Hey, if you liked this week’s chat with author Phil Simon, be sure to check out his Web site for more information about the book, The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google Have Redefined Business.
Not that the rumor mill ever slows down, but the arrival of Google’s Nexus 7 tablet seems to have spurred unconfirmed reports that both Apple and Amazon are working on updates to their own tablet lines. “Smaller for the iPad, thinner for the Kindle,” so go the rumors. Time will tell, but remember, video on iPods was once debunked, y’know.
While tablet touchscreens seem to be popular in the 7- to 10-inch range, Microsoft is also betting big with its purchase of Perceptive Pixel, which makes touchscreens up to 82 inches in size. Hopefully, Microsoft can lower the price down from the current $80,000 to grab some new customers. The company also confirmed this week that PC and tablet computers running its brand-new Windows 8 operating system will arrive in late October.
Apple is also rolling into a new Mac OS X release, passing along the golden master for Mac OS X 10.8 (Cougar, er, Mountain Lion) to developers. This usually means that the system will show up in the Mac App Store within a few weeks — plenty of time to hit up the Roaring Apps Compatibility Table page to make sure al your mission-critical Mac programs play nice with the new cat.
Google is paying the price for blowing by the privacy settings in Apple’s Safari browser. And the price is $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission for that little indiscretion. (On the topic of Google, if you’re already fretting about next year’s announced demise of the iGoogle portal project, check out PC World’s pages for three alternatives, plus two more.)
So much for the DNSChanger Trojan that was supposed to knock hundreds of thousands of people and their infected computers off the Internet this week. The security company F-Secure estimated that about 47,000 computers in the US were still infected with the malware. If you think you may be one of them, check out these instructions. On a more annoying security note, some phish factory is spewing fake account-billing notices from United Parcel Service. (UPS is ON it.)
Mobile may be grabbing a lot of the gameplay these days, but don’t count out the consoles, with their motion controllers and other new forms of inventive interaction. On the horizon: the new Android-based Ouya console, which sports an attractive $99 price tag. (It also has a Kickstarter page with an infovid.)
Ah, game consoles. You always remember your first.
Do you want a surefire way alienate the audience for your film or video project? Show them your finished work with sub-par audio. As a rule, audiences seem to be more annoyed by poor sound quality than by bad video. It isn’t just professional work I’m talking about, try sitting through a 2 hour family vacation extravaganza where the audio is too loud and distorts or is barely audible above the location noise. I guarantee you that most people watching will be taken right out of the story.
There is no arguing the point, sound is the most crucial component for producing excellent video. Yes, I’ve been a “sound guy” for decades but not many serious producers or directors would disagree with me. Ignore the quality of your sound at your own peril.
If you’ve listened to Episode 05 of our show you already know that I took the audio for granted on a video I shot of my kids making it virtually unusable. As a reminder to myself and others I offer some very basic tips that may help ensure better audio quality for your home video projects.
- Make sure your video camera has a jack for an external microphone. You don’t need an pro XLR connection. A 3.5mm mini-jack connection will do just fine. Using an external microphone gives you more flexibility for controlling the sound environment.
- Use a quality microphone. These days you can get relatively inexpensive microphones that provide excellent quality. A built-in camera microphone will give you decent quality but no where near what you’d get with an external setup.
- Decide on the correct microphones for your shoot and position them carefully. Clip-on microphones (also known as a Lavalier microphone) should be placed as close to your subject’s mouth as possible. Most Lavalier mics are omnidirectional, which is to say they can pick up sound from virtually any direction, so the closer you get to the mouth the more prominent your subject’s voice will be in the video. A shotgun microphone is a highly directional microphone with a tube that resembles the barrel of a rifle and should be aimed at the source of whatever you intend to record. A hand-held mic is just that, a microphone you hold in your hand that should be tucked under your chin anywhere from a foot to 6 inches away from the mouth.
- Always monitor your sound as you record with full-sized headphones and not earbuds. Full-sized headphones help block out extraneous noise giving you a clearer sense of what you are committing to tape.
- When recording outdoors use a wind muff. A “dead cat” wind muff can be especially effective. This type of wind screen is usually an acoustically transparent, synthetic fur material with long, soft hairs. The hairs deaden the noise caused by the shock of wind.
- If you do end up with sub-par audio you can always try fixing it in post production. Re-recording some segments and syncing it to your video is an option. Recording a voiced over narration track or using music cues can also help cover up bad audio.
I guess it was inevitable but it still came as a shock. Not long ago I realized that I spend significantly more time on my tablet devices than I do on laptops or PCs. In fact, there are some days I don’t use keyboard and mouse driven devices at all. My iPad has become my main content consumption device as well as a crucial part of my work arsenal. One problem though. Typing more than a sentence or two on a tablet becomes an exercise in frustration and don’t even get me started on taking quick notes on it. Not to sugarcoat it but the experience really and truly stinks.
I made it a point to find a decent iPad Bluetooth keyboard that was both portable and durable. The first keyboard and case I tried was the Koolertron Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard Case for Apple iPad 2 and iPad (don’t call it) 3. What at first appeared to be brushed aluminum turns out to be cheap plastic. The keyboard feels flimsy and when the iPad is in the case it becomes top heavy and leans too far back. I expect it to snap right off the base one day. The one redeeming feature of the keyboard case is the 4000mAh power lithium battery. It can charge the iPad while you use the keyboard and it’s rated to last 55 hours although your mileage will vary.
As the name implies, the Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover is a Bluetooth keyboard that doubles as a case for the iPad 2 and the 3rd generation version of Apple’s tablet. A magnetic clip, similar to the one on Apple’s Smart Cover, keeps the aluminum-backed keyboard attached to the iPad. There are compromises with the keyboard, especially when it comes to the function keys, but overall Logitech’s unique cover delivers an excellent typing experience. Two deal-breaking issues (maybe two sides of the same issue) are that the Ultrathin Cover scratches very easily and it offers a total lack of compatibility with standard iPad covers that protect the back of the tablet from dents and scratches. To use the case you must leave your iPad naked as a jaybird.
Yup, the Apple wireless keyboard is my preferred iPad input device. It sports Bluetooth connectivity, is compact, rugged and looks good. If you can live without the iPad specific function keys available on the the Koolertron and the Logitech cases you’ll find the Apple keyboard is a real workhorse.
- MP3 players like iPods generally work best in standard room temperature, say, around 72 degrees, but can function fine in a range of 32 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. (That would be 0 to 35 on the Celsius scale).
- Don’t leave your MP3 players, tablet computers or other mobile gear in a hot car, especially one in direct sunlight. According to the National Weather Service, even if it’s just 80 degrees outside, the inside of the car can get up to 123 degrees in an hour.
- If you do have a device that gets really hot, bring it into the hotel room and wait until the gadget cools down to room temperature before trying to use it.
- Try to avoid hauling anything like a laptop or a tablet to the beach. Oceans tend to involve elements like salt spray in the air, water, hot sun and sand – and none of these things is good for electronics. If you do need to bring an e-reader to the beach, cover the electric and USB ports with electrical tape to keep out sand and salt — or invest in a tight-fitting protective case designed to keep Mother Nature out of the device. The same goes for camcorders and cellphones. In a pinch, keep your mobile phone sealed inside a plastic bag.
- If you do haul gear out in to the sun, consider storing it in a dry cooler (with no ice inside) to keep it out of the sun and sand.
- Wear sunscreen. If you’ve just applied sun-blocking lotion, be sure to wipe it off your hands before handing your electronics — especially touchscreen devices.
- A can of condensed air back in the hotel room is helpful for blowing off any sand that may have dusted the gadgets.
- And, if you happen to be reading iBooks on an iPad under an umbrella on the hotel balcony or in the room after a long day of sun and fun, remember that you can choose a different color-scheme theme that just black text on a white background. Just tap the Fonts icon in the top corner. In the menu that pops up, tap the Theme button for the option to switch to Sepia for a soothing light brown pages or Night, the high-contrast white type on a black background. The Fonts icon also has the screen brightness controls if you need to make the iPad’s screen dimmer or brighter.
- A good weather app on your smartphone is a great way to keep up with any alerts for heat advisories, approaching storms and other nature-related event that may be on the way to harsh your vacation fun.
- Drink plenty of fluids and stay hydrated so you don’t become woozy and drop your gear in the sand or water.
If you’re looking for an orb-like streaming media player, Google’s new Nexus Q may fill the void. Introduced at last week’s I/O conference and reportedly even made here in the USA, the $300 black sphere connects to your audio and video system to music and video right from the cloud to your home entertainment center. (Catchy name, eh? Sorta make you think of this Nexus and this Q…)
The Q of Star Trek: The Next Generation liked to meddle — something Facebook is still being accused of after last week’s “let’s-change-everyone’s-default-email-address” incident. Seems the address swap messed up a few smartphone contact lists and The People are not happy about it.
Amazon has apologized for major outages to clients using its Amazon Web Services cloudware after power-disrupting massive thunderstorms and pesky software bugs knocked a few sites offline. The Leap Second of June 30 also tripped up a few sites, although Google smartly planned ahead for that extra tick on the clock.
MobileMe went down for good this past weekend, but that was intentional, as Apple retired the service for good in favor it its big puffy iCloud. Apple also kept up the patent lawsuit heat on Samsung, which still can’t sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the U.S. Off to appeals court, we go!
Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to tout its new Windows 8 system that’s due out later this year. A Windows Team blog post reports you can even upgrade your existing Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7 PC to the spiffy new Windows 8 Pro for a mere $40 when the new system lands.
Twitter is marking American Independence Day this week by releasing its first Twitter Transparency Report detailing international government requests for both user information and requests received to remove content DMCA takedown notices were also noted. As a post on the Twitter blog notes: “Beyond the fireworks and barbecue, July 4th serves as an important reminder of the need to hold governments accountable, especially on behalf of those who may not have a chance to do so themselves.”
Happy American Independence Day for those who celebrate it! And for our beloved international listeners, party on anyway.
Hey, why go to other social networks when you can just build your own? Perhaps that’s Microsoft’s motive for dropping $1.2 billion dollars in cash for Yammer, a four-year-company specializing in making corporate social networks. At least if you have your own social network, you don’t have to worry about Facebook constantly changing stuff up on you, like it did recently when it switched everyone to a facebook.com e-mail address and made it visible on profile and timeline pages. (At least you can change your settings back as sites like Gizmodo and Lifehacker nicely explain…but still.)
On a happier note, Facebook named its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, as its first female director, elevating her to a board that includes seven men. (Hey, does this general female-male ratio vaguely make you think of a certain recent movie, too?)
Sony’s got a new smartphone to add to the mix – its Xperia Ion is a 4G LTE Android phone with a 12-megapixel camera and 4.6-inch 1080p HD screen; according to at least one review, call quality seems to pretty far down on the feature list, though. It’s available through AT&T and will cost $99.99. (Hey, doesn’t Sony have a big ol’ summer movie of its own coming out next week?)
The Pew Internet & American Life Project has a new report out on e-books and public libraries that’s interesting, but what’s even more interesting — and possibly a bit enraging if you’re a traveling Mac user — is that the Orbitz site told the Wall Street Journal that it showed Mac users different and often more expensive hotels compared to people who surfed the site on a Windows PC. They said it was an experiment and they never showed the two groups the same room for different prices, but I plan to experiment by never using Orbitz again for my future travel plans.
Apple seems to be taking a sharper focus on Mac OS X security, including backing off that “Macs don’t get PC viruses” claim and reportedly increasing the frequency of security-update checks for the looming Mac OS X 10.8 Cougar — I mean, Mountain Lion — system. Meanwhile, Google plans a standalone version of its Google Maps app for iOS and recently updated its Gmail app to work with the iOS Notification center. The company also found time this week to announce its new Nexus 7 Android tablet (among other things) during its I/O conference.
And finally, in the Not So Much News Department, a study from McAfee security reports in a new study that 70 percent of teens hide online behavior from their parents. The Internet may be relatively new, but really, kids have been sneaking around for centuries…
P.S. Like fries? Check this out.
When following up on a recent online flap about women’s contributions to technology, I came across an image of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper atop a Boing Boing blog post. It all made me remember I had a biography of Grace Hopper in my reading queue (otherwise known as that pile of books by the couch) that I’d been meaning to get to. As Internet flaps go, this one turned out to be quite inspiring.
The book is Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age by Kurt W. Beyer. It came out in paperback earlier this year from MIT Press and can be found online and in bookstores for less than $17. The book explores Grace Hopper’s life and how she fit into the pioneering days of computing in the United States. Her work is said to have laid the foundation for the programming profession.
The book lightly touches on her early days as a mathematics student — and later professor at Vassar College after she completed her doctorate at Yale University — but kicks in when World War II is in full swing and Hopper joins the Navy to do her part. Hopper was one of many female mathematicians who joined the war effort; the film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II covers the women programmers working for the Army and it’s available on Netflix. (And let’s not forget the actress Hedy Lamarr’s work in spread spectrum technology — the subject of the 2011 book, Hedy’s Folly, that also generated a nice NPR story.)
Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age covers her early days coding and calculating high-level math problems for the military on a 9,000-pound computer. After the war ended, she went to do even more for the infant industry, including writing compilers, working on the UNIVAC computer and developing the COBOL programming language.
While the book notes her accomplishments and sticks mostly with primary sources and documentation, it’s more history than biography. It drills down into how these early calculating machines functioned, whether or not Grace Hopper was involved directly or not — but does discuss that little story about a certain moth.
For those interested in the evolution of modern computing, Beyer’s book is an educational read. While it may skimp on an abundance of personal details concerning its human subject, it distills the Hopperian philosophy to “maintain a youthful creative outlet by constantly broadening one’s knowledge base,” as this sort of thing lets you approach problems from different angles. It’s a good lesson to learn. (Her famous quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission,” is also a good one to remember for certain situations when you just really need to get something done.)
If you’re looking for a more personal biography, try Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea by Kathleen Broome Williams and published by the Naval Institute Press. It’s less overall techie history, and more focused on the actual life of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper. A short biographical bit on 60 Minutes in 1983 shows her in action as well.
Grace Hopper passed on in 1992, but she and her work live on in many forms (yes, nerds, including t-shirts). This year, the annual Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference is being held October 3-6 in Baltimore. And if you have 10 minutes, be sure to check out her appearance on David Letterman’s show back in the 1980s. It’s a hoot.
After at least one false start, Microsoft is getting back to tablet business with its own spiffy new tablet computer called the Surface. Although the name may bring to mind other products, the hardware is memorable: a 10.6-inch HD screen, dual cameras, a kickstand to prop up the tablet screen and a thin smart-cover that includes a functioning keyboard for those times when you need to type on a real set of keys. No word yet on final pricing and availability, though. (Sure, IBM’s Sequoia supercomputer may be a bit larger that the Surface, but hey, it’s overtaken a Fujitsu K computer as the world’s fastest for crunching big numbers.)
Facebook just acquired the Israeli company Face.com, which makes facial recognition software and while it had the checkbook out, settled that lawsuit over sponsored stories for 10 million dollars. Google is also having some legal action of its own, reportedly threatening to lower the boom on the YouTube-MP3.org site for misuse of the YouTube API to rip songs from videos.
Most prize-winning authors are already available in e-book form, but about 40 books written by one Sir Winston Churchill are finally getting digitized and ready to go on sale in e-bookstores next month. For those of you waiting for a lighter version of A History of the English Speaking Peoples and his other works, fire up your e-readers.
Weekend’s almost here. After a scorching couple of days here in New York City, air-conditioning and frosty drinks are in order. Hmm, perhaps a Pixar movie.
Unless you’ve got a photographic memory and meticulous organizational habits, you’ve probably had to dig around on your computer at some point for an elusive file that you can’t immediately locate. Although the beloved Sherlock utility has been retired, Mac OS X users have the Finder’s Command-F keyboard shortcut to dig around for matching files with keywords, but there’s also the handy Spotlight feature waiting right up in the top right corner of the screen under the magnifying-glass icon. (Spotlight search also lives within Apple’s iOS software as well.)
On the PC side of the street, Windows users can use the trusty Search box on the Start menu or in library windows to uncover files and folders. The sleuthing fun doesn’t stop there: check out Microsoft’s advanced search tips, including the natural language search setting for finding files in regular English. (Hopefully, this natural language thing will catch on.)
Now, if only there were similar tools for finding missing socks and car keys.