Archive for the ‘ Thoughts ’ Category

My Current Podcast Subscriptions

As a podcaster, I’m periodically asked what shows—podcasts—I listen to. I listen to a lot of podcasts, and with a few exceptions, most of the shows I subscribe to are about technology—news, topics like home automation, consumer tech, etc. And since I also host and produce shows of my own, I’m pretty picky about production quality. I have little patience for bad audio, poor editing, or sloppy production. So if you’re interested in similar topics, check some of these out…I expect you’ll enjoy them. Some of these have faded or are currently on hiatus, but it’s well worth checking out past episodes. Also note that some are explicit and will not be safe for family or workplace listening.

CordkillersDaily Tech News ShowEntertainment 2.0Eye Chart RadioGet It Done GuyGrammar GirlHome: OnHome Server ShowHomeTech.fmInside the MagicThe IoT PodcastIt's a ThingMac OS KenMac OS Ken Day 6Marketplace

Marketplace Tech
Podcasters' RoundtableReply AllThe Ritual Misery PodcastSerialThe Smart Home ShowStartupTech's Messagetell it anywaythEndUsrThrowing ShadeUndisclosedUXpodWait Wait...Don't Tell Me!Windows WeeklyYou Look Nice Today

Updated 6/26: Added MarketPlace and Undisclosed; removed Wired UK.

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Sad to See Tom Leave

Leo Laporte, the head of the TWiT network, today announced that he is ending TWiT’s contract with Tom Merritt, host of Tech News Today (TNT) and for all intents and purposes the network’s news anchor. I doubt any of us will ever know or understand the details of Leo’s seemingly short-sighted decision or understand the motivations behind it. Particularly given Leo’s weak statements about the remote situation not working. As an audio listener—part of TWiT’s largest audience—I perceived absolutely no difference after Tom’s relocation to L.A.

What I do know is that the TNT that Tom and Becky Worley started at TWiT about four years ago brought me to TWiT as a daily listener. And the evolution of the TNT team and show, though never topping that original formula, yielded a professional and respectable tech news source. Tom didn’t fall into morning zoo antics; he didn’t don an artificial radio voice, smile, and guffaw for the mic and camera; and he didn’t chow down his lunch while recording and on camera. Tom has added a level of professionalism to the TWiT studio that some have emulated and others should aspire to.

Change is hard. I get that. And maybe it’s time for a change for me, too. Maybe for all of us. I’ll likely leave TNT behind and look forward to Tom’s next endeavor—just as so many of Tom’s fans and followers did when he left CNET and dropped a ready-made audience in Leo’s lap. That audience will likely have something new and exciting to look for in the days ahead.

All my best to you, Tom. I can’t wait to see what you do next!

New Media Thoughts from My Outbox

Five years ago, I attended the Podcast and Mobile Media Expo, witnessing what I suspected was a significant shift in content production and delivery. It impacted me significantly, and I remember returning to my room to share these thoughts with some friends and colleagues. Several name changes, one merger, and many times larger, Blogworld & New Media Expo is alive and well, and the shift is bigger than any of us may have expected: content production and delivery, customer service, PR, and publishing are just a few of the industries significantly impacted by how people can now create and access information and media. And big industry is still trying to figure it all out.

From my Outbox, 2006:

I’m currently at the Podcast & Mobile Media Expo in Ontario, California–and I’m blown away by what’s going on here. I’ve been a podcast listener (and viewer) for nearly a year now, becoming personally familiar with the medium after receiving an iPod last Christmas. I’ve known about podcasts, of course for a few years, but it wasn’t until I actually had a mobile device that easily afforded me the opportunity to subscribe and listen to narrowly targeted content that I personally adopted the technology. And boy, did I adopt. I joke about how my iPod has completely changed my life–but it has. I don’t get my news–be it politics, technology, entertainment, or whatever–from the TV or radio any more. Instead, I catch up on what’s going on in all these and more subject areas on my own time in my own place with my iPod. Taking what TiVo did for television to the next level, podcasting is both time AND place shifting–allowing you to listen or watch what you want when you want and where you want. And I’ve never felt so informed!

So here I am amoungst hundreds of folks who are making this happen, some of them the leaders of this industry. While here, I’ve met Leo Laporte (This Week in Tech, http://twit.tv), and I’ve spoken extensively with Alex Lindsey (MacBreak) and Andrew Baron. I’m really kind of blown away because Leo and Andrew (both keynotes here) are major pioneers in podcasting. These are the guys treading new ground and putting themselves out there in what seems to be the medium of choice for the delivery of targeted content. And they’re…regular people.

I came here hoping to learn about what technologies might make podcasting a viable communication mechanism for large organizations (e.g., government). I’m leaving with more ideas than I can possibly process, and it’s hard for me to understand how more enterprises aren’t doing this already. This is definitely one area where the small, daring, enterprising few are just walking all over corporate and public entities. A few dramatic exceptions (ABC and NBC, among few others, are experimenting) exist, but for the most part, this is still all about the Bob and Sue down the street. And what’s interesting is that they’re both probably going to be laughing all the way to the bank in a few years, while big industry is trying to figure out what hit them.

That’s all I have for now…

I’m at the DMZ

The Digital Media Zone

Looking for something? The Digital Media Zone (DMZ), a tech blog about the products and services available for home and mobile media consumption, is now home to my post about CableCARD and the HDHomeRun Prime. Expect to find future posts about home entertainment and consumer electronics devices there, while The World According to Richard continues to serve as the platform for my rants and perspective on all other things.

Auto Search 2011

It’s that time again: my auto lease ends in three months, so I’ve been researching and testing for my next vehicle. I lease for a variety of reasons—not the least of which is that, as a tech-head, I always want the latest tech stack in my vehicle. With advances in audio, phone, navigation, and driver assistance technology, car tech gets stale pretty quickly nowadays.

The Contenders

While my primary interests are in SUVs for their practical use, I also considered a few sedans this year. In all, I considered and tested the following seven vehicles:

Audi Q5Audi Q5 Prestige. Audi has been leading the pack with its MMI telematics, and the Q5 gets the newest rev of that technology stack. This vehicle is fun to drive, but the Prestige trim is a $7K leap of faith since supplies are short and no dealers in the country stock the Prestige trim to test.

BMW X3BMW X3 xDrive35i. BMW completely redesigned the smaller of their SUVs this year, making it more attractive, more luxurious, and more fun. With all these improvements, though, it still lacks some of the technology and features available on it’s larger X5 sibling.

Cadillac SRXCadillac SRX Premium. Maybe it’s middle age setting in, but I think the new SRX is a hot crossover. The interior is very comfortable, and the tech stack is competitive. It lacks any driver assistance features, however, despite huge blindspots.

Ford ExplorerFord Explorer Limited. The all-new 2011 Explorer makes this SUV icon interesting again. But the severely underpowered, first-gen technology behind MyFord Touch is a deal-breaker.

Taurus SHOFord Taurus SHO. Ford surprised everyone in 2010 with the fit, finish, and tech in the new Taurus. While the vehicle stacks up on paper and continues to get good reviews, I couldn’t get past this thing’s ugly derrière.

Jeep Grand CherokeeJeep Grand Cherokee Overland. Out of nowhere, Jeep introduced its most luxurious vehicle ever with the 2011 Grand Cherokee. Some of the technology seems a bit clunky and dated, but this vehicle is stacked with features.

Mercedes-Benz E350Mercedes-Benz E350 Sedan. This year’s E350 is a complete redesign of this old standard, and the new body style is pretty hot. Unfortunately, the tech options are underwhelming (and expensive), and the drive is…unexciting.

Two cars I would have liked to consider are the as-of-yet forthcoming Audi A7 and 2012 VW Passat. Neither was available at the time that I was researching and testing new vehicles.

The Criteria

I don’t evaluate vehicles like most people do. Engine displacement, horsepower, and MPG weigh lightly in my decision process. Instead, I look at a car along four main criteria: technology, luxury, style, and how fun it is to drive.

Here’s how these vehicles stacked up on these criteria on a one to five scale:

Technology Luxury Style Funness
Audi Q5 5 4 4 5
BMW X3 4 4 4 5
Cadillac SRX 3 4 5 3
Ford Explorer 3 3 4 3
Ford Taurus 4 4 3
Jeep Cherokee 4 5 4 4
Mercedes-Benz E350 4 5 5 3

I also have some specific criteria that I’d qualify as “musts”, “wants”, and “likes”. For example, my vehicle must be four wheel drive or all wheel drive, must have navigation with traffic information, a bluetooth phone connection, and iPod/iPhone control. I want it to have keyless entry, adaptive cruise control, cooled seats, and parking assistance. I like having remote start and driver assistance features like blind spot warning and collision detection.

All of the vehicles I tested met my “must” criteria as well as having keyless entry, rear camera, some form of parking sensors, a power liftgate, power seats with memory, some form of satellite radio, and a panoramic sunroof.

My Decision

If I was selecting a vehicle on criteria alone, I’d choose the Audi Q5. It topped the list when ranked by my criteria and included most of my wants and likes. But the Q5 is in high demand so it’s expensive, there’s no incentive for dealers to discount it, dealers have little stock for testing, and nobody stocks the Prestige trim level that I’d want. While I intend to special-order my vehicle, I’m not willing to pay a premium for it, particularly if that means taking a risk on a trim level that I can’t see before ordering.

Ultimately, I chose the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland with a few options. This SUV really surprised me. I hadn’t even considered Jeep as an option until seeing this vehicle at the Washington Auto Show last month. I was impressed by its new look and the interior appointments, so I visited a local Jeep dealer to test it out.

The new Grand Cherokee is surprisingly luxurious. The cabin is incredibly quiet at any speed, and the combination of wood and leather, standard on the Overland trim, gives the vehicle a sense of refinement that balances the plastic-y center console. In addition to all of my must-have and want-to-have features, the Grand Cherokee also offers adaptive cruise control, adjustable height and suspension settings, remote start, cooled seats, rear heated seats, power steering wheel adjustment, blind-spot and collision detection warnings, and an onboard 110 outlet.

The V6 engine amply allows for solid and spirited driving. This Jeep drives more like a car than a truck, but there’s still a sense of power and size, partly from the vehicle’s higher stance. At a 16/22 MPG rating, this thing isn’t winning any fuel efficiency awards, but this new engine does its best to use as little fuel as possible.

The Grand Cherokee’s UConnect telematics technology looks a bit clunky and outdated, but it’s surprisingly responsive and capable. It includes SIRIUS radio and information services, including traffic information. It controls the iPhone 4, it syncs over 1000 address book entries for a connected bluetooth phone, and it allows you to load music and photos on the system.

Do I have any reservations or concerns? Yeah…a few. This automobile’s parking assistance features are limited to rear sensors and a rear camera with distance lines—not trajectory lines. There are no front parking sensors. Coming from a 360-view camera system with all-around sensors, I’m bound to go through some parking technology withdrawal. Also, if the UConnect system feels dated now, I can only imagine how I’m going to feel about the UI in 2014 when this lease ends. It’s also worth mentioning that this is the first American automobile I’ve ever owned or leased. I’ve had Nissans, Acuras, Land Rovers, VWs, BMWs, Volvos, and Infinitis—but I’ve never before had a Ford, Chrysler, or GM vehicle. Does that concern me? Maybe not so much as it intrigues me.

The Specs

Model 2001 Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4
Colors New Saddle/Black Interior Color 

Natural Green Pearl Coat Exterior Paint

Options 3.6 Liter V6 VVT Pentastar Engine 

Media Center 730N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/NAV

Advanced Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control

Your Opinion

So now that you’ve read my thoughts on the matter, I’m curious about yours. Which of these vehicles would you have chosen?

HomeSeer: Time for a Redesign

HomeSeer is a home control system that’s been around for about a decade. It’s one of the most flexible and extensible systems available for DIY home automation, and it’s very inexpensive at just $220. It can monitor and control devices over X10, Z-Wave, PLC, IP, and a host of other protocols, and it has a significant support community building plug-ins.

All that said, HomeSeer has suffered in usability for as long as I can remember. And with little UI improvement as the product has evolved, it seems quite stale now. Some add-ons and third-party plug-ins have helped in this area, but I’m fundamentally opposed to the idea of having to “buy up” to a better user experience. The good news is that an update is in the works. The bad news is that it may be a while before we see it.

Been a Long Time

HomeSeer screen shot

As a do-it-yourself home automation hobbyist, I’ve been using HomeSeer home control software for almost ten years, and in that time the user interface has changed very little. In fact, with the decided elimination of support for a desktop client in the 2.0 product, HomeSeer took a step backward in usability, forcing all users to move to a largely-unchanged web client. Roughly five years later, it still sports the same, stale interface—now looking very Web 0.9. It’s bad—bad enough that I’ve been flirting with switching to other systems like Embedded Automation’s mControl or Perceptive Automation’s Indigo.

Designed by Developers?

With all of its power and flexibility, HomeSeer’s UI has been rough around the edges from the start, sporting a (lack of) design sense that suggested the team simply didn’t include a trained user interface designer. I’d guess that the graphic design work was done by developers repurposing freely available web images and playing around in Photoshop (or an open-source alternative).

HomeSeer's old desktop toolbar

The original desktop client mimicked Outlook’s tab bar interface effectively, but the different views were a jumbled mess of mis-aligned form elements, and there was little consistency to the application’s toolbar icons. The surviving web interface is a hodgepodge of inconsistent fonts, graphics, and colors, with nested tabs, rudimentary form elements, and dozens of objects thrown on pages using complex table “layouts”. The overall look and behavior varies slightly by platform and browser, and most pages require a refresh to show updates.

Original HomeSeer 2.0 Touchpad Interface

Over the years, many of HomeSeer’s paid add-ons have further reinforced my UI design concerns, including a (now years old) plug-in for touch screens that made me cringe, thinking, “are you kidding? HIRE A TRAINED GRAPHIC DESIGNER!”

Data-driven Workflow

User experience is about more than design, though. Workflow is a key element, and that’s another area where HomeSeer’s web interface suffers. Device and event configuration seems focused more around data collection than user workflow. And if the INSTEON add-on is any indication, that weakness plagues the application extensions, too.

There’s a Light…

HomeSeer (the company) was one of the vendors at the Z-Wave Alliance booth this year at CES, so I had an opportunity to speak with them about their product roadmap. There’s good news: HomeSeer 3.0 is in the works. It adopts a new technology platform (again), and it will offer a new AJAX UI and a robust API. HomeSeer claims the new UI will be similar in concept to iGoogle’s configurable portal pages to allow for more user customization. That doesn’t engender significant confidence, but I’ll reserve judgement until I see it.

HomeSeer HomeTroller-Mini

We should see an embedded version of 3.0 in a standalone module by this Summer. The device is similar in concept to Universal Devices’ ISY boxes, but it will use a bring-your-own-control-interface approach, so it can support any protocol. It will require no additional server hardware, it will include HomeSeer 3.0 on-board, and you can connect your third-party control interface via a serial connection. The device will also support mobile touch clients (which, today, requires the paid HSTouch add-on), and it should carry a price of just $299.

If you want HomeSeer 3.0 running on your own server, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. The upgrade for the installed version of HomeSeer isn’t expected to be available until the end of the year.

My Advice for HomeSeer

HomeSeer is obviously making strides in usability, but there’s still room for improvement. HomeSeer’s HSTouch interfaces for iPhone and iPad seem to be HomeSeer’s premier offerings now, and while they’re more visually engaging than the legacy product, they’re still a bit clunky: the design is heavy, and they seemingly ignore many iOS UI design standards and best practices.

HomeSeer, I’M BEGGING YOU to focus on improving the user experience in this next release, employing the skills necessary to design and build your new web and mobile user interfaces. One of the strengths of HomeSeer has been its install-and-go functionality. That was great ten years ago, but users expect more now. Design your system around real-life use cases and workflows, and tailor the UX to the specific devices you’re targeting.

Admittedly, the home automation market is a bit of a user experience mess right now with only a few notable exceptions (e.g., Control 4). You have an opportunity to fill a gap in the more affordable market by offering a highly-usable out-of-the-box solution with your next release. Please, please, PLEASE step up to that challenge.

CES 2011, Day 4

For the first time I can remember, I’m not completely overwhelmed and exhausted as I’m wrapping up my time at this year’s CES. I only spent a few hours on the floor today, but here are my closing thoughts:

  • Reflecting back on the past few days, I think it has been a very good show. Reports are that it might be their largest show ever, in terms of attendance. There’s a lot of good technology on the floor, and we’re seeing a resurgence in product development investment from the consumer electronics companies again. That said, nothing really knocked my socks off. There’s nothing I’ve seen or heard about that makes me want to run home and add it to my wish list.
  • Qualcom is demonstrating a color, reflective E Ink-like screen that shows we’ll see some significant progress in this area. The colors are still muted, but they’ve resolved the “flash” problem between page views. I imagine that in two years, we’ll see some very competitive products with impressive reflective displays.
  • HomeSeer is working on a much-needed upgrade to its home control software offering, and they announced that a self-contained automation controller with an embedded version of that software will be available this summer for about $300.
  • There were literally hundreds—possibly thousands—of tablets on the floor this year. How many will really gain market penetration? I’m betting on Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, and Motorola’s Xoom to give the Apple iPad some much-needed competition. I continue to posit that Microsoft Windows 7 tablets won’t really go anywhere, and given Ballmer’s lack of discussion about them this year, I suspect they’re starting to believe that, too.
  • Last year, TV manufacturers were pushing 3D. And while adoption has been low and the market is still a confusing mess while the technology evolves, they’re pushing it hard. But 3D wasn’t the headline story for TVs this year—apps were the story. Apps on nearly every TV. While I’m in the wait-and-see camp on 3D, I’m firmly in the Hell-no camp on Apps for the television—particularly when they’re built into the device itself. Whether they gain traction is anyone’s guess. If nothing else, at least the manufacturers are innovating…or trying to, anyway.
  • I packed both my iPad and my notebook computer with me to Vegas with the intent of seeing if I could live on my iPad alone at the conference. I took the iPad to the floor each day, and I used it extensively, but two things kept me from using it exclusively: Watching Microsoft’s keynote required Silverlight, and the WordPress app for iPad sucks.

And finally, I’ll be tuning in this week to Verizon’s big announcement. iPhone? We’ll see. Will I switch? Probably…but not right away. Let’s see how their new network fares, first.

That said, if it’s a new iPad, I’m in.

CES 2011, Day 3

After a third day on the show floor, I’ve seen most of what I want to see at CES this year. Here’s another quick update of my thoughts for the day:

  • I was pleased to start the day off by running into CNET’s Molly Wood and catching up with her briefly. Unfortunately, I missed most of the shows on the CNET stage this year.
  • If you want OnStar’s safety, security, and convenience features, but you don’t have an OnStar-enabled vehicle, you can now buy an after-market rearview mirror replacement with many of their best features for $299.
  • LG is showing off an amazing windows-based interactive display wall targeted toward classrooms and education.
  • LG’s smart TV has a Log In link on its dashboard screen. Good grief, who wants to have to log on to their television? Even on a connected television, that had better only be for initial setup. Have I mentioned how I feel about apps on the TV?
  • I also saw an Android TV from Hisense [a company I’ve never heard of before]. That’s Android TV—not Google TV. After playing with it for a few minutes, though, I couldn’t actually figure out how to get to the TV part of the Android TV.
  • Kenmore, Samsung, LG, and a host of others are demonstrating connected appliance ecosystems that monitor and regulate power usage and allow remote control, alerts [think: the roast is done!], and diagnosis capabilities. The appliances—some real and some conceptual—will use standard home control protocols like ZigBee and Z-Wave to communicate.
  • Ford has released a developers’ hardware kit for the My Ford Touch platform. Oh great…more apps.
  • Audi showcased new car tech and a few tricked out vehicles in a whited-out booth area reminiscent of 2001’s Space Station V.
  • No word from Verizon on Thursday about the iPhone, but rumors abound as evidence is stacking up for a Verizon iPhone announcement next Tuesday.
  • If I have to look at one more tablet….

And finally, unrelated to all the gadgetry, I had the pleasure of taking lunch with a dozen or so incredible people from the Adobe development community, reminding me that meeting, connecting, and learning is such an important part of the CES experience.

CES 2011, Day 2

After my second day at CES, I have to admit that as much as I’m enjoying myself and as interested as I am in what I’m seeing, there’s no one product on the floor that has really knocked my socks off. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of interesting out there. So here are my impressions from day 2:

  • I’m so sick of seeing tablets.
  • Haier is showing off a prototype flat-screen TV with Windows Media Center build into it. It’s a little rough around the edges, but it’s a concept that has some potential if they don’t overbrand and otherwise cripple it.
  • Monster still creates hideous remote controls with odd ergonomics.
  • Samsung’s connected appliance line uses ZigBee for status reporting and control. They’re showing a nice sample control app on the Galaxy Tab.
  • iSys is showing off the Xi3, a mini-footprint computer with some impressive specs.
  • Silicondust’s HDHomeRun Prime network tuner is a real, working device this year, but it’s still awaiting certification.
  • The Dynamics credit card is a smart card that can be programmed to support multiple accounts, selectable at time of purchase.
  • A few vendors have interesting iPad wall mounting solutions that could be useful for turning old iPads into home control panels once new iPad models come out.
  • Creative’s Pure Wireless ziiSound T6 speaker system should give Bose some competition in the desktop computing space. They have amazing sound, and they suppor multiple, selectable external input sources, including Bluetooth audio and Creative’s enhanced Bluetooth audio spec.
  • Universal Electronics’ Smart Control remote is an affordable activity-based remote that could make the One for All remote line more competitive with Logitech’s Harmony series. It should be available in the U.S. within a few months.
  • Many vendors are showing CFL and LED lighting options, but a select few have bulbs in color temperatures comparable to traditional residential lighting. From what I saw, Solé is showing the best incandescent bulb alternative and Smart has the best LED alternative to halogen spots.
  • SimpleHomeNet has released a control module that allows your home control software to leverage X10, INSTEON, and Z-Wave devices, all with one interface.
  • Since I have poor depth perception, the whole 3D TV craze is lost on me, but Sony’s passive 3D LED theater screen had me mesmerized.
  • Roller bags are the bane of my existence. Particularly since those dragging the bags behind them seem oblivious about how their bags are blocking traffic paths and impacting others.

CES 2011, Day 1

CES seems as big and crowded as ever this year—very few remaining signs of economic difficulties here. I’ll post more commentary and photos later, but for now, here are my initial thoughts:

  • I’m already sick of tablets. The analysts and press were right on target: everybody’s showing tablets—including vendors you’ve never heard of before. Microsoft is showing tablets: Windows 7 tablets. Again. RIM’s Playbook and ASUS’s Eee Pad Transformer were the best I’ve seen so far.
  • If Toshiba’s glasses-free 3D TV is any indicator, we’re gonna be stuck with the glasses for a while. This technology just isn’t there yet.
  • Verizon’s “big reveal” today was for consumer 4G LTE service and devices. Didn’t we already know that?
  • The MakerBot Thing-O-Matic is awesome.
  • Kinect is fun—even with dozens of people watching you make a fool of yourself.
  • Microsoft’s keynote was a big disappointment. With Gates’ departure also seems to have gone the vision. Ballmer read through a deck of slides promoting all the great stuff they’ve been doing, with little talk of the future beyond the usual marketing fluff. AvatarKinect was probably the most interesting thing discussed.
  • Yamaha isn’t here. Again.
  • The AT&T service here is worse than I ever remember it being before. The Verizon MiFi is the only thing allowing me to get any reasonable data service. Meanwhile, my AT&T phone is constantly searching for a signal, can’t hold a call, and burned through its battery prematurely by trying to reconnect and resend repeated failed data exchanges. I understand that the demand at CES is extreme, but this is just inexcusable.

For some more perspective on Day 1, check out my colleague’s comments.

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