Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Gots me a podcast (again)

Good news, true believers!  

In my tireless quest to be the King of All Media (with apologies to Howard Stern), I'm going to start podcasting again.  It's been about three years since I put "The Digital Pontification" out to pasture, and since I've jumped back on the blogging and microblogging trains, started posting pictures again and shooting video, I noticed my little fiefdom's lacking an audio component.  Voila!

Will and I have been knocking around some ideas, so this morning I finally said let's mic up and lay it down as an MP3.  (Technically it's got to be recorded, edited and exported as MP3, but that's not my point.)  It's a fun chance for us to talk tech, sports, business, music and whatever the heck else intrigues us at the moment.  And hopefully, be of some entertainment value.

I'm looking forward to getting back on the air again, so to speak, as I haven't had a chance to consistently do free-form commentary in over two years, since the ill-fated sportstalk show I co-hosted got cancelled.  

And due to the time-shifted, RSS-based nature of downloadable audio programming, you can enjoy my feeble attempt to be relevant and - God forbid - humorous in yet another medium, whenever you like.  

Check it out...my podcast drops January 2!  :-)

BlackBerry Storm: nice try, RIM

Since yesterday I've been messing with the BlackBerry Storm after a local wireless provider dropped off a handset for my station to evaluate for our tech segment.  The reviews on it are mainly unfavorable, but with disbelief suspended I wanted to draw my own objective conclusions.  And they're not good.

(Note: this is my own personal review, not that of my company.)

RIM's newest smartphone is an obvious overdue reaction to the global iPhone craze; Verizon's trying to recoup some of the chutzpah it lost to AT&T and T-Mobile.  They just simply showed up too late to this Kool-Aid party...and they brought Juicy Juice.

I have an appreciation for the form factor a revolutionary device like Apple's iPhone/iTunes/AppStore telephony ecosystem brings to the table, and Google's Android mobile OS on the G1 has done a good job at emulating the touchscreen interface, auto-rotating screen orientation, use of an accelerometer for motion detection, and slick GPS functionality for location-aware features.  The Storm tries, too, but falls short.   It's just not the same.

That said, I'm a big fan of the software/hardware changes RIM made with the BlackBerry Bold.  That line can hold its own among its contemporaries (which notably doesn't include the iPhone or G1).  For me the Storm, being a guy who's extensively used the iPhone/iPod Touch UI, is an inferior disappointment.  While there's still no app store for the BlackBerry and that development platform essentially remaining a closed platform, it's hard to win me over.  And the IM and push e-mail that have been BlackBerry's bread-and-butter aren't that valuable to merit an upgrade investment as high as $700 for a device that pales by comparison to its touchscreen cousins.

I constantly find myself thinking "this isn't as good an experience as I would have on an iPhone" and I just can't break away from that.

But don't take my word for it - check it out for yourself.  I'm not abandoning RIM, I'm good with my Bold.  But for me, this Storm's far from perfect.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The trappings of doing local

A few weeks back I interviewed my friend Leo Babauta on my station's live television talk show.  We discussed, among other things, the mammoth following his blog ZenHabits has amassed in a fairly short amount of time.  His site offers suggestions on topics such as self-help, healthy living, stress management, increasing productivity and lifehacking.  With such a diverse scope and relevance to anyone willing to consider its teachings, ZenHabits has built up quite the sizable fan base. 

Leo can boast about having nearly 79,000 users subscribing to his RSS feed, better than 4,500 people following him on Twitter and scores more befriending him on Facebook.  Leo's site traffic outpaces that of TV news affiliates for Guam and Honolulu.  He's constantly a happy victim to The Digg Effect, and referenced in perpetuity by mavens like Steve Rubel.  His readership now almost eclipses the circulation of the newspaper where he previously worked.  The revenue he earns from AdSense allowed him to quit his day job and support his family by blogging full-time.  His digital labors even gave rise to a real world spin-off product, landing him a book deal.

All of these metrics are unprecedented for a small market like Guam.

His achievements and rise to prominence as a constantly bookmarkworthy destination is a classic case of a local boy done good...by not staying local. 

I have fun everyday doing neat things at KUAM.com with content delivery, pushing our local news coverage out in a ton of different formats and over a variety of digital devices, but I always eventually reach a point where I can't expand our audience anymore.  With our target audience being those interested in what happens in Guam, the interest in our information is finite, and with Guam being a small market, with a set scope. 

Guam's got about 150,000 residents living here without about that same number of ex-pats scattered across the globe.  We've satisfied as many people as can be and that's it - at some point our exposure inevitably taps out.  So much to my chagrin I'm forced to live with the burden of limited reach.

Leo's secret sauce is that he broadened the scope of relevance of his information by not confining it to a specific community.  His posts, not unlike the Zen his domain preaches, are universal in their appeal.  He's made a living for himself by writing about things everyone can enjoy.

I was reminded of the power of having a truly global audience this past May in covering Guam's participation in the Clinton/Obama presidential caucus.  With Guam 17 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast all eyes were on us, so our web traffic saw a spike unlike anything before.  Over the next 40 hours KUAM.com served up more page requests than it ever had in any previous month, and that included that past January - itself a record-setting period due to a local election and the accompanying aftermath.  Our traffic quadrupled that previous high water mark because the world, even if for a fleeting moment, took interest in what was happening out here. 

Immediately after our load returned to normalcy and we resumed serving our prime userbase, operating in our little predictable sandbox.  But it was one of those rare times when we were able to truly tap the global online audience.  For a moment, I got a glimpse of what eBay, Yahoo!, Amazon, Google and the other web heavyweights go through each and everyday with tons of people logging on from everywhere.  Various events have drawn such surges in visitations (i.e., military accidents, visits by delegates, odd and offbeat headlines, etc.), but those are rare.

So I appreciate and applaud Leo for his ability to sustain success and grow his audience.  I'm incredibly proud someone from our island has attained such notoriety and is rightfully reaping rewards for his efforts.  Being able to build an online business by taking advantage of the 'Net's worldwide connectedness - a theory so often taught in web marketing but so rarely actually put into practice - makes for a great case study.

Leo's figured out that the key is building community while not being trapped to the limitations of infrastructure, platform or geography.  Make that happen for your own project and you've got yourself a winner.

"Head west, young man." "Do I have to?"

Last night during my company's Christmas party I enjoyed a delightful conversation talking shop with Jay Shedd, the CEO of the local DoCoMo installation.  As we each beat our proverbial chests by running down various entrepreneurial ideas we've come up with over the years, I mentioned several of the R&D initiatives I've got in the hopper, including a Web 3.0 application I've recently been mentally cobbling.

I passionately described a mobile service I'm keen on building that leverages artificial intelligence and embedded devices to allow a user to capture a headline, image or video of a news event on their cameraphone, which then queries a semantic database and returns hyperlinks to text, audio, image and video exhibits of all coverage of that event from sources throughout the world (mainstream media as well as the blogosphere). 

The app would smartly recognize the context in which the inbound media was submitted and sniff out appropriate matching entries, sensitive to the time they were stored so the user gets an up-to-the-second experience of how the world's media corps, old and new, is covering and responding to various events. 

Think of such a framework, I postulated, as a powerful archive of constantly updated/logically organized data, masked behind a stupidly simple front-end.  Google News meets Compare Everywhere meets Techmeme.

I'm fortunate that Jay, having a technical green thumb, was able to follow along for most of my dissertation, although I know I lost him when I started in on the need for data-describing-data semantics as the next generation drivers for software as a service platforms.

"And you think you can do this?" was the executive's penultimate response, followed by, "Jason, so what are you doing here on Guam?", implying that such ideas would be more successful in the lucrative rolling hills of Silicon Valley.  And he's right, of course.

But while most would-be idea-mongers might leap at the prospect of being the beneficiary of such an ad hoc endorsement to launch the Next Great Platform in the Mecca of the technical frontier, it bums me out that I can't take such ideas to profitability in my own hometown.  Location, location, location.

What am I still doing here?  Yeah, I get that a lot.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A state of disconnect

I'm bumming this morning because my Blackberry's in a coma after taking a minor spill.  Seriously, I dropped my Bold from only about two feet and it hasn't powered back up.

With my battery running low and me in the middle of uploading a mobile video I took, I dashed into my room to plug the smartphone in.  The device slipped, fell about 18", dislodging the battery completely while jarring open the back cover.  It was RIM's version of a compound fracture.

And with me being the King of Bad Timing, I would have to do it on Saturday morning.  My wireless provider's corporate support doesn't work weekends, so I'm offline until Monday.  (I hope!) 

If you need to get a hold of me, kindly bear with me and use more conventional means over the next couple of days.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Mobile streaming video tip: don't quit Qik!

I learned something really important tonight.  I've been messing with Qik, the web service that allows mobile users to stream live video off of their handsets.  It took some hacking, but I config'ed it to work with local wireless providers here in Guam.

I haven't had a great deal of success with streaming long-form videos, with the clips always inadvertantly cutting out.  I'd capture about 3 minutes of content, only 25 seconds of which ever made it online.  So after being prompted to update to Flash Player 10 after booting up my laptop, I decided to document the experience.

A revelation ensued about exactly how content is streamed - realizing that video continues to be uploaded to the server even after you've stopped recording.

To date I've been connecting to the Qik network and feeding video, after which point I hastily quit the app to tidy up.  Idiot that I am, I naively mistook the status indicator in the right-hand of the screen, thinking the percentage and filesize numbers represented how large the captured clip was on disk (in my case, my Bold's SD card), and not that of an active file transfer.  After seeing the network activity icon stay resident and the percentage increase slowly, I finally got it: Qik's still uploading.

So by closing the program I was kiling my uploads while in transit, hence the truncated clips on my Qik channel.  Duh.  

So in short: don't exit Qik after you've stopped recorded.  Grab a cup of coffee, talk a walk, put the phone down and do something else.  Just let the app do its thing and properly store your stuff online.  (Uploading 9.7MB to Qik took my smartphone about 5 minutes.)

So now I can say with confidence there's good things coming...now that I know what the hell I'm doing.

That for which I am not prepared

One of the people in my apartment building had a pretty dreadful accident yesterday. As I quietly tended to my laundry Christmas Night I heard a sickening thud followed by a slow, prolonged moan - loud enough to resonate above the churning of twin industrial-strength washing machines.

Now understand that I've heard a lot in the almost three years I've holed up in my current digs. I've had to audibly witness a lot from the various rotational neighbors with whom I've co-habitated - everything from the most descriptively detailed lovemaking sessions, to perpetually crying kids, to an AIDS activist belting out show tunes late at night, to low-grade spousal abuse, to strippers spraying Silly String while nakedly chasing each other around the complex, to overly-profane lesbians drunkenly pontificating about why Tupac Shakur died.

So I've gotten accustomed to tuning out stuff that's none of my business.

So when I walked with my empty basket back to my unit I saw out of the corner of my eye a person at the bottom of the stairwell, having taken what appeared to be a violent fall. This poor man clung to the railing with his lower extremities grossly bent in ways that would make even the most accomplished circus contortionist blush.

Being a mild acquaintance, I instantly dropped my stuff and rushed to help, asking this person if they knew where they were and if they recognized who I was (instinctively recalling the first-aid class I took in college to check for shock). Stumbling in and out of conversation the respondent said, "No, I'm fine...wait...yeah. I'm good. No...alright...yep...I'm pretty sure I broke my leg."

Grasping the individual I started to pick him up - at which point he freaked. "No, never mind! I don't want to be in the news! I don't wanna be on TV!" the person repeated. I said I wouldn't, and he insisted he was fine; he'd just need to make it up two more flights of stairs on his own and all would be kosher, he theorized. He became afraid and embarrassed at my attempt to help ease his suffering. I asked if I could at least hail an ambulance and sit with him, which got him more panicked.

It was at that moment I noticed the beer can he gripped even tighter than the rail. He wasn't just tipsy - he was crazy inebriated. Coherent enough to remember me and consciously resist assistance, but not enough so to know he was in pretty bad shape.

Not wanting to exacerbate his situation, I begrudgingly complied, and returned to my condo. I came back out five minutes later, returning to empty stairs. Thank God, he made it. (At least I hope he did.)

The bottom-line: he refused my help because I was me - a TV personality - and he didn't want his misfortune to be exhibited in mass media for public dissemination. He would rather suffer than risk humiliation. He feared being on the wrong end of schadenfreude.

That prospect honestly never entered my mind. I was admittedly out of my element, but wanted to help a fellow human being in a spot of trouble.

I'm not saying who the victim was; pointing him out has no merit. I write about it here only because I genuinely hope he's OK.

A jester's joy

One of the fun things about me being me is my affinity for playing practical jokes.  What's so often moderately amusing to others is absolutely hilarious to me.  And no one else.  I've always appreciated the late great Andy Kaufman, who was a pioneer in punking people decades before Ashton Kutcher was even a glimmer of a zygote.  

In tribute to Andy, I posted a Tweet this morning:
i don't get haiku. seriously, i do not. someone teach me, please.
What's funny is the reactions it drew, from a couple of followers from my social network who let their genuine interest in helping overshadow the obvious point of the bit.  I got a chuckle.

Gotcha.  :)

Lesson learned: act on your ideas

A running gag between Will and I since we were 17 - literally half our lives - has been "Restroom Review".  This was a tongue-in-cheek concept we developed in the way that a pair of prepubescent public school dudes only can, in which we'd develop and maintain an archive of the best lavatories worldwide.

This marked the first in a series of knockaround ideas we had that someone else eventually made millions off of.  Foremost among these was what became Netflix.  (Seriously, we came up with the idea of doing computer network-based video rentals through a widely-distributed interconnected system and snail mail in 1993 while working together at Blockbuster.)

Anyway, the top performers for Restroom Review, we concluded, would be based on a series of distinct criteria.  These included how many plys the provided toilet paper had, if the facility featured liquid and/or bar soap, the number of available stalls (and how many were ADA-compliant), and if the joint supported air-blown hand drying or used paper towels.  Typical guy stuff. 

But as time went on the more we joked about it and the older and more experienced we got, the relative humor began to give way to hints of genuine opportunity.  We began to see as the Web really matured others capitalizing on our idea.  Surely we weren't the only cats deranged enough to have thought of something so necessary, albeit comical.  It was inevitable.

So last night I'm watching TV and I see a review for MizPee.com, a site that allows users to register public toilets throughout the planet; a SkyHook database for crappers, if you will.  The site is even coupled with an iPhone app that uses GPS to automatically pinpoint the loo in question.  A rival service, SitOrSquat, has mobile apps ported for iPhone and BlackBerry.  Brilliant.

I swear, I'm going to have the U.S. Patent Office on speed dial from now and ring them up everytime I get a new notion.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Make capitalism work...stop being cheap

I thought the president's aptly-named Economic Stimulus Plan earlier this year was sheer genius: give citizens in a depressed economy a quick chunk of change, knowing that most will head right out and blow it entirely on frivolous things.  The concept preyed on good 'ol American avarice, knowing people wouldn't invest, wouldn't pay off debt, wouldn't put their money in the bank; they'd score fur coats, rock new paint jobs, and sport those Manolo Blahniks they otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.  

In turn, businesses would be saved from having to raise prices or close-up shop.  The macroeconomy ostensibly is preserved, and joy finally comes to Mudville.  A masterful tactic, if ever there was one.

As a marketing guy I've walked the floors of Guam's malls over the past few nights and really paid attention not only to what people are buying, when they're buying it and in what quantities, but how they're shopping.  The island's always tolerated a quiet and minute element of innocent bargaining at retail outlets over the years.  But this Christmas, everyone's doing it...everywhere.  And I'm concerned.  

People from all walks of life are pleading, begging, demanding with shopkeeps for better deals than what the sticker price conveys on everything from baby bonnets to Blu-Ray players.  They leverage the empty threat of taking their business to a competitor if they don't see a drastic reduction.  I even witnessed a guy trying to talk down some DVDs at Kmart the other night.  Kmart?!?!  (MSRP, at least when I was but a lad tending register, wasn't candidate for negotiation.)

I was taught by my dad early on to shop around and find several alternatives before making a final purchasing decision, and when pegging the lucky vendor to ask for the best price - once - and not challenge authority. In the grand scheme of things, paying fair price makes the economic ecosystem thrive.  Sure, during periods of affluence you can chip away at an establishment's markup in the hopes you'll score your desired goods at a price close to cost, and during those healthy times they can probably afford to do so.  But not now, and certainly not like this.

Guam's economy has already been in the toilet for several years, long before the problems in the mainland arose.  People conveniently forget that come holiday season, their pocketbooks are supposed to hurt, that such is natural.  I'm not talking about spending to the brink of insolvency, but simply realizing that excessive aggregate pettiness disrupts the Great Economic Circle of Life. 

So stop being so damn cheap, people.  You're peeing in the pool.

And it's not just consumer market spending, either.  Too much is happening in my hometown with barters and megadiscounts as a means of securing a sale in business markets.  Many service-oriented organizations have resorted to trading-out their wares as a means of avoiding/eliminating immediate overhead...a good short-term strategy, but leaving them with few liquid assets and festering wounds as time goes on.  God help firms like this should they ever be audited.

Sure, everyone's hurting these days and this is a particularly hard Christmas, and it's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better; but don't add to the problem by cutting into a retailer's profit margins.  The end result will be pricing driven up, less shelf space and fewer choices so companies can recover from your miserly ways.  Places will go out of business.  All because you wanted to save a few bucks. 

Borrowing the main theme from "The Lorax" (my favorite book, if you were wondering), unless we act responsibly, there might be nothing left.

So with it now being Christmas Eve '08, you've got a full day left to do the right thing.  See you in line.  :-)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My netbook OS: Linux or bust

I've been making the rounds of the local consumer tech shops over the last couple weeks.  And while Guam is typically a year behind the mainland in terms of having the latest goods physically available (and don't even get me started on the markup), among this year's big winners are the netbooks.  So like with most things, I've formulated an opinion.

My main interest for getting a netbook would be to have a portable device on which to run a web server, an FTP server, and a reverse proxy as a caching tier.  I'd like to serve out distributed apps and files, and get back to my company's network when we do remote broadcasts out in the field and we need to do things like update sports scores, election vote tallies, or other things with great frequency.

About 60% of the models I've seen/touched/booted up/nearly broken in computer stores, A/V joints and hobby shops run Windows XP Home, the rest having Windows Vista pre-installed.  Sorry, Charlie - not interested.  With the standard for ASUS's Eee PC and Acer's own models having as much as 2 GB of RAM, that's not exactly going to be a speed demon.  Many of my colleagues in tech journalism and the blogosphere are speculating about a forthcoming Apple netbook, which would be beyond cool.  

But still, not for me.

When it comes down to a matter of having access to an operating system based on the availability & cost for programs, leaning against how I'd actually be able to use a device with reduced specs, a mini-keyboard for input and a tiny display - practicality trumps the lustre of being the first kid in my condo complex to have a netbook.  For my money it's Linux or bust.  

ASUS opted to roll with the Xandros distro, and other methods exist to get Xubuntu installed over it.  With Windows I could get enough shareware for a sub-notebook computer, easily patch into my company's LAN without the nonsense of Windows Mobile Edition incompatabilities.  But for the apps I need to run it underperforms, needing to ramp up the hardware in order to run a public web server decently (and probably needing to reformay anyway with Windows XP Pro, since Home can't run IIS).  And I've got concerns about such a PC's ability to scale.  

And OS X would be phenomenally cool, and I'm crazy enough to try anything once - but it'll be a cold day in Hades before you see me trying to edit video in Final Cut Pro, manipulate graphics in Photoshop or develop Flash movies on a 7" screen. 

With Linux, I can grab all the network apps I need - Apache, vs_ftp and Squid - and go to town.  I'll have a server that feeds out content as long as I'm in a Wi-Fi hotspot or persistently connected to my ISP's mobile broadband network.  A low-budget solution with high-impact results.

If I needed a device to get me online just for web access and e-mail, I'd stick to my smartphone.  But for networking and desktop computer needs, I'm siding with Linux.  It's cheaper, runs great with a leaner hardware profile, and costs about $100 less than the vendor-shipped OSes.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grokking push vs. pull: The Brainy Smurf Analogy

I've been asked a lot recently, repeatedly by some, to explain in laymen's terms the difference between push vs. pull architectures for distributed applications. Simply stated, understanding the concerns between using pubsub or polling methods of data distribution all comes to efficiency.

So I developed an example I hope makes this concept easier to glom onto: The Brainy Smurf Analogy. If there are two things I'm really into and dare I say know more about than the average cat, it's information technology and 80's pop culture. So the synergy is wonderful.

Basically, consider Brainy's incessant running gag wherein he'd pelt Papa Smurf, the patriarchal figure within the Smurfdom, with the same question that accelerated in frequency and annoyingness - "Are we there yet, Papa Smurf?" Over and over he'd ask, and more and more Papa's patience would wane, mainly because no real major change had occurred in the short time since the inquiry. Papa would finally explode at his nerdy offspring, yelling, "No!"

This would inevitably lead to the other running gag - Brainy getting chucked halfway across the village, landing on his head.

When thinking of how to design messaging platforms for robust, scalable architectures in distributed applications, think about this example for a second. Specifically, let's think of Papa Smurf as the server and Brainy as client(s). Most scenarios using a pull philosophy, one based on interval-based database polling (repeated queries against an RDBMS) execute regardless of changes in the data and make requests en masse from all clients, even if they're not actively on the system.

Do you really need your users constantly asking over and over and over if the system has undergone any type of stateful change (i.e., a new message, login/logout, status indicator)? Can this type of setup handle expansion if you allow public membership and your userbase grows exponnetially? Doing so repeatedly with an escalating amount of traffic, when most of the time the app remains unmodified, is highly inefficient and can lead to the server not being able to respond properly, eventually overwhelming it and causing it to crash.

Even in frameworks that employ caching tiers, repeated calls against a data store to return what is essentially untouched data is not the way to go. It's a waste of time and resources to bend Papa Smurf's ear and add to his irritation. And in today's multiplatform environments, where users can access the same system APIs through web, desktop, RIA, SMS, mobile and other clients, the potential for a server to fall over due to what is essentially a simplified DDoS attack is greatly amplified.

Now consider push architectures (those based on XMPP and SIP), wherein a server responds to events triggered by changes in application state. Autonomously sending new data only to those users who need it (i.e., only those logged in) is much more efficient and controllable, as apps don't always need to be 100% synchronized. Latency in this regard is acceptable. So if Brainy didn't know where they were exactly when he asked, he'd still be OK.

Think of the cost-savings in terms of the way your app would run more fluidly if clients were sent updates only when they happened, and only for the clients that needed to get them at that moment. Think of how much happier Papa Smurf would be if he only had to inform the Smurfs that were interested when they ultimately arrived.

Hope this helps! Happy grokking!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Totally awesome game

I had the privilege of doing play-by-play for my station's broadcast of tonight's girls high school basketball championship.  The GW Geckos held on to beat the Notre Dame Royals 61-59 in a nail-biter that all came down to the last shot -  a hail mary halfcourt heave that fell about 16" too short.  

The game was awesome, with lead changes galore.  We've been fortunate that the games we have called over the past 3 seasons haven't been slugfests that end in some miniscule score, or even worse, blowouts.  

Brant hardly said a peep during the two hours we were on the air, so I did 95% of the dialogue.  The free Wi-Fi in FD's Phoenix Center was really fast, so Qik worked better than when I'm trying to lifecast on DOCOMO's 3G network.   The event also gave me the chance to show off my new eyebrows.  Ha!

Will even caught how I slipped and said it was a volleyball game. Damn...force of habit.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Adios, Ronna

We did something tonight at the end of the news that always gets people talking for days afterwards.  Everytime we do it it's fun to put together, intriguing to watch and never gets old.  But the bittersweet airing of farewell montages to departing colleagues sucks to do, because honoring friends that move on to other pastures always stings.

Ronna Sweeney, who had been at KUAM since the fall of 2006 has returned to her home state in Oregon after two truly memorable years.  She had a remarkable run with us, anchoring her own show, started several segments that proved to be popular and profitable, and being a fan favorite and reliable, fair resource for our contacts.  It's an impressive body of work on which to build.  And in an industry as transient as broadcast news, sticking with it is amiable. 

I always have to take pause when I pass words along to an outgoing co-worker like, "Thanks for everything you've done...we really appreciate the effort you gave and the results you produced".  I guess I just have a hard time believeing I've actually eclipsed a point in my career of maturity, seniority and experience when I can pass along gems like that.  And I always mean it.

We're a very tight unit anyway, and that comes with the territory.  When you do a job that requires you to cover not only the heights of human achievement but the depths of personal tragedy, it binds you.  We've all laughed, yelled, cursed, cried and documented human experience together.  Whatever station, service or network picks her up will be lucky to have her.

Best of luck, Ronna.  You'll always be a part of the KUAM team, forever missed, and thought of fondly.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Live handset streaming is a go!

The singular emotion coursing through my soul this beautiful Saturday morning...vindication!  For the past couple of days I've been trying in vain to stream video from my cameraphone through Qik, but no dice.  After Qik's support team indicated that the non-responsiveness might be a network mis-configuration with my provider, I was able to tweak the TCP settings on my BlackBerry Bold and modify the APN.

Fortunately, I've been testing DOCOMO Pacific's 3G mobile broadband service, so I had previously been messing with the settings for their HSDPA cards and remembered where the APN can be adjusted.  So if you're on Guam and want to mess with Qik through DOCOMO, here's what you do (this should work for BlackBerries running OS v.3.8 or later):
  1. Go into Options and select Advanced Options and then TCP
  2. Under APN, enter "wap" (or your provider's appropriate setting) & exit, saving the changes to your profile
  3. Launch Qik and sign in - the network should access your videocamera and you'll be prompted to start streaming video
[ GOTCHA: depending on your OS model and provider's particularities, other network resources may not be available after you tweak the APN.  So data push services like e-mail or Twitter updates, in addition to using the browser, may not be available.  So you may have to toggle the APN based on when you want to stream video (which may not be such a bad thing when trying to push out live video over a mobile broadband connection to secure as much uninterrupted bandwidth as you can get).  If you're only another wireless network, here are the settings. ]

There are few things in life that give me the distinct satisfaction of squashing a technology bug.  Thanks to Jane Fu from Qik for helping me get through this.  She rocks!

OK kids...I'm off to shoot - and stream - live video!  Check out my channel throughout the weekend for whatever I put up there.

Will microblogging lead to microliteracy?

I'll admit that I didn't really get Twitter when it first launched.  I've always found the MySpace/Facebook "status" feature to be cute and quirky, but not engaging enough to build an entire platform off of.  When I heard the buzz for yet another new online app I looked into it, but couldn't get past how pointless and trivial posting status updates seemed to be, much less in limited fashion.  Just another social networking spin-off, I surmised, destined for mediocrity amidst a sea of Web 2.0 also-rans.

Incessantly updating your whereabouts and doings for public amusement just didn't register with me. "So you want to be stalked, then?" was my reaction when people asked me what I thought about the growing Twittering craze.  

But it wasn't until I heard Twitter referred to as "microblogging" that it instantly clicked within the cobweb-laden corridors of my grey matter.   As I further discovered the service to be a proper messaging framework, functioning as a base for thousands of multiplatform clients tapping its API across a legion of connected devices, I really saw the genius behind Twitter.  It's breathed completely new life into SMS in a theater where texting was losing favor to an uptake in portable IM.  It's made content abbreviation relevant with U.S. audiences again.  

And obviously, the litany of applications people have now created through Twitter - news updates, recruiting efforts, sports scores, quasi-realtime seminar notes, etc. - makes the technology incredibly disruptive.  It's still a hard sell to mainstream audiences, but that'll change with time.

But now this leads me to question the long-term effects of the Twitter subculture: will the sudden surge in 140-character messages have a detrimental impact on literacy?  Much like the way purists bemoaned texting and chatspeak in their first incarnations, with kids using de facto lingo due to character limitations or as a means of more quickly communicating a thought, will we see a preference for shorter compositions such that professional writing is seen as too bothersome?  We do after all live in the Age of the Short Attention Span.  

As a writer, the concept of the microblog makes perfect sense to me.  I enjoy the liberty of not having to write column-length stories every time I want to share my thoughts with the digerati; being able to jot down a thought, theory, response, or quirk and then get on with my life and work on the next thing.  From a content creation standpoint, it's a wonderful option to explore.  But I'm still concerned that a proliferation of such forms of information will force an expected behavior pattern shift in the way people receive information.  

And being a new media guy working at a mainstream organization, I ponder how this will impact my audience and their preference for having to sit through 30-minute newscasts.  Or even watch 2.5-minute stories.  Or read feature-length pieces on our web site.  Much in the way old school media's economic model has been destroyed by the distribution of content online, how will consumer preferences change as microliteracy gains more traction and favor with the masses?

The natural progression, too, will see the "info lite" paradigm applied towards multimedia.  So how will imagery, audio and video embrace microcontent?  Do ESPNesque sports highlights make for a more efficient user experience than sitting through an entire three-hour game?  Will people prefer downloading only a song's chorus if they can otherwise avoid the oft-ill conceived second verse?  Will the media consuming public of the future be totally satisfied with Cliff's Notes?  People in my position must consider such possibilities.

I mean, think about it...have you honestly gotten this far in this blog post without skipping around, wishing I'd just get to the damn point already?  Instead of having essentially wasted a certain portion of your life on me, would the title have sufficed in getting my theory across?  :-)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Going behind the camera

After alluding to the fact that I'll be posting more pictures to Flickr, I finally went and did it: voila!  I caught some of the funnier sights around the northern part of the island during lunch while running errands.  More to come, certainly.

So subscribe to my RSS feed, add me as a contact, sit back and let the hilarity ensue.  Enjoy!

Shoutout to Guam (sorta)

Will made a small donation to music student AJ Rafael to support his craft - three cheers for altruism, especially this time of year - and they responded by giving him and Guam a hilarious shoutout.

Check it out! (Jump directly to the funny part.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Qik quandary

I instantly fell in love with the piquantly-named Qik, the web app that lets mobile users stream live video from cameraphones, played through and/or embedded in Flash-based video players.  It's a really great, simple, progressive idea with ginormous implications.  And now that I've got a 3G BlackBerry Bold, I couldn't wait to start messing with it.  

But dammit, I haven't been able to get it to work and stream content to my channel.

Try as I might, I keep getting the sign-in screen with a "Wait..." message that loops through a countdown, trying to access the video camera and not letting me sign-in to capture video.  So forgive the out-of-synch stream of consciousness thinking here as I type out loud and debug this little creative hindrance, trying to get the service to work.
  • I e-mailed a support request and commented on a forum about my situation.
  • I checked out a tutorial video and reconfigured my settings for my Bold's video camera and memory card to make sure I was doing everything right.
  • After the app didn't connect to my video camera and let me sign-in, I removed/reinstalled the .JAD file from the Qik site via the Mobile Web.  Even tried an older update.  Nada.
  • I rebooted my BB but removing the battery.  No dice.
  • I logged out of my channel page and re-signed in.  Also tried from a different computer and a different web browser, resetting my password.  Nope.
  • Might it be a network conflict issue that's tying up resources Qik needs on the device itself?  The only other non-standard apps I've downloaded and have running that access the network are Opera Mini 4.2 and TwitterBerry.   The latter makes routine calls to get status updates from my social network, but the former uses a specific socket through which it accesses a proxy server.  Hmmm...
  • Maybe I need a faster connection.  A friend and I deduced over the weekend that streaming YouTube clips is certainly possible on Wi-Fi, somewhat possible over HSDPA, and probably won't work over EDGE.  I'm on a 3G connection now, but Guam's not known for being the most bandwith-rich place in the world; I'm getting around 1.6 Mbps from my ISP, so maybe I'll try it on a wireless LAN.
  • It can't be a reception thing...can it?  My connectivity at work on this new phone is spotty due to all the broadcasting gear we've got running through there, so Qik didn't work in the office, nor on the road.  And I'm writing this from my apartment, which has a great signal. 
I really want to get this working.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  :(

A Bold upgrade

I've been talking a lot recently with people in my social network about advancements in mobile computing.  (Or at the very least, what mobile phone they rock.)  Josie loves her BlackBerry Bold.  Ben desperately seeks an iPhone.  Toni's already got one.  Will's iPod Touch had him at hello.  So like a true poser, I upgraded my own BlackBerry, getting a Bold, too.  Thanks, boss.

I've used Palm Pilots, first-generation iPaqs, Windows Mobile smartphones, and even the Newton - all of which were disconnected, not Internet-aware applicances.  But today's a whole new ballgame.  I had been running the 8830 World Edition for about a year, so I was stoked about going the 3G route, being able to do some high-end mobile data things over a true broadband network.  Like surfing without waiting, leveraging multimedia and perhaps some custom development.

Here's a snapshot of the last 40 hours since I brought the new baby home:
  • I'm very impressed with v.4.6 of the BlackBerry OS.  Really nice UI, very logical layout, snazzy icons and quick execution of programs.  The darker, transparent paradigm is sexier that the bright motif used in earlier versions.  That said, installing apps takes notably longer than with earlier versions.
  • Immediately upon leaving my wireless carrier's office after the upgrade, I went grocery shopping at Kmart, so while strolling around for deoderant and fabric softener I was downloading Twitterberry, browsing sports scores, plotting myself on Google Maps, accessing my RSS feeds and uploading photos.  That's the kind of mobility I've always hoped for - not the annoying cradle-synching crap. 
  • I'm likewise enjoying using RIM's default browser, as I hated the previous version, going for the quicker Opera Mini 4.2, which zipped over 2G networks.
  • Awww nuts...Pandora doesn't work yet for the 9000 Series.
  • For my money, the BB's one unbeatable quality - extraordinary battery life - doesn't disappoint.  My phone can be on "Low Battery" status for hours, even during periods of heavy talk time and data use, and it maintains a charge.  I can get 2 maybe 3 days of consistently heavy use between recharges.
  • I'm looking forward to using the on-board digital (video)camera to post to my Flickr photostream.
  • My default text message tone is a polyphonic bird chirp by Stewart Copeland...as in the drummer of The Police???  Awesome!
  • The device now takes about 2 minutes to boot-up, which struck me as odd.
  • The clock now dually functions as a countdown device and a timer...something that I'd have to download apps for in the past.  Good looking out, RIM.
  • The backlight now gracefully dims instead of just cutting off after a predefined period.
  • The new "Bedside Mode" which launches the clock app is a nice touch.
  • Good grief, the speaker is L-O-U-D.  I've got my 80's metal ringtones enabled, and this afternoon Testament's "Disciples of the Watch" went blaring out during a meeting.
  • I haven't been able to get Qik to work...the connection just hangs.  This really pisses me off. I really hope this isn't a "not available on Guam" thing.  Streaming live video of my handset that can be embedded would be unbelievably cool.
  • The 3G network I'm on doesn't always maintain connectivity.  Possibly because I sit snugly between a cornucopia of satellite dishes, radio transmitters and broadcast equipment all generating enough RF to jam most modern radar, my smartphone's rolls over to 2G GSM rather than go 'no signal' when it loses 3G ability.  This would normally be fine, except it often leaves me dead in the water.
Overall, this is a wonderful phone.  Not an iPhone (which technically speaking can't legally be sold out here), but really cool nontheless.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

That little red light

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

My job affords me a scant few luxuries to which the general population isn't privy, such as getting the chance to play with new technology before it's ready for primetime.  So while I'm able to test, assess, gauge and try to break new gadgets, gizmos and services, I'm also subjected to being haunted by them way longer than most of you.

Case in point: the indicator light on my BlackBerry.  That incandescent, eerily blood red glowing harbinger that signals the presence of information.  An electronic pulse whose slow, consistent rhythm parallels that of my own heartbeat.  The on-board feature that's a warm and welcome greeting from a device I've come to critically depend on, while simultaneously serving as the bane of my existence; a constant reminder that I'll never truly escape being connected.

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

I've been messing with Research In Motion's signature platform for more than two years, first testing the service when GTA TeleGuam launched the 7100 Series in 2006.  Even back then, I suppressed the device's vibrate mode and tone when a new message arrived but left the light on as a trigger to alert me of new messages.  This, I assumed, would let the BB do its thing while not disturbing me and by proxy gathering my precious data during non-waking hours.  I've been a helpless slave to that cursed LED ever since.

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

I'm damn near vampiric when I'm sleeping, but I still can't help but habitually wake five to six times a night just to turn my head to my nightstand and see the light - my light - knowing it'll be blinking.  I already know it's telling me message(s) await, and I already know that most are spam telling me to check out badly PhotoShop'ed nude images of some flash-in-the-pan celebutant, or urging me to give my entire life savings over to a member of the Nigerian aristocracy, or guaranteeing an increase in my male potency.  

As a result I never really get the full, uninterrupted rest I need.  And in a perverted mutation of poetic justice, the very device built to help make my life more convenient has taken away my rest and peace of mind.  RIM is costing me REM.  

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

In the same way Poe's nameless narrator is tormented by having to anticipate the beating of a victim's heart, I'm perpetually left waiting uncomfortably for the next series of flashes that let me know I've received useless solicitations for health insurance or inquiries about an eBay profile I don't have.  Taken in a cruder context, I've become my light's bitch.

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

But while I'm unable to function as I used to, I honestly can't see myself without my adored BlackBerry or the light it emits. Like a jilted lover I'll always be faithful to and forever anticipate the return of my personal town crier of push-based information.  My God, how pathetic am I even to be writing about this?  The thing has taken over my life.  I need professional help.

I really hate my BlackBerry's indicator light.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


I mentioned how my company's upgraded our BlackBerries to the 3G Bold from the EDGE-based 8830 World Edition...except me.  I'm hoping my luck changes Monday, because I'm looking forward to having a digital camera to take pictures to post to Flickr again.   It's been ages, I know - Halloween 2006 to be precise.  Sorry.

Scratching this sudden shutterbug itch is circuitous karma for me, as my father was an amateur photog in the 80's.   As a weekend hobby he built his own darkroom and taught me how to shoot and how to develop film.   For whatever reason, he saw fit to have his clumsy kid handle gallons of acid in a pitch-black environment.  (Remember, I'm the same idiot who deliberately poured an entire drum of our car's dirty motor oil all over our front lawn after Dad showed me how to change it because that's how I figured it was disposed of.  Thank God the EPA wasn't on patrol that day.) 

I fondly recall how much fun I had taking black-n-whites of the neighborhood gang skating, playing basketball, flying kites, fishing, playing in bands or just hanging out.  It was a good summer.  Eventually the other side of my brain became dominant and I migrated away from the visual arts, opting to indulge my budding analytical talents, choosing function over form.  

And we all know where that led.

At any rate, (re)subscribe to my photostream's RSS feed and wait for some neato stuff to come across the pipe.  It'll be fun for both of us!

Friday, December 05, 2008

What blew me away in 2008

Much like I do every year, I take pause around this time in December to reflect on the new ideas, concepts, technologies and platforms that really blew my socks off.  These days nothing's shocking, so I'm not too easily impressed.  So to captivate me in this day and age says something.

Some things captivated me by their immediate impact, while others had me at hello for the potential they indicate for more giving rise to more apps going forward.

A few years back the concepts that really made me wish I'd have thought of that were the iTunes Music Store and GoogleNet.  Last year it was Slingbox and the Chumby.   In 2008, I was floored on more than one occasion, and here's what did it:
  • NBCOLYMPICS.com - the network really went all-out in covering the Beijing Summer Games, notably with e-mail/mobile alerts of events, and especially the insane Silverlight-driven embedded video player that supported multiple streaming screens, chat overlays, and more.  What's more - as comprehensive as their online coverage was...it never took away from their core TV broadcast.  That's smart. 
  • Football Night in America - a couple months after Beijing, the NFL launched a streaming video player based on Flash, and phenomenally cool.  Multiple camera angles were shown, the TV commercials were cleanly broken and replaced with web spots, and users could interact with sideline reporters.  I was literally salivating when I watched this for the first time, loading it on 6 different computers simultaneously.  Thank God I've got a T-1.  
  • Location-aware apps - I thought BrightKite and the ilk of social networks that can pinpoint you and your peers was/is a really neat idea.
  • Shazam - now this truly blew my mind.  The act of recieving audio input, processing it, executing a query against a database of songs, and then returning iTunes and Amazon links to sell the MP3s was truly amazing.  Plus, it's a mobile app with a stupidly use interface.
  • Bar scanning on the iPhone - in similar fashion, the many apps that let a user capture an image of a bar code, which is then compared against pricing/availability data from competing retailers was a really, really, really good idea.
  • YouTube - the big changes YouTube implemented as the year drew to a close really shed light on some neat things to come.  The on-demand service launched live streaming video, began supporting widescreen 16:9 clips, and is heading towards supporting high-definition presentations.  This is really shaping up to be the reinvention of broadcasting.
  • Multiplatform microblogging clients - the proliferation of apps that users can leverage on thr web, on the desktop, within browsers,  in RIAs and on mobile phones to update Twitter and the legion of 140-character services took off at an insane pace. 
What did it for you this year?

Bridging the widget platform divide

One thing I've been mentally chewing on lately is building a framework for easily building cross-platform widgets - those portable bits of remote content that in most cases not involving extremely specialized functionality would translate seamlessly on the Web, on all major desktop operating systems and on mobiles.  

I'm hoping that the RIA marketplace can satisfy this need.  Microsoft Silverlight with WPF and Adobe AIR are powerful runtimes that do great jobs at obfuscating the hardships of writing system-specific code, and Google Web Toolkit and Open Laszlo are doing some neat things, too.  And there are certainly a lot of cool mobile 2.0 platforms out there, but not much that lets a developer build a simple service and then port it out as a widget to several platforms at once.

I'm hoping to get something along these lines off the ground.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The future of online news in a semantic web

A lot of buzz is being generated of RWW's post about retailing shops getting all bent out of shape for iPhone users scanning bar codes to do in-store price comparisons.  Lost Remote mentions how these types of applications are going to change media.  But I want to take it a step further, projecting how users will be able to conviniently find coverage of headlines.

I've always maintained that the future of news media, in a forthcoming world where data will be truly semantic, is going to be centered around the concept of being able to easily discover similar coverage of a common news event from disparate sources.  This would be in a variety of media and accessible across a range of platforms.  Think about it for a second.  Web 3.0 applications are going to be able to execute contextually-accurate search queries, returning recordsets that mean what users want them to mean, without ambiguity.  

Couple that back-end with a mobile client's ability to perform such queries by having handset capture a snapshot of a headline, an image, an audio clip or video of someone else's coverage of a news event and then process it, and you've got yourself a phenomenal way to experience getting the news.  Kind of like how Shazam on the iPhone takes-in audio as input, and I commented on the LR post thusly. 

Here's the canonical scenario: you're sitting in the park, reading The NewYork Times.  Perusing the sportspage, you take interest in the headline "Raiders defeat Bengals in Super Bowl".  You whip out your iPhone, take a snapshot of the headline - and only the headline - which invokes a database query.  A few seconds later the data sent back to you would be a date-sensitive gallery of hypertextual links from trusted news sources (i.e., ESPN, the L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Sports, etc.) the blogosphere, Twitter feeds, podcasts, video clips, images, wiki articles, and other types of media about the big game.  

The same game, all on the same page.  Without needing to root through RSS feeds, perform repetitive Google searches, or test the full limits of your bookmarks.  Think of it as Google News with Techmeme grouping with a Shazam user interface, with guaranteed results.

In short, you're better informed because you've discovered other people's angles on the same story.  For news junkies, this would be unbeatable.  

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

I don't like working in reverse

One thing that bums me out, even though it's a necessity of my profession, is doing legacy work.  Laboring with outdated platforms and technologies when newer things are all the rage...or even better, not being able to apply still-unproven models that teeter on the bleeding edge in place for "safer" concepts.

Consider the progression of web apps over the last 15 years:
Web 1.0 - hypertext, design, linked documents, multimedia, e-commerce
Web 2.0 - social experiences, syndication, APIs, AJAX, simplistic UIs, mobile
Web 3.0 - data semantics, artificial intelligence, multiplatform access, cloud computing, grid processing, high-end multimedia
The thing I love about being in the news business is that from an interactive media standpoint, mine is a perpetually unfinished project.  There's always something new coming down the pike, a new challenge ahead, an untapped frontier to make relevant.  And I just love working on next-gen stuff.

That's why phrases like "We need to do a redesign", "Let's emphasize our links more", or "We need to stress the Web more" get me down.  There's a ton of cool software as a service things that can and need to be done, outside the normative web site.

Praise from Caesar

Yesterday I mentioned how elated I was that Bob Metcalfe commented on a blog post I did last week in haste about an extension to Metcalfe's Law that Will and I came up with.  This suggested that we account for the additional affinity gained for the total value of a network in social application scenarios given multiple means of accessing that network.  (Thrilling stuff to most of you, I know.)

Getting the nod from the guy who actually developed the law that, in addition to Moore's Law, laid the foundation for modern computing and the Internet was beyond cool.  That little dissection of a critical concept  was perhaps the geekiest thing I've ever written; if you've followed along with my ramblings long enough, you know that's saying a whole lot.

So maybe the comment really was Bob, maybe it wasn't. I just appreciated the recognition.  :)

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