Sunday, October 29, 2006

Adobe Soundbooth Beta

As readers of this blog know, I've been working with the beta of Adobe Lightroom. I see that Adobe now also has a beta for a new piece of software called Soundbooth, which they describe as "a brand new application built in the spirit of Sound Edit 16 and Cool Edit that provides the tools video editors, designers, and others who do not specialize in audio need to accomplish their everyday work."

I don't do a lot of work with audio but perhaps this will provide the incentive for me to bring over some bits and pieces of analog media that I don't want to chuck but which I can't replace in digital form.

Shipping Luggage?

Given that I'm hopping around the country on crutches at the moment--owing to a broken foot--an ad for The Luggage Club in the airline magazine caught my eye. (BTW, the TSA seems to be at a complete loss as to how to handle passengars with crutches; among other things, your carry-ons--including laptop taken out of its case--are left lying on the conveyor table to crash to the ground or walk away while they conduct their hand inspection of you. But that's another rant.)

I've discussed some other possible consequences of carry-on restrictions before. Apparently, they've also been a boon for the luggage shipment business according to this LA Times article. I do note that my flight from Boston to Las Vegas, looking to be predominantly vacation travelers, had very lightly loaded overhead bins--something I last remember from, well, never.

Unfortunately, the door to door services are--as might be expected--pricey. Indeed, The Luggage Club doesn't even provide any pricing guidelines on its site that I can see; the aforementioned LA Times article says to expect about $100 per bag each way. The site also suggests that the service is marketed toward some fairly specific classes of users--people with bulky sports equipment like golf clubs or scuba gear or businesses with tradeshow material.

So, nice idea. But, given that we're no longer living in Internet Boom 1.0, it's an idea whose economics make it a niche.

Skirmishes on Second Life Shores

The tension between the Professional and the Amateur, the Commercial and the Personal, the Pradmatic and the Uncompromising pervade today's Internet. I've written about this conflict before--both in the context of the current imbroglio over the GPLv3 draft and more generally.

Now this very real world conflict is arriving at the shores of the  Second Life virtual world--with the same intensity and emotion with which it has been fought and is being fought elsewhere. Take this reaction by Urizenus Sklar to the launch of Crayon, a new marketing company, within Second Life.

For two and a half years I watched Second Life residents work like dogs, often without remuneration to build the wonderful mind-blowing place that it is today. All forms of fantastic structures and vehicles emerged in the space, from psychedelic cities to dark medieval fortresses to delicate gravity-defying elven castles. Artificial life forms appeared, reproduced and evolved in gorgeous gardens, while the skies were dotted by magnificent and elegant otherworldly flying machines. Virtual sporting events ranged from elven archery tournaments to giant snail races.

 In Februrary of 2006, I took a sabbatical from Second Life to pursue other projects. When I returned eight months later I was flabbergasted by what I saw. Second Life, now with 1 million subscribers, was being invaded by an army of old world meat-space corporations, ranging from Reebok and American Apparel to GM and Nissan. The traditional newsmedia was hyperventilating in its awe of the old meat-space corporations and the "innovative" things they were doing in second life, and could not stop writing about it...

 Most disgusting of all for me, however, was when the "new media" consulting firm Crayon announced, three years into the life of Second Life, that it was going to be the "first corporation to launch in Second Life." In a press release they claimed to be offering a "new way of thinking" and called their new corporation a "mash-up", a term that I found descriptive of their press release, which was a word salad jargon-fest. What was clear from the language of their announcement was that they had absolutely no idea about the history of Second Life, nor what it was about. No doubt the "launch" – in reality a public relations stunt to feed back to the meat-space world – was a great success; meat-space corporations would hire these posers to represent them because they must be on the bleeding edge: gosh golly, they "launched" in a video game!

 Incensed by these events, I unloaded on the PR firms in the Herald, accusing them of being "a bunch of desperate clueless fucktards trying to show how bleeding-edgy they are." Of course after my critical post came the defenders of Crayon etc. accusing me of being opposed to the future, and having a "potty mouth" and sounding "like a lunatic." But this wasn't the future calling: you don't blaze a path to the future by charging into a new space and ignoring what is happening around you, nor by recycling your old rust belt industrial design ideas in a new medium, and more importantly, if the discourse of cyberculture offends your delicate ears, then just keep the fuck away thank you very much.

For the whole thing and some additional commentary, see this post on the Strumpette PR blog.

I've little interest in choosing sides here. However, I think it's fair to say that the more successful communities almost inevitably go commercial at some level or, at least, (as in the case of Wikipedia) have to deal with the glare of some bright and probing lights. Given this, it's natural that we'll see ongoing splinters of counterculture splitting off from the Web 2.0 or Virtual World or whatever success stories as they inevitably go mainstream as a result.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Who Uses Yellow Pages?

Robert Scoble writes that: "I don’t even know where mine are. I’d hate to work there, although there’s still money left in that old model cause there’s still lots of people who don’t look to their computers for everything."

I only partially agree. I don't use Yellow Pages nearly as much as I used to, but they're still pretty handy for tracking down what I might call "location-dependent services"--i.e. a local plumber, furnace repair guy, or nearby tree nurseries. Part of the issue in using the computer is that many of these types of businesses don't have Web presences. For this reason and others, Web tools that provide results based on physical location, such as Google Maps, are fairly incomplete relative to the Yellow Pages. (The fact that the Yellow Pages are close to a de facto monopoly in any given locale helps them aggregate essentially all the relevant local advertisers. Google's market power notwithstanding, location-based search and directories in the online world are far more fragmented.)

I don't dispute that, in general, the (physical) Yellow Pages have declined and will continue to decline in importance--if for no other reason that if I'm having trouble tracking some item I need down, I'll simply go online and buy it if possible. However, given that searching based on location is yet something else that search doesn't do well today--see this posting here for a description of some other problems--the big yellow book provides at least an interim alternative.

Animated Knots

I use a fair number of knots in my various outdoor activities, but I tend to forget all but the most common when I haven't used them for a while. Animated Knots by Grog has great animated, step-by-step illustrations for dozens of different knots. This is definitely one of those cases where I think the computer can go beyond what is possible on the printed page.

Hat tip to Cool Tools.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Java Unit Conversion Calculator

I've been playing around with some Java programming using Sun's NetBeans 5.5 IDE, primarily for the Matisse GUI builder. As a programming exercise, I reimplemented a little Unit conversion calculator (things like inches to feet as well as a lot more exotic stuff) that I originally wrote and sold as a Windows shareware application way back when. Unfortunately, that app used some old Win16 libraries so it was sort of broken on current systems.

In any case, this new app largely recreates the previous version's function and it's in Java, so it should run on anything with reasonable graphics that has J2SE 5.0 or later installed. I've tested it on Windows XP and SUSE LINUX 10. It could still stand some polishing; e.g. it doesn't have an installer. But it appears to basically work. You can download it here:

Further Thoughts on Adobe Lightroom

I took a look at the Beta 3 of Adobe Lightroom a while back. I've been working with Beta 4 (on Windows) over the past few weeks. My take? Progress, but much distance left to cover and some nagging concerns.

First, to the progress. Performance is significantly improved. I had actually given up on trying to use Beta 3; it was just too slow. (On a middling but respectable Athlon 64 3000+ with 1GB of memory.) While Beta 4 isn't quite a speed demon, it's certainly usable--which tends to alleviate my concerns that the performance issues were something fundamental and architectural. I would hope that performance improves still further by the time the product is released, but at least it's getting into the ballpark now.

Now for the bad news. And, yes, it's still a beta. But a quick perusal of the forums paints a pretty clear picture of a product that still needs a lot of work to improve reliability and squash bugs. However, likewise, I have no reason to believe these won't get fixed by the time the product is released--assuming that Adobe takes the time to do so. Not that I've been using the program heavily, but I have imported several thousand images and used them to process several hundred images for a big flickr upload session. And it's held together for me quite well.

In fact, my bigger concerns are not whether Adobe can get this program working and tuned. I think that's likely. Rather, I still have some of the same questions that I had after I looked at the program the last time. I still have an issue with the way the program essentially treats the photos in a completely separate organizational metaphor and classification scheme than the one on the disk. Given that Lightroom (and Photoshop) certainly won't be the only applications I use, I can't say I really like this approach. Perhaps I'll adapt or otherwise find a comfortable way to slip Lightroom's metaphors and workflow into mine--but that's perhaps the bigger concern for me than the performance and bugs of the moment.