Say Hello to Google TV

Logitech dropped the Revue yesterday, the first offering in what is sure to be a bevy of devices designed to bring the Web into your living room.  So with all the wonderful things your phone can do on a 3.5 inch screen in your pocket, why wouldn’t you want the same kind of customized content being fed to you on your big screen while you watch a related show? Well maybe because you’re giving Big Brother G a bunch of information about yourself in the process.  Every time a user fires up Google’s laser-like search functions he makes an implicit choice to pay a toll in the new currency of the Internet: personal information.  Don’t you forget it. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Consider the following video from 2009:

While your privacy-muscle may twitch when listening to CEO Eric Schmidt describe his vision for Smart-TVs, the fact of the matter is that no one’s making you use their services (which are free, and generally work really REALLY well).  And there’s no doubt that Page, Brin, and Schmidt will enhance the TV experience one way or another.

Netflix streaming will be accesible via an Android-based app provided for Google TV—which seems to indicate an Android phone app is likely on its way. It’s up to apps to make themselves open to Google TV’s universal search so results can show up. Negotiations between Google and Hulu are ongoing, meaning we could see Hulu Plus show up sometime soon.

Other apps will be available from a Google TV market—a silo within the Android Marketplace—which reps say should launch sometime next year, or “as fast as possible.” An SDK, based on the existing Android SDK, will be made available, with a Google rep saying devs “will be able to reuse a lot of code.” The same rep said a separate search algorithm—”Google TV Search”—draws from a wide body of content, including live television, guide listings, and, when paired with Dish, video stored on your DVR. The TV search will also pull in what’s on the web.

Gizmodo

So far, my own HTPC (a Windows PC plugged into my TV) has been good, not great.  But Logitech is a company that specializes in controllers and interfaces, so I’m optimistic that this could put a better spin on the experience.  From the viewpoint of a relatively educated consumer, it seems as though the Big G may wind up with more to offer Google TV customers than Apple can through iTunes.  Since 98% of Google’s revenue comes from search, they are not in the business of controlling or distributing content, just serving it to you as quickly and accurately as possible.  They want you to be able to find whatever the hell you want (and generally for free), because, frankly, they want to know what the hell it is you want so they can serve it to you in the form of targeted ads.  Apple on the other hand, wants to control every aspect of its content-distribution ecosystem, and make micro-transactions on each individual episode you “rent” (read: play on demand).  That’s great for Steve, but might end up limiting how much content they’re able to get on board.  Either way, we’re watching the future of Television unfold.  You might want to stay tuned.

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The Ratcar is Awesome, Kinda Gross

Another genius/disgusting scientific breakthrough is careening your way: Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed a motorized system they call “Ratcar,” which is controlled by electrodes in Master Splinter’s motor cortex that read his brain and respond accordingly.  Suck on that, PETA!

The researchers first implanted electrodes in the motor cortex of each rat’s brain, and then trained it to tow the contraption around while the motor was turned off. Next the rat was suspended beneath the car so that it could only lightly touch the ground, and couldn’t actually move the robo-car with its limbs. Then the car was switched to brain-reading mode and researchers watched to see if the rat could control the car’s movements with only the pulses from its motor cortex.

“We wanted to develop a brain-machine interface system aiming for future wheelchairs that paralyzed patients can control only with thought,” says Osamu Fukayama of the university’s Medical Engineering and Life Science Laboratory. “RatCar is a simplified prototype to develop better electrodes, devices, and algorithms for those systems.”

Discover Magazine

How could they possibly call it anything besides the “RatMobile”?? Is there no love for cheap puns anymore? Anyway, sounds like a solid cause, but c’mon, we Americans know what this thing will really be used for: Lazy fatasses like myself who tire of pushing the accelerator buttons on our Rascals.  I may have legs but YOU CAN’T FORCE ME TO USE ‘EM. And have we discovered which region of the brain is responsible for milkshake cravings? If you could hook that up to my blender, that would be great.  But maybe we should leave rats out of the testing phase for this one…

The Whole World Has Aliens on the Brain

There’s been an overwhelming amount of alien-related news lately, and the latest bits of it have covered the leaders of Earth actually preparing for conact.  It all started when European astronomers discovered a new solar system last month, 127 light years away from us, and believed to contain at least 5 planets. Pretty awesome, right?

Any wannabe astronomer worth his salt knows that the universe is 1. estimated to be 14 billion years old, 2. HUGE and 3. expanding.  Where the REAL wannabes go from there is to understand that means there is undoubtedly a non-zero probability that the necessary components have come together in the necessary proportions to sustain life somewhere else in the universe.  And if that probability hasn’t come to fruition yet, it is still a certainty when extended over an infinite timeline.  In other words, it’s only a matter of time before we find some other planet that can sustain life and raid them for their Spacecash.

Wait, what?  It already happened?!

If confirmed, the exoplanet, named Gliese 581g,  would be the first Earth-like world found residing in a star’s habitable zone — a region where a planet’s temperature could sustain liquid water on its surface. [Illustration of planet Gliese 581g.]

Earth once supported harsh conditions, the researchers point out. And since red dwarfs are relatively “immortal” living hundreds of billions of years (many times the current age of the universe), combined with the fact that conditions stay so stable on a tidally locked planet, there’s a good chance that if life were to get a toe-hold it would be able to adapt to those conditions and possibly take off, Butler said.

“Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100 percent,” said Steven Vogt, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, during a press briefing today. “I have almost no doubt about it.”

Space.com

There you have it folks.  So what is Earth to do when we see a mind-blowing jump in the probability that there are indeed some sexy blue cat people out there theatrically recreating the plot of Fern Gully?  News outlets have reported this week that the first order of business for the UN was to appoint a pointman as Alien Ambassador.  Since the kid from E.T. was unavailable they went with an astrophysicist (yawn) from Malaysia, Mazlan Othman.  Apparently this story has since been debunked as mass confusion fueled by the Interwebz’ hyperactive news-cycle, but it seems like Othman is already the go-to lady anyway, as head of the U.N.’s Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA).  Personally I’d like to see that awesome Japanese scientist with the sweet hair representing Earth, or maybe John Stamos.  Gotta make sure we put our best foot forward.

Interestingly enough, the Vatican has also chimed in.  The Pope‘s astronomer (the Pope has an astronomer?!) said that he would “be delighted” if intelligent life were found, and that he would baptize them Catholic if they so wished.  He had no answer when asked, “But why the hell would they want that?”

Speaking ahead of a talk at the British Science Festival in Birmingham, he said that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions. “Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul.” Would he baptise an alien? “Only if they asked.”

The Guardian

Unfortunately, those soulless gays are still out of luck.

RIM Announces Playbook Tablet, Still Playing Defense

RIM has finally announced that its new tablet will go on sale in early 2011.  More importantly, the 7″ ‘PlayBook’ (formerly known as the ‘Blackpad’) will support Adobe Flash, finally giving me the hope that we’ll find out if Apple really keeps flash off of its devices for battery issues, or if Joaoaerbs just wants to keep web applets out of his iTunes/GameCenter ecosystem.

The initial version will have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections but will only be able to connect to cellular networks through a BlackBerry smartphone. RIM said it intends to offer 3G and 4G ready tablets “in the future.”

The PlayBook will run on an all-new operating system built by QNX Software Systems, which makes software used to run everything from cars to nuclear reactors. RIM bought QNX earlier this year, and has been working to adapt the software for mobile phones.

The move means RIM will have to juggle two distinct operating systems. The company announced its BlackBerry 6 operating system for smartphones in April, and rolled out the first handset running on it, the BlackBerry Torch, last month.

WSJ

Connectivity through your existing Blackberry phone sounds like a great idea from a data-consumer’s point of view, but they’re certainly not going to gain market share on Apple with a strategy that only appeals to current Blackberry users.  It should also be noted that, like most Blackberry products, the PlayBook seems to be geared specifically to enterprise.  They’re likely not trying pry loose Apple’s stranglehold over the consumer market just yet.  So despite demonstrations of video, photo, and e-reader uses, as well as its ‘play’ful name, I wouldn’t expect users to be loading it with games any time soon.

Although, if they so wish, and if the browser is strong enough, Blackberry fans could get their fill of gaming through the web since, again, the PlayBook will support flash.  The only difference is they’ll be getting that content for free, whereas Apple’s stonewalling of Adobe’s popular technology has afforded them the unique ability to charge up to $9.99 for games that we would have otherwise played free on the web.

The WSJ article also made no mention of the price point.  It’s certainly a tough question, and it’s entirely possible that RIM hasn’t decided where to position the device in terms of pricing.  To make an Apple comparison again, the iPad can easily be sold at a loss because of the implied revenue they expect to make by selling apps, much like Microsoft has done with their Xbox.  The money is in the software (games or otherwise).  But without a robust developer base, you can’t count on app sales as a revenue stream to keep the device afloat.  In that sense, and with an entirely new OS, the Blackberry faces the same uphill battle that Sony did when they launched the PS3.  The console is certainly a very capable device (as I’m sure the PlayBook will be), but it struggled to gain traction for quite a while because developers shied away from its largely unknown architecture.

Ray Sharma, founder of XMG Studios, a closely held Toronto firm that develops games for the iPhone and Android platforms, was encouraged by RIM’s announcements Monday, but said it’s too soon to say whether his firm will begin developing games for the BlackBerry platform or for the PlayBook.

Mr. Sharma said the QNX operating system, while highly touted, is an unknown. By contrast, the Android system is on version 2.2, while the Apple OS is in its fourth iteration, he said. Mr. Sharma is also monitoring the progress of Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows mobile operating system, which will integrate with the company’s X-Box videogame system, making it particularly attractive for game developers, he said.

WSJ

RIM will try to compete for developers’ attention by waiving developer fees and attempting to streamline the app-creation process with a new development platform, but they are taking a significant risk with PlayBook, because of the enormous first-mover advantage enjoyed in this kind of product.  The quantity and quality of software is what will sell the hardware, and hardware sales attract developers in-turn.  It’s a chicken-egg situation that either results in a snowball-cum-avalanche or complete gridlock.  RIM is attempting to move the PlayBook by adding more features than Apple’s iPad, but they are features that do not offer the company additional revenue streams.  Connectivity through your Blackberry phone’s existing data connection means no revenue through sales of additional data plans.  And as I’ve already said, Flash support means that apps can run on the web instead of being sold in RIM’s version of the App Store.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the PlayBook was actually more expensive than the iPad, offering more features and more free content once you pay the upfront cost, and I don’t see that strategy dethroning El Jobso.  So where’s their edge (and you can’t feed me the BBM mantra anymore!)?

The stock market doesn’t appear to see one, as RIMM shares are trading down about 3% today while the broader market hovers around neutral to slightly positive.

[Wall Street Journal]

Park Spark Project: More Designs for the Brown Revolution

So after you’ve tooted your way around town for a while in your VW Dung-Beetle, how to kick back and relax? With a day at the park of course, where you can continue your new brown-energy lifestyle, and even get your best friend in on the action.  The Park Spark Project is a system that digests your little buddy’s little buddies and uses the methane to power gas a lamppost or other applications.

Anaerobic digestion (without oxygen) is a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen.

Step 1 – Throw dog waste and biodegradable bag in Digester

Step 2 – Stir mixture to help Methane rise to the top

Step 3 – Burn Methane

Basically, any organic material (in this case dog waste) put in an “air-tight” container will start to produce methane. A methane digester is any system that is filled with biodegradable material and closed off from an oxygen supply. To make it a usable system, you must have some sort of control value (hose or pipe with cut-off value) to let out the methane produced to burn.

Park Spark Project

Well played, sir.  Dogshit is probably the last thing on the planet that we haven’t come up with some kind of use for, outside of pranking your neighbors.  This kind of thing is also nice because it gives people a minor incentive to actually bend down and pick up after their goddamn dogs.  No surprise that the project’s pilot light will not be burning in New York City – everyone here seems much more content to let me step in their dogs’ shit on the sidewalk.  I guess they get more utility from the lulz than from being a responsible human.  Anyway, seems like a solid idea – I mean we ought to use this shit for something, and electrical power for those streetlamps obviously costs tax dollars.  And I definitely like savings de money. Anytime you want to let me pay you for your services in dogshit, you let me know.

Also, holler at me when they come out with the home version and I can power my Xbox with farts; I’m pledging right now to be first in line.

Park Spark Project via obviouswinner

Jobs: I’m a Little Busy Being God Right Now, Please STFU

Over the weekend, some whiny girl who wanted some comments from Apple so she could write a killer article on the use of iPads in academia got an iSock stuffed her mouth when Jobs responded, “Please leave us alone.”

She needed the company’s input for an article she was writing on the topic.  But her repeated phone calls and voicemail messages to Apple’s media relations department went unreturned.  So she wrote to Jobs himself. “The completion of this article is crucial to my grade in the class, and it may potentially get published in our university’s newspaper … I have called countless times throughout the week, leaving short, but detailed, messages which included my contact information and the date of my deadline. Today, I left my 6th message, which stressed the increasingly more urgent nature of the situation. It is now the end of the business day, and I have not received a call back. My deadline is tomorrow,” she wrote.

After Jobs replied that “Of course, she naturally went on to blame her problems on other people, just like everyone else in this country.  She wrote that Apple was hypocritical for being a company that does so much for students (presumably the thesis of her article), yet doesn’t “responsibly handle the inquiries of professional journalists on deadlines.”

Thankfully, Steve Jobs’s sense of self-importance is pretty spot-on and he replied:

“Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry.”

Awesome.  Hilarious girl thinks that the face of modern American entrepreneurship should write her paper for her.  She could probably even avoid failing out of school if he manages to give her few quotes that could make her article worthy of a D+.

sjobs@apple.com: “We have over 300 million users and we can’t respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry.”

Chelsea Kate Isaacs: “I AM one of your 300 million users…Please, I am on deadline.”

sjobs@apple.com: “Please leave us alone.”

-All quotes from abcnews.com

Ironically, by being a bit of a jerk, El Jobso seems to have spoon fed her a far bigger story than she ever would have written otherwise.  But she’s also an idiot because he told her exactly how to get their attention: claim to have an issue with a product.  You have to be creative in this business to get noticed, lady.

Why Not? Chuck Klosterman Essays to Follow iTunes Model

The New York Times is reporting that Scribner has decided to give the iTunes model of selling individual songs for $0.99 a try in their line of work.  After all, any wannabe musicologist knows that the record industry was born of the publishing business.  And who better to captain the flagship than my favorite essayist, Chuck Klosterman.

Mr. Klosterman, the best-selling author of “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” and “Eating the Dinosaur,” has written on culture, music, sports and media, and collected a diverse following of readers along the way. The plan to publish his essays individually was hatched more than a year and a half ago, said Susan Moldow, the publisher of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster whose list of writers includes Annie Proulx, Laura Bush and Frank McCourt.

“We thought, it’s a shame not to follow the iTunes model here, because you have all these essays and they’re all on different subjects and we could recast them,” Ms. Moldow said. “It harkens back in a funny way because for Fitzgerald and Hemingway, the best thing that could happen to them would be that a story was published in Life magazine or The Saturday Evening Post or The New Yorker. The idea of stories being sold in individual units is as old as stories.”

NYT

Gotta say, this makes a lot of sense.  I don’t own an e-reader myself, but if Apple and Amazon are fixin’ to make them the new iPod, which I imagine they are, it would be an absolute shame to not follow the model that revolutionized the music business earlier this decade.  There may even be room for a subscription model in there too, (depending on the productivity of the writer of course), where you can plunk down a certain amount once you’re sold on the author and know you’re going to want everything he writes in the future – like buying his books ahead of time at a discount and getting them automatically on your e-reader the day they are released in print.

Klosterman’s books are great collections of essays and I recommend all of them.  Easy reading that doesn’t sacrifice intellect or humor but is abundant in both.

Thanks to Jared for knowing I would love this.

Follow Chuck on Twitter @CKlosterman.