Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who will kill the Xbox 360?

Who will finally defeat the Xbox 360's large lead on the next gen front? Will it be Sony's previous dominance in the market coming back to form? Will it be traditional gaming weirdo Nintendo, with their faddish controller on the Wii?

No, actually the only people who can defeat the 360 are Microsoft's Marketing Department.

Because, seriously, whoever came up with the Xbox 360 Elite needs to go back to business school. Traditionally, technology works kind of like this: something gets released, it's top of the line. Then either:
  • The price comes down because something else is now top of the line, or just because the cost savings of making something in bulk have caught up.
  • The price stays the same, but you get more for your money.

Cellphones, TVs, PC hardware generally works within the first option. Apple usually does the second option -- they think of a pricepoint, then create something that works at that pricepoint.

The Xbox 360 Elite doesn't fit into either of these, because they give you more for your money, but they also raised the price by $80. It's absurd to think that anyone wants to pay more for a revision to hardware that's already 2 years old. No consumer will buy that. In the face of Wii and PS3 competition, they should have made the Xbox look like a better deal by keeping the price at $399 and giving you HDMI and a larger HDD.

I'm not sure I can think of other companies that could blow a year lead on these other guys, with such a great machine to boot. It's like Microsoft aren't trying to be ruthless to take over the videogame market.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Apple TV vs. Xbox 360 : Incomparable.

David Pogue is right, the Xbox 360 and Apple TV can't be compared. That's because the Xbox 360 is a much, much more versatile platform than Apple TV.

HD Movies:
  • Xbox 360 -- Offers HD movies and TV shows now, directly from Microsoft over Xbox Live and compressed with MPEG-4, for the same price that Comcast and others charge for PPV high-def.
  • Apple TV -- Apple doesn't offer HD over iTunes. So, you can buy an SDTV movie or show from Apple for full price of a DVD -- then you'll have to purchase it again when you want it in HD.

Download method:

  • Xbox 360 -- Downloads directly from Xbox Live.
  • Apple TV -- Requires computer to download from iTunes.

Download Policy:

  • Xbox 360 -- If you paid for something in the past that you'll own from now on (like a TV show), you can download it anytime in the future, saving you on harddrive space.
  • Apple TV -- You can use your computer in conjunction with this, but you still have to supply the HDD space.

Live/recorded Television:

  • Xbox 360 -- Paired with Media Center, can record and playback live TV. Media Center now comes with Vista Home Premium, which is what you're likely to get when you get a PC these days.
  • Apple TV -- Can't do this by itself or from another PC. But I'm sure Apple can sell you The Office on iTunes. The Office plays on every Apple device ever released.


  • Xbox 360 -- World class gaming platform. Excellent selection of mini-games for $4-$8, downloadable on Xbox Live.
  • Apple TV -- Likely platform for mini-games. Doubtful to be a major gaming platform.

In short, Xbox 360 @ $399 gives you a lot more bang for the buck than Apple TV @ $299. Of course, if you want to watch The Office, there's no better place to do it than on Apple hardware.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

'Lost' is crap

I turned over to channel 7 to watch the news just now, and the end of 'Lost' was on.

This show was interesting for about 4 episodes, then I realized it would never end. It was a soap opera. There won't ever be any resolution, it will just wind on and on forever. These days someone tells me what happened about once a season, and that's all I ever need to hear because nothing does happen on that show.

At the end of tonight's episode, the only 2 minutes I've watched in the last 2 years, I saw that they were opening a door for a surprise for that bald guy on the show. Inside, there was an older man tied up. A full 5 seconds before bald guy said his line, I said, out loud, to my empty living room...


And that's exactly what he then said, and the show cut to black as if this was a big dramatic surprise!

Seriously, how can a show that's supposed to be mysterious be so cliche? How do you people watch this crap? Watch an X-Files rerun if you want a mystery show.

Although, what am I talking about, I still watch 24. Over on 24, we've got a soap-operaesque plotline of a president being in a coma and people debating if they should wake him up because "that could kill him." Give me a break. 24 is mostly a cliche of itself though. Next week, on 24, Jack kidnaps a high ranking government official -- who's using Islamic extremists as a cover to take over the US government -- then tortures the official to find out where the (syntox gasnuclear bombsvirus vials) are, calls Chloe, tells her there's no time, and tells Curtis where to find the bombgasvials. Whoops, Curtis is dead.

These high budget shows are better than most movies, but TV is still mostly a wasteland. Imagine giving something away for free but what level you have to go to get people to watch it -- that's TV in a nutshell. Most movies are crap too, but they have to have a higher bar of craptacularity because they have to get people in the theater. Just when you thought TV couldn't stoop any lower, Fox premieres "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?"

Back to the point: Lost is shit. Why is JJ Abrams considered some genius?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Web-Desktop Convergence

Which will dominate in 5 years, the desktop app that goes web (aka "smart client", or the web app that goes desktop?  Your thoughts welcome in the comments.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Yesteryear's physicists

Are today's physicsts too afraid to speak their mind because they're too busy dealing with the politics of getting money?

Robert Bussard is 80 years old.  In this presentation at Google, he insinuates the Tokamak a Russian conspiracy to get the us to waste money on it.  I love it. We should give him some serious money now to see if he can make this idea work.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The problem with broadcast HDTV

It's all still composed for 4:3 NTSC.

I was watching Gonzaga v. Indiana and Xavier v. BYU tonight for March Madness and I had to hone in on a small, 4 by 3 region in the middle of my big 42" HDTV to really see the action. This is not a problem with shows and movies originally composed for letterbox, but it is a problem for sports and original TV shows. Sports on HDTV let you see more of the field and the crowd, not the action. Why?

Well, the electronics manufacturers sold broadcasters on HDTV with the following premise: "You can use the same camera for both your NTSC and HDTV broadcasts. Just put marks on your camera so you compose for 4:3, then extract that middle region out and send it to your NTSC antenna and send the 16:9 picture to your HDTV antenna." Only problem with this strategy is that your HDTV viewers end up getting 33.3% more of the crowd, football field or basketball floor, not of the game. Furthermore, since these broadcasts are in 720p, I get a 960x720 image of the action. I guess that's 50% more pixels, but it still effectively makes my 42" plasma into a 34" 4:3 screen. What's the point?

Moving beyond sports for a second, I have maintained for a long time that broadcasters would have been better off sticking with 4:3. 4:3 is the radio of the gods, after all. The pyramids were built with it. Widescreen is a gimmick that the film business has stuck with for far too long. All joking aside, widescreen makes it impossible to compose anything other than the long shot or the extreme closeup. This is swell for westerns and movies like "Lawrence of Arabia." It doesn't work so well in your typical movie. Ever notice how we never see the tops of anyones' heads in the movies? That's because composing a mid shot on widescreen looks absurd. There's a bunch of wasted space on either side of the subject. So you have to push in close to the subject and cut off their hair.

If you don't believe me that 4:3 is much better for composition, take the practices of one of the world's greatest filmmakers: Stanley Kubrick. Did you know he only shot one film in anything other than Academy (4:3)? It was "2001: A Space Odyssey", which was shot in Cinerama. You may have noticed this because when you buy his movies on DVD, they thankfully have reproduced them in full aperture, which is what they were intended to be. Contrary to what you might think, his movies are not pan and scanned.

Take, for example, Eyes Wide Shut. Look at the composition of these shots and imagine how they wouldn't work in widescreen.

BTW, I randomly popped in this DVD and picked scenes from it. It should be apparent to you how the composition is stronger with 4:3, but either way you should see the movie if you haven't. As my old co-worker Albert Hastings once so eloquently put it, "You could take any frame of this movie, blow it up, and hang it on your wall."

Back to broadcast HDTV... basically if you buy HDTV to watch sports, you're getting screwed. They're not going to frame the sport so you really get more out of it than if you were watching good old 4:3 NTSC. Personally, I blame Sony for this situation... but that's just me. I wish they would have stuck with 4:3 for HDTV.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Ricky Schroder is old and scary

I'm watching 24 right now. Rick Schroder showed up to be the asshole from Division this year. The previous notable asshole from Division is Chappel, who got shot in the head by Jack in probably the best episode of 24 ever.

Ricky Schroder is scary! Before/After


I'm not sure what's scariest, that Rick Schroder looks old, or that we're about the same age and maybe I look as old and scary as he does.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Trimbo's favorite commercials: Jetta "Synchronicity"

VW's ads were somewhat overrated in the late 90s, but this one was spectacular. I can watch it all day. The fact that it takes something we've all done (put windshield wipers to a beat), and sets it to music in New Orleans rocked my world. If you watch the very last shot, the subtlety continues in that everything in the larger shot is still in beat. Bravo to these guys, it's a great ad.

Oh, and if you didn't notice, the woman in the ad is Nina Meyers, who will put a frickin' bullet in your head if you don't like it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Lottery Websites

Ok, so like everyone else I bought some Mega Millions tickets today. Unfortunately, due to the crapiness of all of the lottery websites out there, I may never know if I won. The Megamillions site never even responds.

(Though the odds are about 144,999,999 to 145,000,000 that I did not win, so I think I'll get by without knowing for sure.)

Take the California lottery website. Please.

When it drew half a page of bad HTML, I noticed that they're using Viewstate for the winning results page. Viewstate! For a results page! For those of you who don't know what Viewstate is: it's one of the constructs put into ASP that no one understands that they should turn off. It keeps track of what the state of all the controls on a page. So someone clicks something, it encodes that state into a huge blob of text. Then when you click another control that gets you back to the same page, a form interprets and re-displays the controls the same way (e.g. you have this checkbox selected, this grid has row 3 selected, etc). This is great if you have five users. It's a bit of a problem if you have five million.

Tip for future people who need a tip: a lottery results page that's going to have 100m people hit it at exactly 11pm EST should be a static page, or pulled out of a cache as static data.

iTunes not getting updated for Vista

They say "the new version still isn't fully Vista friendly. Apple lists some minor problems - some text and graphics not rendering correctly".

Is it because Apple foolishly decided to use OpenGL on Windows instead of writing to DirectX?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Two things you can do early on your project in order to scale Ruby on Rails

I haven't kept up with Rails much in the last year or so, but Rails came up in conversation yesterday and these points emerged...

  1. Do not use ActiveRecord.  Do not design your database around ActiveRecord.  AR is really easy to get started with but can be an efficiency problem if your data doesn't fit into the model nicely.  Instead, assuming you don't want to use stored procs, just write your own data access layer and then...
  2. ....don't use the default Rails templates for rendering that data.  Ruby is slow, therefore using ERb, an interpreted solution to render HTML, is also slow.  There is also no separation between controller and view.  For some people, this is a problem because it doesn't prevent template makers from writing business logic directly in a template.  Even back on Rails 0.7, I was able to plug Clearsilver into Rails in about a week with ActiveRecord (I made minor additions to ActiveRecord to return HDF that Clearsilver likes).  Clearsilver is about 10x faster than rendering with ERb, even when I had to shuffle data from AR to HDF by hand.  It should be even easier now to plug a different templating system in, I'd hope.

Rails has one workflow in mind for talking to a database and rendering templates.  Save yourself a lot of time by considering if Rails defaults fit the problem domain.  If your application works with that, you're all set.   If it doesn't, you'll spend a lot of time later paying for it.