Archive for the ‘gadgets’ Category

Gadgets – The Red Scarlet Gets (Modestly) Better

December 1, 2009

Yesterday, RED finally rolled out a revised spec list and a release schedule for the upcoming RED Scarlet. And, while I confess my excitement for the Scarlet has cooled as I’ve realized it’s going to take nine months of saving to buy even a basic camera, I have to admit, I’m pretty happy with the overall specifications.

First, the dreaded price increases are…not so bad. The “Complete” fixed-lens kit is up a thousand dollars, to $4750…but that’s about the price of most professional and prosumer cameras in that range anyway, and it comes with all the goodies. The 2/3″ “brain” with an interchangeable (in so many ways) lens mount has risen a much more modest $250, for a $2750 price.

Otherwise, the work done has basically been to align Scarlet and Epic to the point that they’re essentially the same camera line, just with different steps of resolution, and remove a few minor hassles. Scarlet and Epic now share the same accessories, which is nice in that it streamlines a lot of things and also makes abundantly clear where Red’s heart is: gee, I can’t imagine why they’re selling a starter kit with all the modules you need at a modest price. I’m honestly a little surprised Red is bothering with the Scarlet name anymore (although I suppose since they’ve copyrighted it they may as well use it). Among the changes:

Data rate and color science has improved. This, for me, is really the big one, and why this camera is worth literally the cost of a semester of graduate school to buy. The Lumix I’ll be getting will be amazing, but the Scarlet will be a true cinema camera.

The sound input is greatly improved. Which is great if you’re a documentary filmmaker, although this should really come with a flowchart. Otherwise, from my perspective, SNORE.

Touch Focus Tracking, which is a fancy way of saying electronic follow focus. Which is great, but unnecessary when you can get a decent follow focus for dirt these days (Google “IndiSlider”, it’ll take you to a whole new world).

There’s WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet ports, to make offloading internal memory and updating the firmware a simpler process, which is nice.

Oh, and we FINALLY got an accessories price list, although less details on those accessories than I would have liked. But the tradeoff with that is…I and other low-budget filmmakers can accumulate new accessories over time.

In short, the camera industry is about to get light-years more interesting. As I’ve mentioned before, only Panasonic seems to really be taking Red seriously. But once Canon, Sony, and JVC see themselves losing a huge chunk of the pro videography and indie feature film market, things are going to get busy, and possibly very, very ugly, in a hurry.


Gadgets – Android Can’t Beat Apple

November 19, 2009

If there is just one thing I could make every Unix/Linux/Finux/Debian/whatever random distro users realize at once, it would be this: most people do not enjoy and do not want to fuck around with OSes. This is especially true as more people get computers and just as importantly, as more people deal with things going horribly wrong on their computers. This is why Windows is still around years after a more powerful OS, cheap as air, sits everywhere on the Internet.

Now we have Android, which combines two things geeks love: open-source and Google. Everybody dreams of having an open-source platform to build cell phones off of, since Apple proved the cell phone can become both status symbol and actually useful as a computer. Most people, in fact, think Android will replace the iPhone.

These people are wrong.

This isn’t to say Android won’t be successful as a cell phone OS. Quite the opposite. Three years from now, Android will probably have forced everybody else except Apple off the market (goodbye WinMo; you will be missed by no one). Or, rather, the thousands of different versions of Android that are on the market, each just subtly different from the other to make coding apps for Android utterly pointless.

Google seems to have forgotten cell-phone manufacturers sell products that last about two years max and then are tossed in a recycling bin. This suits handset-makers just fine. A constantly refreshing customer? Yes please!

But it’s shit news for app developers because the handset makers don’t care about their apps. So they’ll change the source code around any old way they please if they think it somehow makes the phone more appealing to their target segment, and it’s tough noogies for the developers. They can just recode their app to suit the handset maker’s platforms.

By the way, know how many handsets Nokia makes? No? Neither do I, but it’s a long-ass list. Ditto Motorola. And Sony. And Samsung. Imagine hundreds of smartphones on the market, each with an OS that’s Android-in-name-only, and you get an idea of how screwed most developers are.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be apps: Google has plenty of them. It does mean that each phone will be its own ecosystem and won’t have the variety of Apple’s app store. Which, in turn, means the creativity and usefulness of Android phones will only be tapped by homebrew.

In short, it’s like any open-source product: only nerds care and will use it to its full potential. Everybody else will buy it because either they don’t want or can’t get an iPhone.

Gadgets – Apple? Evil? NAAAAAH!

November 17, 2009

It recently came to light that Apple’s patented a new technology for personal media players, cell-phones, and so on that not only rams ads down your throat, but actually makes you take a test to prove you’re watching the ad. The device completely locks up and makes the ad unavoidable. There are two things about this technology, or rather the coverage of it, that get me:

1) That anybody was surprised digital advertising wasn’t headed this way.

2) That anybody was surprised Apple would create such a technology, as if Apple had the pretense of being “good”, like Google, instead of a closed-architecture evil empire, which I say affectionately, being a long-time user and fan of Apple products. But it’s still true.

To deal with the first one: of course advertising is going to become more obnoxious and intrusive. It’s always done so within the limits of the law, and sometimes outside of those limits, so adding a required questionnaire, which isn’t illegal, is a natural next step. Of course, doing this on a website is suicide, although that’s not going to stop a wide variety of content providers, nor will it stop relentlessly creative Firefox add-ons to kill said code. And no, Linux fans, nobody will want to run your operating system even after this tech becomes widespread.

Apple’s patent is unique because this tech is at the core of the device. The idea is that people buy, say, an iPod for ten bucks but it interrupts the music every so often with ads. You answer the stupid question and the music picks up where it left off.

It isn’t surprising Apple would come up with this. Apple’s far from an ethical company. Just ask all the clone manufacturers they put out of business, or anybody running a Hackintosh, or anybody awake around Steve Jobs. Hell, just Google “iPod City”. Seriously, go ahead, I’ll wait.

…See what I mean? Is it outside of Apple’s mission? Does it make money? Then the answer is no.

That said, I seriously doubt all iPods will come free with adware in the future. This tech is largely designed with the cell-phone market in mind, and also because Apple knows it can kill two birds with one stone: they can license this tech to unethical electronics manufacturers…and keep it out of their own products.

See what I mean? Brilliant, but utterly evil. Expect this tech in Droid phones by the end of the year.

Gadgets – Custom Applications Must Die

November 2, 2009

My first experience with Steam the website was a lot like my first experience with buying MP3s off of Amazon. It was a great experience right up until I was told I had to download some .exe to install the media I had just paid for.

What is it with major corporations and their custom applications? Are they worried that somehow, some way, the basic method of downloading every web browser has had since the dawn of time is just somehow not good enough? That, spontaneously, every single possible protocol to download a program off the Internet will fail at once? Do they do it to show off their developing muscle? Just to clog our hard drives with crap because we probably have the room anyway? All of the above?

I’m very happy with my transactions with Valve, except for the fact that I had to download a proprietary application that I don’t care about and will rarely use for the sole purpose of downloading the goddamn game that I bought for ten bucks, when what I WANT to do is download said goddamn game over a goddamn web browser. Once I fork over said ten bucks, I shouldn’t have to spend a minute on doing anything other than downloading the game. Similarly, I shouldn’t have to boot Steam, have Steam running in the background, or in fact have Steam on at all in order to play the games I paid for.

I’m aware that Steam is also a DRM device (oh joy, that makes me want it even more), a social networking tool, a lobby system, and other sorts of Swiss Army crap, but come on. If I’m booting up your program and downloading adventure games from the early ’90s, do you really think I give a shit about all that? I don’t WANT to go to a game community, or play games online with other nerds, or talk to other nerds about games. Talking to other nerds about gaming on the Internet makes me want to murder myself. It’s like suddenly I’m in high school again but I now have a day job and no time anymore.

In short, let’s spike the custom apps. Put the DRM in the background and bury it in the EULA, like a grown-up corporation.

Gadgets – The Scarlet and Playing the Long Game

October 31, 2009

Panasonic should write Jim Jannard a nice thank-you letter: they just got a Lumix sale from me due to the Scarlet delays.

I’m still buying a Scarlet, just later than I need a new camera, so…yeah. At least with the Lumix I can collect c-mount glass. But I did want to address some of the criticisms from the Red haters, and explain exactly what Red is up to, because they clearly do not get it.

“The Scarlet is vaporware!” – Leaving aside for a moment that Red’s a company that didn’t exist three years ago, and has managed to release a camera nobody said could possibly exist already, the fact of the matter is: we’ve seen test footage, we’ve seen models, odds are pretty good the higher-end Epic is hitting beta testing before Christmas. Red’s shown they can release the products they say they’re going to. And there are rather compelling reasons they want to get this camera out.

“Red’s not going to take over!” – What, the mainstream semi-pro market? No, probably not. The Scarlet, in the end, is a pro camera. It’s a fairly cheap and accessible pro camera as these things go, but it’s a pro camera. The Scarlet is aimed squarely at indie filmmakers, wedding and corporate videographers, the kind of people who don’t blink at a $4k price tag, hell, the kind of people who welcome one.

But at the same time, it’s worth asking where the rest of the market will go. Canon just does not have its shit together; there’s no excuse for the 5D’s video performance, and recent cameras aren’t much of an improvement. Nikon hasn’t even put out a camera with 1080p or even 1080i yet. The only company that seems to have an eye on the prosumer camcorder market is Panasonic, and they’re in the same space as Red: using an experimental format with not a lot of support at the moment. But they also seem to be the only people genuinely taking Red seriously.

“RED will never deliver. It’s just Jim Jannard’s hobby.” – This, by far, is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Anybody who thinks this basically doesn’t understand business, or how businessmen think.

Sure, Jannard loves cameras. He’s basically said he owns every camera on the planet and uses them regularly. But let’s not forget Jannard became a billionaire selling sports gear out of his trunk. Jannard is first and foremost a businessman, and RED is nothing less than an attempt to corner a huge and profitable chunk of the camera market.

It’s worth understanding what the Red One was and why it was a big hairy deal, and still is. Compared to the other options for professional cinema cameras, the Red One is dirt, dirt cheap at $17,500. Throw in all the goodies Red has to offer and you still have a powerful camera at less than half the price of the rest of the market. There’s a reason the Red One has caught on.

Now consider this: in the pro and prosumer market, for years the story has been: buy the camera. Buy the accessories. Throw them all out when a new camera comes along.

The DSMC system is: buy the camera and accessories, and swap out for upgrades of the individual parts. Meaning instead of shelling out $5000 for a new camera, you shell out $2500 for a new “brain”. New recording format? No need for a new camera, just buy the module.

Combine this with high performance and what you have is something exceptionally powerful in the minds of the consumer. And don’t think, for a second, Jannard ever intended anything else.

The end game of Red isn’t to get you to buy one camera and all the goodies: the goal is to get you to buy a starter kit and then keep buying and upgrading for your entire career. Jannard wants to lock in customers by undercutting the competition up front, and then consistently undercutting them.

In other words, Red is focused, almost entirely, on the long game. They want customer loyalty. And if the Red One is any indication: they’re going to get it.

Gadgets – So what IS the deal with Windows 7?

October 28, 2009

“Jesus was a carpenter. Windows 95 turns perfectly good computers into furniture” — An old, old, OLD Windows joke.

It tells you how much Vista is hated that Windows 7 is being greeted with hosannahs. And it’s been getting so many good reviews that I’m sure it’s a solid OS.

Not that I’m actually going to buy it: who the fuck buys a Microsoft OS when you’ll just get the same thing when you inevitably have to cave into the one-two punch of Moore’s and Murphy’s Law and get a new computer with the OS loaded on it? Granted, I hang onto computers a lot longer than most people: I still have an eMac from 2003, which was my primary computer until I bought a netbook. And it still runs OSX 10.4. Yes, really. What was I going to upgrade for? The chance to still suck at Chess? My point still stands, though; why upgrade unless you have to?

Still, I have to admit I’m skeptical if for no other reason than Microsoft defines “beta tester” as “people who buy our products.” It’s kind of humiliating that they still have to support Windows XP years after said product’s release, because the followup was such a disaster. And now we’re seeing stuff like this:

Sure, it’s just one guy, but he makes some pretty compelling arguments about ease of use. I haven’t seen Windows 7 in action, but just from the screenshots, it’s kind of like a Mac, except…well…inelegant. And I’m starting to wonder what we’ll hear once the system actually hits real-life computers that maybe aren’t up to date.

All I know is my Asus is staying on XP. Fuck that Windows 7 noise, if I can access the Web and play “Loom”, I’m happy.

Games – The SCUMM of the Universe

October 27, 2009

Recently, I discovered Steam had both “The Curse of Monkey Island” and “The Dig”, two games I’d forgotten I wanted to play so badly back in the ’90s, when my mom got me a LucasArts multipack featuring three of their adventure games. Now, thanks to Valve, I got to download them, play them…and realize why point-and-click adventure games died off in the first place.

To be fair, “Monkey Island” remains pretty wackily funny, and “The Dig” is a genuinely compelling science fiction story, with dialogue written by a pre-crazy-and-egotistical Orson Scott Card. The story is really what drives these games…

…Which is really, as much as it kills me to admit this, kind of the problem. Part of the reason adventure gaming died off in the first place was the problem of running around with a massive inventory, and when you got stuck, using everything in the inventory against whatever hot spot was highlighted. It was puzzle solving not by using your brain, but rather by brute force, and the “wacky” games were by far the worst offenders. People kept playing because they wanted to laugh or find out what happens next (I beat “The Dig” in a day because of a massive marathon session).

“Monkey Island”, as funny as it is, is a great example. Very, very often in the game you’ll find yourself completely stuck, usually because you have to run back and forth between various locations to do ONE task and then return. It’s boring and the only reason you don’t quit the game is you want to know what happens next. But it’s irritating, and often you’ll find yourself checking the guide only to find you’ve essentially solved the puzzle, you’re just not clicking on the right hotspot. Or even worse, that the puzzle either is completely illogical for the sake of a bad pun, or it’s totally logical and there’s no way, outside the hint system, that you’re ever going to know there’s even a puzzle for you to solve in the first place. I like puns, but I also like brain-teasers I have a chance of solving.

In other words, the game story is a blast, but the gameplay itself is terrible. “The Dig” is less frustrating for any number of reasons, the most obvious being six years of experience building these games taught the designers a few lessons about how to design these games to keep the flow going, but it’s still got its share of “Wait, what the hell?” moments. It’s also got a certain charm; like many adventure games, you’re lost in an alien world with no aliens around to help you, so you have to figure out their technology for yourself. Anybody who’s played “Myst” remembers how fun/frustrating THAT can be.

This isn’t to say I don’t think the point-and-click adventure game is a dead genre, or deserves to be. I’ll probably download “Loom” and the early Indy adventure games in the near future simply because I love games that ask you to explore. My point is simply that a lot less work went into the puzzle design than into the story. Solving a puzzle really shouldn’t be trial and error.

I want more point-and-click adventure games. I just want them to be a LOT more intuitive.

Gadgets – PS3 Now Has Netflix

October 26, 2009

Just a quick follow-up to my PS3 post, about how it’s substantially improved: now, it’s going to have Netflix on top of everything else. Boy, the 360 crew can NOT be happy about that!

Gadgets – In Praise of the Dumbphone

October 22, 2009

We’ll talk a bit about how Verizon’s attempt to not have to accept the iPhone is going to fail miserably, but first I wanted to talk about the problems of smartphones in general. The dick-measuring contest can’t obscure the fact that for most people the smartphone is actually a shitty deal.

1) They cost. A lot. Want an unlocked Blackberry? That’ll be $600. You know what I can buy for $600? Two netbooks.

2) The network. True, you can, in theory, access the Internet everywhere. But how long, especially in urban areas, is this truly going to be an advantage? To amuse myself, I grabbed a bus from downtown Cambridge, MA, to my home in another Boston suburb, basically a poor man’s war-drive, and I found no less than fifty unlocked networks in about two miles. Going through what amounted to somewhat poor neighborhoods, no less; Boston isn’t exactly rife with slums compared to other cities. And this is even before the drive to make wi-fi as plentiful as water.

More to the point, is there really any difference in speed from stolen wi-fi? Or any less risk you’ll get disconnected? Why am I giving a company more than a thousand dollars a year for a service that even in the best of times isn’t even entirely reliable for phone calls? Do I really want these clowns handling my banking? Or anything else if I can avoid it?

3) The data plan in the first place. We don’t accept broadband caps in our homes: what the hell are they doing on cell phones? Why are we paying $100 a month for the privilege of being bugged with emails before you even get into the office and watching YouTube Poop on the bus? I refuse to believe data plans aren’t exceptionally overpriced, especially considering the service you get. This is the industry that charges you a dime to send a text message, which is grossly overinflated next to the actual cost of sending the thing.

Sure, there are some manufacturers, it’s pretty clear what they’re up to. All Apple’s really done with the iPhone is recruit AT&T to sell what amounts to a fancy new iPod. And RIM is trying to position themselves as the mature, intelligent mobile phone for business, which is why they still make a phone that makes you look like a fucking dork. I know they don’t want to look too much like the iPhone, but Christ, a tiny-ass keyboard? Still? Even Palm was smart enough to realize how shameful a keypad is in a day of touchscreens and hid it behind one.

But the rest it just seems like mindless trend-hopping that doesn’t consider what the consumer could actually use. Sure, Apple made a fortune with the iPhone, but does anybody really give a shit about Nokia’s version? Or Motorola’s version? Or any of the other knock-offs? Not if the sales are anything to go by.

It’s not like the dumbphone is dying off: as long as there are cheap pricks like me who just want to make phone calls, they’ll keep making them. I’m fairly sure my next dumbphone will actually come in a cereal box and I’ll mistake it for a credit card. But I’m also fairly sure that unless manufacturers start making their phones more than just “an iPhone except…”, that it’s going to be made by Apple or RIM.

Now, as for Verizon’s heavy push for “Droid”, one question:

You’ve seen the ads, right? Can you tell me who they’re aimed at?