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Thursday, February 10, 2005

BobF at 8:59 PM [url]:

More on Consumer Electronics vs Computers

Today I do my video "taping" directly to a digital medium (such as SD or Memory Sticks) on devices such as my Sony DSC-1 or my SV-AV100. I've already written about my experience with the SV-AV100. The Sony is simpler -- while it records to their proprietary memory stick, it uses standard formats that are directly usable on a PC.

I've finally gotten serious about capturing the video from all my old tapes and films onto hard disk. My DV tapes were relatively easy because my camera (if I'm mentioning brands -- Canon Elura) already has a digital connection via IEEE-1394 (Firewire). The driver situation has improved and it sort of "just works". The word "capture" is more appropriate than copy since, despite the digital transport, the computer has to capture the frames as they pass by rather than using a full network protocol. The medium may be digital but the thinking is still analog.

I still have a lot of 8mm tapes, VHS and even 8mm film from my childhood. I used a third party service to transfer my 8mm film to 8mm video tape.

To capture from my 8mm video tapes I was planning to use my old 8mm camera but it has disappeared. I suspect I loaned it to someone long ago. The good news is that Sony still has some 8mm cameras and the newer models have IEEE-1394 output. Well, not quite, they call it i.Link but it is close enough for my purposes. Even better, the camera has USB support so I have a choice of how to capture.

Or so they said. In reality the USB connection seems to used be only for transfers from the memory stick but not from the tape. For video I need to use i.Link. The camera comes with their application for the PC but it only supports the USB interface. Apparently I'm supposed to "dub" the tape to a memory stick and then copy the memory stick to a CD. The app has all sorts of built in applications such as copying the video to a CD but glaringly absent is the idea of simply copying the video to a file on the PC! It's almost as if Sony wants to pretend the PC doesn't really exist except as an annoyance between the camera and the PC.

To be fair to Sony, the 8mm camera is at the end of its life cycle so adding a capablity rather than integrating it may be the right decision.

Note that they are using the word "dub" to mean copy. As I understand it, the word is used for adding or replacing sound on recordings. But English is very malleable. The manual also makes the standard error of confusing baud which means symbols per second with bits per second. The language moves on and those of us who want to communicate have to deal with these kinds of na�ve misunderstandings that result from a tradition of learning by guessing from examples.

Learning from examples is normal and as long as you don't get a contradiction you assume that your interpretation is correct. If people can figure out what Sony means by "dubbing" then the usage works even if it reduces the precision of the language. I still long for the adjective/adverb distinction between good and well -- I am doing good but you can't tell if I'm being philanthropic or getting rich.

Aside from creating linguistic confusion, such misunderstandings do harm by creating a myriad of little problems that accumulate into major barriers. We see this in seemingly digital technologies that are really analog.

One example can be found in the Nero software I'm using to capture the video. It has a media server application that I can't use because the program insists that a home network MUST be 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x. This is totally wrong. Those are simply the default that NATs use but they are not all necessary. I'm surprised that they don't allow 169.254 which is the default in the absence of a DHCP server. Why do they care about whether it is a home network? Because it allows them to charge a lot more for the same product in a "professional" setting. But enforcing the policy depends on misunderstanding an accidental property. I'm not going to change my network addresses just to accommodate their mistakes. I did ask Nero customer support about the problem but the reponse was typical "droid" -- a repetition of the message telling me to use 192.168.

There is little incentive for the CE industry to correct these misunderstandings because it's a win-win situation for them. It allows them to make some use of computing while insulating themselves from the real impact of computing -- the ability of people to create their own solutions rather than be limited to the choices provided by the CE industry. This is also true of photography, tele/communications and other industries.

It's not about doing a particular task; it's about the end-to-end principle and opportunity for me to create my own solutions -- not just choose among a short list of tasks that manufacturers can imagine or can charge me for.

The good news is that those of us who do understand how to do it ourselves can still do so. Computers are still general purpose devices even if we sometimes have to work around the "favors" done for, or perhaps, to us.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

BobF at 5:14 PM [url]:

Tellywood and the Home Theater

This is a letter I sent to the editor of the Boston Globe Magazine in response to their issue featuring home theaters. Given that the Boston Globe positions itself as a newspaper I believe it should do more than pass on product blurbs. It doesn't have to be dour but it should inform. Given the "letter to the editor" constraints I tried to be concise. If they do print it, I expect they'll cut it down much further which will make it even more obscure.

I couldn't point out, for example, that the so-called HDTVs are almost all 720p whereas my computer monitor is 1920x1200 which is well above 1080p, let alone 1080i. Tellywood depends on and, alas, reinforces ignorance. There's actually a lot of good "content" available, but it only hints at what is possible. The first step is to understand that the Tellywood is a product of past constraints and is not representative of future possibilities.

Re: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/magazine/ (February 6, 2005 issue)

Reading through the "Movies" issue of the Boston Globe Magazine makes me feel as if I am still at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But something is missing --it's as if computer and the Internet never happened. What we have is the fulfillment of the future expectations of television circa 1969 -- bigger screens and more color. Perhaps the big surprise is the subwoofer as the secret ingredient that makes the home theater an "experience". Television and Hollywood have merged into Tellywood.

This weeks' magazine was titled "Special Issue Your Home" so I shouldn't be surprised at seeing an uncritical presentation of the home theater as home furnishing. Even today you can find basements finished in the 1950's that have holes where the built-in television used to be.

We now have Internet connections that allow us to share "content" (not just movies). We no longer have to limit ourselves to the choices defined by the television grid and DVDs. PC screens are higher quality and less expensive than TVs (though, for now, smaller). The PCs can be very good DVRs and they allow for distribution audio and video content throughout your homes. The DVD, like the CD, has little purpose other than as a bulky "proof of ownership".

As your readers fantasize about home theaters, much as we fantasized about flat screen TVs in the 60's, they should start to learn about the future possibilities before they endorse policies that are meant to outlaw the opportunity to do far better. Congress has mandated a major investment in a new one-way broadcast infrastructure just as we are getting the capacity for two-way connectivity. In lieu of coming to terms with changes in technology and the marketplace Congress has mandated a "broadcast flag" that creates a new class of criminals. You don't really own the movies you bought for your home theater -- you view them at Tellywood's discretion using only permitted technologies. Tellywood has a weapon to use against those who threaten its dominance.

We spend $50,000 on a home theater and then have to ask permission to use it!

The Globe has a responsibility to its readership beyond simply reinforcing the myth of Tellywood. The home theater can be much more than a nostalgic return to the bijou.

Bob Frankston

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