Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Blog SLOWDOWN!

Well, loyal readers, I have strongly considered shuttering Underground Media. But, for some reason, I just can't hit the delete button. I will leave it up and accessible indefinitely, and perhaps I will occasionally post something. But for now, consider this blog CLOSED. Too many things to do, and too few hours in the day to get them done...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why can't Apple share the toys with ALL the kids?

Apple doesn't like to share.

From the article:

"The latest iTunes update, version 8.2.1, may offer up a few bug fixes, but its real purpose is to prevent the Palm Pre from syncing with iTunes. The move isn't a surprise. Last month, Apple warned that future versions of iTunes probably wouldn't support syncing with non-Apple media players."

Not supporting is one thing, but updating your software to BREAK that functionality is plain-old mean-spirited. But there are some workarounds. Again, from the article:

"So what's a Palm Pre user to do? The easiest option is to avoid upgrading to iTunes version 8.2.1, since the sync feature should still work with older versions of iTunes.

Another option is to trying a third-party app like Salling Media Sync, a utility that synchronizes iTunes playlists, music, and podcasts with your mobile device, and it's free for basic use."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Napster: Reloaded

In the beginning, there was Old Napster. It was 1999, broadband was new, and music-swapping had just EXPLODED onto the scene via a peer-to-peer application invented by a college student who coined it's name based on his kinky hair (don't get me started). Those were the good ole days. Search for a song, click on it, download, and listen. If your online life began after 2001, this music model should still sound familiar? It is identical to iTunes. Except that your wallet ends up $0.99 lighter for each click these days. But clearly with the popularity of iTunes and other online music stores, this is how the public wants to consume music. Think for a moment if iTunes had come to market in 1998, BEFORE Napster? In any case, it did not. And instead of innovating, the music industry branded it's customers as thieves and shut down Old Napster in the summer of 2001.

But this was not the end of Napster. The brand name was so strong that it re-emerged a few years ago as a legitimate music store. And with distribution rights from three of the Big Four music companies, Napster had a decent catalog. But it still lagged behind iTunes and Rhapsody, and new competitors like Amazon and Walmart. Last year, electronics retailer Best Buy purchased Napster and slowly transformed its identity. Last month, the new and improved Napster finally re-opened its online doors.



And I have to say that I'm seriously impressed! The highlight of their new service is on-demand streaming; all you can eat for only $5/month. I am fully aware that streaming music is worthless to those of you who currently who use iPods and other MP3 players. I happen to have a home-theater PC, so streaming Napster throughout my home on my 5.1 surround-sound system is actually a perfect solution, but I recognize the limitations of not being able to take the music with me on the road. Streaming music ties you to a PC, and PC's are old-school. But I would also argue that iPods and MP3 players are old-school. The new hotness is smart mobile phones with unlimited data plans. IPhones and Blackberries can currently stream music from recommendation services like Pandora and Slacker. And by this fall, the full range of web-music services like Napster will be available on most smartphones via a new mobile phone browser called Skyfire. In short, I will soon be able to listen to any of Napster's song catalog on-demand from ANY location where I can get a mobile phone signal. For only $5/month!!! This is GAME-CHANGING for music lovers!

Now, a few caveats. Napster's catalog is not nearly as complete as iTunes or even Amazon. Some albums and artists simply aren't available. While others only have 30-second previews of certain tracks loaded, rather than the entire song. This was certainly a sticking point for me, but the value for $5/month (I keep coming back to that) is still overwhelming. Most of the music that I was looking for was available for streaming and within a couple of minutes of signing up I was listening to Aesop Rock, Akrobatik, Atmosphere, Blackalicious, Mos Def, MURS, Tame One, as well as many more of my favorites. I should also give full disclosure: I have a business relationship with a subsidiary of Napster's parent company. That being said, just trust me! The new Napster is awesome and you should try it! If it wasn't, I would simply be silent since whether Napster is successful or not does not directly affect my business relationships. Try it, and let me know what you think!

Monday, May 18, 2009

CHROMIUM!

The browser wars are in full swing again, and Firefox (the current media darling) better watch out! Google's new browser, Chrome, is bringin the HEAT! Small footprint, fast, and intuitive, but thus far, no Linux version. And that's a dealbreaker for me. Until recently...

Chrome's underlying architecture is called Chromium, and it's open source. So while Google has been dragging it's feet and appeasing the Windows masses, the Chromium team has been hard at work developing a Linux version of the browser. It's in pre-alpha right now, so a lot of it is still non-functional. And they don't want people to blog about it yet, so I will not provide a link. But the current Linux version is very fast and stable, although there are no functional plugins like Flash. Watch this space for news!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Head to your basement! There's a Tonido warning!

It just hit me today as I was updating my Facebook page. My boss (actually, my boss's boss) requested Facebook friendship. Hmmm, this could be tricky. Ordinarily I am okay some work-life/personal-life convergence in the online world. Many of my employees and peers are Facebook friends, but this would be the first time that someone I *reported to* would have that level of access. Switching into paranoia-mode, I gave my profile a hard look through the eyes of an employer. Starting with my profile pic, I ended up spending the better part of an hour scrubbing my entire profile by untagging pictures, re-wording descriptions, and resetting some of my privacy settings. Did you know that unless you adjust them, Facebook defaults to a fairly loose set of privacy settings? And those settings allow Facebook to pipeline some interesting information out to internet search engines. For instance, I did a simple Google search of my full name. In the first page of results, I found a link to my Facebook profile. Not the profile that I or my friends see, but the profile that any person with a web browser and my name can see. And do you know what's on this publicly searchable profile? My name, current city I live in, the names of seven of my friends (complete with their profile pics), and my favorite movies, music, and TV Shows. Concerned? I was. It also dawned on me just how much of my friends information was accessible to other friends. Looking through the "employer" lens, I could be put in an uncomfortable position if my friends chose Facebook as a forum to air political opinions, religious views, or just crude humor (which they frequently do). In fact, I honestly began to question whether I wanted my boss to know so many intimate details about my life. Or forget my boss for a minute. Of my 300+ "friends", how many were actual friends that I wanted connected so closely to the most intimate details of my life? Going through my friend list, it suddenly struck me that I have elementary, junior-high, highschool, and college school mates, past and present day business associates, old girfriends, non-work or school related friends, friends of friends, acquantainces, employees, work-peers, my wife and now my boss, ALL IN THE SAME PLACE, with access to all of my personal information, and the ability to communicate with each other! Never at any time in human history has something like this existed, and much like any other technological advancement, there are negatives that go along with every positive. And right now the privacy issue is bugging the CRAP out of me!

Luckily, there are some things you can do to protect yourself while still taking advantage of the benefits of Facebook. Start with the 10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know. Read 'em. It changed my online life. But what if you'd rather not expose yourself at all. I have two friends that absolutely will not go near Facebook or Myspace because they don't want to have to deal with the constant vigilance of maintaining an online presence. And they've also decided that they don't like entrusting 3rd party websites like Facebook with family photos, writings and such. But what's a paranoid netizen to do if you want to SAFELY and RESPONSIBLY share photos, music, or thoughts with your friends and family? Answer: TONIDO

Tonido is a web application that has anwered an unasked question. For the past three or so years, people have simply used Google, Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr while either holding their nose or ignoring the privacy and content ownership issues. Tonido looks to change all that by flipping the script. You become YOUR OWN Facebook or Flickr, with total control over your content and who has access to it. How? Let me put it in non-geek terms:

You download and install the thing on your desktop computer at home. The one that you hopefully leave powered on, connected to the intenet, and keep all of your photos and music on. All major platforms (Mac, Windows, and Linux) are supported. Next, create a profile and adjust a few settings. And done. Now, open a web browser and connect to your personal Tonido address. Usually something like http://myuser.tonidoid.com:10001. Log in, and you're good to go. You are now connected to the content on *your* harddrive: all of your music, photos, calendar, personal files, blog entries, etc. are all there and accessible through the mini-applications that Tonido has integrated. And each application lets you add guest users. So if you want your Aunt to see your wedding photos, all you need to do is add her as a user, and then send her your Tonido web address and her personal sign-on. Or create a single common username for your entire family. The point is that YOU decide who has access, and all the content stays on YOUR harddrive!

For me, the KILLER application is Tonido Music. I can connect from ANYWHERE and stream my own music like a personal radio station. Although Tonido is a beta-testing application right now, when they actually release a finished version with a mobile phone interface, it will be the final nail in the coffin for the iPod/mp3-player market. Instead of carrying all your music around on your iPod and synching it with iTunes, you will be able to stream all of it across your phone's data connection. This is a REVOLUTIONARY concept given that 4G data coverage(or WiMax) is rolling live in Baltimore right now and is about to hit Atlanta later this year. 4G will provide high-speed data (similar to speeds you get at home with cable or DSL) to an entire city. Right now, you either use wi-fi hotspots which are very small, or 3G cell phone data coverage which can be slow and often has dead zones. With 4G, you get the best of both worlds with coverage over the entire city. That means no interruptions as you are listening to that podcast on the train to work, steamed directly from your OWN computer at home!

I wish I could show you Tonido in action, but I don't really have a video or screencast. But here are some screenshots to show you what it looks like. Check it out!!!





Saturday, May 2, 2009

Boxee's getting GOOOOOOOD!

In my never-ending quest for the perfect media center app for my HTPC, I have been using the three best available for Linux today. The mighty and reliable MythTV, the stealthy and below-the-radar Elisa, and the wildly popular yet volatile Boxee.

Here's my setup: I'm currently using an Acer Aspire 5610 laptop (about 2 years old with the standard Intel graphics, 2 GB of RAM, HDA audio, VGA-out), 42" Insignia LCD HDTV, Yamaha receiver w/ 5.1 surround, and a Microsoft Media Center Edition remote control.

Here's what I need: A one-stop solution that will let me watch Hulu, watch TV and movies saved on my harddrive, listen to music saved on my harddrive, listen to internet radio, and browse photos saved online and on my harddrive.

Here's my experience so far:

MythTV has been my most reliable solution. For over three years it has been THE default Linux media center. (Although it's been around for seven years, it really began life as a TV capture and DVR application. It's full media center capabilities came later.) If you use Ubunutu or any of the variants (like Mint, for instance), installing Myth is a snap. Configuring takes about 30 minutes, and soon you're flipping between shoutcast radio, Apple movie trailers, and saved TV shows. The UI is VERY plain menu structures, but quite intuitive and easy-to-use. And it has a plugin architecture that allows additional functionality to be added. Myth is SUPER stable, well-documented, and has an EXTENSIVE support community. However, for me the killer-feature (broadcast TV capture and playback) is of zero value. This giant Insignia TV is nothing more than a fancy computer monitor; no cable, satellite, or rabbit-ears allowed. The killer-feature that I am looking for is Hulu. And as yet, Myth does not support Hulu. Too bad as Myth is really an awesome media center solution. It uses 2D menus, which means that even the slowest of PC's will be able to run it.

Elisa.... What can be said. Elisa was supposed to bring the revolution. But the SLOW development cycle has left it in the dust. Maybe slow development cycle is not the correct phrase. They release quite frequently, actually. But nothing seems to get better! I STILL can't use my remote control! Also, no Hulu support. In reality, I haven't even looked cross-eyed at Elisa for about two months. Maybe I should give it another try, but now that I have Boxee...

Boxee, as I've discussed in previous posts, is the hellspawn of the XBox Media Center (XBMC). Similar core and UI. But Boxee has thrown in a whole lot of new bells and whistles. In short, it does EVERYTHING I need, and then some. Easy install, zero-setup, intuitive UI, and no issues with my remote control. To date, however, there were two critical issues keeping me from using it consistently. First, it's totally an Alpha-stage project right now. So stability has been all over the board. Random crashes, audio glitches, etc. And second, about four or five months ago, Hulu formally "requested" that Boxee remove direct access to it's content. I think the theory was this: Boxee was making it WAY too easy for tech-heads to watch Hulu in their living rooms. So much so, that the studios began to think that Hulu-viewing was spreading beyond geeks to normal folk, and thus cutting into actual broadcast TV viewership. So, the message came down to Hulu from the studios: "Cut off Boxee, or else. Don't forget where your bread gets buttered." And I'm sure the "request" to Boxee was a veiled threat. Sure they asked Boxee to volutarily comply, but the manner in which Boxee accessed Hulu servers ensured that Hulu could identify and disconnect that access should Boxee choose to continue. Thus, Boxee shutdown Hulu. Until now. The latest version of Boxee is stable (mostly), and has restored Hulu access. And those clever bastards have ensured that Hulu can't identify Boxee users by integrating a firefox browser into the UI. INGENIOUS! I've been Boxee'ing for the last 24 hours straight!!! Try it for yourself! If you've got an HTPC, you'll never go back to anything else.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Evolutionary Television Part 2 - The Studios Strike Back!

So remember how I was telling you all that stuff about the TV studios embracing Hulu (Fox and NBC sponsored the project), and how they had learned from the music industry's crippling Napster debacle? Well, that's only partially true. After a BANNER year, Hulu seems like it's becoming a victim of it's own success. Sometimes it seems like the site is overloaded, and even when using a fast internet connection, shows tend to "hang" for a few seconds while the stream from Hulu's servers catches up. Worse than that, the TV studios have somehow gotten it into their heads that they are losing some of their traditional TV viewers to Hulu. The reason they view this as a "bad thing" all boils down to one simple factor: advertising. Traditional TV advertising is literally the fuel for your favorite shows. Put simply, without commercials there would be no TV programming (PBS and Public Access aside). That is simply the American model. The Brits pay a TV tax and they get the BBC (which happily streams it's programming online to UK citizens), while we Americans rely on advertisers like Budweiser and Pfizer to interrupt our TV shows five times an hour with ads for beer and viagra. Unfortunately, the only advertiser that seems interested in buying time on Hulu is the Ad Council preaching about reckless teen driving. Mainstream advertisers just don't believe that it's worth the investment to buy online commercials. It's the same reason why newspapers can't seem to figure out how to make any money online. So, as Hulu has become more popular, the studios have gotten panicky about their content. Lately, whole seasons of shows have started to disappear from Hulu in the run-up to their release on DVD. It has quickly become clear that if masses of people begin to use Hulu as an alternative to traditional television, and TV studios can't monetize that audience, you can bet that Hulu's programming will dry up. But Hulu's audience will only grow so much, right? Only geeks like watching TV via the internet. Hulu will max itself out on the early-adopter crowd and then plateau out. Even if you plug your PC into a big-screen HDTV, who wants to click around with the mouse inside of a 42" giant web browser? Only geeks, right?

A few months ago, a few of these more progressive-minded geeks got together and created (I use that term rather loosely) an application called Boxee. All you needed to do was load Boxee onto an ordinary PC or Laptop, plug it into your big screen TV, and VOILA! You had yourself a set-top box that streamed internet TV. Plug in a remote control, and you didn't even need to get up from the couch! Boxee brought Hulu to the masses. It is an entertainment center platform allowing users to pipe internet radio, Picasa and Flikr photo-albums, and local hard drive content directly to their TV's for easy and intuitive browsing with their remote control. But the KILLER application was always Hulu. Literally, you could sit down on the couch, turn on the TV, select a show with your remote, and be watching the latest episode of The Daily Show in under 90 seconds. But you don't have to take my word for it:


quick intro to boxee from boxee on Vimeo.

Alas, it was too good to last.

A couple of months ago, the studios began to notice that Hulu was exploding in popularity, much faster than SNL Tina Fey clips could account for. It didn't take them long to figure out that Boxee adoption was the culprit. The studios delivered a swift and stern message to Hulu. "Pull your content from Boxee, or else." And about 30 days ago, Hulu did precisely that. Or rather, they ordered Boxee to quit pipelining their content. And Boxee complied, outraging their community of users. Today, a new version of Boxee is about to drop, and rumor has it that Hulu content is back in, although Hulu won't be able to officially verify that users are watching their content from within Boxee or within a regular web browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer. In the coming weeks, we'll see how Hulu responds. I hope they realize that Boxee is simply giving internet TV viewers what they want (a fast, intuitive interface), but maybe that's too much to ask for.

In the meantime, while the TV studios slug it out with the people who are trying to innovate on their behalf (the irony is killing me), the underground scene is JUMPING with Hulu competitors! I watched the Superbowl over on Justin.tv (with live chat!), and the NCAA Final Four on Ustream.tv. Those same sites, as well as one of my new favorites Joox.net, also have movie and TV channels that loop whole seasons worth of content. It may not be on-demand, but it's still pretty cool! But wait, there's more! Check out the full list of Hulu alternatives, carefully compiled and reviewed by the good people over at ZeroPaid.com (their motto is "if it's free, it's for me"). And I have a message of my own for the TV studios. Figure out your beef with Hulu and fix it fast before it dies. Because when some hacker figures out how to hook Boxee up to one of these other streaming TV sites, the genie really WILL be out of the bottle. And you guys will have learned NOTHING from the music industry's mistakes.

Friday, March 13, 2009

New underground hip-hop favorite

Please tune into beatbasement.com. Yes, 56kbps sucks for quality. But the rotation is so incredible that I've almost stopped listening to smoothbeats.com. Almost. I think you can subscribe and get 128kbps access.

Also, if you have not downloaded the new Aesop Rock album, DO IT NOW!!! I can't stop listening to it...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Evolutionary Television Part 1 - How I cut the cord

"It's been a long time. I shouldn't have left you;
Without a strong rhyme to step to." -- I Know You Got Soul, Eric B. & Rakim

Sorry for the hiatus, folks. Work travel, moving into a new house, yadda yadda. But I'm back and things should be a little more consistent here on the Underground Media. So where did we leave things? Ah yes, I think we were talking about internet media. My last two posts were about internet radio, so I decided this week to look at internet television.

I'm a relative new-comer to the great Southeast mecca called Atlanta. And, as I'm a social creature, I have been known to visit the local bar and live-music scene. Atliens are interesting folks, the music scene here is awesome, and I love meeting new people. Here's the way it usually goes: the wife and I are listening to DJ TBone (local flavor!) and enjoying some drinks; we meet some new friends, and have some laughs. And then, just as everyone is good and buzzed, and we're all feeling good, she drops the bomb.

Wife - "And you know we don't have a television," she says, giggling. (Somehow, despite my best efforts to steer her off-course, she works it into EVERY conversation.)
Our new friends - (blank stares. The laughs have stopped.) "You mean you don't..."
Me - "Uhm, we *do* actually have a television," I say, with a little nervous laugh, giving my wife the please-stop-making-us-look-like-nutjobs-to-our-new-friends look.
Wife - "Well, sure we do," she says. "I mean, it's physically a television-"
Me - "Forty-seven inch Hi-def LCD," I interrupt.
Wife - "But we don't actually GET television. No cable, satellite, or even rabbit ears! Tell them, baby," she says, looking at me, grinning.
Me - (At least she's proud of my geeky achievements.)
Our new friends - (More blank stares. Again. This time, their mouths are slightly open.) "How do you watch American Idol?" they ask, looking at me. "Or Dancing with the Stars? Or CSI?"
Me - (Yup. In the span of five minutes, we've gone from that cool couple they met at the bar, to them thinking that we are a complete freakshow. And when I explain to them our TV-watching process, I will most assuredly remove all doubt.)

Perhaps my readers will reserve passing judgement. :-)

We watch all the TV shows and movies that everyone else does. We just watch them on-demand over the internet. I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I LOVE TV shows, but I HATE television. TV shows are 24 to 52 minutes of my favorite actors, writers and directors doing what they do best. Television is a 2000-channel, 24/7, screaming & ranting, commercial-break ridden, A.D.H.D. channel-surfing, wallet-busting, empty-headed political pudit-filled, NIGHTMARE of an experience. I stopped watching sometime in 2003, and I haven't looked back since. Not only was cable TV breaking my budget at the time, but despite all the bucks I was shelling out, nothing was EVER ON 90% of the time! So, we cancelled cable and I subscribed to Netflix for $20/month. We had a HUGE on-demand movie catalog, as well as a ton of TV series box-sets to choose from. Life was good, but like a good geek husband, I was always trying to "upgrade" the system.

In 2004, I discovered the wonderful world of peer-to-peer file trading, referred to by insiders as, "The Scene." (For background, here is a fairly brief, plain-English web article). Essentially, I was able to download TV shows on-demand only days after they aired (as opposed to months via Netflix). So, I did what any self-respecting TV-loving geek would do. I hooked up an old PC to my television and started downloading! As long as I was okay with engaging in quasi-legal internet file-trading, as well as the labor involved with searching and clicking on each show I wanted to watch, again life was good. By 2007, The Scene was EXPLODING and I was able to watch TV shows literally MINUTES after they aired. And, best of all, I had learned how to broadcatch (automatic TIVO-like downloading of my favorite shows), so now I didn't even have to work for it!

However, in 2008, a funny thing happened. Remember Napster? I mean the old free and illegal Napster of the 90's? It totally brought the music industry to its knees. And the RIAA refused to provide a cheap, easy and LEGAL alternative until iTunes hit the web, three years too late. Well, apparently the TV industry learned a valuable lesson from their music brethren. In March of 2008, Hulu launched. And there wasn't a minute to spare as broadcatching was just about ready go mainstream like the old Napster. (Non-geek friends of mine had actually heard the term bittorrent!) Not only did Hulu render my entire broadcatching setup obsolete, but it also changed the ENTIRE TV game. Probably forever.

Hulu is a Fox/NBC joint-venture that allows you to watch 90% of network and basic cable TV shows (ABC is doing their own thing) streaming and on-demand in your web browser. And I have to tell ya, blown-up to full-screen on a 47" LCD, Hulu looks frickin sweet! And did I mention they have movies? It's like TIVO, only free! Of course, the downside is the commercials. Yes, commercials on the internet. Only four or so per show, but they are usually boring and repetitive. A small price to pay, in my opinion, for true on-demand television. You can setup your own queue, follow a show's RSS feed, and even watch live events (they aired all of the presidential debates and the inauguration). But don't take my word for it. Check out this quick SNL clip on Hulu.

Next time, we'll talk about the recent Hulu competitors and some new directions that internet TV is taking.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More Twitter nonsense

Using it regularly now. Still weird. But at least I "get" it now...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I sold out

I just signed up for Twitter. Yes, the same Twitter that I have condemned as techno-heresy. Micro-F*CKING BLOGGING?!?!?! What the hell does it do that you can't do with Facebook??? AND Facebook does about 50 other useful things! Twitter JUST DOES ONE! Wait, why did I sign up for this? Oh yeah, so I can review it for an upcoming Urban Thought Collective series I am writing on "social networking". Hohum.