~ Archive for Gadgets & Services ~

The Death of TV (as we know it)

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What is TV? Or rather, what is watching TV? One thing for certain is that TV– while it is still a media, is no longer a medium. I watch all of my TV on the Internet; in Korea, many people watch TV through DMB service or satellite service on their cell phones. (DMB is like network TV for mobile devices while satellite is like cable for mobile devices) Videogame consoles like Xbox360 now include TV-like functions.

Now that more homes are being hooked up with broadband in the U.S. and connection speeds are getting faster, American media companies are just starting to accept the fact that TV isn’t what it used to be. It is somewhat amusing that network companies had to compete with YouTube in the first place because their content was not available online. The success of Hulu over YouTube really has me rolling my eyes, because duh, if the entire content is available on Hulu, why would you want to watch 10-min. clips on YouTube? Obviously, American media companies didn’t even bother to look at case studies of other countries that already had their online businesses up and running several years ago.

I feel restless about why ABC, FOX, CBS and other guys are using the business models they are currently operating. Basically, all of the networks use the same strategy: only recent episodes are available online and the episodes are sprinkled with 15-second ads. ABC has an annoying thing where you have to “click to continue” after each of those ads. (That click feature doesn’t help my memory of the particular ad, so I don’t see the point)

It’s great that there is all this free content, but I don’t understand why they don’t have a parallel paid service, where entire episodes (not just the recent ones) are available for a small price (maybe a dollar an episode; $.50 for sitcoms) with no ads. I know you’re thinking that it costs just as much as a DVD, but the matter of the fact is that sometimes, you don’t want to get an entire DVD; sometimes you want to watch things out of the blue and would not watch it if it were not available immediately. It also helps to have a free/paid mix because you may watch a free episode and decide to watch the entire season (which is what happened to me with the Sarah Conner Chronicles and Fringe). By selling content directly to the end user, they can cut out middleman costs, control copyright, know more about their audience, and create a loyal fanbase. I find myself watching more of Fox and ABC over NBC not just because of the shows, but because I find the interface and video-watching more accessible (and the streaming is better). For instance, I would never have watched Pushing Daisies if I hadn’t already been on the ABC site for Eli Stone. (To be continued…)

I also think ISPs are stupid for not have gotten into IPTV earlier. hanaTV, for instance, is sort of like TiVo and has a huge movie database- only it’s run by an ISP. Of course, for streaming to work, bandwidth would have to be high, and the US, being the big country it is, may have to decide whether or not government should support connection in rural areas. My friend, for instance, lives in a place where the only Internet service she can get is through satellite, and because the connection is so bad, she usually gets up at 4 in the morning to check her email!

Nintendo DS goes beyond gaming

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One of the reasons I like the DS is that aside from arcade, many of the games are either simulations or role-playing games. For instance, you don’t see games like “Professor Layton” being developed for the Xbox because console players want the action-it’s like if you have a hot convertible, you’re probably more likely to whisk about with the top down whereas if you’re riding a horse-driven buggy, you’d probably take a more leisurely ride even if you could go faster. Today, I was surprised to see Syberia added to the DS game list. The game was released for the PC several years ago (I started it but could not finish it after I upgraded my new computer because the game was not Vista compatible.

But now that smartphones such as the iPhone support a similar touch-screen interface, how could a DS differentiate itself? If more and more games are available on the iPhone, would it threaten the DS? After all, why would you carry around a phone, a media player, and a portable game device all separately?

Nintendo has obviously been thinking about this. Its tactics for the DS and Wii echo that of the general industry trend in converging applications to one device only Nintendo is more subtle than Microsoft is with its Xbox 360. I say subtle because they’re not adding new applications yet, just expanding what they could work with. The new Personal Trainer: Cooking isn’t a game at all, it’s a guide with lots of recipes. Using Nintendo’s speech recognition software, one can place the DS in the kitchen and not have to touch it while it tells you how to prepare a meal. What a great idea! So many times I’ve seen my sister work in the kitchen with her iMac open on the counter. It’s also great that you can download more recipes. Another net-friendly “game” for DS is Club Penguin, in which

Kids can earn coins while playing on the Disney Club Penguin Nintendo DS, which will seamlessly transfer into their online accounts via a wireless connection.

How cool is that?

Simpsons take jab at Apple

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Amid the flurry of speculations and distress regarding Steve Jobs and Apple’s withdrawal from the Macworld conference next month and the distress of hardcore fans, I’d like to point out a funny Simpsons episode aired a couple weeks ago that mockingly flatters the cult of Apple users and frowns on its tethered technology.

In “Mypods and Boomsticks,” (which, of course, I watched on the Internet at fox.com) the Simpsons go shopping to return gifts after Christmas and discover the new “Mapple” store, a glass cube sitting in the center of Springfield Mall.

“It’s so sterile,” Lisa gushes. (Could it be that Matt Groening read Jonathan Zittrain’s Future of the Internet?) “MyPods! MyPhones! A Brainiac Bar!” She recognizes, however, that everything is too expensive for her. She tries to buy some MyPhonies- white ear buds so she can pretend she has a MyPod- but even those cost $40.

Homer also takes interest in a MyCube, a device “powered by dreams and fueled by imagination,” the salesman says. “What can I do?” Homer asks. “You should ask, ‘What can I do for it,'” the salesman replies.

Everyone is interrupted by a live message from Chief Imaginative Officer Steve Mobs. “He’s like a god that knows what we want!” one Mapple fan says excitedly. Mobs says he will announce something “that will change the way you completely look at everything,” but then Bart intercepts the video and dubs Steve Mobs’ product announcement with some harsh criticism towards Mapple fans.

“You’re all losers! You think you’re cool because you buy a $500 phone with a picture of a fruit on it? Well guess what? They cost 8 bucks to make and I pee on every one!” shouts Steve Mobs with Bart’s voiceover, “I’ve made a fortune off of you chumps and and invested it all in Microsoft! Now my Boyfriend Bill Gates and I kiss each other on a pile of your money.”

Shocked, a disturbed Mapple fan hurls a hammer at the screen, reminiscent of Apple’s 1984 “Big Brother” commercial. “Your heart is blacker than your turtleneck!” he screams as the glass shatters.

The episode was very memorable not only because it made fun of how Apple users are willing to pay big bucks, but also because it also showed how young people download content without much thought. After some 1212 songs, Lisa realizes she has rung up a a debt of $1200 and seeks out Steve Mobs in his Mapple headquarters in the bottom of the ocean.

“I know our poster says ‘Think Differently’ but our real slogan is ‘No Refunds,'” Mobs tells a tearful Lisa, “How would you like to work for Mapple?” In the last scene, Lisa is shown in a MyPod costume, handing out flyers on the street. “Think differently,” she says in a flat voice.

Do good by not doing anything

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You want to make the world a better place, but you’re sort of lazy. What if I told you you could make a difference without doing anything?

I know that doesn’t sound right, but all it takes is installing a program to your computer (okay, so you did have to do something). After the initial installation, you don’t have to do anything but let the program run on its own while your computer is on… so what can you do? Let me give you the details.

1. Track Earthquakes

Seismologists at the University of California at Riverside and Stanford Univ. are making an earthquake detecting network by linking laptops that have built-in motion sensors. Most laptops have these sensors (called accelerometers) that enable the computer to protect itself by turning off the hard drive if the laptops are dropped. Check out details at the Quake-Catcher Network.

Volunteers can download a special software that reports sudden motions of the laptop to a central server on the Internet. You don’t have to worry about keeping the laptop stationary– the system only picks up sudden motions that happen in multiple computers simultaneously. The central computer determines the computer’s location based on its IP address, which has its flaws, but not computers have GPS chips.

This system is a cheap way to track earthquakes– seismometers are huge and expensive but precise; laptops are less precise, but if you have more participating, the data becomes more accurate. It is also better in tracking the impact area of the earthquake.

The system is new and being used primarily now for education purposes and needs to be fleshed out more; like having interactive maps to show movements of earthquakes over time.

2. The Herdict Project

Herdict has two projects- Herdict Web and Herdict PC- both of which you can see on its site. The uber-cool program (in my opinion) is Herdict Web, which lets you see “what is inaccessible, where it’s inaccessible, and for how long.” By “inaccessible” I mean “not being able to access the Internet.” That concept may be confusing, but many countries block certain websites. With Herdict installed in your computer, the program checks out Internet filtering around the world, by seeing which sites are accessible (and which are not) according to country (and what sort of content it was that triggered the blockage).

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