhangra music I’ve heard somewhere before. On Youtube, we found that “Tunak Tunak Tun” tune by Daler Mehndi, and later realized how the World of Warcraft Burning Crusade Draenei race would dance perfectly to it. Like most catchy yet strangely unique tunes out there, Tunak Tunak Tun’s appeared in plenty of other places. It’s screams of meme-quality.

Video: Online Culture of User Comments (LOL, pwnage, nsfw, etc)

A must-see, hilarious and naughty video reflecting the online culture of commenting. From Amazon to Digg to Slashdot, a lot of times user comments do end up being more interesting than the original post. If you are a regular on a really (really) popular blog, you’d typically see these in the comments (as enacted in the videos)…
– “First posts”
– *spoiler alerts*
– ~~ LOLcats ~~
– # grammer nazis #
– Digg-ers / Slashdotters
– [ Wikipedian eggheads ]
– @#%$-ing offensive flamers
– PWNages, n00bs, artards
– hot girls making out (I wish)
– too late: you can’t edit your comment
– and finally, impossible captcha codes

What you see above is from College Humor’s Commenter Business Meeting 2 (NSFW). If you like it, also check out Commenter Business Meeting 1 (the prequel). [via Gizmodo]

Facebook Screensaver lets you virtually “people watch” friends…

I might have a problem with Facebook, but after talking to undergrads on how they used it (was a guest speaker last week), I started to have a clearer sense of our universe of social networks.

I’ve recently arrived at this…
Explicit social networks (e.g. Facebook) are like Open-ended virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life)
Niche social networks (e.g. Flickr) are like Goal-driven MMORPG (e.g. World of Warcraft)

Anyway, since we no longer have that omniscient lifestream-like Facebook news feed (actually we still do, just without timestamp), this is perhaps the next best thing.

This Facebook Screensaver essentially lets you virtually “people watch” your friends, by automatically downloading photos from your network of friends and displaying them as an animated slideshow. After logging in through the screensaver, you’ll be able to choose which friends you’d like to see, filter by gender and relationship status, and more.

You can check out Doomlaser’s Facebook Screensaver here…

No time to blog? Why you should start your own lifestream…

Frank Gehry's Fossil Watch
This is my only analogue watch, beautifully reminding me that I’m out of time…

Face it, there’s a lifecycle to everything…
Many of us who’ve been in the blogging game for a while know what it’s like… we blog less, read less blogs, and comment less as we spread our time over a widening array of matters in life (e.g. work, new hobbies, social networks, etc). In fact, I don’t react on the latest news as much as before, I do less pushing / promoting of my posts, and I find myself reading much less RSS feeds already. Instead, I revert to good old word of mouth, with my friends being an organic info-filter, telling me things they know would be up my alley (recommendation). I’m taking time back for myself, to get things done, to live life in a fuller way. In other words, I’m reminded to blog for pleasure, not pressure.

Does this mean we’re dropping out of the blogosphere?
Hell no. In a while you’ll see how by blogging less, we could be blogging more… [zen moment there]

Here’s what I mean…
Influential blogger and writer, Liz Strauss, recently combed the blogosphere and took soundbites from various A-list bloggers to give us her “5 Leading Bloggers and 5 Reasons on Why We’re Blogging Less“. It’s fun reading about this emergent “blogging less” meme, and if you’ve got no time (that’s why you’re here), here’s my clinical assessment from it:
1. We have to work ($$$).
2. We are busier (less time)
3. We’ve less attention (talk shorter)
4. We blog less, to blog more (make every word count)
5. We’ve got a life (I’d rather be _____ing than blogging)

What can we do about it?
Right from the start we’ve known that meaningful blog posts are valuable on the web. By meaningful, I simply refer to posts that help make sense of our world. One of the uses of understanding how things work is to ultimately save us time. I’ve subscribed to the notion that laziness is the mother of ingenuity, so I love figuring out how to do less, yet produce more. Long time readers might know how I’ve yearned for the day when blogs could have a synergistic relationship with us humans, by auto-magically publishing things that matter to us (e.g. tagged when we raise our eyebrows). I’ve been in this space for a while, from sharing a how-to on daily del.icio.us blog posts (tried Pukka: the faster del.icio.us bookmarker for Mac?), to lifecasting which involves real-time video sharing (watch interview). I’m trying out new ways blogging without having it take over my life… enter Lifestreaming.

What the heck is a lifestream?
Amazingly, the only recollection of “lifestream” on Wikipedia refers to “Gaia (Final Fantasy VII)“. I didn’t think that it’s a new concept, but perhaps there’s little consensus on what it is. The earliest reference I found came from a dissertation topic encapsulated as the “Yale Lifestreams Project Page, Circa 1996“. On it, a pretty good definition of lifestream emerged…

What are lifestreams?
A lifestream is a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream. The tail of your stream contains documents from the past (starting with your electronic birth certificate). Moving away from the tail and toward the present, your stream contains more recent documents — papers in progress or new electronic mail; other documents (pictures, correspondence, bills, movies, voice mail, software) are stored in between. Moving beyond the present and into the future, the stream contains documents you will need: reminders, calendar items, to-do lists. You manage your lifestream through a small number of powerful operators that allow you to transparently store information, organize information on demand, filter and monitor incoming information, create reminders and calendar items in an integrated fashion, and “compress” large numbers of documents into overviews or executive summaries.

Where did the idea of a “lifestream” come from?
Lifestreams had its beginnings in David Gelernter’s “chronicle streams” (in his book Mirror Worlds) and was first described as a structure for managing personal electronic information in his Washington Post article “The cyber-road not taken” [Kevin: Can anyone find this article?].

Lifestream as a desktop metaphor (precursor to Leopard's Time machine?)
Source: sigchi.org/chi96/proceedings/videos/Fertig/etf.htm

Interestingly, my investigation into lifestream not only revealed the above 1996 dissertation paper from Yale, but of David Gelernter’s book entitled Mirror Worlds (Dec 1992). The paper essentially turned Gelernter’s lifestream into reality as an alternative to the desktop metaphor as seen in the image above (also watch video demo). Perhaps a precursor to a flagship feature of Apple’s upcoming “Leopard” operating system: Time Machine?

OK, I’m sold. So how do I make my own lifestream?
Since we’re spending more time on the social web, there are clouds of personal data streams we’re giving off already. As Steve O’Hear succinctly explains, “[w]ith the explosion of the social web, it’s becoming increasingly common for each of our online activities — such as uploading a photo, publishing a blog entry, bookmarking a web page, or listening to music — to leave its own digital trail (usually in the form of a timestamped RSS feed). The problem is that each trail lives in a different location on the net. However, a number of web services exist which make it possible to aggregate this data, to display a chronological view of a user’s online activities — a concept commonly referred to as ‘Lifestreaming’.”

Several popular (and crafty) bloggers have made their own lifestream. Chris Davis has a beautiful one, Emily Chang’s pretty nice too, Steve Rubel uses Tumblr (his mobile rss aggregator), Adactio has a colorful one, and Michael Heilemann of BinaryBonsai has a WordPress one. One of the earliest usable lifestreaming service which I’ve played with is twitter competitor Jaiku as seen below…

my jaiku lifestream
See my Jaiku in action here…

As you can see, Jaiku aggregates my online activity (blog, del.icio.us, flick, last.fm, Upcoming, twitter, etc) into a convenient time-stamped lifestream. You can also check out biologist / eco-activist Siva’s blog on how the Jaiku widget works as a useful lifestream promoting his various content living beyond his blog (see top left of blog).

If you’re interested to learn more about lifestreaming, check out Mark Krynsky’s Lifestream Blog. I think it’s great for learning all kinds of tips, tricks and services you could use to start your own. From self-hosted ones (advanced users) to ready-to-use ones like Jaiku (it’s easy, it’s all there (see gallery).

Stay tuned: In the next blog post I’ll show you how and why you should start a lifestream using Twitter.

Behind the scenes: Playing with the iPod touch @ Apple Store

Chao Li and Kevin @ Apple Store

Here’s Chao Li, a friend who works at the Apple Store here in Buffalo.

After finding no trace of the iPod touch around the crowded store, I asked her whether they had them out. “We’ve sold out” she said. With that, she whipped one of out her jeans to let me play with. It’s the only demo model they had, so I borrowed it for a quick video review.

I’ve always thought of the iPod touch as “an iPhone without balls”, but I realized its got nice touches of its own. My only gripe with it is the lack of a speaker which the iPhone has. Still, I do find that the super-thin iPod touch is a great option for those who want to keep their cellphones yet have a fancy widescreen media player.

A review of the iPod touch, as well as a review of Pfingo, will be coming out on the “Channel 65” video show soon. Yes, I’m playing foreign correspondent, embedded journalist, Senior Mac Daddy-ologist, what have you (in tradition of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

Aside: For those of you who are in desperate need of an iPhone to use outside the U.S., you can get a refurbished one cheaply from the online Apple Store, then unlock it using one of those GUI unlock apps (easy in only 5 mins). Whatever you do, don’t get tempted to buy the ones off eBay or Craigslist (going from $750 to $2,000 in the U.K.). Probably voids your warranty, so at your own risk.

Belkin TuneSync for iPhones (leave your case on)

Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)
Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)Belkin TuneSync works with iPhone (w/ case)
Click to see entire unboxing photoset…

I just received the Belkin TuneSync for iPod for a song via Woot.com, one fo the first sites to offer “a deal a day”.

Since most of us have protective cases for our iPhones, they won’t fit into the regular Apple iPhone dock anymore. I had read in the Woot forum that this Belkin TuneSync docks with iPhones with their cases on (mine’s from Incase). True enough, it works as long as you don’t use any of the supplied iPod dock adapters. As a bonus, it’s also functions as a powered USB 2.0 five-port hub, so connecting bus-powered devices is a breeze. Comes with a huge power adapter though.

If you’re interested, you can get the Belkin TuneSync (for iPhone) on Amazon.