Short Nerd Chief

Archive for October, 2007

Initial Thoughts on Flock

Posted by Fred on October 31, 2007

As I mentioned yesterday, i decided to give the “social browser” Flock another try. The Flock team is still not out with version 1.0, but I installed RC3 to see how the product had improved over the last couple of years. Flock is an attempt to combine the Firefox 2.0 codebase with added features geared toward social media, such as Facebook, YouTube, delicious and blogs. By and large, it does this adequately, although a social networking evangelist like Robert Scoble or Pete Cashmore would be a better test subject than yours truly, who doesn’t use Facebook or post every photo to Flickr. Anyway, first the good…

Sidebar gadgets and gizmos, oh my

I open the sidebar in FF about as often as I did the one in IE5, which is to say almost never. Yes, you can use it for feeds or bookmarks or history, but I almost never do. Flock attempts to turn the sidebar into an asset, not just a bunch of collapsed pixels.

sidebar_icons.png

Each of the small icons on the big tab represents a Flock feature. From here, you can open the My World portal (more on that later), the People Sidebar, the Media Bar, the Feeds Sidebar, the Favorite Sites Sidebar, the Accounts and Services Sidebar, the Web Clipboard Sidebar, the Blog Editor or the Photo Uploader.

my_world.png

The My World portal opens as a default tab in Flock or can be accessed via a button. It combines three of the main subject areas of Flock (links, feeds and media) on a single page. The Favorite Sites column shows links from your Favorites list. When I installed Flock, it imported my FF bookmarks, plus added links for Flock, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, Photobucket, Piczo, delicious, magnolia and Twitter, so this column is a mishmash of bookmarks and social networking services. The Feeds column shows feeds you add via Flock. Right now, it shows only my own blog, which is added automatically when you configure the blog editor. The media column, not shown in the screenshot, contains items (photos, video, etc.) added via the Media Bar.

favorite_sites.png

The Favorite Sites Sidebar serves two purposes. At the top is a sidebar similar to the bookmarks sidebar in FF or the Favorites sidebar in IE7. Flock calls these Local Favorites. At the bottom of the sidebar are Online Favorites. Once you configure a delicious or Magnolia account, online bookmarks appear in the sidebar. This would provide an advantage if you use Flock on multiple computers, as the Online Favorites would be the same on any machine configured for your account. Similar functionality is available in FF, and I prefer to use a bookmarks synchronizer so I don’t have to rely on delicious.

clipboard.png

The Web Clipboard is, in my opinion, the best of the Flock sidebars. You can drag any text, link or media to the sidebar, and it will sit there waiting for you to do something with it. Click on “Blog” and the Flock Blog Editor opens with a new post created including the clipped text, link or media. It’s a boon for bloggers — instead of starring items in Google Reader or leaving a bunch of tabs open, drag interesting links to the Web Clipboard to post about later. There are two downsides to the Clipboard that make it less useful, and which the Flock team should address. First, you can’t always drag a title link from Google Reader to the sidebar. If you do, it sometime just shows up as Google Reader (208) and a link to http://www.google.com/reader/view. At least it did a few times for me. Sometimes it works. Second, it would be nice to be able to clip images and then upload them to a blog instead of hot-linking them. This is slightly less questionable ethically. It’s still probably copyright infringement, but at least you’re not using someone else’s bandwidth to serve the images. You could conceivably work around this by using the Photo Uploader tool and linking to Photobucket in the blog post, but that’s kludgy at best. All in all, though, I like the Web Clipboard.

Media

Flock also has a media bar, which appears between the links bar and the tab bar when opened:

media_bar.png

The Media Bar is set up to handle photo and video streams from Flickr (shown above), Facebook, YouTube, Photobucket and Truveo. All but Facebook come predefined with public streams (most popular, Interestingness, etc.), so you can peruse popular media. You can also add your own streams, and any time Flock discovers embedded media from these services, it offers to add it to the Media Bar. From there, you can tag media for the My World page. Flock also puts a little ribbon over embedded streams that lets you email or blog the video, which is how the football video in my previous post was added. If you hover over a video stream in the Media Bar, you get a little pop-up window to play the video in, such as this one from Truveo:

truveo.png

The Media Bar seems useful if you watch a lot of online video. I don’t, but I can see the attraction.

Blogging Tools

blog_editor.png

As discussed above, Flock’s sidebar(s) and Media Bar provide tools for cataloging, saving and organizing information. Much of this can be turned into blog posts. Once you have a link, image, video or text you want to blog about, you can use the Flock Blog Editor. The Blog Editor opens in a pop-up window instead of a sidebar. The tools it provides are rudimentary compared to a dedicated blogging tool like Ecto or Windows Live Writer or even compared to most blog software like WordPress or Blogger, but most of the basics are covered. It allows you to add tags, and prompts for categories before the post is published (on WordPress; the process is likely different for other systems). I liked the editor, mostly because I had been using the WordPress Press It! bookmarklet, which has one glaring weakness. In its default configuration, the bookmarklet replaces the page you are blogging about with the “create a post” page, so you lose the page you are writing about. You can work around this by middle clicking or reconfigure it by hand, but it’s much better IMO to have the post open in a separate pop-up, particularly as a blog editor doesn’t need a full window. Overall, that’s all pretty good.

My problems with Flock are relatively minor, but annoying, so we’ll use bullets:

  • The interface is cluttered because the browser tries to do so much. Between the tab of sidebar icons and the sidebar and the media bar, it overwhelms. The default Flock theme helps, as it’s a soothing silver and blue, but the clutter takes some getting used to. On the other hand, it’s not clear what if anything the developers can do about it.
  • Flock can’t import FF extensions, so you have to reinstall addons that are useful. If you have a lot, this is a pain. Luckily, most FF extensions work in Flock. It would be nice if there was a way to import extensions when you import bookmarks and browsing history, but that’s probably not possible given the architecture of FF.
  • Flock pops up a lot of notifications as you browse. It tells you when a page contains an RSS feed, when a page contains embedded media and what you can do with the information on the sidebar. This is in addition to the default FF notifications like blocked pop-up windows. You can always turn these off, but they are distracting. And orange.

Overall, I liked Flock, but I don’t see enough that is compelling to cause me to shift from Firefox, especially with FF 3.0 coming out before too long. If you use a lot of social networking services, it would be even more useful.

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This is how we used to play in the backyard

Posted by Fred on October 31, 2007

You’re 61 yards away from the goal line and have time for one play. What do you do? Throw an 11 yard pass and lateral the ball 13 times, of course. I think the QB had the ball three separate times. This play makes the Cal-Stanford play (which featured five measly laterals in 55 yards, none of which traveled 20 yards backwards) look like a Redskins’ counter trey.

via YF vs SF

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Class vs. Crass

Posted by Fred on October 31, 2007

Jon Saracena in USA Today says this week’s Colts vs. Pats game is a matchup pitting class vs. crass.

NFL coaches usually don’t trash and burn a corpse already dead for four quarters. Belichick, in his ubiquitous gray hood, has come to life as the grim reaper of coaches — unflinching and remorseless in the quest for Super Bowl blood.

There’s no mercy rule in pro football. But there should be a wisdom policy: Why would you risk injury to Tom Brady, either to accident or cheap shot, to pile it on? Records? Retribution? Please tell us, Coach Mastermind.

Sunday’s New England-Indianapolis game is a collision of wills, philosophies and, when it comes to coaches, each man’s brand of ethics. Perhaps Tony Dungy can spare some for Bill Belichick because this is a matchup pitting class vs. crass. It’s about gamesmanship, which all good coaches like Dungy deploy, vs. blatant cheating, which is what Belichick practiced for years before the league halted it with a public flogging.

It’s about time Belichick got taken down a notch.  His Pats teams have been good, but not classy.  Most fans don’t care about that, and I’m sure New Englanders would rather have the Pats’ fistful of rings over the Colts’ one. After all, Boston embraced Manny Ramirez and his Hercules pose following the HR that made Game 4 of the ALCS 7-3, while excoriating Kenny Lofton for taking too long to get into the batters box in Game 3.

Did Belichick suddenly learn to coach after his abject failure in Cleveland? Doubtful, but he did learn how to cheat, and he’s carried a whole bunch of grudges for a decade and a half.  Neither is something a class act like Tony Dungy would do.

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Do You Flock?

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

Harry McCracken loves Flock.  I tried Flock out a couple of years ago, back before there was a Facebook or YouTube or Flickr for it to integrate with, and came away unimpressed.  I still don’t do Facebook, but it sounds interesting, so I’m downloading again to see what’s changed.  The pace of development is better than it used to be, but still pretty darn slow.

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New developments for the West Memphis 3

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

pl_cover.jpgBefore the Jena 6, there was the West Memphis 3.  Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley and Damien W. Echols were convicted in Arkansas in 1994 of the brutal murder and mutilation of three eight-year-old boys. Prosecutors portrayed the defendants as black-shirted Satanists who enjoyed heavy-metal music and ritual sacrifice. Defenders say the three were railroaded by overzealous prosecutors and townspeople afraid of their taste in clothes, taste in music (the cover of Metallica’s Master of Puppets was introduced as an exhibit at trial) and general outsiderness. It does seem clear that the “confessions” were suspect at best, particularly that of Misskelley. The case spawned two excellent documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations.

Watching the documentaries, I certainly came away thinking that (a) Echols was severely troubled and ill-served by the school system and local social service infrastructure and (b) the three may have been guilty of something, but the murder case was a pile of stinking monkey feces fueled by the same sort of Heavy Metal Hysteria that blamed Don’t Fear the Reaper for suicide in the 1980s or Marilyn Manson in the 1990s. It seemed inevitable that new evidence would come to light or the system would reconsider, but if anything local opinion became even more firmly entrenched over the next 13 years. Now comes word of a defense filing calling the original case into serious question:

In 1994, three teenagers in the small city of West Memphis, Ark., were convicted of killing three 8-year-old boys in what prosecutors portrayed as a satanic sacrifice involving sexual abuse and genital mutilation. So shocking were the crimes that when the teenagers were led from the courthouse after their arrest, they were met by 200 local residents yelling, “Burn in hell.”

But according to long-awaited new evidence filed by the defense in federal court on Monday, there was no DNA from the three defendants found at the scene, the mutilation was actually the work of animals and at least one person other than the defendants may have been present at the crime scene….There was no physical evidence linking the teenagers, now known as the West Memphis 3, to the crime.

One hopes the barely luminescent glow off in the distance is the light at the end of the tunnel for these boys, but it seems unlikely that anyone but the court can save them now. Luckily, Echols sits on death row still, so if they are to be freed it’s not too late.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia Hit & Run

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Girardi agrees to manage Yankees

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

Let us all now have a moment of silence for Joe Girardi, your newest Steinbrenner minion.  Girardi joins a long tradition of ex-Yankee players turned managers, although it hasn’t always worked out for the best (of the previous 19, only 11 left with winning records, with Joe McCarthy and Billy Martin the standouts).  Girardi will have his work cut out for him.  Unlike Torre, Girardi enters with heightened expectations.  It’s easy to forget, but the Yankees prior to Torre were in a definite down state. They won 79 games and made the playoffs in Buck Showalter’s final year, but before that, they won the World Series twice since 1962 and hadn’t sniffed the postseason since 1981 (and were Octoberless entirely from both 1981-1995 and 1964-1976).  The run under Torre made Yankees fans think the Stengel years were here again, and Steinbrenner is certainly unlikely to support a rebuilding process.

But rebuilding, not reloading, is what Girardi may face.  The Red Sox just won their second championship in four years with a $143 million payroll, so Joe G. won’t have the luxury Torre did of winning the division with 92 wins (in 1996) or with the fifth-best record in the AL (in 2000).  His best hitter just opted out of his contract, and his catcher and closer are free agents who may be gone as well. There are some fresh young arms to put into the rotation, but 60% of last year’s starters are over age 35.  The AL is also stocked with good teams that don’t play at Fenway.  Cleveland tied Boston for the best record in the majors in 2007, and returns essentially the entire roster for 2008.  Detroit already filled one hole by trading for Edgar Renteria and moving Carlos Guillen to 1B.  The Angels were considered by many to be a better team than any of them if healthy, and may be poised to sign A-Rod (I’d bet the cross-town Dodgers are more likely, however).  Girardi has his work cut out for him.

Girardi is a good guy and a former manager of the year.  Steinbrenner will spend what it takes to compete.  But Girardi couldn’t work with Jeffrey Luria, and there’s no telling whether he’ll get along with his new bosses.  Mattingly may be the real winner here – go with Torre to LA, get the Dodgers back to the playoffs (improving on the Grady Little years in a tepid NL West should be manageable), then take over when Torre retires.

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Man teased for big, stupid tattoo of fake, dead gay guy

Posted by Fred on October 30, 2007

dumbledore_tat.jpgDon’t spend a year getting a 2 foot tattoo of a fictional character if it’s going to bother you if said fictional character turns out to be gay and in love with another fictional character

“When I walked in, one of the lads said, ‘Oi, Paul – heard about Dumbledore?’“There were wisecracks about ‘Watch your backs, lads.’ Someone asked me if I was planning to get a tattoo of Graham Norton. I thought, ‘Why me?’ ”

The huge £500 tattoo shows Dumbledore holding a scroll bearing the names of his Harry Potter mad children – Charlotte, Deanna, Brandon, Tamzin and Paris.

Paul said: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Given that the tattoo took a year to create, one presumably can’t blame the beer. One does wonder, however, what they guy thought he would do ten years from now, when Dumbledore wouldn’t exactly be fresh. One also hopes the dude had some alcohol handy whilst reading the portions of the final book when it looked like D might not turn out to be such a good wizard (of course anyone who thought this idea was a good one probably doesn’t read much). Better to be gay than dark.

ico_shoutbox.gifvia Hit & Run

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Hulu, or Who Knew it Would Be So Useless

Posted by Fred on October 29, 2007

hululogo.jpg

The news embargo on Hulu has lifted, so a bunch of tech journalists who haven’t actually used the service are posting pre-reviews of the fledgling video site based on demos NBC showed them and some press releases.

Kara Swisher, for example, who has been deservedly critical of the service, now says that:

From a demo (here are some screen shots of pages) I was given Friday by Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, the boyish former Amazon exec who seems to have learned to swim well with the Hollywood sharks, I am impressed thus far.

I will, of course, reserve judgment until I get to test-drive it for a while, but in concept and tone and aims–that is, more open than I ever expected the service to be–it is off to a good start. (Actual reviews of these sites I will leave to Walt Mossberg.)

If you’ve forgotten what Hulu is, other than another stupid quasi-Hawaiian name reminiscent of Mahalo, recall that NBC got irritated with Apple for its pricing inflexibility (it now appears that NBC wanted to charge $2.99 per episode for Heroes to see what would happen, and Apple said no thanks, competition should drive prices down, not up), and teamed with Fox to form Hulu, which will offer streams of current TV programming and some movies. It thus is an attempt to compete with (a) the iTunes Music Store per-episode download service, (b) YouTube, (c) illegal BitTorrent downloads, (d) the network’s own websites, (e) Amazon’s Unbox and other movie download services, (f) DVRs, (g) DVD sets and a bunch of other stuff besides. In reality, the big dogs are YouTube and iTMS. Hulu will offer a dozen movies to start and the most recent five episodes of current network programs (delayed by at least a day to protect their original airings and give you a chance to skip the ads on your TiVo box). It will be an ad-supported service, but the precise nature of the ads is up in the air. Given that this is NBC, expect at least some ads to be in-stream and unskippable. They just can’t help themselves.

The service hasn’t even launched yet, but the restrictions seem clear (despite what Kara says, it is not open, at least not compared to other non-Hollywood offerings). No user-generated content (no big loss, in my opinion), no downloads, no desktop player, no mobile access, no real-time or close to real-time access, no proper archive of content. You get five episodes of Heroes, which you can watch in a Flash player via a browser or embed in a website so other people can stream it in a Flash player via a browser. You’ll be able to recommend clips or make quasi-mashup highlight reels.

The TV networks are sitting on a treasure trove of content, but they’re just too paranoid to release it into the wilds of the internet. Just think of what Hulu could be if the networks grabbed that brass ring:

  • The archive.org of the TV generation. Sixty years or more of programming, available on demand. Want to see the Vitameatavegamin episode of I Love Lucy? Stream it on demand, or download it for a buck or two. Stick some ads in the free stream or plaster them on the website to get cash for the non-downloaded content.
  • Mashup central. People love best-of clipfests – where would VH1 be without the commentary-laden clipfest? Release downloadable clips of content and let people mash them, combine them, snark all over them. Then let them upload their creations to Hulu, highlight the best of the bunch. If they’re really good, stick them on real TV and come full circle.
  • Compete with the iTMS. This means really compete, offer-an-alternative-like-Amazon compete. iTMS shows are laden with DRM, play only on Apple TV, iPhone or an iPod and cost too much. Provide DRM-free downloads for a buck that can play on anything that plays video, or offer Hi-def downloads for a reasonable price increase. Get creative with pricing, but that doesn’t just mean “charge more for popular stuff.”
  • Replace the DVR and/or DVD box set. This is covered above in a way, but offer a high-quality stream in real-time. That way, I can start watching Heroes at 8:12 on a Monday if I don’t get home in time. Include ads if you want, but let me skip them. It has to be no worse an experience than I get by paying 10 bucks a month to Comcast. You can also bypass the plastic discs for catching up on past seasons. I caught on to Friday Night Lights late and bought the DVD set. Why? Let me download season one and watch it on the PC or stream to the TV via a media server. I don’t need the discs and won’t have time for the extra features.

Hulu, of course, does none of these things. NBC and its partners are too afraid of cannibalizing other channels, too afraid of alienating advertisers, too afraid of P2P and BitTorrent and the internet. Hulu could kill the iTMS, but this version of Hulu won’t. I generally agree with Marshall Kilpatrick:

No user generated content (not even best-of), no desktop player or download of material (it’s all in a Flash player) and very little viewer interaction is enabled. Viewers are allowed to select which section of the precious Hollywood content they are most in love with, that section or the whole video can then be shared with a friend or embedded on a website. This is just a multi-partner content deal with paltry technology behind it and a whole lot of money for marketing. Nothing innovative to get excited about.

Marshall wants social elements, too, but I’m a misanthrope who doesn’t care to be your friend on Facebook or otherwise, so making the solo viewing experience first-class is more important. But Hulu isn’t social, isn’t first-class, and won’t shake anything up. It’s just another half-baked service with a lot of marketing and a stupid name.

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Bring on the Football (and thank Jesus for salary caps)

Posted by Fred on October 29, 2007

Thank God that’s over. So the Red Sox won another World Series, and now we have to endure another off-season of prattle about “Red Sox Nation”. Want to know why the Sox are so annoying and why I hate them so much?  Here’s one reason, courtesy of Jayson Stark:

It’s never an easy thing to comprehend when the universe changes before your eyes.

You’re never sure why. You’re never sure how. And normally, you’re never sure when. But if anyone asks, you can tell them you saw it all unfold on the last Sunday night in October, in a scenic Colorado ballpark nestled between the mountain peaks. You didn’t just see the Boston Red Sox win the World Series. You didn’t just see the Red Sox sweep the World Series. You saw something bigger, something deeper, something historic.

Give it a rest, ESPN.  I know you practically collectively wet yourself with relief that there wouldn’t be another Yankee and Red Sox-less World Series this year, but there is absolutely nothing historic about this.  No, this is just your average, run-of-the-mill “$143 million team beats a $54 million team” story.  What would have been historic is the Indians winning one of the elimination games, thus creating a Series of teams with reasonable payrolls.  What would have been historic would have been the Rockies making a Series of it, rather than getting swept they way everybody should have known they were going to get swept.  And spare us all the talk about Pedroia, Lowell, Papelbon and Ellsbury proving that it wasn’t just money that got the trophy to Boston.  Together, Ortiz, Ramirez, Schilling and Veritek make more than the entire Rockies roster.  You think the Sox win the Series without those four? No chance. You think the Indians have a chance in 2009 when Boston or New York swoop in and offer Sabathia $15 million? Also no chance.

There is now no difference between the Red Sox and the Yankees except that Red Sox fans are far more annoying, with their references to the Red Sox Nation and their continuing attempts to see themselves as the underdog, rather than the bully that hops in Daddy’s BMW to drive to the club after shoving the geek in a locker.

A little bitter? You bet.  I’ve always disliked the Red Sox a little, probably dating to the days of watching Jim Rice beat up the Tribe at Municipal Stadium, but the Sox were always better than the Yankees.  They had players you could like – give me Yaz and Boggs over Reggie Jackson any day of the week.  But the fans have ruined it.  Unless I’m missing something, Richmond is not an outpost for New England emigres.  There should be no natural fan base for the Red Sox here (the Nationals or Orioles, maybe, or perhaps the Braves, given out Southern affinity and the AAA franchise), but the streets are full of blue caps with red Bs. You can buy Red Sox gear at the local stores. That means only one thing: a local sub-tribe of front-running yahoos from Red Sox Nation, who’d be Yankee fans if this was 1999.  Maybe they’d be sporting Joe Carter jerseys if this was 1993.

So hurray for you, Boston. Enjoy your hard-fought championship, the biggest accomplishment of which was John Henry shoving piles of cash out of the way in order to get to his checkbook.  You’ll probably get another one next year, kicking a few more $60 million weaklings out of the way in the process.

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Holiday Spam, in German

Posted by Fred on October 26, 2007

German spam looks funny. This is a message in my Gmail spam folder.

treespam1.png

I don’t speak German, but that sure looks like an offer to sell Christmas trees, which is a first in my experience.

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