Google Waves Goodbye To Old Messaging

If you look at the ways we communicate online, you’ll find they are nothing more than fresh paint on archaic methods…some of which date back to the days of six-shooters and stage coaches. All of the innovations thus far have been in the form of bolt-on extras. It’s kind of like duct taping an iPod to an 8-track player then splicing headphone cables to the speaker wires. You still have an 8-track player. Think about it, email is a mimic of snail mail and IM is just glorified telegraph communication.

But it looks like the guys and gals at Google have decided to step up and do something for online communication that nobody has successfully done thus far. They scrapped everything and designed a system from the ground up to leverage all the web and modern technology has to offer for communication into a single tool. This tool is Google Wave. If you visit the site you will be presented with a video of the tech demo that lasts nearly an hour and a half. It’s well worth the watch.

So what is Google Wave and what makes it so special? That’s not an easy thing to describe. It’s partly a framework, partly a protocol, partly an application, and all wrapped in yummy bacon. In the video, one of the designers of Google Wave mentions that email was actually invented over 40 years ago…long before the advent of the internet. So the driving force was if email were invented today, what would it be like? I have to say that in this regard it looks like they are succeeding amazingly. They touch on things far more in-depth than I will here, but I will hit the high points.

The gist of the application side of Wave is collaboration. Take email, IM, blogging, forums, Wikis, Twitter, Flickr/Picasa, YouTube, and basically any Web 2.0 site/application and stir. Bake in Google’s think-tank for two years and you get one heckuva slick piece of coding magic. You can write a Wave (which is the term used for any type of communication) and add people to it. We won’t call them recipients. They’re more like participants. They can then reply or add or edit or privately reply not just to the message, but to specific pieces of a message. In real-time. No more seeing Hoser is typing messages forcing you to wait eleventy hundred minutes for them to finish. You see what they are typing almost character for character which allows you to go ahead and start formulating or even typing in a response.

Then you can drag files (pictures, movies, whatever) directly into the Wave which shows up almost immediately in their Wave client if they are looking at the Wave at the time you do so. In the case of pictures, you get thumbnails pretty much instantaneously while the full pictures are still loading. This makes for some really interesting possibilities. Given that this is a Google project, you know that the search is really nice. No surprise there. The surprise is this: it runs completely in the browser. But this doesn’t scratch the surface of what it can do. Oh, did I mention this will be open-source?

Yes, Google has already announced this will be an open source system and they are encouraging developers to create their own Wave clients and even server implementations. There will be a series of APIs to allow anyone to create robots (snap-ins) to connect Wave to other services. They show a Twitter robot, a blog robot, and even a translator that does…get this…real-time language translation for conversations. They want to see what kinds of amazing things other people can come up with to extend Google Wave even further than they have imagined. Oh, did I mention that the real-time updates work even if you have your own Wave server implementation? Yep, you get the same sweetness between Wave servers so it could be as universal as email. That’s where the Wave protocol comes into play.

I really can’t go into much more about this or this post will take four years to read. Go watch the video. Seeing it work is far more impressive than any simple text post could hope to be. I’ve seen the future…and I’m wearing shades.

Home Media Makeover Part One: DVD Library

Technology abounds in every aspect of our lives. Computers are usually the center of a great many media types that we experience throughout the day. You can buy a computer pretty much anywhere these days for really reasonable prices. So the question on my mind has been, why are most people still using the old components of yore for their home theaters? Why not leverage some of this wonderful computer technology and versatility for the home theater experience?

Yes, I know there are HTPC options out there. Most of them run well over $1500 for the base model. I also know you can roll your own HTPC/DVR for about the same price. What I’m talking about is using a more distributed model, preferably leveraging systems you already have in place…just extending them to the HDTV in the living room. For my personal project, I have a 20″ iMac on my desk and a Vista laptop that usually sits on the coffee table. There’s a 50″ Samsung plasma TV in the living room that I really want to use to watch my media such as streaming video from the web with an XBox360 under it.

Ideally, I want to get rid of the DVD player and replace the set-top box from Comcast with my media system so I can drop the cable television service and thus save myself over $1000 a year. Now I realize that for my particular desires, I will not need a PVR/DVR setup and can thus skimp on some hardware. Actually, for step one of my media center makeover, I just want to stream ripped copies of my DVD library so my 360 will play the part of extender. For this setup, storage will be the biggest concern with network bandwidth running a close second. With today’s prices for hardware, neither of those should be a challenge to satisfy on a budget.

Let’s start by making sure there is plenty of storage for my media. My eventual completed media system will hopefully house rips of every DVD I own so I can just fire up my extender and select the title that it will stream to the plasma. For this I’m going to need something really large because I own a lot of DVDs. I will add an external 1TB USB hard drive to hold my movies. I will probably add a second one later on to house my anime. This is the nice thing about using external storage. I can add/remove/swap at will even while the system is running. These drives start at just over $150. So that’s reasonable.

Next I need to worry about network bandwidth. Everything in my house is running wirelessly on 802.11g. I was worried that video streaming would saturate the bandwidth, but after testing it last night with Pirates of the Carribean, I am confident that the G network will be sufficient for everything I will be doing in phase one. This is wonderful because I don’t have to spend the money on a new router and adapters for every system in the house. I now have more budget to work on other areas.

Now we have storage and bandwidth taken care of for less than $200. Time to hit software. I already have Handbrake which will handle the rip/convert process for my DVDs. I also have Connect360 ($20) to let the XBox see my iMac. Now I just need time. Handbrake 0.9.2 has a large selection of presets for different types of devices. Since I am using my Xbox360, I selected the presets for that device. It works wonderfully. Handbrake also has presets for everything from the iPhone to a PS3. It is a wonderful little program that costs nothing.

If you are using Vista Home Premium or Vista Ultimate, you have what you need to connect to the 360…Windows Media Center. That would just leave the ripping/converting software. Many people take the inexpensive route of ripping the DVD with DVD Decrypter or DVDShrink to a single VOB file then changing the extension to MPG. Media Center will let you stream the renamed file to your 360 with full DVD Quality. Details for this method and some caveats are here. There is also TMPGEnc MovieStyle ($39.95) which can encode to different playable formats.

Do not be fooled. Ripping and encoding a full length movie is not going to happen quickly. It took nearly four hours for my iMac to get finished with Pirates of the Carribean. This is not a project for the impatient. You will easily spend a couple of weeks working on rips if you have a large library. I have about 400 or so DVDs from movies to anime and television series. I fully expect this conversion process will take me about two months. On the bright side, unless I lose a drive, I won’t have to worry about it ever again and adding new movies that I purchase will be mostly painless.

Now that my DVD library is taken care of in this design, time to hit up my other wants. I want to be able to stream from video sites such as SurfTheChannel and Hulu since this is where I get a lot of my television series fulfillment. That will be in Part Two.

Right here on Hippie TV!

I normally reserve my eco/green posts (read “hippie ideas”) for The Energy Farm site. The only problem is that I have to put more of a journalist-like feel to the article. Now I don’t consider myself a journalist. I’m more of a hobby blogger because I like to share my ideas with anyone that will listen. Yes, sometimes I talk a lot. Anyway, the point is I ran across a neat little article about a new cable channel launching next month and I wanted to share some thoughts. I just didn’t feel I could really express myself well in the more sanitized environment of the other site.

Let’s get to it. Apparently Discovery is launching Planet Green next month. It will be focused on eco-friendly lifestyle programming. The resurgence of the “hippie movement” seems to be in full swing. I’m okay with that. I’ve always thought people were, in general, far too wasteful. In the 80’s it seemed like the “in” thing to get as much as you could and do as little with it as possible. Heck, I remember a truck customizing magazine I used to read that had a special on a souped up Chevrolet 4×4 that got….1 mile to the gallon. You read that right…it had a 1:1 ratio of gas to distance. This was the centerfold truck of that issue. For years now that memory has stood out in my mind as the true representation of our wastefulness.

How does this relate back to Planet Green? General Motors is the only automotive sponsor of the channel. They will be airing several two-minute ad spots on the station. According to the article, two will be corporate spots, four will be Chevrolet spots, and the final two will be Saturn related. I’d imagine that the vast majority of these will be used to try and change the perception that GM only works with large, gas-hungry designs like the Hummer and Suburban. And while a vast amount of its products would fall into the large, heavy, and thirsty category…they do have quite a few more eco-minded lines.

If you consider how GM is fairing financially right now – poorly – you might wonder why they are dropping serious dollars on a fledgling cable station. Personally I think it’s a brilliant move. A lot of my opinion comes from how much I think the company is counting on the Chevy Volt to save them. I’ve been following the electric and extended electric car movement for a while. I hope that my next car is one of them. And I can say that if GM delivers on the promises of the Volt, they could take this new market by storm. And they’ll have to if they want to stay relevant for a few more generations. Oil prices won’t come back down unless the global economy magically resets. Put away those pipe dreams. It’s time to wake up and smell the exhaust.

Alternative energy is more than a fad at this point. It was a nice little sideline to funnel a bit of R&D money into as a write-off a few years ago. With energy prices soaring the way they are now, it’s far more serious. People want ways to do what they always do without having to take out a second mortgage (and don’t get me started on the housing market). GM is poised with the Volt to offer the first mass production extended range electric vehicle for under $40,000 around $30,000 (so says Now I know that some people like to slip on the sandals and grab their hemp necklaces before heading out to the rally supporting the $10,000 PHEV. Get over it. You can’t buy any new car for that and you most certainly won’t get a car using a new technology for that. I think GM’s idea of a car with style and function for the price point they suggest is great.

If you want less range but a slightly higher top speed and no gas tank at all, feel free to get in line for the $108,000 Tesla Roadster. You could have the $600/month lease for the Honda FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell car if you live in the right place in SoCal, just don’t expect to make long trips with it. I believe those hit empty near 200 miles. Speaking of SoCal, you can also jump in line for an Aptera. They should be under $30k according to their website. I imagine it has less storage space than the Volt will. And it’s only a two-seater where I the Volt should be four. Did I mention the Aptera Typ-1 looks like it belongs to Darkwing Duck? That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but this isn’t something you want to buy if you are shy. People will stare and they will take pictures.

It seems like I’ve strayed from Planet Green again, doesn’t it? I haven’t. This is exactly the kind of thing they will be talking about…tech to free us…tech that’s eco-friendly. The other point I was making is that GM is far from the only player in the market for new car lines that are more efficient and “green”. However, they are the only automotive sponsor for the channel. It’s a brilliant move by the beleaguered company that could go a long way to saving them from extinction. So keep your eyes open for Planet Green by Discovery launching on June 4. We could all use a little more Green…

I Think We Should See Other Providers

It already appears that my new HD-DVR is a much more stable than Tom Cruise, unlike my last one. But I am still dealing with HD channels suffering from what I call “Max Headroom Syndrome”. This is where…oh if you don’t know who Max Headroom is, hit Google and Youtube for a little much needed education. Between that and the screen and sound just blanking out every minute or so during Poker After Dark, I’m less and less pleased with my new Comcast deal.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate what they’ve done so far. But with my latest online discovery I don’t know that I have any real need to pursue these issues much longer. To be honest, Sid’s offer on my service rate adjustments only make up about 40% of the reason I didn’t cancel. The real reason is I cannot live without Good Eats. I’m an Alton Brown fan until the end and when I wrote my previous posts about internet television and about Comcast I mentioned that it was the one show I was unable to find online. I’m weak and just couldn’t part with that one show to save money.

That’s different now. Enter TidalTV. They offer channels like DIY, HGTV, and Food Network. They also offer a couple of news channels like AP and some sports channels as well. And yes, they have Good Eats. So take heed Comcast, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me thus far. I think that Frank‘s team (Melissa M. in particular) are one of the best things you’ve done in years. I can’t thank Sid enough for the help he is still giving me on my issues. But if things don’t change between us soon, I’m gonna start seeing other providers. I hear that Hulu and TidalTV and Netflix will give me everything I want. Three at once might be more work, but they also don’t give me all the crap I can live without. They also don’t spend as much of my money as you do. And with the new Netflix Player on the market, I can get more of that goodness on my plasma should I choose not to snatch up an AppleTV for my house.

Hulu – Internet Television

I happen to like some television shows. I also love my DVR. This makes for a wonderfully easy way for me to enjoy the shows I like at a time that is convenient to me. However my current Comcast DVR is less than reliable. I’ve had to delete and recreate my season recordings (that’s a Season Pass for you Tivo users) because they randomly just stop working. Which I of course do not discover until the latest episode of Chuck has already come and gone.

Living where I do, I also don’t have the luxury of OnDemand. Which would supplant my DVR fetish when it comes to watching TV. I mean think about it. With OnDemand you wouldn’t have to configure all those pesky recording options and worry about what to do if you want to watch a live show while two others are being recorded. That is, if your DVR comes with dual tuners. If it doesn’t…then you should retire the device and spare the poor hamster that powers the archaic thing.

It was a situation just like I described when I happened to hear about Hulu. This is a site(still in beta) where you can watch both old and new television shows with surprisingly little commercial interruption. The interface is clean and the show selection is getting better every day. They already have my current new show selection up and running (Chuck, Heroes, Bionic Woman). They also have a lot of old favorites like Airwolf, The A-Team, and the original Twilight Zone. It’s as simple as logging in, clicking the episode you want, and watching the show.

I spent the last day and a half watching Tin Man, Chuck, and Airwolf. I have literally been at my laptop for many many hours watching TV. For a 15.4 inch widescreen monitor and my wireless network connection, the strain was very light. I was able to watch the shows with no discernable stutter or degradation in video quality. The commercial breaks number about the same as they do on the air, but the breaks are only a single commercial between 15 and 30 seconds. How’s that for nice? No, you cannot fast forward or pause during a commercial…but for the mildness of the marketing incursions, I’ll gladly replace my DVR with my laptop for my TV fix….assuming I can get everything happily showing over my 50″ plasma and running through my home theater sound system.

If I manage to get all of that working, I’ll let you know how it sounds and looks over equipment a little more tuned to video playback than my Dell Inspiron. But everything I’ve seen up until now is how I think Internet Television should be done. Now if I can just find out where they hid episode 3 of Chuck….