Disposable video camera from CVS: follow-up

I finished off the remaining video footage on the “disposable” video camera that Anu bought from CVS and dropped it off at a nearby CVS just before lunch. After lunch, I swung by the same CVS and was disappointed by two things: 1) they tagged me with a charge of another $12.95 (+tax) for the DVD (?!?) and “processing” and 2) the quality of the video on the DVD was seriously lackluster. I shouldn’t have expected much better, but the net-net is that definitely wasn’t worth $45. I still love the hardware and the simplicity of the model, it’s so well contained as a product:
1) buy/rent some inexpensive and simple hardware
2) have fun using it to record video and then
3) hand-off to someone and get a DVD back.

I didn’t have to mess with any firewire / USB cables, I didn’t have to think about video qualities to save to the DVD, etc. It just worked, it was foolproof. So I like the idea, I like the hardware, but the final product was expensive and low-quality.

a different approach to evangelism?

A note to Robert Scoble: I know it’s the evangelist thing to do to talk up announcements (early morning ones at that!) but maybe that’s not the best approach. Maybe a better approach is to let announcements and releases speak for themselves, ie underpromise, overdeliver. In the blogosphere, announcements and releases speak for themselves (and then some!) and all you do by over-hyping things is set yourself up for a fall, especially when you are Mr. Microsoft. But the bigger thing here is that hype like this makes it sound like you’re trying too hard, like you need other people’s confirmation of your ideas. What a company really needs to be successful is a strong internal compass pointing the way and with this, I believe, evangelism becomes the human voices to communicate what the compass is saying (yes, it’s a talking compass :)). I had a similar feeling about the hype around the Microsoft RSS announcement made at Gnomedex. When people figure stuff out why something is meaningful on their own, they understand it a lot better and you can create self-propagating evangelism/buzz. But anyhow, we’ll see what the response is like to the big announcement on Monday.

And, as an aside, is it just me or does a 6am PDT announcement seem nuts? I know, I know, it’s probably so that the news coincides with the opening of the stock market, but I’m assuming the buzz that you’re trying to generate here isn’t buzz on wall street. Steve says press releases are dead but I’m not even going that far. I’m just saying that when you’re making an announcement that you want people in the tech world to get excited about, 6am might not be an ideal time.

Disposable video camera from CVS, $29.99

On the way back from the airport after picking up my niece, nephew and sister, we passed a CVS near my house. The digital marquis outside the store was advertising a disposable video camera on their digital marquis. A disposable video camera?!

So when Anu, my sister, was in Monroe on Wednesday she picked one up to try it out and take some video of their new house (they are in the process of moving from Denver, CO to Monroe, LA). Anu got back to Houston today and I’m checking the thing out and it’s AWESOME. What a great product.

* 20 minutes of video
* little unit that fits comfortably in one hand
* nice full color LCD that serves as the viewfinder
* only four buttons on the thing — on/off, playback (you can playback the last clip you recorded), a record button and a delete button (presumably, you can delete the last clip).
* you return the thing to CVS and they give you a DVD with the video on it, presumably with chapter points at the beginning of each segment.
* I think the cost of “processing” and the DVD is included in the $29.99

Anu just handed the thing to me and asked me to finish off the last 10 minutes of video for her and I love this product, I can think of all kinds of uses for it. It’s only a matter of time before these things are all over weddings, being used in businesses for field visits and more.

Hey pt, how long before you hack one of these?? The LCD on this thing is great. I’m sure you can think of all kinds of cool uses for it.

Update: I’m behind the curve. Someone’s already hacked this thing.

quick notes from this week

– my new bluetooth mouse came in earlier this week (Logitech MX900, I talked about it here last weekend). it’s working quite well with my iMac and it’s great to have gotten rid of a wire.

– I also received a new external USB 2.0/Firewire hard drive for my periodic backups — 320 GB. I’m going to initiate it this weekend and use it to do my next backup. I really wish my laptop had a larger hard drive.

– My Dell laptop is now running with 2GB of RAM, up from 512 MB. I’ll report in the next couple of days how it impacts the performance of my PC. Basically, I’m hoping it’ll prevent my PC from slowing down when I’m running 10-20 apps at once, each with multiple windows.

– Last weekend, I watched the Aviator and found out that Howard Hughes and I went to the same school… of course, I graduated and he dropped out. He also seems to have married someone with the last name of Rice (Ella Rice), someone presumably connected to Rice’s founder, William Marsh Rice. Good movie by the way, though it wasn’t interesting, well done and thought provoking in the same way that Birth was.

– Just came back from chai at Balaji. If you are in Houston and like chaat-type of Indian food, this is our favorite place. I recommend the pao bhaji and chole bhature.

– We released Beyond TV 3.7 this week. It’s been nearly ready for release for about two weeks, so it was nice to see it go out this week.

Fun with Google Earth

If you’ve met me, in person, in the past 2 weeks, you probably know that I’ve been having fun with Google Earth. The first day I downloaded it, Shonali and I had a great time flying/driving around Delhi, identifying all the places we could recognize. The keyhole database only has data for about half of Delhi, the south half, but that was OK because that’s the part of Delhi that both of us used to live in. It seems like somewhat of a fluke that Google has data for Delhi, when you consider that they don’t even have data for Bombay in India.

I hope the Google Earth team licenses/acquires some street level data for Delhi. If anyone from the Google Earth team is reading this, Eicher’s of India definitely has street level data for Delhi. While I was living there, they were the first company to release a detailed book of roadmaps for Delhi. Get the data from them and let me know when you have it intergated into Google Earth!

Anyways, in the spirit of participatory Google Earth’ing (?!), I posted a bunch of spots in Delhi to the Google Earth BBS.

Also, in the “huge and unique” forum, I posted a link to the only baseball diamond you’ll find in Delhi.

Zoomed out on Delhi with all the places that Shonali and I identified

Baseball field at ACSA, across the street from the American Embassy School

Logitech MX900 (for my Mac) on its way

So I ended up buying the Logitech MX 900 to replace the one-button corded Mac Mouse that came with my iMac. It’ll be here in a couple of days and I’ll post a report then. While this mouse doesn’t officially support the Macintosh, the reviews out there say that it works just fine with Mac’s that already have Bluetooth (mine does).

If this thing works well, then I’ll have to move on to replacing my wired keyboard with Apple’s wireless version. I like the fact that this keyboard is nice and compact so it would be hard to replace with most of the other bluetooth keyboards that are out there.

In the course of searching for Bluetooth mice and keyboards I discovered that there aren’t many such devices out there. I should have guessed that this would be the case from the whole process I went through of un-installing Microsoft’s crappy XP SP2 bluetooth drivers and replacing them with 3rd party drivers (Widcomm / Broadcom drivers) to get Bluetooth to work on my XP laptop. Obviously, without Microsoft’s support in Windows, a hardware standard like Bluetooth would have a hard time building a strong ecosystem.

Apple single-button mouse

I really need to get off my duff a buy a two button mouse for my iMac. I can’t stand the single button thing. Nothing deep about my dislike, I’m just so used to having two buttons. Just asked Shonali and she has the same problem. I wonder when Apple will start shipping Macs with two button mice out of the box? (heck, for all I know, they already do… remember, this iMac was a gift)

high-speed overseas file transfer service

Dear As-of-yet-non-existent-reader,

I’d love to have a consumer-priced service that I could use to ship large files (e.g. video files for a DVD or lots of high-resolution photographs) from here in the United States to India. Most of Shonali’s side of the family live in India and I’m always sending them photographs online (see http://www.agrawal.org/ananya/). On occasion, I’ve created DVDs (on my iMac) and sent them over with other family I’ve had traveling to India or through a courier service. But I’d much rather just be able to capture & author the video, set it to upload to somewhere and know that it will get delivered to them on CD or DVD. Basically, I want to avoid the whole step of filling out a bill of lading, finding out how much it’s going to cost, etc. etc.

Do you know of any such service? Do you have one that you can recommend?

Movie review: Ripley’s Game

I just finished watching “Ripley’s Game”, the sequel to “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” Overall, I give this movie a C+. John Malkovich plays his character well, but his character is just uninteresting. He’s uninteresting compared to the younger Mr. Ripley (played by Matt Damon in the first film) and he’s uninteresting on an absolute level as well. The older Mr. Ripley doesn’t have the problem of a conscience, something we see him struggle with in the first movie. No, in this film he’s without morals AND without a conscience. The guy who COULD have saved the film and made it more interesting is the guy who plays opposite Malkovich. Could’ve, should’ve, would’ve but unfortunately he doesn’t. He’s basically tricked into becoming a murderer for some money by Malkovich’s character and by an unruly friend of Malkovich’s who is looking for a rookie killer. And then, surprise, surprise, he realizes that being a murderer doesn’t stop after a two day trip to Berlin. The guy who plays opposite Malkovich is, I guess, in a similar position to Ripley in the first movie but he’s a bundle of loose ends in the movie. Why does he take the job for the money? Is he not conflicted about it? After the first murder, how does it change him? Why does he take the second job? Why does he develop such a camaraderie with Malkovich’s character by the end of the movie (at certain points during the movie, it’s like they are busom buddies)? How does he just happen to know how to whack a guy over the head with a gun so as to knock him out? Unfortunately, these loose ends, in the end, detract from what I think the director wanted this movie to focus on: Ripley’s character. Again, Malkovich was great, but the movie was like that year old bottle of soda in the cabinet that you pull out for a party: completely flat.

New iMac

I’m a so-far proud owner of a new iMac G5! Bought for me as a gift from a buddy of mine as a sorry-I-couldn’t-make-it-to-your-wedding-so-I-bought-you-an-iMac gift, I’ve been enjoying this box.

As usual with Apple products, the packaging on the product was where the fun began. Opening up the box, all the manuals, the keyboards and the mouse were nestled in the top styrofoam. The keyboard and mouse were both wrapped in this nice and glossy plastic with adhesive seals. The glossy plastic made everything look really high quality and the adhesive wrap made everything easier to open than traditional shrink wrap stuff which often requires a knife or teeth. Nice keyboard and mouse with shiny clear plastic exterior and white interior/core. They keyboard is nice and compact, has a USB hub built in and connects to the main PC unit via USB. I also liked the way all the plastic parts had additional peel-away protective plastic on them to avoid scratches from shipping and handling.

Underneath the top foam was the main event: the iMac G5’s all-in-one flat-panel LCD and computer in one. Very cool. I liked the brushed aluminum base. I like the way the power cord plugs into the back of the case and creates a flush surface with the back of the case. I like the hole in the brushed aluminum base that the power cord threads through. And then there’s the neat and clean vertical row of connectors for everything from USB to firewire to ethernet and a modem port. The LCD itself was fine, nothing spectacular there — thin bezel flat-panels are really cool and looked at from that perspective, this screen is a clunker. So while sticking all this stuff in one is cool and not having a separate box for the CPU, mobo, and hard drive is cool, I don’t find the design to be a grand slam.

I did find that I could easily rotate the entire unit in one direction or the other because of the low coefficient of friction on the brushed aluminum base. I found myself doing this a fair bit — to show my wife a photograph or to show someone on the other side of the desk what I’m talking about.

On to the applications because that’s part of the complete Apple story.

So my iMac came with what Apple calls iLife — software for photos, music, videos and DVDs. The different apps are pretty well known, especially their music app, iTunes. The integration between these applications and the overall usability is really impressive.

My wife recently had our first baby so I’ve been shooting some video with my camcorder and I’ve been taking even more photographs. The camcorder is one of those DV cameras so I just had to digout an old DV to 1394 cable I had to plug it up with my Mac. iMovie made it pretty easy for me to import the video in. It did automatic scene detection, it let me add titles with effects and it let me then drag the scenes and titles into a timeline to create my Movie. All in all pretty easy. Then I decided to try and put my movie on a DVD (so I could send it to relatives, etc) and one of the brilliant things was the tight integration between iMovie and iDVD, their consumer grade DVD authoring app. I would say that end to end, I imported a bunch of video, added a bunch of titles, created a DVD menu for it with some neat music and effects and created a photo slideshow on that same DVD all within an hour or hour and a half (not including the time the computer spent rendering the DVD and burning it). And this isn’t something I had ever done before on a Mac or PC so it was all pretty unfamiliar territory for me.

Another kudos to Apple — Mac OS X just simply looks and feels awesome to use. The animations and effects — all the 3D accelerated stuff that they use — go a long way to improve the usability of the system. From a user’s standpoint, everything seems to flow smoother, I guess because everything literally does flow smoother. Windows XP seems kind of “Mickey Mouse” next to the richness of the Mac OS X interface. Makes me excited about Longhorn because they’ll 3D acclerating everything there.

Another interesting aspect of the Mac OS X — files are mostly hidden from me. I seldom have to worry about or concern myself with files and file extensions and folders. All of that hierarchy and detail is kind of flattened out and made invisible to me through a combination of the Mac OS X and Apple’s suite of tightly integrated bundled-out-of-the-box apps.

Back to the integration of the apps in iLife and overall usability:

It was clear to me in using the Apple software that they probably have two things happening to achieve the integration and usability they have:

1) they’ve got software designers and programmers with great intuitions and heuristics about how things should work for consumers.

2) they constantly, iteratively, intensively bang on their products to continually refine the usability.

So how else am I using this thing?

I’ve copied over about 16GB of MP3s (created from my collection of audio CDs, digitized by Get Digital) so I’ll occasionally use it to play music (iTunes has AWESOME visualizations, way above and beyond any of the crappy stuff that ships with WMP — this is due, in part, to the fact that everything is 3D accelerated in Mac OS X). My wife can definitely use the iMac for web surfing which is a big part of what she wants in a home PC, but she hasn’t been using it too much so far. I’m not sure why, but that needs to be the subject of some research and observation.

Overall, the question now is: where does this iMac fit into my life? I spend most of my time on my Dell X200 (which is where I’m typing this post from). I dump most of my photographs here. Is my new iMac a really expensive movie making, DVD authoring machine? I don’t know yet. We’ll just have to wait and see!