Category Archives: appquest

Instead of more mobile phones, why not an iVidcam?

maxheadroom.jpgRemember Max Headroom?–a show I am not ashamed to call awesome, the first (only?) cyberpunk show we ever got on TV.

Well, I’m not thinking of AI comedy.  I’m thinking of the news show.  Remember?  The protagonist was a journalist who lugged around his own camera and it gave immediate feed.  He was also connected to an operator who was online giving him information (like maps, etc).

Right now, the model for mobile handhelds is to make a great phone and electronic organizer and attach it to a third rate camera?  But why not make a video recorder that can connect to both mobile services and wi-fi (and WiMAX whenit is deployed) so that people can instantly stream video to the web?  Then ad a phone capacity (which, if it could use wi-fi through skype.  Put a small web cam at the other end so you could do head shot commentary without (like in the show) turning the whole thing around and pointing it at yourself.

I don’t know why I’m blogging about this.  I just think that when you think about the tiny size of laptops and phones and the way video cameras have shrunk that it should be possible to make something really sleek and powerful-a video camera you could use for all sorts of purposes.

Web Widget Wednesday: 30 boxes

I’ve mentioned 30boxes before. Google’s calendar is quite functional, I’m sure, but 30boxes has some unique features and, besides, I can’t allow the secret agents of Google to know everything about me that easily.

What you get with 30boxes is

  • a text-entry feature that allows you to quickly set a date and reminder without using your mouse to click and point.
  • A great many social networking features (though I don’t use these)
  • A reminder system that can use email or text messaging on your phone.
  • a virtual desktop with your important links.
  • Automatic weather forecasts for your days.
  • Automatic google map links to your destinations.
  • a task list.

The task list is what kept me from making 30boxes my homepage was the rather mediocre tasklist (or so I thought). But I’ve figured out that the tag system can make it much better. The task list I used had contexts (“work,” “home,” “yard” etc) and projects. All I had to do was start using tags for these to classifications.

30boxes You really ought to give it a spin.

Oops.  I just realized I’m fifteen minutes late.

Microsoft isn’t standard yet…

I’m tempted to say it is providential, except that I know the difference between “providence” and “serendipity.” This weekend a friend was telling me about Vern Poythress‘ article on Microsoft. I promised to look for it (and blog about it) but forgot.

But look at this headline from the top of Google News’ tech section: “Microsoft loses vote on file standards.

This weekend’s vote by national standards agencies from 104 nations did not provide the two-thirds majority needed to give Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT news people )’s format the ISO stamp of approval. But they will meet again in February to try to seek a consensus, and Microsoft could win them over at last.

ISO approval for Microsoft’s Open Office XML would encourage governments and libraries to recognize the format for archiving documents, which in turn could help ensure that people using different technologies in the future could still open and read documents written today in Open Office XML.

Approval of its system as a standard would also help Microsoft tamp down competition from the OpenDocument Format, created by open source developers and pushed by such Microsoft rivals as IBM Corp. (nyse: IBM news people )

Massachusetts state government stirred huge interest in the matter when it advocated saving official documents for long-term storage in the nonproprietary ODF format. That prompted Microsoft to seek recognition of Open XML by the global standards body.

The company has offered to license Open Office XML for free to anyone who wants to build products that access information stored in Office documents. It claims the format is richer than ODF because, being based on XML computer language, it can store the layout of spreadsheets and legal documents created with Office 2007.

But Shane Coughlan of the Free Software Foundation Europe, a group of open source developers, questioned whether Open Office XML would truly live up to its name and be open to all. Coughlan said it was unclear whether some of the code requires Microsoft’s permission to be used.

‘It is important that everyone owns their data, that access does not depend on any one company,’ he said. ‘Any serious corporation or government should be dubious about using it if the legality is unclear.’

Publishing an open standard means it will be available to everyone, a sort of Rosetta stone that makes sure the key documents of today _ whether they be legal texts, novels-in-progress or accounting spreadsheets _ don’t become unreadable hieroglyphics to future generations.

Let me just say: I don’t hate Microsoft. I think they have spread computer ownership and use. I think that Vista is actually cool (though I’ll bet all the fun could be had for an almost XP size).

But, while I’m open to correction, I think we should automatically assume that MS has a proprietary plan for their proposal until we are totally sure that we have made such a thing legally impossible.
With all that background in mind, here is Vern Poythress’ article, “Digital Ethics and File Formats,” which, as it happens, was updated for the current situation only fifteen days ago.

Here’s a major portion:

When we share files as email attachments or post files at a website, the format becomes an ethical issue. Few people in the Third World have sufficient wealth to afford Microsoft Office easily. Still less can they afford to keep buying multiple versions of Microsoft products as the formats change. Sharing files in secret formats effectively excludes these people from the information process, or else makes them pay a “tax” to Microsoft for obtaining information that should be freely available. Moreover, even outside the Third World, among wealthier nations, some people do not wish to support Microsoft Corporation, because they think it is arrogant and prone to use monopolistic practices. It is not courteous to send people files in a secret format that implies that they should support Microsoft.

Gradually, through hundreds of hours of work, programmers outside of Microsoft have decoded large parts of the secret formats. That has enabled programs like OpenOffice to read from these secret formats and write to them. But because of the secrecy, the exchange between formats is still not absolutely perfect. Pressure is therefore still in place to buy Microsoft products in order to access the secret formats.

In Microsoft Office 2003 there is a new “.xml” format available for Word and for Excel. (There is no new format for PowerPoint.) This format is easier for other programs to understand. Office 2007 has similar, but not identical, formats.

Office 2007 finally has publicly specified formats for most of its pieces. Moreover, Microsoft has posted on the internet a promise concerning open use of the Office 2007 formats.

But the future for Microsoft formats is still under discussion. Here is one evaluation that is less than encouraging:

In other words, even though the MS XMLRS [the new specification for Office 2007] may be fully unencumbered through patent grants and a convenant not to sue, a number of the features and functions that the MS Office applications implement remain proprietary, private, and are not available for implementation by other developers.

The litmus test to apply is whether, even in theory, a competitor could develop an application that implements the entire set of features and functionality represented in the current MS binary format or MS XMLRS, in a platform independent manner and without infringing on MS intellectual property. We believe such an implementation is not possible, thus necessarily limiting the fidelity of MS binary to ODF conversion. (from Andy Updegrove, quoting from Sun Microsystems)

As of Dec. 5, 2006, one may see a more positive evaluation from Stephen J. Vaughn-Nichols. The situation continues to change. Eventually, open programs for translation between Microsoft Office 2007 formats and other formats may be available. But they will necessarily be incomplete, because not everything is publicly specified in the new Microsoft formats.

For the time being, I have decided to wait to see what works out with respect to the Microsoft formats. Meanwhile, the international standards body OASIS has officially approved the “open document” formats, and they have become an ISO standard. These formats have no encumbrances. Moreover, they can be read by the OpenOffice program, which is available for free. The program is guaranteed to remain permanently free because the code is freely available and is freely modifiable under a generous license. For further discussion, see the Wikipedia article on OpenDocument, and its subsection under “Licensing.”

(By the way, I just started dabbling in StarOffice which is now free through the Google Pack. So far I am really impressed with the Word Processor, which has options I have not seen since I finally gave up my WordPerfect Suite and joined the MSOffice hegemon on both PCs and Macs [Full disclosure: the Mactopia MSOffice has always worked well for me too].)

In any case, it is pretty clear from the article that Microsoft is not giving up their quest:

Despite losing the initial round of voting with ISO, Microsoft was confident of future success, saying many of the ISO members that did not vote for the format said they would do so when certain criticisms have been addressed.

‘This preliminary vote is a milestone for the widespread adoption of the Open XML formats around the world for the benefit of millions of customers,’ said Microsoft’s general manager for interoperability, Tom Robertson. ‘We believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard.’

According to ISO, Microsoft had 53 percent of the votes in favor _ instead of the 66 percent it needed.

The ISO process is essentially a debate that tries to fix outstanding problems so a format can win sufficient support. But Coughlan said Microsoft’s heavy lobbying for Open Office XML had showed that ISO selection needs to be reviewed to make sure one voice could not shout louder than others. Coughlan and others have alleged that Microsoft unduly influenced the industry committees that advise national standards bodies on ISO votes.

An allegation that sounds so plausible, I really don’t think it needs to be argued.

1-click purchasing in meatspace

Mike Hyatt writes:

Today I went to the local Apple Store. I needed to pick up a small adapter, so I could use my favorite head phones with my new iPhone. When I arrived, I was surprised by the crowd. The store was jammed with people. But I was almost immediately greeted by an Apple clerk, who asked if she could help me.

There were probably ten clerks in the store but only one was behind the counter. The rest were mingling with the “guests.” Each of them wore a lime green shirt and carried a handheld credit card processor.

My clerk led me to the item I wanted and asked if I needed anything else. I told her that I wanted to browse for a few minutes. She said, “Fine. Let me know if I can help you further.” A few moments later, I found another clerk on the floor and told him I was ready to check out. He swiped my card and asked if I wanted to have the receipt printed out or e-mailed to me. I said, “E-mail,” and since I had purchased using this credit card before, they already had my e-mail address in their system. I was done and on my way in less than a minute.

Maybe this is old news to some of you.  I don’t know since I don’t do much in Apple stores besides drool.  But this is probably a great example of the internet teaching better practices to other areas of life.  Of course, much of the improvement is due to the decreasing size and increasing portability of the technology.  But still, someone had to think of using it that way.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the idea didn’t originate from someone saying, “I wish real reality could be this fast.”

Web widget Wednesday: SNAPpages

I don’t have time to say much because I’m taking the older three to a baseball game (free nosebleeders!).  But, if you have any time, check out this–three widgets in one!  Is it not gorgeous?  So far I’ve only really used the photomanager and it previews like the album covers on iTunes.  Just amazing.

Web Widget Wednesday: Shelfari

OK, despite my horrible experience, I really love Shelfari. So I can sing its praises let me first clear my conscience by reminding you of what happened:

How I became a spammer: A morality tale in five lessons

If you don’t have time to read that, here is the short version:


’nuff said.

Facebook allows you to interact with books and I’m sure that other sites do as well. But Shelfari works far better than the others to my mind. You build a shelf using and a search engine and then you can tag them and/or review them. You can find other people who like the same books as you and then find what else they have read and liked.

I realize this is more a straight Web 2.0 site than anything like a “widget,” but it is my blog and I can do what I want.

Here is a sight that uses the Shelfari blog widget. I’m too cheap to use it because I want to get kickbacks from  For those who care, however, here is my bookshelf.  I just wish I had some way to add my Dad’s blogging novel.

Web Widget Wednesday (abbreviated): moneytrackin’

I am way busy getting the house ready for visitors, so WWW will have to be truncated.

I have loved moneytrackin’ for budgeting projects. I will eventually want something tied to my bank account, but for now this is just fine. The use of tags is really helpful.

My only advice would be to think of some overarching categories and distinguish them from other tags. I do this by capitalizing some words. See what works for you.