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Links for 2006-05-29 [ma.gnolia]

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Building a Wine Finder website
An ongoing project of mine has been to create a 'wine finder' website. This will allow people to search for wine using a variety of methods. Example queries might be 'What wines are produced that contain Cabernet Pfeffer?', 'Which wineries produced a Bien Nacido Vineyard Syrah in 1998?' or 'What wines that received a 90+ rating in both Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator are available online for < $30?'. To support queries like this, I needed to create a relational database to store information about wine.This seems fairly straightforward at first. The 2000 Franciscan Oakville Estate Chardonnnay Napa Valley has 4 data elements - the vintage (2000), the producer/brand (Franciscan Oakville Estate), the varietals used (Chardonnay), and the appellation (Napa Valley). However, things can get a bit more complicated.(continued...)
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Who says college kids are getting dumber?

WSJ: Free, Legal and Ignored. The subhead says it all: Colleges Offer Music Downloads, But Their Students Just Say No; Too Many Strings Attached. The article is about the unsurprising-to-anyone-except-Napster miserable failure of subscription based music services to take hold in universities. Compared to the complicated barrage of restrictions on the music offered by Napster, the students come across as models of common sense:

  • While Cornell's online music program, through Napster, gave him and other students free, legal downloads, the email introducing the service explained that students could keep their songs only until they graduated. "After I read that, I decided I didn't want to even try it," says Mr. Petrigh, who will be a senior in the fall...
  • Purdue University officials say that lower-than-expected demand among its students stems in part from all the frustrating restrictions that accompany legal downloading. Students at the West Lafayette, Ind., school can play songs free on their laptops but have to pay to burn songs onto CDs or load them onto a digital music device.
  • "People still want to have a music collection. Music listeners like owning their music, not renting," says Bill Goodwin, 21, who graduated in May from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. USC decided last year that it was finished with Napster after fewer than 500 students signed up...

There’s also a telling quotation from the director of the Campus Computing Project, who says, “The RIAA’s push to buy into these services strikes me as protection money. Buy in and we’ll protect you from our lawsuits,” which is one of the kinder descriptions of the unfriendliness of the industry that I’ve read lately.

I’m still waiting for someone in the industry to wake up and understand that their path to profitability lies in supporting good music and making their rich back catalogs available, not in fighting the fans of music tooth and nail. Today, three years after the birth of the iTunes Music Store, there are still many albums and tracks that can’t be found anywhere online—some by major artists (just try tracking down any non-album Sting tracks from before the late 90s), some by minor artists on major labels (Annabouboula, anyone?), and some by great cultural figures (I’d gladly pay through the nose for access to e.e. cummings’s Six Nonlectures as digital files, or even on CD). Instead we get American Idol and Rock Star. What, no one ever told these guys that a steady diet of candy can kill you?

BTW, for a good counterexample, check out Verve’s deep catalog—including a bunch of rare Impulse! recordings—though they don’t quite get it right; they support both iTunes and Windows Media, but no DRM-free offerings. But at least they’re opening up their catalog.


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New Releases for March 8th
There's a new Tiny Showcase up today.

If I hadn't been spending all of my free time on the new site, I would have told you about these new releases: 50 Cent's Massacre, 50 Ft. Wave's Golden Ocean, Ash's Meltdown, Boom Bip's Blue Eyed In The Room, Decibully's Sing Out America,Kasabian's debut (read Leslie's review), The Kills No Wow, Paint It Black's Paradise and Sam Prekop Who's Your New Professor. The last one was my personal pick of the week - Paul's got a review on 75 or Less.

I forgot to me mention it last week, but The Rutles 2 came out on DVD. We're about to wrap up the contest - get yourself signed up.

Here's a true store about Ash's old record label, Kinetic. They once begged me for months on end to run a contest. I'm serious - they sent me a weekly email like "We love your site and we would do anything to set up a promo with you." They eventually came up with a contest that was really cool. The prize was great - limited edition, signed - everything that makes a nice prize. They told me they would send me the prize after the contest was over. They, of course, never did. Wouldn't respond to my emails, wouldn't acknowlege that I was alive. Very classy move. So I became bitter and vowed never to trust anyone in the music industry (well, except for the good guys - you know who you are) ever again and started an art website. The end.
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New Releases for February 22nd

Ten for February 22nd

Once again, I tried to narrow dozens of good releases down to just ten. Wasn't easy, but I think it's a pretty good snapshot. I would have had them up last night, but I felt sick from writing code for Tiny Showcase. The site launches in one week.
  1. Crooked Fingers - Dignity & Shame  I think Crooked Fingers is the only band with multiple releases where I own every single one of their albums. Well, except for this one - I haven't had a chance to pick it up yet. Mark preordered and got an autographed copy. They play KEXP today. Stream the disc on the Merge site.

  2. Enon - Lost Marbles and Exploded Evidence  Touch and Go's got a classy new website. They've got an MP3.

  3. Jeff Hanson  Out on Kill Rock Stars. They've got an MP3.

  4. Ida - Heart Like A River  Is Ida a Providence band? That's been confusing me lately. Their new disc is out on Polyvinyl. They've got an MP3.

  5. Iron And Wine - Woman King  Check out Joe's review on 75 or Less. There's an MP3.

  6. I ♥ Huckabees  

  7. Karate - In The Fishtank  I had no idea this was being released. A nice suprise.

  8. Mogwai - Government Commisions  Their live BBC material from the past few years.

  9. Robbers On High Street - Tree City  

  10. M. Ward - Transistor Radio  I've only heard a few tracks from the radio, but they were CRAZY good. Once again, you can stream the disc on Merge's site.

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Beck, Nelly McKay, Doves
Diamond Nights - So Fantastic 12" To quote the Kemado site, "Diamond Nights sound like Thin Lizzy & The Cars just chillin." There's an MP3 on their site.

The Beck "E-Pro" Paza Remix e-card. The bat is my favorite part.

Nelly McKay performs at Dog Show Party 2005 next Tuesday.

The new Doves single, "Black and White Town" from the March 1st release Some Cities[asx][ram]

Silver Jews news via Tim O.
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iTunes

Early this week, in an email to a coworker, I mentioned that I made music and pointed her to my site. On Thursday she wrote back and said “cool, you’re even on iTunes!” This surprised me; my two albums were submitted about 3 and 8 weeks ago and hadn’t shown up on iTunes as of Monday or so. But I looked, and indeed, there they both are on iTunes. For those of you who’ve heard the music, I’d appreciate a customer review. For those of you who haven’t, what are you waiting for? :-) Of course there are also old-fashioned shiny discs in plastic cases. Thanks!

Last modified: 24 June 2006, 19:18


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Flight To The Kremlin

MoscowI have learned a lot during the last two weeks while visiting six countries. One of the most interesting days began with a flight from Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. The Russian airports could use some upgrading of services, shopping facilities, and direction signs in English, but they are said to be quite safe. Boarding the Ilyushin-86 aircraft was an experience. Like many European airports, the first step is to ride on a bus across the tarmac to the plane. What was different was the entry -- it started by going up steps into the belly of the plane where luggage is stored. From the storage area a stairway led to the main cabin where there were approximately 350 seats arranged in three sets of three per row.

The Il-86 development was announced at the 1971 Paris Airshow and the wide-body entered service in late 1980. This particular IL-86 was showing it's age and may easily have been twenty-five years old. The interior of the plane and the uniforms of the flight attendants were outdated but the service was efficient and friendly. The four Kuznetsov NK86 turbofan jet engines lifted the plane to cruising altitude very quickly for the one hour trip. The flight to Moscow and the return to St. Petersburg both left on time and arrived at the destination on time.

The afternoon at the Kremlin far exceeded my expectations. Kremlin means "fortress" in Russian and generally refers to any major fortified central complex in Russian cities. The one we visited is the best known one, the Moscow Kremlin, where the Russian government is based and where the President of Russia lives.

Red SquareStanding in the center of Red Square was a real treat with spectacular sights in every direction. Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Kremlin towers are majestic and incredibly colorful. The Red square separates the Kremlin from an historic merchant quarter and the major streets of Moscow radiate from the square in all directions. The square is steeped in centuries of history. I don't recall the famous events that took place there in 1941 and 1945 nor the establishment of Lenin's Mausoleum, but I do remember when a German pilot named Mathias Rust landed a rented Cessna 172 on Vasilevski Spusk next to the Red Square in 1987. On the eastern side of the square is the spectacular GUM department store which in addition to shops offering all the top retailing brands of the world had dedicated the first floor of huge open ceiling building to the inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci. It would have been easy to spend a whole day there.

Following a one-hour tour of the Kremlin art galleries -- which rival the Vatican Library in Rome -- we had a traditional Russian dinner, complete with vodka, and then a return flight to St. Petersburg. We got back to the ship after midnight. It was a day I will never forget.More on the rest of the trip to follow.


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Business Leadership Forum - Day 2 (part 2)

RomeFollowing Nakamura-san at the Business Leadership Forum would not be easy but Sunil Bharti Mittal, CEO of Bharti TeleVentures Limited had quite an amazing story to tell. Bharti is India's leading mobile operator and one of the top five companies in India. Revenue per month per person has shrunk from $30 to $8 and he believes it will go to $3-$4. The good news is that the number of users has gone from 2 million to 90 million. India is a huge consumption economy because there are so  many young people -- 50% are under 25. He expects mobile phone users to grow from 90 million to 300+ million by 2009-2010 and his strategy to address the market has been to give away everything except the customer ; i.e. outsource everything except the customer relationship. IT was outsourced to IBM -- a $1 billion contract. Networking was outsourced to Nokia & Ericsson. Call centers were outsourced to an IBM joint venture in India. Mr. Mittal said their growth (1 million new customers per month) could not be achieved without having outsourced to top partners. Complete alignment is achieved and the business model becomes predictable. Innovation in many areas including "Lifetime Validity" where incoming calls are free to customers for life. The theory is simple, if people receive a lot of free inbound calls, they will eventually *make* calls, which are not free. His goal is for his many partners to be happy -- not to laugh but to smile. He hopes to grow from 7 billion minutes per month to 20 billion.  

Mr. Yang Mingsheng, President and CEO of the Agricultural Bank of China, was the only speaker who did use English but the simultaneous translation to Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, German, and English allowed all of us to hear what he had to say -- which was a lot. The bank has 500,000 employees and 28,000 branch offices. Although I could not understand a word of what he was saying without the headphones, I could tell that the speaker was very articulate, enthusiastic, and confident. 95% of all bank services are available online. The bank has 400 million depositors, 12.4 million outstanding loans, and 220 million credit cards issued. They have introduced many e-banking and mobile products to their customers. This is being done by centralizing IT infrastructure. Mr. Mingsheng is both a ceo and a member of government. For hobbies he writes poetry and plays the violin. His speech covered every aspect of consumer and business banking services. I don't think a similar presentation by Citigroup or JP Morgan Chase would much if anything that ABC isn't also doing. 

Pierluigi Bernasconi, CEO of an Italian electronics retailer called MediaMarket. The company is the No. 1 consumer electronics retailer in Europe with 66 stores in Italy, more than 500 stores in more than a dozen European countries, and a new web-based business in Germany. One of their stores is the largest in the world -- it has six floors of consumer electronics products. Steady growth over the past decade has taken them from $4 to $16 billion. They have taken an innovative business model approach whereby they have two different store brands (MediaMarket and Saturn) that compete with each other. They believe that "self competition" results in better service and price to the consumer. Fifty million people per month spend time in one of their stores.  Mr. Bernasconi described an intensely competitive environment in Italy from 4,000 photography shops, 6,000 telephone stores, e-retail sites, hyperStores, and in the future new channels such as Digital Terrestrial TV.  In spite of this the company continuously outperforms the competition and gains market share. They have been using the web for sales and communications since 1995. Utilizing advanced IT the company has integrated all their distribution channels. They believe that communication is key and will result in customers thinking of MediaMarket or Saturn as the first choice as a place to get information and subsequently purchase. Their strategy is to exploit multi-channel strategies -- tying together so a person can call from land line or mobile, surf via the web  connect via digital terrestrial set top box, or visit in person and all the experiences are recognized and tracked.  
Related links
bullet Intro to Roman Rendezvous Stories
bullet Index to Roman Rendezvous stories


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Interoperability and DRM Are Mutually Exclusive

Interoperability and DRM Are Mutually Exclusive: The music industry’s insistence upon DRM iswhat put the ITMS in the position that Apple now enjoys; the recordindustry is decrying a lock-in advantage that they themselves handedto Apple. (Via Daring Fireball.)

This article is a good start, but it gives too much credit to the music industry. They are not just misguided about the impossibility of interoperable DRM. Anyone with a clue has understood this since the original interoperable DRM efforts collapsed circa 2000. Some music industry executives may still lack a clue, but they do not have much incentive to learn because the central issue for them is not interoperability, but control. Attacking Apple here (like the publishers attacking Google, or the telecoms attacking net neutrality) is misdirection covering up that issue. The major labels don't really care that one DRM system dominates the market, they only care that the system is not theirs to do as they please, for example in introducing variable per-track pricing (shades of the telecoms and net neutrality).

I rarely buy from iTMS because I dislike its tying down to particular machines and lower quality than what I get by buying CDs and ripping them at a custom AAC rate. Not to mention the pleasure of walking down to my locally-owned record store and browsing their well-chosen new arrivals (last month's purchases):

  • Trio Beyond (Jack de Johnette, Larry Goldings, John Scofield): Saudades
  • John Coltrane: Soultrane
  • Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade
  • Louis Mhlanga: World Traveler
  • Boards of Canada: Trans Canada Highway
  • Thelonious Monk: The Classic Quartet
  • Vijay Iyer and Rudesh Mahanthappa: Raw Materials
  • Andrey Dergatchev: The Return (soundtrack of the intense, beautiful movie by Andrey Zvyagintsev)
  • Christian McBride: Live at Tonic

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Solving big business problems in our little toolbox application. A use case for Project Distributor.

Project Distributor: Introduction to our distributed web service model
So Darren and I have put in about a month now on the Project Distributor website. We are starting to reach that critical point where the site is pretty cool, we have plenty of users, we are thinking about running out of the allowable bandwidth for the demo site, and all sorts of other things that tend to happen all at once. Now, there are some problems you can design yourself out of, and others that you really have to throw some money at. Our latest enhancements can be summed up in a short list.

  • Buy a domain name and start hosting in two places. Project Distributor.com should be up fairly soon to accompany MarkItUp.ASPXConnection.com
  • Have people host their own versions of the application. And that means a big source release is in the future. At this juncture risk fragmentation.
  • Design away fragmentation with a series of ingenious features that will make everyone want to use the application at hand.

I'm here to talk about the last two, since Darren already bought some additional hosting for us. The concept will be to release a fairly stable version of the application so that groups can host tools, code snippets and other source/binary releases for their teams to share. The application is very lightweight and easy to set-up, so it won't require a bunch of hand holding and configuration to get up and running initially. From our standpoint we solve a number of issues at this juncture. The most obvious problem is what we classify the Lutz Roeder use case. .NET Reflector is the key type of application we'd love to get hosted because it makes it a bit easier to find, not that Google does a bad job, we'd just like to get a bunch of tools in one place, with some features for feedback, new releases, and some cool client tools for publishing.

Now, Lutz would put his application up and he'd whack our bandwidth. He is the prime example of someone that should be hosting their own tools, but possibly using our interface. He doesn't have to, we haven't even asked him yet in fact, but if he decides to do so, then all the better for the web application moving forward. Users such as Lutz probably want a certain level of control over their own sites as well in terms of branding and controlling access. This will only come from hosting the application yourself (and maybe some other features we'll see later).

From a security standpoint many teams will also want to host their own servers. In this manner they get control over the hardware their sources and binaries are stored on. They can accept tools up to any maximum (instead of our imposed limits) and provide unlimited download bandwidth if they choose. Or they can take advantage of our gating mechanisms to make sure their server doesn't get overloaded with downloads and open their tools up to the public.

The only major problem from this source release is that the initial problem we were trying to solve, promoting the visibility of tools, starts to erode. You see, the more sites that host their own tools the harder it is to find the right site with the right tools. We are trying to solve this in a number of ways. The first is allowing users of a site to store bookmarks to other projects and external resources. This is only a temporary fix, because it still doesn't allow a mass search and categorization infrastructure required to truly promote the visibility of the tools being hosted. We have to come up with a solution that brings all of the sites, but we don't want to create just another portal or gateway site. That is boring. Now you have the background, so how will we solve the fragmentation issue?

Designing away Fragmentation
I won't lie to you, I've implemented this model several times, but have never had a project that was capable of really showing off the feature set we are about to talk about. The concept is to unify all of the sites, by allowing them to easily manage views of data from all of the sites combined. Each site owns their own content, maintains their own users, but in turn peers with other sites to obtain additional content.

Web services provide a dual feature set in this model. At the current level they allow us to generate really great client-side tools for managing, well, your tools! We have a drop-client target right now so you can drag and drop new releases to existing projects in just a few seconds. Some new tools for working with build systems to promote the source code up to the server are in the works. We natively integrate with your RSS reader and will have our own alert services in the drop client just in case you don't have one. There aren't any search or local caching features, but those are also planned for the drop client so you can background download new releases, just like Windows Update.

That doesn't solve fragmentation though, that just makes me realize how much work I have left to do. The second feature of web services lies in the ability for each site to aggregate data from the many other sites that are out there hosting the application. Remember, everything we make available at the service layer can also now be remoted. The more caching we put into the data layer, the more performant the entire process will be, and we can even tune the caching depending on whether the data layer is merging off-site contents or database contents.

Peer Sites
I'm sure there is another name out there somewhere, but for the past 2 years I've called these peer sites. Each instance of the project distributor will have a number of options allowing for adding peers that will be aggregated and added to the local collection while users traverse the site. The first step is to get the peer sites running in a read-only mode. And set up some really great options so the entire process can be controlled. This solves a number of use case scenarios for us including the following.

  • Fragmentation can be mitigated through proper configuration. If everyone aggregates 5 or 6 sites into their peers, then we have a huge network now of interconnected peers and users can pick and choose which one they use for purposes of searching the tool network.
  • Peer connections are unidirectional or bidirectional. Access is configurable. Teams can include tools from external sites while keeping their own tools completely private. They can exist behind a DMZ or a private network.
  • Users can host their own personal tool sites in the same manner as the team sites. They can configure statically which projects to make available even. In this way you can build a collection of personal tools that you love, and have the latest information automatically update on your machine for your perusal.

Peer sites solve plenty of visibility issues, but that is pretty much all they solve for now. We still want to enable all of the features available to the client tools. After all, the web service methods and proxy infrastructure is in place to do so much more.

Master Sites
Well, we want to solve another problem. That is where you edit your data. A master site is where the users, groups, projects, etc... are all hosted, but thankfully, you'll be able to log in through any site (assuming it is peered with your master site) and then edit your own projects and such. This is a remote principal context and is actually one of the cooler features associated with the peering functionality of project distributor. We'll be fully secure in our login and credentials region, but unfortunately we'll still be transferring data in open text in the short term. Maybe we'll fix that with enough push back.

Clone Sites
A clone site is where we empower a site to act on behalf of a master site. For me, my local project distributor is currently cloned to the main project distributor site. What does this mean? Right now it means I get all of the data from PD, and that users who trust my site can log-in to their project distributor accounts and cross edit data. Pretty nice if you ask me. It basically means you can fully host a project distributor installation and never, ever have to install a database server. Users can just act on behalf of a remote server.

Configuration
This isn't a super reusable model like some of those you read about in the popular software architecture books, and it probably accounts for why master/peer/clone sites don't exist very often. The considerations for every option are heavily customized to the problem being solved, and I'm sure we'll be making modifications or updating the configuration context for a while. Right now you can independently configure your primary server type, whether master or clone, whether or not users can use you for a pass-through authentication and edit server, whether or not web services are enabled so peers can enable unidirectional only communications, setting up asymmetric security credentials. Man, you name it and it is in there

For the peer section we have full and selective modes. A full peer pulls all of the data on the remote peer locally for display (in a delay caching manner, just like you'd expect, unless you set up a scheduled pull which is also possible). I expect most people to configure full peers because they really are really easy to set up and maintain. A selective peer is where you specify the groups/projects that you want to display. This is best for a user setting up their own personal toolbox who wants to select a couple of items from many different peers.

We have an extensively exhaustive configuration module already and we'll be continuously adding more to it. The concept is to easily modify your toolbox to your own designs without having to touch the code. If we haven't given you enough options to satisfy your need then we'll have to make something up, because I'm just about running out ;-)

These are the basics of the model ideas I have for project distributor. That doesn't mean Darren doesn't have other great ideas happening as well. He has some pretty extensive UI enhancements, but I'll let him talk about those. We even have another product idea that is kind of a bolt-on for project distributor, but that is probably a couple of months out putting it into next year. Unfortunately we have too many ideas for our own good right now. Better than not having any ideas I guess. I'll try to drop some code with some of the ideas above, that way you can get a look at how the entire system is implemented. I have some diagrams as well, but I'm far too tired right now to add the img tags to the HTML view.

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A few details about the FeedBurner.com redesign

Late, late, late on a Tuesday night almost two weeks ago, we re-launched FeedBurner.com with much-needed updates to the design, content and overall direction.

Traci already commented on the strategic importance of the new site, while Rachelle provided a more personal account.

But as the designer and half-developer (Rachelle did the other half — actually, probably more than half — with great skill and speed), I’m going to share a couple of “behind the scenes” details that I find super neat. Hopefully you’ll feel the same way.

Powered By FeedBurner

Going in to this project, two requirements became clear:

  1. Traci (our marketing director) needed the ability to make content updates without routing all changes through the design team.

  2. Many types of content needed to be reused in slightly different settings and formats around the site.

To address these requirements, we came up with the idea of modular content — basically, little nuggets of content that can be randomized, subscribed, inserted and updated anywhere.

For a couple of content types — blog posts, publisher buzz, press releases — we used feeds and our very own BuzzBoost service to repurpose content wherever we needed it on the site (mmm, dog food). For others, we generated custom blocks of static HTML or Javascript and included those in the JSPs that contain forms, session information (“You are signed in as…”) and other application components.

Of course, we had to generate all of this content somewhere…

Powered By MovableType

We’re using MovableType to store and publish the press releases, in the news, events, corporate backgrounder, stats, Publisher Buzz, and of course our blog, Burning Questions. Our MovableType installation is rigged up with a variety of templates that publish static files in HTML, Javascript and Atom formats — all of which are then pulled into the pages like I mentioned above.

One of the complaints people have about MovableType — that it creates static files by default — is actually a huge advantage here. We’re able to publish flat, lightweight static files to a single server, then pull in these files in a variety of ways across our distributed server environment.

Elegant, dual-float layout

When I was first learning CSS, doing multi-column layouts was always the hardest part. Even two-column layouts seemed tricky, weighing the pros and cons of various approaches and never being totally satisfied with the end result.

Then I got floats. Like, really got them. It was Doug Bowman’s slides from this presentation that secured my understanding and I haven’t fretted about CSS layouts since.

On the new FeedBurner.com, everything but the home page uses a classic dual-float, two-column layout. I set a width on both columns in the CSS, then assigned float:left on the left column and float:right on the right. Finished with a clear:both footer, it’s a solid layout that works regardless of which column is longest.

A new approach to navigation

While many sites feature massive navigation (practically a site map), we took a page from Flickr’s design books this time around and divided our navigation into two sections. A high-priority “primary” navigation and a lower-priority “secondary” navigation are based on prominence, not hierarchy, which helps focus the page and not overwhelm people with choices.

We also made heavy use of in-text hyperlinking across sections, to encourage exploration without forcing folks to grok and traverse our site architecture via the navigation.

Coming soon

Perhaps the best things to come out of this redesign process haven’t arrived yet. As a result of our extensive brainstorming and planning, we have tons of ideas and a general roadmap for web site improvements over the coming months.

And now, with the addition of Rachelle Bowden to our team, we have the manpower womanpower to get it done.

Questions? Comments?

Use the comment form. As always, I love to hear from you!


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H.P. to Unveil Radio Chips to Store Data
New York Times Jul 17 2006 4:54AM GMT
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Runner's Web Online Store
The store has been updated with new products (CW-X tights, Garmin, Oakley RAZWIRE, Polar S625x Speed and Distance , Timex Bodylink Trail Runner and more).
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Design.
Retailers shift to edgier and hip displays and architecture to get shoppers' attention

The loud music and dark nightclub-like lighting at teen clothing store Hollister is enough to drive Patricia Rock insane, but it's what makes the store one of her daughter's favorites.
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Action Line: Store balks at honoring lowest advertised price
San Jose Mercury News Jul 16 2006 10:27AM GMT
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495-2: Turns of Phrase: Passive survivability

This term has come to the fore in the USA and elsewhere in recent months largely as a result of hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf coast last August. The concept is that buildings should be designed so that they can survive the loss of essential services—electricity, piped water, sewerage—in the event of a natural disaster.

It grew out of a post-hurricane reconstruction conference held in Atlanta in November 2005. This led to a set of proposals with the title The New Orleans Principles. One of these states, “Provide for passive survivability: Homes, schools, public buildings, and neighborhoods should be designed and built or rebuilt to serve as livable refuges in the event of crisis or breakdown of energy, water, and sewer systems”. Techniques include many that are also advocated by green campaigners: use natural ventilation, heavily insulate buildings against heat loss, use natural daylight, collect and store rainwater, install solar electricity generation, and so on.

Advocates point to the risk of terrorism that might lead to similar losses of public services. They also argue that possible shortages of fuel in decades to come will require buildings to use much less energy than they do now.

* Guardian, 20 Jun. 2006: There is now talk among some enlightened architects of incorporating “passive survivability” into their designs—the ability of a building to operate on its own should systems such as water and electricity ever fail by, for example, using better “thermal envelopes”, natural daylighting and rainwater storage.

* HPAC Engineering, Jan. 2006: Passive-survivability measures are so important that it may make sense to incorporate them into building codes. Most, but not all, passive-survivability features will add some cost to a building, so the impact on affordability needs to be considered if such measures are to be required by code.
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TattooFinder.com Announces Free Premiere Accounts for Tattoo Industry Professionals
TattooFinder.com announces the release of Premiere Accounts (TFPA) as a free upgrade from a standard TattooFinder.com account. This service is offered exclusively to tattoo industry professionals, providing top level discounts on design purchases to tattooists and their customers. Premiere accounts can increase overall business at a studio by offering numerous competitive advantages, and a TFPA operates under several different business models to best fit a shop’s needs. A TFPA provides the ability for customers to purchase flash for the tattoo studio that the studio can store online and access again for future use at no additional charge. (PRWEB Jul 13, 2006) Trackback URL: http://www.prweb.com/chachingpr.php/WmV0YS1Qcm9mLUNvdXAtU3F1YS1JbnNlLVplcm8=
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Introducing: For Zion?s Sake ? Products of Israel, the Largest Israeli Product Retail Store in South Texas
For Zion’s Sake is not your typical retail establishment. At For Zion's Sake we offer our customers products that come directly from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Products ranging from bath salts and fine jewelry to Israeli flags, T-shirts and shofars - all found in the Land of milk and honey. (PRWEB Jul 13, 2006)
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The SCOOTER Store Celebrates the Grand Opening of New Brookhaven Retail Showroom
Hands-on demonstrations of power mobility equipment offered during Ribbon-cutting ceremony. (PRWEB Jun 30, 2006) Trackback URL: http://www.prweb.com/chachingpr.php/Q291cC1GYWx1LVBpZ2ctUGlnZy1JbnNlLVplcm8=
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MyStoreForMeds.com One of Few Legal Online Pharmacies Offering Cheap Medicine
MyStoreForMeds.com is one of few legal online pharmacies. They meet FDA guidelines for online prescription medicine store with new association with Lakeland, Florida pharmacy. More than 3000 generic drugs save big dollars for Americans without prescription drug insurance or to fill in Medicare gap. (PRWEB Jul 5, 2006) Trackback URI: http://www.prweb.com/zingpr.php/RmFsdS1Ib3JyLVNxdWEtUGlnZy1JbnNlLVplcm8=
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The Working Person?s Store Has a ?Full House? in 6TH Annual ?Dollars Against Diabetes? Poker Run Event
Poker Event Raises Nearly $8,000 for Diabetes Research Institute (PRWEB Jun 30, 2006)
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How To......
How To Choose a Web Store. How To Become a DotCom Millionaire. How To Make Your Web Store Sticky. How To Find a Career in E-Commerce. Find the answer to these and many other E-Commerce questions in this selection of...
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The New DeKa Marketing Shopping Mall has Opened; A Dream come True for new Business Owner Del Morales, he was Inspired by the Following Thoughts and Facts
More and more shoppers are deciding to buy online as opposed to going to the store. Many find this more convienent than having to drive to a store. Finding the product you're looking for requires almost no effort. Sometimes the product finds you, through advertisements. [PRWEB Nov 13, 2005]
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Fine Home and Garden Accessories, Gifts, and Collectibles Now Available Online from PerfectKeepsakes.com
Perfect Keepsakes, Inc announces the grand opening of its new online store offering premier home decorating accessories and accents. [PRWEB Nov 11, 2005]
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Comfortable Slippers Remain Top-Seller as a Holiday Gift
Buying online at Shoebuy.com?s new Slipper Store makes it easy to find the perfect slippers that are both in your size and in stock. [PRWEB Nov 9, 2005]
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New San Francisco Based Maternity Line Challenges Traditional Ideas of Pregnancy and Beauty
Little Pink Line Maternity launches its online store today at http://www.littlepinkline.com. The fashion forward clothing company offers t-shirts and sweatpants geared toward young hip pregnant women that want to celebrate their pregnancy as well as feel like a strong and sexy woman. [PRWEB Nov 8, 2005]
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Knobs, Hinges and More Announces the Addition of Colombo Hardware, Rohl and Perrin & Rowe to its Online Store www.KnobsHingesandMore.com
Knobs, Hinges and More adds to its online store Colombo Hardware who imports door handle collections and bathroom accessories from Italy. We have also added Rohl and Perrin & Rowe with their line of kitchen and bathroom faucets and bathroom accessories. [PRWEB Nov 9, 2005]
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New, All-Natural Cure for Diarrhea and I.B.S. Launches at CVS and Other Major Drug Store Chains Across the U.S.
Esdifan contains mineral that provides safe, effective relief for chronic sufferers. [PRWEB Oct 26, 2005]
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Vermont Artisans Retool Website to Present Unique Gift Items for 2005 Holiday Season
PiecesOfVermont.com, an online retailer of made in Vermont products, has redesigned its website top to bottom for the 2005 holiday shopping season. The website was established in 1999 and has evolved into a selective collection of unique products from individual artisans, crafters, maple syrup producers, and small store retailers. [PRWEB Nov 14, 2005]
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Give the Gift of Family Memories with GiveFun.com Gift Certificates
The hunt is over! This year?s perfect gift comes wrapped in a memory. This holiday season, shoppers can avoid the much-dreaded department store shopping marathons by giving the gift of a fun family memory now available at GiveFun.com. [PRWEB Nov 14, 2005]
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Popular African American Shopping Portal Prepares For A Busy Online Holiday Shopping Season
Eric Brown the founder of the ?African American Art On-Line Store? located at, www.brownhorizonsart.com , which is widely considered one of the most popular African American art websites on the internet today recently discussed the preparations being made for this holiday season regarding his recently created African American shopping portal titled ?African American Shopping Today? located at www.brownhorizonsshopping.com . [PRWEB Nov 14, 2005]
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Translating Brick and Mortar to the Internet
Case study of a small brick and mortar retailer and how they are working to translate their unique store onto the Internet. [PRWEB Nov 13, 2005]
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The Want Some Get Some Store Now Provides Turnkey Dropship Website Solutions to Consumers and Small Business Owners, Just in Time for the Holidays
The Want Some Get Some Store (wantsomegetsomestore.com) is now offering Turnkey Dropship websites pre-stocked with over 10,000 products. Stores will be stock with some of the most popular brand name products on the market today. Products will be provide at wholesale prices that will allow website owners to enjoy high profit margins. [PRWEB Nov 11, 2005]
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Wireless Security System
How to install a wireless security system:  
Go to a second-hand store, buy a pair of men's used work boots ... a really big pair.
Put them outside your front door on top of a copy of Guns and Ammo magazine. Put a dog dish beside it ... a really big dish.

Leave a note on your front door that says something like this:
"Bubba, Big Mike and I have gone to get more ammunition - back in 30 minutes. Don't disturb the pit bulls, they've just been wormed."

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Time for thinking

Gillian Carson talks about vacation time on the Amigo blog:

'A holiday is a time for thinking, for relaxing your mind, for drinking beer and laughing and... for having ideas. The last time we went on holiday we came up with the idea for Carson Workshops, so I have great faith in letting your brain run free.'

I agree. Late last night I was working on a problem, something I had been struggling with in my spare time for a couple of weeks. I went back and forth between staring at an empty text editor and reading NetNewsWire. In other words, wasting time. I went out after midnight to get some milk and food for breakfast, and on the drive to the store I let my mind wander until my brain randomly struck upon an elegant solution to my coding problem. Back at my desk I implemented it in 10 lines of code and went to bed.

Have a happy July 4th everyone.


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New BizTalk Server 2006 Code Samples

We have posted 5 new samples to the Developer Center:
http://msdn.microsoft.com/biztalk/downloads/samples/default.aspx

SSO as Configuration Store
This sample provides an implementation of a sample class and a walkthrough that demonstrates how to use the SSO administrative utility and the SSOApplicationConfig command-line tool.    

Atomic Transactions with COM+ Serviced Components in Orchestrations
This sample demonstrates how atomic transactions work in orchestrations.    

Exception Handling in Orchestrations
This sample demonstrates how to handle exceptions in an orchestration.    

Implementing Scatter and Gather Pattern
This sample demonstrates how to implement the Scatter and Gather pattern using BizTalk Orchestration Designer.    

Using the SQL Adapter with Atomic Transactions in Orchestrations
This sample shows how to use the SQL adapter with atomic transactions to keep databases consistent.


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Amy and her Legos

Site News

I've decided to move the hosting for this site over to aspnix soon.   Maybe when CS 2.1 comes out I'll make the move.  Just looking to save some cash at the moment.   I'm got a new skin I've been working on and you might see it before that but I doubt it.

With the exception of what I do for a living I haven't touched a computer for about a week (unless you count my 360 I suppose).   Just haven't been motivated.  I'm on vacation next week, so I might work on the site a day or so, but I  know we are taking the girls to the zoo and maybe, just maybe I'll get to visit an Apple Store and maybe (if my wife lets me of course) come home with one of these.


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Design Research: A Conversation with Steve Portigal
To help me work through some recent thoughts I?ve had about Design Research, I asked Steve Portigal -founder of Portigal Consulting and all around bright guy- to talk about context within digital products and the connection between ethnographic research and design. Part one of our conversation follows.

Luke Wroblewski
Just to set some context here, most of my experiences with design research have been for Web or Desktop software design. For a long time, this meant usability testing. Over the past few years, however, I've been part of an increasing number of ethnographic studies that take product testing out of the lab and into people's homes.

The researchers I work with feel they are more successful engaging customers outside the sterile confines of a usability lab and in the context of their natural environment. This provides them with an opportunity to discover unmet needs that ultimately become business goals. But somehow I feel I'm missing something.

In my experience an ethnographic study for a Web site usually amounts to watching someone work on their personal computer set-up and Internet connection. All the activity is on the screen. Most of the context is online. So shouldn't 'real' ethnographic research for these types of products take place online? What is the biggest advantage of going to their homes? Seeing their environment? Their distractions? Their use of offline data and artifacts? I can see it being useful to gain insights into how offline processes are used in conjunction with online process like shipping an item you sold on eBay. But when the product, the community, and all the interactions happen online? Isn't a huge amount of the context digital?

Steve Portigal
I'm going to sidestep any discussion of what 'real ethnographic research' means because we're going to get into that later, I think where I will once again sidestep it. Here's a few thoughts on what you've raised - and I think you've hit on some of the core advantages already but I'll expand (admittedly it may start to bleed together)

The Personal Computer
People have their own computers, with their own browsers, plug-ins, bookmarks, history, and whatever else. The tools they use are individually configured, personal, and varied. I've handed someone a PC and asked them to show me how they would accomplish some task. And their first response would be 'Well, I'd look in my bookmarks for [site] and then....' Oops. Now whatever we were asking them to do was extra-challenging and our observations were going to be skewed. Heck, handing them our testing-lab mouse could immediately send them off into adapting-to-our-tools. In that example, I was really surprised by how hampered people were by what they did or didn't have with this machine versus their own machine. Even down to what default screen we started them off with. We set it to MSN.com before they came in, and of course some people decided to start the task we gave them by using MSN, absolutely not what they would normally do. Heck, I use the Google toolbar - put me down at someone else's machine and I'm really at a disadvantage (I'm sure we could come up with a million different examples of this sort of thing).

Sometimes there is data (or a trailhead for a line of inquiry) from their desktop picture. There's richness there, it's great to have the chance to ask about it.

Where The Action Is
Are we always sure that all the activity is on the computer? What if, in order to complete a task I look in a book, look at a post-it note on the wall, make a phone call, review a printout or some other offline piece of information. I'm not talking about shipping, a larger offline interaction; I'm talking about micro-interactions that are interleaved with the key task, on the computer.

I really don't agree that all the context is digital. Unless someone is fully jacked into the Matrix, the key behavior we are looking at may be digital but the context is meatspace. Where our customers really live.

Their Territory
One important way to establish rapport in any research process is to be on someone else's turf. It's important philosophically. We go to them. We're in their space. We're going to learn from the person right from the moment we pull up in front of their house. Even if we spend 98% of the time in front of the computer, we're going to see the room filled with 20 dead PCs and understand more specifically what their off-the-cuff comment 'I buy a lot of gadgets' means. There's an important aspect of serendipity to being in their world - we allow the unplanned to happen. The phone call (as you say, the distractions), or the roommate dropping by to share her version of some success or failure she's had in solving the problem we're curious about.

Luke Wroblewski
No argument from me, there. Native environment certainly influences behavior in all the ways you've described: personalization (browser bookmarks and home pages, hardware set-up), integration of environment (notes, phone calls, roommates), and rapport (being in their space). I guess what I am looking for is the equivalent of the grocery store in the infamous IDEO 'shopping cart' video.

For those unfamiliar with the piece, it's a documentary of the IDEO team 'hitting the streets' to learn how they can improve the standard shopping cart. They observe how people use carts in context: within actual grocery stores. Seeing how people interact with the products, the people, and the spaces inside the store gives them a clear set of considerations for improving things.

So how do you get into that context online? Web applications are becoming increasingly immersive and social. To use the de facto example of a social Web application, let's look at the ecosystem of flickr. The contacts, groups, pools, sets, streams, and more within flickr create a lot of different contexts that shape people's behavior. How do we get at the digital versions of personalization, integration of environment, and rapport that we know are important in the offline world.

Steve Portigal
I'm glad you refer to the IDEO example as 'infamous' - because it's not a real example. It's a made-for-TV special that is filled with fakery. In one shot, a woman is walking through a grocery store supposedly documenting the environment with a digital camera. But she's an IDEO staffer, not an actor, so her body language as she pretends that the camera is not watching her pivot right and left snapping away carefree outs her (and indeed the whole process) as manufactured.

The camera did not document IDEO doing what they do, IDEO agreed to stage an event specifically to be documented. They created (and the producers edited) an idealized process that none of our work will ever live up to, because it can't, because it's real and constrained and challenged in ways that real projects always are.

As far as the cart goes, the grocery cart is part of the shopping activity. People are involved in the activity when they make a shopping list, when they schedule the trip to the store, in the store and packing up the car (of course), and then back home when they are putting groceries away and looking at what they've got in the context of their own home and kitchen (from storage space to emotional reactions of other family members to purchases).

Same with photography, right? There's a moment that is experienced when the shutter is opened, there's a decision to select and upload the picture, there's a process of tagging or whatever, and then there's interesting things that happen afterward...going to a party and having someone ask you about a recent trip or a stranger opening up a communication with the photographer of an image they have a connection with.

But diving into flickr as an example. You've got a lot of methods that you can pull in (and I'm certainly no methods junkie - but let me take a shot) and integrate, depending on what usage your are interested in (and what you want to get out of that)
  • Log every usage automatically
  • Ask the person to log every usage that fits certain criteria ('beeper study' or 'diary study') and then go back and revisit those examples and ask about them
  • Sit with the person and ask for a guided tour of how they use some aspect of flickr
  • Sit with the person and ask them to show you various features - including their impressions of things they may not use regularly, or ever
  • Sit with the person and ask about flickr ('show me how you would do X....') but probe on analogous examples that they could show you (Q: Show me your contacts on flickr A: They're pretty basic, like this Q: Do you use other sites or programs where you have a list of contacts? A: Yeah, I'm way into LinkedIn Q: Okay let's take a look at that, then....)
  • Show the person some simplified or storyboarded idealized version of flickr, or of a generic application, and have them walk you through how they would solve some kind of problem

I'm obviously going over a lot of ground you are familiar with above, but maybe at this point you could clarify what you're pushing at in terms of getting into these digital contexts, and I'll try and be more relevant in my response!

Continued
Read part two of this conversation on Steve?s site.

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Words from Bruce Sterling
Ever since I caught Bruce Sterling?s keynote at SIGGRAPH 2004 outlining the impending impact of spimes, I?ve keeping up with many of his writings and talks. Here?s what I?ve heard from Bruce since.

When Blobjects Rule the Earth, SIGGRAPH 2004 keynote
?All objects are defined by the culture that nourished their development: products -the mechanical age, gizmos -the digital age. Spimes (our objects of the future) are no different as they represent the composite picture of our current networked information age.?

Dumbing Down Smart Objects, Wired Magazine 2004
?Ordinary items are being embedded with rudimentary communications and tied to databases. The information associated with these items is becoming ever richer, more up-to-date, and more reflective of conditions on the ground.?

The Material Future, Ludwig-Maximilians Universitnchen 2004
?An electronic identity code is the foundation for an ?internet of things?. It can communicate identity not only at a product level, but at an object level as well. Not only can it store identity it can announce it.?

Shaping Things, 2005
'A concise futurist manifesto about the technosocial transformation our objects bring upon us. If you are a digital product designer, read it.'

The Internet of Things (mp3), BusinessWeek 2005
?Sterling takes us on a wild ride through the history of techno-culture and into a future shaped by an Internet of Things.?

The State of the World (mp3), SxSW 2006 keynote
?Thousands of people have had their PCs turned into spam zombies. A third of your spam comes from innocent people who can't secure their MSFT machine because it's impossible to do so!?

Speech at Conjure, National Science Fiction Convention 2006
?This is a development, which in many ways is at the bottom of science. There are going to be new forms of science coming in off the network because there are new means of knowledge production and knowledge handling.?

Bruce Sterling on media, design, fiction, and the future, Reason 2004
?The best way to have a really great idea is to have a thousand ideas. The guy who has the thousand ideas will be valorized for idea 837 and for idea 732, but those were never the ones he treasured.?

Massive Change Interview (mp3), University of Toronto 2003
?I think the best attitude for a serious futurist to have is not pessimism or optimism, but just a deep sense of engagement. It has to mean something to you.?

The Internet of Things, Emerging Technology 2006
?We very early got into the lasting bad habit of referring to computers as 'thinking machines.' I suspect this verbal metaphor seriously harmed technical development. Even the word 'computing' sounds too much like human mathematical thinking.?

Wonder, Fiction, and Design (PDF) 2005
?Why do I?a science fiction writer?spend more and more time with designers? What does science fiction have in common with industrial design? As it turns out, quite a lot.?

The Wonderful Power of Storytelling, Computer Game Developers Conference 1991
?You guys on the other hand get to reinvent everything every time a new platform takes over the field. This is your advantage and your glory. This is also your curse. It's a terrible kind of curse really.'


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Site Launch > MondayMorningInsight.com
Daily Innovation, Ministry Insights, and Thoughts from Todd Rhoades for Pastors and Church Leaders.http://www.MondayMorningInsight.com
It's always interesting how the timing on projects works out - here's the second site launch announcement in a week and a half, and I have a third site waiting for one last change before it goes live as well.I'm pleased to announce the re-launch of http://www.MondayMorningInsight.com - another site implemented on ExpressionEngine. This time the site is a blog that outgrew it's Typepad roots. Boyink Interactive played more of an 'implementation partner' role in this project, as site owner Todd Rhoades provided the overall site design (and I already see some changes he's making..;) ).The biggest goal of this implementation was to take greater advantage of the site archives (all imported from Typepad) - which have over 1000 posts going back to September of 2004. To this end, we created category pages that function as portal pages by showing:
  • The latest posts in that category
  • Reviews of related books and other resources
  • Related posts from the new forums, which also run on EE. This function took some custom code, and another EE weblog was used to store the relationships between the weblog categories and forum categories.
Other EE weblogs power the 'static' pages (About MMI, ect., the Book Reviews, and the (not used yet) header area advertisements.I think I had the lighter end of the project, as due to a new category structure and some mild changes to the structure of each post Todd had to go through and edit all of the existing content before the site could go live (and he appears to have survived!).So if you're involved with a church as a Pastor, leader, volunteer or staff member, head over to http://www.MondayMorningInsight.com -- you're sure to find some help, encouragement, challenges, and humor helpful in your work/ministry.
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Motorola opens flagship store in Moscow
Mobile device manufacturer Motorola has launched a flagship store in Moscow's Red Square.
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Canon SD500 first impressions

I've always owned Canon cameras and was looking around for a new small digital camera and decided on the Canon SD500.  I haven't had a small camera for a few years - the last being a Canon S100 (the original digital Elph/Ixus) which I enjoyed using.  My goal with this camera is to be a companion to my digital SLR mainly for use when carrying the SLR isn't practical, so this is more of a backup camera.

First, the basics.  The SD500 is small.  It's about the size of a deck of cards.  Small doesn't mean featureless though, it has a resolution of 7.1 megapixels and a 3x optical zoom.  Storage is via an SD card.

What's in the box?  Just the basics that you would expect, a USB cable, battery and an A/V cable.  There isn't an included cases which is a shame as the camera looks like it could get scratched easily and it would be nice to have something to protect the large LCD on the back of the camera.  Canon do sell an accessory kit though which is highly recommended as it includes a case and a battery which can often be purchased for less than the cost of the battery.

Canon include a 32 megabyte SD card with the camera which will store just 9 photos at the highest resolution and quality. A 1 gigabyte card will hold about 360 images.

The camera is pretty easy to use with an intuitive menu system operated with the buttons on the back of the camera.  When turning the camera on you'll be greeted with an irritating noise from the internal speaker, thankfully this can easily be disabled in the customization menus, which also allow you to change the noise made when a photo is taken (a shutter sound is just fine thank you) and the background picture displayed when turning the camera on - not a feature I'd ever care about.  Startup time is good, the camera is ready to be used almost straight away, which wasn't the case for earlier models.  The LCD displays is large and bright and gives a good impression of the final output of a photo.

The camera has a 3x optical zoom and a digital zoom which much to my surprise was disabled by default on the camera.  I've never been a fan of digital zoom and it's nice to see Canon encouraging people not to use it by disabling it by default.  It's far better to zoom and crop on a computer than it is on the camera.

Picture quality is impressive so far.  I haven't taken many pictures yet, but I have no complaints with the output.  The camera supports USB2.0 so transfers to a computer are nice and fast - just as well with the size of the files produced.

There are a few features I want to also mention:

Stitch assist mode.  This is a great feature.  When activated the camera gives you the option of taking photos from left to right or right to left; after the first photo is taken the result is shown on the LCD display, but shrunk so you can frame your next shot against the previous shot. The camera does not attempt to stitch the photos together for you, but guides you so that you can see what you've taken so far and don't miss part of the panorama you are shooting. 

Scene assist mode.  There are a number of presets pre-programmed with general styles of photo such as 'night' 'portrait' etc.  The camera adjusts the settings automatically to be the best for that style of shot.  Useful for quick photos that you don't have time to manual configure settings.

That's it for my first thoughts; I'll post some more once I've used it a bit more. 


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The Microsoft HD DVD Insiders blog launches

The good folks working on HD DVD at Microsoft have started a blog called 'TheHD DVD Insiders' - it's starting out small, but for the Home Theater geekand industry pro alike, I expect this is going to become a popular site to supplementthe AVSForums so many of us enjoy for the insidescoop.  Not much content yet, but Ben and others tell me they have podcasts,interviews, Q&A's and more in store.  Subscribed.

 


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Of ITunes 7, User Trust, and iTV

Uninnovate.com hasan interestingarticle on Apple's new support of 'Reverse syncing' of content with the iTunes7 release yesterday:

Today, Apple released iTunes 7.0,among otherthings. In earlier versions of iTunes, Apple didits best to prevent users from being able to copy music from an iPod back to adesktop computer. Now, Apple has changed course and is marketing ?ReverseSyncing? as a new feature of iTunes 7.

But there is one giant catch:

1. Music and media not purchased from the iTunes store only syncs one way, fromyour computer to your iPod.

This is uninnovation in its most frustrating form. It?s easy to spot and avoid drm-saturatedjunk, but these kinds of subtle limitations in an otherwise great product frustrateusers and drive them to alternative applications.How about trusting the user enough to let them get at their own files without thesechildish restrictions?

WMP11 added reverse filetransfer support back in March which works with purchased, and clear content.(It?s also had album art matching in WMP9, dramatically improved in WMP11). I thinkthe author is being a bit overzealous however in his claim of ?uninnovation?- it'salways been easy to transfer music off your iPod, it's just a little hidden. Here it?s a little less hidden.

I?ve seen lots of chatter on iTV - Apple's Media Center Extender-esque device forstreaming video to the living room.  It feels like we?ve been here before. LongZheng at istartedsomething.com hasa good recap of the relative strengths and weaknesses of products in this space.  It seems a bit odd that Apple would break from long-time tradition and givea 'sneak preview' of a product that won't be available for at least Q1 '07, particularlywhen they could have held the announce to availability around MacWorld in January.It's clear they had to do this to try and spur purchase of movies from theirnew store- with no rental model, people just don't want to buy movies towatch on their portable players. Tell them they'll be able to play it in other placesas well around the home and their likelihood of purchase is higher.  It?s the battleof cognitive dissonance - buyer's remorse. After all, you're already dealing withthe psychological barrier in that the user is buying an intangible good, somethingwithout physical form that perceptually has less value than physical media such asDVDs. But... you're going to charge about the same as a physical DVD. Without theBonus DVD content.  Oh and the 640x480 video quality people are downloading isgoing to be between VHS and DVD quality (which offers 720x480p).  Never mindthat it will be potentially less for letterboxed content since the new iPod doesn'tsupport 16:9 (widescreen) display.  In the time it will take most customersto download one of these movies, I could have gone to the store, bought the DVD, popcorn,a 6-pack of Coke, dinner, come home, cooked dinner, and be ready to watch. Ina rental model, all of these issues can be forgiven for immediate gratification anda lower price, as witnessed by the popularity of Video On Demand and InDemand services.

The challenges in streaming TV from the PC aren't just the hypothesized need for higherspeed wireless (802.11n) which should be provisionally approved in early 2007. This might be delaying their launch, but streaming 640x480 video across the home hasbeen possible with Media Center Extender for just about two years now.  A challengeis going to be convincing consumers to buy and set up yet another single-purpose devicein the living room, another remote, another input on the TV for this thing.

Today, you can get an Xbox 360 that includesMedia Center Extender at no additional cost. Over 16 million Media Centercustomers can use this today, no additional charge. Even if you don?t have a TV tunerin your PC, you can connect a USB tuner and record TV or HDTV (OTA today, DigitalCable with equipped PCs with Vista). No additional fees.  As announced at CESlast year, multiple HDTV manufacturers are putting Media Center extender into theirdesigns, something that costs less than a night at the movies to implement.

As for another box in the living room, the Xbox 360 does HD gaming, DVD/HD-DVD Playback,Music, Photos, Video, TV/HDTV playback, runs rich media apps from a multitude of providers,and delivers an increasing amount of media content via Xbox Live, including HD.  And it's going to get significantly better with WindowsVista Premium's Media Center features ? automatically updating your Xbox 360 tosupport in the family room with the same level of animation and experience. 

Either way, a saying comes to mind: ?A rising tide raises all boats? and for thatI welcome Apple's foray.  But if Apple's iTV costs the same as an Xbox, offers nothing more than a 'simplified remote' and fewer mainstream features whichreally makes more sense when competing for  consumer dollars outside the Job'sfaithful?  With Sony and Nintendo's Wii also vying for that same space, it'sabout to get a bit more crowded. Or perhaps just noisy.  So begins the 'Great FamilyRoom Battle of 2007'.

(Disclaimer: I used to work on Media Center, but haven't for over a year, andspeak only for myself.)


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Zune-PlaysForSure Reax: 'This Can't Be True.'
Skim the Digg commentary and you'll find many users who can't believe that Zune won't Play For Sure. It's so bizarre, they assume the report is inaccurate, despite citations to numerous press reports and MS' own release. Even CrunchGear refused to believe it. I think most media reports were so confused, that they didn't report on it -- better to avoid the subject altogether than to write an erroneous report. (That, and the media got spun hard on the wireless sharing feature.)

To be fair, I was pretty shocked too. Sure, I can understand the possible business rationale, but the simple fact remains: Microsoft developed a player that can't play protected Windows Media content from all services providers except the Zune Marketplace. Hell, that even includes the MSN Music Store. On its face, that just doesn't seem to make sense -- until it was official, I couldn't believe any of the rumors.

Kudos to Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk who did report this early and often, before the official Zune announcement this week.

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256GB Geometrically Encoded Paper Storage Device
jrieth50 noted that a method of using geometric shapes combined with color to store up to 256GB of data on a sheet of paper or plastic. The article says "Files such as text, images, sounds and video clips are encoded in "rainbow format" as coloured circles, triangles, squares and so on, and printed as dense graphics on paper at a density of 2.7GB per square inch. The paper can then be read through a specially developed scanner and the contents decoded into their original digital format and viewed or played."

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