The clash of the TV Titans

* First, read yesterday’s (1/27/05) front page WSJ article on the struggle between comcast and the tv networks/producers to deliver on-demand versions of popular programs. Comcast wants to screw the networks/producers, the content owners want to protect their revenue streams, and so users are left with nothing — or more exactly, users are pushed towards unfettered version of shows that leak out thru bittorrent or other means
* The networks are in an untenable position — there is just no way to keep their content contained — even if they have the fanciest drm in the world, at some point the tv signal gets rendered onto an rgb/composite/s-video feed so you can see it — take look at, you can pick up a box today that can capture 1600×1200, 25 frames per second, off a composite or rbg feed. I.E. there is no way to keep good digital copies from surfacing on the web.
* Meanwhile, Tivo is under increasing pressure — and it looks like consumers will be satisfied with DVRs from their tv provider, rather than buy a Tivo. Too bad because the Tivo experience is way superior to other DVRs — but the egos at Tivo and at the cable/satellite companies are destroying the Tivo business.
* And now Apple is crowding into the picture with the stylish Mac mini — pointer to Cringely, Steve Makofsky on why people like the mini (and wondering why they don’t like the PC in he same way), reviews of the Mac Mini. But there is no way to get a cable or satellite digital signal into a Mac Mini today — the video providers are dead set against that happening as it creates another way for digital copies to leak onto the net — so users lose out. Can Steve Jobs pull a rabbit out of his hat and solve this?
* And of course Microsoft continues to grind away with the Media Center PC. And I think all these front end boxes need a great back end media store in the home — something like this maybe?

Where will we all end up? Rich has some good thoughts about the refactoring of the TV experience — and some criticisms of everyone trying to create EPGs. In the short term, Steve Makofsky points out that we are headed for greater complexity and confusion as we have to learn about codecs and other software components.

Who is going to be the champion of the user, the friend of the user?

Comcast Cablecard Install

Today’s adventure — getting a cablecard from comcast. As anyone knows, their website is quite silent on how to order a cablecard. If you call them and ask for it, they will provide it finally with some arm twisting.

Two techs showed up today. The physical install in my sharp aquos was quite straightforward. The setup after that was confusing and we still don’t have it right.

First of all, the sharp manual is hilariously bad. I’m not sure anyone ever tried these instructions on how to install a cablecard. You have to make sure you are on tv input, you have to switch the input type over to cable, and then you have to make sure you hit the “digital” button on the remote. Several of this steps are left out in the manual. But I don’t blame the manual writers completely — the menu structure on the tv itself is hopelessly modal. If you happen to have the current input set to a component or hdmi or dvi input, you will never find the right menu items. But we finally figured it out.

The cablecard was recognized, we had to call a bunch of digits into comcast. In their network they authorize this card, and then I guess credentials are downloaded to the card which tell it what tv channels I’m allowed to see. This takes a little while, 10-15 minutes. Then digital channels start showing up.

Second key tip — the sharp aquous has separate coax inputs for digital or analog. You want to split your cable using a 1ghz splitter and feed the input to both. Otherwise you will only get the digital channels — which in our market, for instance, means you could never watch CBS.

Some things still aren’t working — I can’t see ESPN-HD for instance. Another service call in the offing.

In a future post I’ll expand on my feelings — but man, tv setup and video delivery to the home is just getting more complicated, not less — there are huge opportunities here to do better.

Blog Business Summit

Attended part of the first day of this. Like many conferences, the audience was very bimodal — a minority of very knowledgeable industry people, and a majority of information seekers who are very new to blogs. Sometimes this made the presentations nonsensical — for instance a long discussion about trackback which the knowledgeable people already understood, but which confused the hell out of anyone else.

A lot of interest in how much money you can really make from a blog. How does google adsense work, how can you optimize for it, what can you really gross from adsense, what other kinds of sponsorship/affiliate dollars are available, etc etc etc. People are looking hard for the business model here. Honestly there was not much to chew on tho — the adsense license prevents people from talking in detail about their experiences. Personally I have to wonder about the viability of this cycle — fill a page with content to optimize your google rank, and then make money off of google ads placed on your page — Google sources you the traffic, and then pays you for the traffic. Kind of odd, isn’t Google someday going to figure out how to squeeze the guy in the middle?

Telephony Roundup 1/24

I’ve yet to move my house over to a full voip install but still collecting lots of interesting links:

* Pulver launches Bellster — now driving termination costs for calls to 0. Do I really want people calling out on my analog lines tho?
* Prototype phone with zigbee integration — one attempt at dragging the physical systems of the home into the digital age.
* Skype answering machine. I doubt that most people will want to run their answering machine on their pc. The voip answering machine service must emulate the features/availibility of existing answering machines or telco-based answering services — in both cases, easy access from a handset or multiple handsets in the house.
* Rich reminds me that I don’t just want SIP phones in the house, i need PBX functionality so that extensions work like they should — ie all ring at once on an incoming call.
* Todd Duffin is way ahead of me, he has done a lot. He’s had good experiences with the Sipura SPA-2000, an SER server, and asterisk for pbx/vm. Lot i have to learn here.

Sage advice for the day

Via Scott Loftesness, William Safire’s advice on his ending his NYTimes columns — “When you’re through changing, you’re through.”

And John Zagula had a great meeting last week with Sidney Rittenberg“Yes, the twin brothers of viability and contribution. Unless what you are doing is set up and made to be a viable enterprise, it won’t survive. But unless what you are doing makes a real contribution it won’t attract people, won’t stay vibrant and won’t last over the long run”.

Great stuff.

Cloning your MAC address

To take full advantage of the Network Magic beta release (i’m on the board), I decided to upgrade my router/firewall from a sonicwall box I’ve had for 3-4 years to a Linksys gigabit ethernet router (i’ll be switching all my nics to gigabit nics as well — $29 for the cheapest GBE nics at fry’s).

The thing you must must must do — note the mac address of your old router first, because comcast ties your service to a specific mac address. I failed to do this and spent 10 minutes trying to figure out why my net wasn’t working and then noticed that my new linksys box was unable to acquire an address via dhcp. thankfully the linksys box lets you set its mac address to whatever you want, once i made this change, things were happy.

How regular humans will ever figure this out is beyond me. I guess they will call comcast. Why doesn’t comcast make this easy for their customers?

Net innovations I should/would like to learn more about

From the last month or so:

* Mozilla calendar. Calendaring is what keeps our business tied to exchange, sure would like to look at some alternatives. Webdav required here, I have always found webdav to be impossible to set up correctly.
* Johnza finds the latest from 37signals — tada lists. I’m a dedicated user of my blackberry todo list, I’d need this to sync with blackberry
* Tutorial on writing firefox extensions. Looks like a pretty low learning curve, no wonder there are so many.
* 43 things, the latest craze. I created a short list. I don’t really want to spew my personal content all over the web tho, i want these guys to aggregate my list from my own blog.
* the no-follow tag. here’s hoping that mt does a rev that just slams all the right html all over my blog, i don’t want to go fix all this myself.
* Microsoft shuts down passport service. Classic example of trying to force a platform down people’s throats, instead of just creating something of great utility. A very predictable end. Platforms become platforms because they are popular, not because anyone says they are a platform.
* Slashdot on bandwidth enabling 3rd party servicing of pcs in the home and business. I totally believe in this. Pure networks is on the path to this, it is one of the primary reasons we are betting on this space.

FBI computer systems

When I first read last week about the problems with the FBI computer system overhaul, I was pissed at our government. $170M wasted, now another $2M to consultants to figure out why. What waste — and in an important system.

On further reflection, this is such an immature reaction on my part. It is the easy reaction. Today, on inauguration day, I am reminded of JFK’s words — “Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country.”

Our industry should be reaching out to help the FBI. We can’t expect the FBI to be expert at IT, or to be able to necessarily hire or evaluate the best IT staff or consultants. It is not the FBI’s core competency. The FBI needs to solve a really big database problem — I bet there are people at MSFT, Oracle, Google who know something about these problems and could help.

I’m not dying to help the FBI build some huge tracking database for every citizen — but if they have the legal mandate to build something, and are going to build it, I certainly feel like we should help them spend our tax dollars wisely and get a system that does something useful.

Anyway — just a reminder to myself — it is not the government’s job to solve all our problems — it is our responsibility to pitch in and help solve the issues in our society that need solutions or that we are uniquely equipped to help solve.

Coercing features out of comcast

Hey rich has been having trouble getting the new microsoft/moto dvr box from comcast — rich here is my blog entry on that.

Also I ordered a cablecard from comcast today for my new sharp lcdtv — also impossible to find on the comcast website — call the same number as above and ask for a cablecard. they’ll try to talk you out of it but eventually they will cave.

Other random tv links while I’m thinking about:

* Palm sized DLP projector — cool!
* Extremetech’s guide to building your own media center pc
* Steve’s thoughts on the ideal tv-attached box — I’ve personally been sucked into the mac mini mania and have ordered one for this application.

Various business readings

These have intrigued me recently:

* Graphical representation of Apple’s strategy via Gary Turner. Who would of thought 5 years ago that Apple would become oh so relevant again?
* Conversely, Charles Cooper grades Bill Gates via the Seattle PI. Ouch and probably unfair, but an interesting take.
* Kind of long in the tooth now, but analysis of IBM’s PC business sale — it’s all about China. Time to learn chinese.
* Also a bit long in the tooth, but…GM is blogging. Great way to reach out to influentials and build community around products.
* Via Scott Loftesness, good whitepaper on customer economics (pdf).
* Mark Cuban on private social security accounts.

Ignition blog roundup 1/18

* Jobster is hiring — Web Developer, Core Developer, Lead Program Manager, Lead Product Marketing Managers, and Senior Marketing Communications Manager. OK all ignition companies are probably hiring, but phil is the only guy who’s asked me to post about it. Oh and nice press in the PI about jobster today.
* John summarizes recent reviews of the book.
* Martin has a bunch of posts about building a home nas. My counsel — build your own box using Windows or a recent Linux/Samba dist — i’ve had trouble with the appliance boxes that have some older build of samba burnt in.
* Martin and Rich point towards the network magic beta (disclosure — i’m on the board).
* Z-wave vs Zigbee from Martin. Useful for halloween projects.
* Rich has some good htpc info — here on using dothan-based mboard. Me, I just ordered a Mac Mini.
* Rich also has a ton of ipod utility posts — defrag hints, mounting an ipod.

Recent Books

* “The Fermata”:amazon by Nicholson Baker. Reardon recommended this book to me, and I am worried for his soul. Very artfully crafted, very engaging, a nice moral redemption of sorts for the main character. And some interesting early discussion on moral relativity that isn’t ever really fully explored. But…all wrapped up in a story that is so smutty and demeaning that it sinks the book. Maybe that is just my midwestern upbringing. All I know is that I’m embarrassed to have the book on my shelves. I’m not sad I read it, but I won’t pick up another book by Baker.
* “A Coffin for Dmitrios”:amazon by Eric Ambler. What a fine fine tale. My first ambler, a great story of crime and human nature. I find it far more approachable than le carre, and far deeper than the popular crime and suspense novels of today.
* “Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation, Second Edition”:amazon by Briggs et al. A fine reference. A little dated re browser details. Nothing probably to separate this from any other CSS reference, I just needed something reasonable.

Impressions of Duluth

Landed in Duluth at 9pm Saturday. Temperature on the ground: -20 degrees F. Airport has one ticket counter, a handful of gates, and a luggage carousel the size of a small bedroom.

Hey, everyone here sounds like Frances McDormand in Fargo.

Checked in to the brand new Country Inn near the airport. Very pleasant, brand new. A million kids in the hotel — hockey teams in town for a tournament. All running thru the halls in swimsuits to the indoor heated pool and slide — who knew I should bring a swimsuit to Duluth in January?

Watching the local NBC affiliate news was an education all by itself about northern Minnesota. The news anchor and the weatherman both looked to be about 24 — they are the backup team at the station — I guess if you are a new journalism grad, Duluth is the kind of market you can start in. The weather report was all about “how many consecutive hours will the temperature stay below zero”. Record is 160+ as I recall. We’re at 60+ now, the weatherman doesn’t think we’ll break the record.

Sports report — Div III college hockey, Div II college hockey, Div I college hockey, high school hockey, minor league hockey. Oh yeah at the end he mentioned the NFL playoff results.

Down to 24 below overnight. The building popped and cracked all night long — a constant battle between freezing weather and our room heater. And not a gentle popping and cracking — more like the last 30 seconds of a bag of microwave popcorn, all night long.

Sharp lc-37gd4u Aquos LCD TV — first impressions

Just got one of these, in the course of a remodel. What a beast!

One astounding part of this beast is the i/o ports available.

Input: analog coax a, analog coax b, hdmi, dvi + stereo audio, component input 1 + stereo audio, component input 2 + stereo audio, s-video + stereo audio, center channel audio input, 2 I.Link (1394) terminals, digital coax in, a cablecard slot, and a regular pcmcia slot for content on pcmcia storage cards (or any format card or drive with a pcmcia adapter). Oh and an rs-232 control port, and power.

Output: s-video+stereo audio monitor, digital audio, analog coax, stereo speaker terminals, headphone jack, a dc output jack for unspecified future expansion.

I admit I have a perverse desire to hook something to every input and output just to see if the tv melts. The power consumption from a fully provisioned system must be immense.

More realistically I am going to try to get a cablecard out of comcast. I am going to see just what the pcmcia port can handle. And the dvi port is just screaming for a mac mini.

The continuing collision of TVs and PCs

* Sony’s new tv/pc combo — ok is there any reason why every new TV won’t someday have a pc next to it or in it? the cost of a reasonably competent pc core is driving down down down. The new mac mini seems like a great pc to put next to a tv.
* And every TV will be able to deal with multiple inflows of video, internet (bittorrent) plus the proprietary cable/satellite feed. A common UI for these sources would be great…
* For these reasons alone, a dedicated Tivo box is in trouble, but to compound the problems — Directv is going to build it’s own dvr as comcast already has. Poor strategy by Tivo and huge egos at the pipe owners have combined to sound the deathknell, which is really too bad, the Tivo experience is so much better than the Comcast/Microsoft DVR…

Microsoft is clearly making the right bet with Windows MCE (and here’s a great MCE wiki) but not clear to me that WinMCE will be the winning software on the tv computer. It is clear tho that there will be a pc in/next to the tv.

I get excited about vm-enabled polycore computing for entirely different reasons than jon.

Jon Udell points to these great posts about vm-enabled polycore computing. Fascinating stuff. The writers are excited about server-side, datacenter applications. Personally I get way more excited about consumer applications. So not many consumers need to run thousands of vms simultaneously on their machines — but cheap creation of ephemeral vms would be great, the end to spyware and viruses — just give me a new instance of my “known good” vm every time i sit down, and throw it away when i get up — any malware that managed to worm its way into the vm is gone.

Software history trivia from larry and raymond

Love the discussions by raymond and larry about computer browsing and enumeration on windows. i worked on the windows for workgroups team back when all this was first created and deployed — i still remember the day that the microsoft IT staff came flying into my office with their hair on fire because internal betas of windows for workgroups were bringing the whole company net to a grinding halt because of all the broadcasts and enumeration. A good problem to have — wfw was being adopted within the company.

Grey winter days in Seattle make me want to go to one of these places

In the northwest:

* On Vancouver Island, the Aerie or the Wickaninnish Inn. Ok probably cold and grey right now too but would be great in the summer.
* The Stephanie Inn has always been a winner for us. And we love Cannon Beach.
* Further south is the Tu Tu’ Tun, we’ve heard good things about.

Further afield:

* We love Kona Village but we may want to try the other islands. Turtle Bay Hotel looks like a good place to try on Oahu.
* The nice folks at Exclusive Resorts have recommended Miraval, and we’re game to try that…

Judy's Book — Board Meeting

Had our board meeting today. Man I have to say I like our board. Chris (and Ted) from Ackerley Partners are great guys with domain experience that is so different than ours, and very complementary. I admire Jerry Colonna hugely, his openness and honesty on his blog are inspiring. And of courze the management team at Judy’s Book is awesome, Andy and Chris are rock solid. Very inspiring group, very inspiring discussion.