Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Projectionist

I hadn't seen the news before, but the legendary projectionist of the Catlow Theater in Barrington, IL, Jim Hollister, died a couple months ago. A nice story about him and his obituary.

"The Man Who Wasn't There" was the last time I saw a movie at the Catlow and it was probably the most perfectly focused and weave-less projected film I had seen in 10 years -- and that includes Pixar and Dreamworks premieres I've been to.

Being a projectionist is a lost art in the modern era. Typically the local movieplex's acne-faced teen goes up there and flips the switch to start the platter system and the movie. They don't care. I'm not sure they even look at what they're projecting. Soon, film won't be distributed--movies will be digitally projected--and there will be even less manual intervention to get the film going. The film will probably start on a timer, the focus "automatic".

RIP Jim Hollister, I really appreciated the work you did at the Catlow for so many years, even before I knew anything about the technical nature of projecting film. Thanks.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I've had the Droid for 6 weeks, it's time for a full review.

The Droid is the most awesome "always connected" device I've ever used. Every self-respecting gadget geek should have one.

IMO, there are only two reasons to not have one:
  • Most of what you want to do with your phone is mostly play games, and listen to music. You don't do any kind of multitasking and you're not interested in sophistication at the user level (like having to manage backgrounded apps). In this case, the iPhone is for you -- and this is a LOT of people.
  • Most of what you want to do is type emails. In this case, the Blackberry's zen-like physical keyboard experience is for you. Again -- LOT of people.
Other than that, nothing bridges the gap between phone, internet, multitasking app device and media device like the Droid. It's the must-have device for someone who wants and needs it all.

The hardware is great. Coming from the iPhone, I was worried about build quality and thickness. Both are fantastic. After using it for a month, the only way I'd rate the iPhone better hardware than Droid is if it had a physical keyboard. A physical keyboard is a level-up multiplier for these devices, and the fact that Droid fits one in in roughly the same thickness as the iPhone is a pure win.

IMO, Motorola is not getting enough recognition for making a fantastic piece of hardware. Most of the recognition is going to Google for the OS. So, kudos to Motorola. I find this device infinitely more compelling than anything you've done since the StarTAC.

Other hardware upsides:
  • The SCREEN. It's amazing.
  • Great battery life considering what it's doing. I charge it during the day mostly out of paranoia, but have been able to go through entire days without a charge even in my workplace (which is a marginal signal area on Verizon).
  • Very fast. People have noted that the iPhone GS is clocked up 50mhz higher, but I find Android to be more responsive even at a lower clock rate than the iPhone GS.

The only downsides to the hardware I've found:
  • USB jack's in an odd spot.
  • I'd prefer the volume rocker on the other side.
  • Headphone jack and power button are too close together.

On the software side, Android 2.0 is really the first release of this OS where I considered using it full time. I'm glad I made the switch. In retrospect, there's very little about the iPhone that I miss, and Android offers so much more:

  • Continuity between context switching. If I click on a link in the Gmail app, it opens the browser. If i hit "back", it knows to take me back to the Gmail app. This applies for pretty much every app situation.
  • Notifier bar. This is much more handy than Apple's notifiers which pop up.
  • If you're in the Google fold with Gmail, Google Voice, Calendar, etc., the integration is of course the best you'll find on any phone.
  • Google Navigator.
  • Google voice search built right in.
  • Background apps? Yay, background apps. This should be a no-brainer for any smartphone maker but Apple keeps holding out on doing it. Meanwhile, my Android phone gives me background checks of Facebook and Twitter direct messages, Google Voice/SMS, Google Talk, Google Latitude and .... SIP?! Yes, it's true, I actually have my Gizmo5 phone constantly connected on my Droid and it uses almost no battery in doing so. You can do the same with Skype. Another one I use that can't be done on the iPhone: Locale.
  • Internet radio apps playing in the background.. it works on Android, not on iPhone. I'm one of the ten people who listen to internet radio but this is important to me.
  • The Android Market allows people to submit their own applications and updates as often as they like.
  • Speaking of backround apps and Market -- the app Market itself checks in the background to see if apps have an update available.
  • Free dev tools that work on Mac, Linux and Windows.
  • No browser crashing. Safari constantly would bomb out on me. I have very rarely had an app crash on Android. Android also gives me the "this app is not yet responding, force close?" dialog -- so at least i have a choice to wait a little longer. (The reddit app is very buggy and ends up in this situation often, but if I wait it out, it recovers).
  • OS updates are delivered over the air. This is incomprehensibly less annoying than using iTunes -- an app I truly hate -- to update my phone.

  • No voice dial over bluetooth is a serious WTF.
  • For some reason, some apps don't get spell checking or auto-correction (e.g. "dont" -> "don't" automatically). I'd love to know why this isn't consistent across the OS like it is on the iPhone.
  • Adding a ringtone for voice calls is as easy as picking an MP3 and assigning it. Yet I can't add my own ringtone for notifications in any way.
  • I've had to pull the battery twice because the phone locked up.
  • Google Wave's mobile site works great on the iPhone but not on Android? No matter what you think of Wave, this is a worthy WTF.
  • No good games. Just about every other app you can think of is available, but damn if there aren't any good games for Android. I imagine this is something Google is going to have to focus on in the future. They did release a native development kit though for people who want to create a more real-time application like a game.
An often pointed out missing feature is "pinch-zoom". I actually have not missed this in the least. When browsing the web, I simply double touch the DIV where I want to read and Android takes me right there. The DIV is almost always formatted properly for the screen so it then requires no scrolling and re-zooming. [Note: I am not sure if Android does this reformatting or if the website itself does it, but sites like the WSJ, Washington Post, etc., have text that generally fits perfectly into the width of my Droid's screen in portrait].

On the service: yes, Verizon Wireless does suck considerably less than AT&T. Streaming internet radio is not only doable on VZW, but works very well. I listen to internet radio pretty much every day on my commute because I can. On AT&T i would have constant disconnects.

That said, even if you don't want Verizon, something like the Droid will be available to you very soon. Motorola is using this platform for many different future handsets. Unless you fit into the categories I listed above, if you're in the smartphone market I highly recommend you look into getting Droid or something like it.

    Thursday, December 17, 2009

    Google Wave is starting to grow on me

    Let me first say: without an email bridge of some sort, this thing will never take off. I highlyrecommend that Google figure out how they might like to do that bridge.

    Otherwise, how is someone supposed to use Wave as their complete communication/collaboration solution if it doesn't have connectivity to... oh, I don't know... thebillion people connected via email? It's like if the mobile phone system didn't call through to landlines.

    It could just be that vendors whitelist their SMTP server to connect to Wave. Bank of America, for example, should be able to hook in their email communication to Wave without extra coding on their part.

    The counter argument? How many vendors now spam you via Facebook and Twitter? They didn't seem to have a problem coding up those solutions. So it probably wouldn't be too much of a stretch to have the Comcasts and BOFAs of the world start sending you Waves instead of emails.

    And now... onto the review.

    Everyone's first impression of Wave is pretty much the same thing: "OK, now what do I do?" It's nifty, but email and IM are far more accessible and everyone... literally everyone... is connected via these now. Sending someone a Wave might as well be like leaving a post-it note on their spare bedroom's door. They'll see the message eventually, if and when they ever log in again. It's like when someone sends you a message on Orkut? Gunna see it? Unlikely.

    And my first real test of it was a long, long wave where a friend of mine and I tried using it like IM. It was very slow to use, couldn't keep up with our typing, and just generally annoying.

    But I think I'm finally starting to get it.

    A Wave isn't really an email or an IM. I mean, it could be, but that's not what it's most useful for. It's most useful for mini-collaboration. It's not meant for collaborating on a Word or Excel spreadsheet, but it's not supposed to be chat either. A friend of mine and I today made a Wave for collecting together 80s music we like. We can easily collaborate on the list, drop stuff in and such, but keep it nicely organized in terms of discussion and the list itself. Also, it's super-easy to drag and drop music directly into the Wave.

    One of the things that's really annoying about IM is that I have it running on 3 machines at all times -- my home machine, my work machine and my Droid. An initial IM message goes to all three. However, the conversation that ensues after someone pings me only happens from one of those three. Now, Gmail tracks and saves that conversation, but that requires going back in the logs, and replying to those logs replies via email, not IM.

    If you think about what Twitter and Facebook has created, it's very hard to track conversations and meta-conversations that fall out of even small blurbs. An Apple employee posts to twitter: "omglol! AT&T is the suxx0rs!". Discussion of the tiny, 160-char post ensues on twitter, blogs, private emails. How do you connect all of this conversation back to the original? Unless it was originally posted on /b/ and tracked with Encyclopedia Dramatica, it's almost impossible to find out where the original thought came from sometimes.

    In short, there is a major disconnect between all of the forums of communication we use right now. Wave is trying to fix that. It might not work but it's worth a shot.

    I actually tried embedding this post as a Wave, to show how this might work in the future. But I failed, the tech is a little broken still it seems.

    Wave is significantly flawed, no doubt. It's an unbelievable resource hog of Javascript. But I am starting to see the potential of it or something like it. I'd like to try collaborating with it a bit more and even attempt to use their API to write a Robot before I pass final judgement on the thing.