Dropping Cable

My Cable Collection

The time came to renew our cable subscription (promotional period was ending) and we decided our usage did not justify keeping the television portion of our cable bill. We also receive our broadband through the cable company and so we debated other broadband offerings but as in most places, the options are limited to cable or telephone providers. Cable was going to give us the speed we wanted to stream all of our video online, so we just downgraded our cable service.

A few months before, my wife upgraded here laptop and we had a spare lying around that I moved straight to the entertainment center. The specs are not that impressive but it was a spare:

  • Acer Aspire 5630
  • Processor: 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo T5200
  • Memory: 1GB DDR2
  • HD: 120GB hard drive
  • Optical: Double-layer DVD±RW
  • Graphics: Integrated Intel GMA 950
  • OS: Windows 7 Home Premium (upgraded)
  • 1 Tb attached USB external HD

Around the same time we also upgraded our display (television) to an internet connected model (Vizio Via SV472XVT). I wanted to see first hand the capabilities of the integrated widgets which I had previously talked about here.

I first experimented with Windows Media Center. I “looked” on every dvd I owned for a “digital copy,” and if there was one, I put in on the computer so I could access it through WMC. I also installed the Media Browser plugin, which gave me the ability to obsess over all the meta data associated with my movies. I also grabbed the Hulu desktop plugin which gave me some amount of streaming capability. The Hulu selection paired with antennae reachable stations (network, PBS) was not quite enough coming from our 57+ channels and nothings on. I decided to give Boxee another shot, having tried it prior and found that the pre-beta versions choking on most feeds. The new beta did not have the same stuttering issues that I found prior but did have some staggering that may be related to the video card or the cpu load. Boxee also offered a greater selection of television shows as well as easily usable apps. I was disappointed that Boxee did not offer any way to manually identify movies and other video data stored on my computer. I looks to be a greatly requested feature from the Boxee community and my OCD concerning extra meta data will hopefully be satisfied soon.

Toting a full keyboard and mouse around was not option for control so we looked to our mobile device to control, a Motorola Droid for both my wife and myself. Since I had decided on Boxee, we went for the Boxee Wifi Remote from Sunil Sadasivan (qr code below).

I am still interested in the upnp server concept that would act as the media server which Boxee mangled in its current form from the XMBC code base. I would also like to upgrade the hardware of the system to get a smoother video playback and I question adding a Bluray drive at this stage because streaming/online HD content is still too rare. I do think that the disc model will go the way of the PC software CD-ROM. Looking at content, there are very few live streams of any cable or network content and bandwidth is still too much of an issue to try to ease compression on the online streams. I’m sure I will have more to say about dropping cable in the future but for now, I love tinkering with my system and do not miss cable even with the occasional video stutter.

Boxee remote qr

Boxee remote qr

It’s Going To Be A Blast… FATC! Flash and The City Is Almost Here

It’s Going To Be A Blast… FATC! Flash and The City Is Almost Here

Iona’s Chad Udell to speak in NYC

The Iona Group’s very own Chad Udell is scheduled to speak at the first-year conference, Flash and the City, on May 15 in New York City. This is an incredible opportunity, as Chad will be speaking about technology that Iona created for a recent project for the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
Speaking to a sold-out conference, Chad will be presenting “Hacking Robots for Fun and Profit.” This is an inside look at how Iona developed the advanced technology to allow Flash to drive model “rovers” that travel on a fabricated planet surface in the exhibit at Adler. Conference attendees are application developers and programmers who will have a strong interest in Iona’s innovative thinking and creativity.
You can discover more about Chad’s presentation and Flash and the City at the conference website: http://tinyurl.com/2akbccd.
To learn more about the Adler project or how Iona can make their creativity work for you, call Scott McCormick at 309.263.4662.

Does HTML5 need JavaScript2?

Does HTML5 need JavaScript2?

More Cowbell
As a long-time web designer, I have had lots of love affairs with various technologies over the years. GIFBuilder, BBEdit, Photoshop image-slicing, tables, HTML and CSS, Quicktime, VR, Shockwave, JavaScript, Flash 4, Flash 5, Flash MX2004, Actionscript 3, Flash Video, JQuery, DOM Storage… the list goes on and on.

Some of these have been long forgotten and swept under the rug of ancient things in my brain like stuff I learned in my chemistry classes or college psych 101. Other things churn, get their lives extended and get refreshed again and again. With our recent foray in mobile, one of those things for me right now is JavaScript. Often maligned, sometimes heralded, it’s obvious people have lots of opinions on what is one of the most widely deployed programming languages on the web.

After leaving my first job at Rollingstone.com (which consisted of making a lot of Flash minisites and games using Flash 4 and Flash 5), I renewed my interest in JavaScript and the dynamic DOM (I think it was called DHTML at the time). I was very concerned about SEO and machine readability around this time, so I stopped doing a lot of Flash for a couple years. Finally, around the time that Actionscript 2 came out, I started to like JavaScript less than I had previously and also started doing a lot of freelance game development for the web using Flash. Browsers were somewhat inconsistent in their rendering/parsing of it, it lacked the basic OOP and syntactical sugar of AS2 or even PHP for that matter, and debugging it was tough (Firebug wasn’t around yet). Shortly thereafter, JS frameworks like Prototype and JQuery began to emerge, making writing JS a lot less painful. It didn’t really help you get around some of the advanced development issues like true OOP or native data types like JSON, but it was certainly better than writing raw JS.

After AS3 hit the scene in 2006, it was tough to get me to want to develop anything of real complexity with JavaScript given just how awesome it was finally having an ECMAScript based language like AS3 that used strict typing, offered true OOP and provided compile time errors. Add to that, the fact that IE6 made dependable JavaScript a crap shoot compared to Firefox and there is no wonder why Flash enjoyed its heydays from 2004 to 2009 or so.

Fast forward to today and the constant bickering between anybody on the web about the slow death of flash or the rise of HTML5 or need for standards or whatever the tech press or bloggers will have you believe about what is going on behind closed doors between Google, Adobe, Apple and MS about the web’s next steps in media design and development tech and you still have to wonder… how will games, deep experiences and the like be built in HTML5?

Most demos of the tech are pretty frivolous or only prove that yes, you can play video without Flash. Who cares? Could I use HTML5/JQuery to build Sliderocket? Gmodeler? A top tier experience site for the latest blockbuster movie?

The answer, ‘possibly’… but would it be as easy to build and debug or render as fast as using Flash/ActionScript? Most likely, no.

Some of that has to do with the tools. Flash is made to create rich spectacles complete with detailed animations, rich interactions and precise graphics. It’s over 10 years old and is pretty mature. CSS (even CSS3) and the average rendering engines in a browser just can’t match up to it in power, speed, display uniformity across platforms and overall flexibility. But furthermore, building rich apps in JavaScript 1.x is still a pain. Some IDEs are better than others at it, but the language is still pretty much crap for heavy duty coding. Runtime errors galore, esoteric debuggers, a lack of strict typing and advanced data types in general, no formalized approach to MVC/ design patterns… the list goes on and on. Why are we going back to what many developers would call an inferior technology to Flash or even Silverlight. The drive is largely mobile, but there are some other politics at play as well.

When you look at the press coming out, or get phone calls from clients requesting HTML5 apps, alarm bells start going off in my mind. How are we going to handle this transition to a post Flash world when device manufacturers like Apple seem to be forcing us to use a hammer and chisel to produce pale imitations of sites that we built two years ago using great tools? Is the Flash platform perfect? No, but it’s better than pretty everything else we have tried so far for building examples like the ones I pointed out above.

What are the next steps? Well, to see some of the docs coming out of the standards crowd and the browser developers, not much. Ugh. If my tools of choice (Flash and Flex) are really going to lose ubiquity in the player realm, marginalizing their effectiveness due to lack of ubiquity, then please at least give us some tools to build JavScript apps in that are at least as good as what we already have. Get JavaScript 2 out there, please and make it good, not hobbled like the next gen of ECMAScript looks to be. And please, bring hardware accelerated SVG rendering to all browsers, not just IE.

This is not meant to be a “HTML5 sucks” or a “Flash rocks” post… there are plenty of those already. I am interested in hearing what you think though… Does HTML5 need a better DOM scripting partner if it is going to take over for Flash? What does an ideal HTMl5 authoring tool look like? Do these questions matter as much as I think they do to the average designer/developer?

Adding Some Books to My Evaluation List… Guess What I’ve Been Up To.

Adding Some Books to My Evaluation List… Guess What I’ve Been Up To.

I’ve got the SDK. The IDE. The devices.

Now, some reading material. These look like some great titles, and I have them enroute.

iPhone App Dev null

I guess I have drank the kool-aid. Who am I kidding… I did that a while ago. ;-)