Morning Coffee 155 – Dueling Conference Edition

  • If you don’t want to watch the video of yesterday’s MIX keynote but still want a sense of what happened, check out Tim Sneath’s keynote liveblog. (via Sam Gentile)
  • Other announcements from Mix day one keynote that I missed (all via Tim Sneath)
  • Quick side note – Installing Silverlight 2 in order to check out the DeepZoom Hard Rock demo was smooth, fast and easy. It’s hard to believe there’s a whole CLR in there.
  • Now on to public stuff I saw @ TechFest:
    • One of the problems with touch screens is that your fingers obscure what you’re trying to touch. Lucid Touch solves this by having you touch the back of the device, while rendering a virtual shadow of your hand – a technique they call “pseudo transparency”. You really need to watch the video to “get” this. It’s not currently feasible – the prototype uses a webcam on a foot long boom to track hand and finger position. However, they expect a future version will have some type of imaging sensors embedded in the body of the device.
    • The Berkeley Emulation Engine version 3 (aka BEE3) (video) is a high powered hardware simulator. Apparently several orders of magnitudes faster than conventional simulation. Frankly, most of this demo was over my head and I’m not really a HW guy. But it sounds really fast.
    • BLEWS or “what the blogosphere tells you about news”. Given my interest in political blogging, it’s not a surprise I was interested in this project. This tool categorizes news stories according to their reception in the political blogosphere. It provides a visualization showing not only how many links from a given ideological sphere there are, but how strong the emotions are running. Kinda like Memorandum on major steroids.
    • Music Steering (video) is an “interactive music-playlist generation through music-content analysis, music recommendation, and music filtering”. Sort of like LastFM + Pandora on your Zune.
    • In-Depth Image Editing (team site) showed some cool photo editing software that reminding me of Microsoft Max.
    • MashupOS (paper) is a set of abstractions to improve the browser security model, allowing for isolation between blocks of code from different sources while still allowing safe forms of communication.
    • MySong (paper, video) “automatically chooses chords to accompany a vocal melody, allowing a user with no musical training to rapidly create accompanied music”. Karaoke singers rejoice! Actually, it’s pretty cool. You can adjust sliders to adjust characteristics of the generated music like “Jazz factor” and “Happy factor”. Actually, I just want a happy factor slider in all my software.
    • I saw some cool projects from the Socio-Digital Systems group and MS Research. My wife is a sociologist and always says there’s no way she could ever get a job in the big house. Maybe after she checks out this team, she’ll stop thinking that.
    • The Worldwide Telescope booth was so crowded that I couldn’t get anywhere near it. From what I could see from standing in the back, it looked fantastic. It’s not live yet, but you can check out the video from the TED conference to get a sense of it.

Wired for Sound

One of the cool things about my house is that it has built in speakers in four rooms and the back deck. Shortly after we first moved in two years ago, we had a combination house warming and Rileyanne’s christening party. As you might expect, one of the top priorities for said party was music, so I hooked up both my main surround sound receiver plus an old receiver I’ve had forever and we had tunes pumping everywhere except the dining room (which no one was in anyway).

Then, sometime this past winter, I got tired of NOT having surround sound for my HDTV so I redid the sound system. You might be surprised that it took me over a year to get to that, but remember the part about above about “Rileyanne’s christening”? I had other priorities. Anyway, I hooked up the surround sound, including the set of built-in rear speakers in the TV room, and banished the old receiver back to the garage.

Now, it’s summer again. We spend lots of time outside and on the back deck, but now sans tunes. So I’m re-configuring the sound system again, this time so I can get both surround sound and music in the house. Given that it’s a fairly custom speaker setup, I don’t think there’s an affordable off-the-shelf solution that works for this house.

In the long run, I’m thinking of building a custom amplifier that can drive four sets of speakers (one of the sets in the house is the back surround sound speakers, so they’re already taken care of) plus some type of UPnP AV client device. Gainclone chip amplifiers look fairly simple to build – three resistors, two capacitors and the chip itself times eight + a power supply. As for the AV client, I haven’t really investigated yet, but whatever solution I go with has to have high WAF (aka Wife Acceptance Factor).

Of course, building a custom amplifier takes time, so I figured in the short run I’d dust off the old banished receiver and use it to drive two sets of speakers. I also have an old laptop with a bad battery circuit. It can’t roam, but it can sit there by the TV and pull music off my loft computer and play feed it into said old receiver just fine. It’s not a high WAF solution, but it’s something I could put together with parts I had at home + one 1/8″ to RCA cable from Radio Shack. I figured I could get this up and running over the weekend. Almost, but not quite.

I hit one snag with WMP 11 for XP. My office machine and my laptop are both running Vista. All my music is on my office machine, but I use WMP 11′s media sharing capabilities (previously known as Windows Media Connect) to make that media available on my Xbox. I figured I could do the same with the old laptop, using WMP 11 as the AV client. Being an old laptop it can’t run Vista so I installed a fresh copy of XP instead. However, while WMP 11 XP can share media, it can’t consume shared media the way WMP 11 Vista can. Best laid plans and all that.

The workaround is to expose the media via file sharing. Simple enough, except now you have to make sure the security is correctly configured between the two machines. Since it’s a single function device, I hadn’t bothered to set up a password for the default user. Now, in order to access files off the network, I guess I’ll have to.

Once I fix this little file sharing and security problem, I think I’m going to start by looking for a better AV client solution. I know I need a custom amplifier if I want to drive all my speakers, but with my old amp I get music in the kitchen and on the back deck which is where we want it most. On the other hand, the AV Client is the main user experience, so perhaps I should pay it more attention. I’d love to have a solution that is drivable on the TV via the remote while also isn’t built on a seven year old slightly busted laptop.

Any suggestions?

Morning Coffee 83

My Wife, YouTube, MySpace and All Day Sucker

My wife was poking around on YouTube and found two videos she wanted to show me. The first was a music video from a band called okgo where they dance on treadmills. Interesting for about 60 seconds. Unfortunately, the video is three minutes long. Still, it is currently #8 on YouTube’s Most Watched All Time list. The other was a much funnier video called Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV (sung to the tune of Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree). The song is by the Asylum Street Spankers and the video was produced by Devil’s Night Productions.

Among Devil’s Night’s other work is an almost unknown movie called Matters of Consequence that stared Morty Coyle. Morty fronts a band called All Day Sucker, which was born out of the ashes of a band called THE iMPOSTERS. Back when I lived in LA, I used to go see THE iMPOSTERS pretty much whenever they played. This must have been the second half of 1996, when I was dealing with a massively broken heart. They had a regular gig every week, though I forget the name of the place. But I was there, pretty much every week. I used to carry Morty around the club on my shoulders during the harmonica solo of Rational Anthem. Wow, was that really 10 years ago?

Anyway, you check out a few songs from of All Day Sucker on their MySpace page. Some of the songs – Heavy Weather and Rub It In – date back to the iMPOSTERS days. Their album is available from CD Baby and from Zune, Rhapsody and iTunes. (No direct link for artists on Zune?) Check them out.

It’s amazing how small the world seems when you run across old friends online like this. Especially when the recent wind storm and power outage two weeks ago served as such a rude reminder of just how big the world really is, regardless of how it seems.

More on XSFP

Lucas Gonze left me a comment indicating they had in fact investigated using RSS for XSFP instead of starting from scratch. Good to know they considered the possibility. Unfortunately, it looks like they were using RSS 1.0 so it has all the extra RDF stuff which really hasn’t caught on. The document doesn’t really go into the reasons they chose to go a different way, though Lucas does say the following:

RSS didn’t make sense for a lot of reasons. We were paving cowpaths, and RSS for playlists was very much not a cowpath. Playlists are about sequence, while RSS has no concept of sequence except reverse chronological order. We needed abstractions to deal with the fact that music and movies frequently don’t have URLs, and RSS didn’t have them. If not starting from scratch was critical, HTML preceded RSS and would be the default to work from.

I’m not sure I get Lucas’ point about sequence. Both RSS and XSFP have sequence. Sure, RSS is typically describing web site content, thus it’s a reverse chronological order. But the RSS spec doesn’t mandate and specific meaning to the items in the feed. In fact, the items typically have a pubDate element making the order in the feed somewhat irrelevant. According to the spec, XSFP uses the order of the tracks in the file as the implicit playback order. Why that wouldn’t work with RSS is a mystery to me.

As for the “needed abstractions” missing from RSS, I’d be curious to know what those are and why they couldn’t be added via RSS extensions.

Lucas, please don’t take these comments as criticisms. I’m new in this space and I’m trying to get my head around stuff. Furthermore, if the success of RSS proves anything, it’s that number of users matters a lot more than the perceived technical merit of a given approach.