It was bound to happen at some point, but today is the day the T-28 met its demise while flying in my hands. Fittingly, it was a mid-air collision with another T-28 (and another former Bayside member) that ended its flying days so abruptly. Seems there are some things that EPP foam just can’t recover from, and of course I found this out the hard way.

Goodbye ParkZone T-28, I’ll miss you.

Suck Meter patch

I found a post from Techcrunch today that neatly summarized a process that I’ve used for many years but didn’t put into concise words: Make Products that Suck Less.

I have been through the new or improve a product process so many times that all of the advice listed seems old hat, but it bears repeating and sharing in these modern times. It seems that you can’t turn the corner in a store (or online if that’s your thing) without running into a product, while initially interesting or attractive, that is utterly terrible in its function and form.  I should know as I too have fallen victim to some of the crimes outlined in the story post.

Item number one on the list is It only takes one person to make your product suck. Truer words have seldom been spoken. Just recently a client that shall remain nameless decided to make the entire process of getting their product hard for users to understand because someone in another part of the company thought it might be hard to get it done right.  Let that sink in for a moment. You have money, you want to give it to this company for their oh-so-cool-new-shiny thing. The company wants to sell it to you, but someone decides that it would be easier for them or their team to simply not do the work, thus making the process of getting said product many times more difficult. Thus, if you, the customer, really want the product you must now wade through suck to get to it.

Item five is another favorite of mine, Customers demand sucky products. Not on purpose (at least not all of the time) but people will often ask for things that make no practical sense in a product and refuse to buy a product if it doesn’t include these features. Again, a unamed employer once held focus groups and polled industry analysts about what features they would want in the next version of the product. The ideas came pouring in and many of them were truly, completely awful. The kind of awful that if you built it into the product you would never be able to sell it without returns. After months of study, data collection, internal discussions and executive consultation nearly every outside feature idea was eliminated from the product plan.

I’ve often wondered how a freshly minted product manager (or PM in the tech world) is expected to be successful when they start a new job, given that they often don’t know the political back story of a company nor the history of a product and its customers. The kernels of information in this Techcrunch story should be required reading for such product owner folks, or anyone else who wants to ship a succesful product.  I don’t profess to be an expert at making products but I have created a fair share of them. I can say this safely: if possible, a product will suck more often than it won’t, and that just shouldn’t be the way it works.

I have recently been called crazy (alright, not just recently) for my opinions of things found online.  However, recent changes in the way Facebook wants to use my private data (or what I thought was private) have me thinking that perhaps their site just isn’t for me anymore.  And for these thoughts I was labeled nuts, ridiculous and even a heretic, as I am also helping to create such grand systems of online data sharing.

During their f8 conference in April 2010, Facebook introduced a platform called the Open Graph.  On its face, it seems to do what users want: go anywhere on the web and see information about what their Facebook friends think and let them report their own activities back to Facebook.  Unfortunately, as a “feature” of this new roll-out comes the serious drawback: you are now watched, tracked and exposed everywhere on the web that Facebook has a deal.  What this means is that any data in your Facebook world is now available to any web site that uses the new Open Graph API.  Worse, these sites need only ask for permission once and they can reach in and grab all the data they want and keep it forever.

If all of this weren’t enough, some extra bits of bad behavior from Facebook are now becoming visible.  To “assist” in the social web expansion Facebook wants, they are now automatically opting-in every user’s private profile data to share with the web.  No longer are your favorite books, music, movies or your home town, education and events just between you and your authorized friends.  Nope, now Facebook is pretty much telling you “share it all or else you’ll have no profile page.” This is bad news, indeed.

So far, Facebook hasn’t caved on any of this.  Things have raised enough eyebrows that the US Senate has started asking Facebook to back down. It is likely, however, that Facebook will do nothing about all the controversy, chalk it all up to people not understanding how the web works, then plowing ahead with their own plans to completely own your identity and personal data online.  If you need a hard reason to believe that this will all end badly, look no further than the young Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself who tells the press “he doesn’t believe in privacy” online.  If that doesn’t get people to wake up I’m not sure what will.

I think it is time to own up to the generational gap: I believe that there must be the ability for me to control my personal information online.  I don’t think that a company should have unfettered access to all of my personal data, my friends and then be able to go off and give it to anyone, anywhere for as long as they like without letting me decide about it.  I feel there will always be a public forum on which to share certain parts of my life, but it should be on my terms and with limits that I set.  Yes, the future may be all about “the personalized web” and how great that will make discovering new things… but if it comes at the cost of all of my online privacy I think I’ll stick to hanging out with the uncool kids and their old-school, legacy information and decision-making processes.

UPDATE: after the original post went up the EFF put out this helpful summary of how bad the new Open Graph API is to your “private data.”  In short, if you want to have data shared between just you and friends, you can no longer be on Facebook.  Read Six Things You Need to Know About Facebook Connections for more details.

I was asked recently to document the things that a person would need to use in order to take an optical disc with video content on it and turn it into something that streams reliably to the PS3. Rather than write a long email on the topic I’ve decided to chronicle the information here so that I can make it available to anyone who asks, now and in the future.

First off, this guide is for Windows users, so folks using OS X or any of the Linux flavors need to find some way to live temporarily in the Microsoft world. Sorry, but the best and most usable tools only exist for Windows, so you have to deal with it.

Next, I’m going to assume (a risky thing to start with) that the user has some level of decent PC hardware to work with. For the purposes of this article and at the time of this writing decent is a system like this:

  • A Core2 Duo or Phenom II x2 with a clock speed of at least 2Ghz
  • At least 2GB of RAM
  • At least 500GB of free hard disk space, preferably on a SATA controller
  • A DVD + Blu-ray combo reader optical drive, preferably on SATA
  • The OS should be at least Windows XP
  • Some kind of useful Internet connectivity (to acquire the software)

With that taken care of, let us look at why the requirements are set at this level. First off, if any kind of format transcoding is required you are going to be spending a lot of time waiting for things to get done with a slower system. Next, virtually none of the original format media will be usable as-is for streaming, so plenty of memory and disk space are needed to pull apart and re-assemble the video into just the right format. Finally, since there are so many formats out there that are not compatible for streaming there will be at least some time spent buffering up and on-the-fly encoding the stuff you want to watch into a usable stream, and that takes a fast disk and RAM.

The work-flow to accomplish physical media disc video to file based streaming usually goes like this:

  1. The video you want to stream exists on a DVD or Blu-ray disc
  2. Place the disc into your PC DVD/Blu-ray drive and…
  3. Use some software to move the parts you want off the disc and onto the hard drive
  4. Check the files that make it onto the hard drive and re-constitute them into files that can be streamed
  5. Save the new file in a stream-worthy format
  6. Point your streaming software at the new file and…
  7. Navigate to the PC on your gaming console, select the filename and stream away
  8. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Unfortunately the process is anything but simple. But here are my steps to getting the job done in as few hops as is possible.

    Unless you are a glutton for punishment, enjoy troubleshooting endless registry settings and numerous software incompatibilities, just go get AnyDVD HD and call it a day.

    So much work can be saved by just following this one step. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve read of people trying this or that only to end up with files that don’t work or messed up audio and video sync. Save yourself a whole lot of pain and just use the one thing that works every single time: AnyDVD.

    Eventually you’ll need to get rid of that extra “stuff” that you don’t want surrounding the video that you do want, so grab tsMuxeR for all the Blu-ray tweaking.

    There is a lot of junk packed onto discs these days and most of it isn’t what you want to watch. TsMuxeR will help you pull out the stuff that matters, dump what doesn’t, then reconstitute a new file that will stream just fine. Major space savings can come from just firing up this tool and pulling out all of the languages and extras that eat up so much of the space.

    How do you find out what is the good stuff to keep and what is the stuff to throw away? BDInfo is there to help out with your Blu-ray needs.

    This handy accessory can help you zero in on just the right parts of the disc that you need in order to keep what you want and dump what you don’t.

    Eventually you will run into something that just won’t stream no matter what you do. When that day arrives turn to RipBot264 and make your own file format.

    VC-1 video and DTS audio do not stream well, and by well I mean not at all. When you encounter these codecs you must convert them into something that will stream, and RipBot264 does that for you. The scary bit of this tool is it’s requirement to install a few other geeky video tools on the PC, but don’t worry. It will use them and you’ll never have to worry about seeing them again.

    This stuff is all fine and dandy, but I just want to take a normal DVD and stream it. For that you need one more tool, VOBMerge.

    If you have a standard DVD and you know exactly what parts of the disc you want to keep, VOBMerge can take those parts and turn them into one large streaming file. It is really as simple as anything gets.

    Great. I have streaming files but I need to get them to my game console. The simplest way to do that and the one that works with the most success for the PS3 is PS3 Media Server.

    The great thing about this software is that it runs on Windows, OS X and Linux (if you have the patience to get all the bits compiled). You simply point it at a directory of streaming capable files, let it index those files, hook your game console up to the network and stream away. On the PS3 your system shows up as a “play button” arrow, so it is easy to find. Simply find and hit play on any file that you see and its streaming video time for you.

    So this is my short list of things people can use to take video and stream it. There isn’t a full set of instructions because, frankly, there is no one right way to do things. Instead, there is an entire Internet full of guides out there with thousands of people who’ve done things one way or another. I encourage you to seek those forums out and have a look at what other folks have tried before embarking on your own disc to stream adventure.

Now that I’ve become more of a nomadic worker, without a full-time office location, I’ve been looking for ways to make my phone presence consistent and available no matter how a client might reach me. Switching to AT&T U-verse was one step in that direction, as they offered custom options for forwarding calls and personalize rings.  Using Google Voice (formerly Grand Central) was another, as it allowed a “call one number and reach me anywhere” capability.

Until today I was unsure of how to loop my mobile phone into this world. That did make things a bit difficult as many contacts try to reach me using that number first. Further complicating this connectivity is the fact that in some locations, like my home, I have virtually no wireless signal strength at all.  This left many people thinking that I was ignoring their call when actually I could never hear the phone ring at all.

I decided to do a bit of hunting today and came across this great link for AT&T Wireless customers and forwarding… and it had information to do almost exactly what I wanted to do. I now have things setup in a circular but I believe usable manner:

voicemail-circle

If this all works I hope to rarely, if ever, listen to another voicemail message again as I’ll be talking to the person who is calling or Google Voice will transcribe the voicemail into text for me.

I was in a mood today to make my music listening habits a bit more social, but I found that my two current music services, Pandora and Slacker, don’t naively support sending data to Last.fm.  No problem, I thought, some enterprising hacker out there has solved this problem already.  Right I was, and now you too can have the scrobble ability if you use these two services AND also use Firefox with them:

So long as Firefox continues to be friendly with these plug-ins I’ll be using them to share the music.  That said, I’ll be impressed if this integration works for more than 6 months.  Time will tell.

Last.fm Pandora Slacker Firefox Greasemonkey

I had a chance today to fiddle around with yet another Google beta product: Picasa Web Albums. It is the best demo yet of a blend of local (PC based) applications and web site integration with AJAX.

What this all means is that you can add photos from a web page, from an application, or from an email to your photo album any time you want. It’s pretty nifty. Take a look at the progress so far.

The evil genius in me often finds a way out into public view, exposing the secret plans I harbor for world change. In that mode of thought, as of today I have yet to find a more thoroughly researched and documented method for ending the world than this next link:

How to destroy the Earth

It really doesn’t get much more straightforward than that. If you ever wondered what it would take, wonder no longer. Go on, have a look.