Apple TV Review – 3rd Generation 2015

Apple-TV-1

The 3rd Generation Apple TV was released in March 2012, but even now in March 2015 (a full three years later)  it’s still the newest model available. I hadn’t even realized myself how long it had been out until I bought one and looked it up. Hence the reason I’m telling you at the start of this review.

This little black box sports a single core varient of the Apple A5 processor. The same chip found in the iPhone 4S, iPad 2, 5th generation iPod Touch and the original iPad Mini. Apple has gotten a lot of milage out of this processor. Especially when you consider that it still sells the iPad Mini, iPod and Apple TV brand new.

Aside from the processor, this Apple TV comes with 512MB of DDR2 Ram, 8GB of flash memory, 802.11n wifi, HDMI 1.4, ethernet, optical audio output and a mico USB jack for maintenance purposes only. Sadly no ability to hook up an external hard drive to it.

The machine can handle H.264 compressed 1080p full HD video at up to 30 frame per second. Which covers most movies and videos that are shot at 24, 25 or 30fps. It also doesn’t seem to have a problem playing back my 60fps (60p) video sent from my iPhone 6. Though my guess is that most of the heavy lifting to change the frame rate from 60p to 30p is happening on the iPhone 6 itself before being sent to the Apple TV. That would only make sense, the iPhone 6 has a faster chip in it.

From a software perspective, this Apple TV is running a version of iOS 8.2. Also known as Apple TV Software 7.1.

Apple-TV-2

My First Impressions

When first looking at the Apple TV in the store (Best Buy), I was curious how they fit the remote in the box. The Apple TV comes with a slim aluminum Apple remote with the same kind of satin finish on it as a Macbook has. It’s elegant and very simple with only seven buttons on it, including the four direction buttons of the direction pad, but not very ergonomic to use. It’s longer than the old white plastic Apple remote they sold before, which is one of the reasons they had to put it in the Apple TV box diagonally.

Like all Apple products, the packaging is superb. Including the black plastic piece of tape that circles the entire device, sheilding the piano black finish of the sides and covering all the ports. The black power cable also has that same soft rubber feel you find on all Apple cords (power, USB, etc.). But the Apple TV does not come with an HDMI cable, which is the only way to hook it up to your TV. In this day and age though, that’s the only connection you really need. Although the first generation Apple TV did come with component and analog audio connection (RCA type). But it was also a much bigger box compared to the second and third generation Apple TVs.

When first starting up the machine, I was surprised to see it ask me to hold my iPhone close to it. After typing in a code it then automatically set up my Apple TV from my iPhone settings, including the password to my wireless modem/router. Something I normally have to enter manually for every wireless device. Pretty nice.

Once that was all completed, I was taken into the main menu and began to fiddle around with how it all worked. One of my concerns before buying it was whether I’d be able to move around the various channel icons since I knew I’d watch some more than others. The first message to pop up on the Apple TV was instructions on how to do that. Hold down the center button until they wiggle and then move them around. Same as any iOS device. Nice.

After that, I decided to try out connectivity with my iPhone, since that was one of the big reasons for chosing an Apple TV over something like a Roku (which also seemed great with the headphone jack on the remote and the development community it has).

AirPlay is what Apple calls it when you connect a device to the Apple TV. Via AirPlay you can send videos, photos, music, podcasts and even mirror the screen of your device to the Apple TV. This works with all modern iOS devices and all Macs made mid 2011 or later. Sadly that means my late 2008 Macbook is not compatible. But after six years, I think it’s time to upgrade to a new Macbook anyway. Something I plan to do later this year or early next year.

Sending video was pretty simple, same with music and podcasts, but I couldn’t figure out the photos at first. It did just work after a minute or so, but there is no toggle in the photos app on the iPhone for AirPlay.
Here is a tip, after a while I figured out that there is a master AirPlay switch in the slide up control panel on the iPhone. The one you slide up from the bottom of the screen. This allows you to turn on AirPlay with said iPhone, as well as a separate mirroring switch which allows you to mirror your display on your TV in either horizontal or vertical orientation, depending on how you’re holding your phone.

Once I discovered mirroring, the usefulness of the Apple TV skyrocketed for me. Now I could browse the web, pinch to zoom photos (something that regular AirPlay of photos does not allow you to do), play games on the big screen and watch any video compatible with the iPhone on the big screen.

Another great discovery was that of the Apple Remote application for iOS. This is an app I already had on my iPhone for remotely controlling my my iTunes library on my Mac. However it also works as a remote for the Apple TV. A far better remote than the physical remote included with the Apple TV. It allows you to slide your finger around the screen to navigate, fast forward, rewind, play/pause, select and use the keyboard on your phone for typing in search boxes. Far faster and more accurate than having to select individual letters/numbers with just a crosspad on the physical remote.

With all of this combined, the Apple TV is shaping up to be an awesome little device. I still have yet to try it with my 2012 Mac Mini, it’s only been since Sunday (two days ago) that I bought the Apple TV.

My biggest complaint is the speed of video from my iPhone to the Apple TV. It doesn’t seem to stream the video so much as load the video from the iPhone to the memory of the Apple TV itself. After it loads a little bit it begins to play. The problem is that it plays faster than it loads. So it’s constantly stopping and I have to wait for it to load more of the video, or I have to pause it at the beginning and wait a whole 3-4 minutes for it to load the whole video before playing. I was expecting a much smoother, better performing experience between two Apple devices.

That said, it’s still better than I had it before. If I wanted to watch video shot on my iPhone before I had an Apple TV, I had to hook my iPhone up to my computer and offload the video files to my computer first and then hook my computer up to my TV via a long HDMI cable and play it through Quicktime or VLC. So even with the wait time, this is much faster and easier. I’m bound to watch more of my iPhone shot videos on the big screen now. Just not as quick or smooth as I was expecting.

Aside from that, my only real complaints are the apps(channels) themselves. It has several apps on it, including the big ones like Netflix, Youtube, Hulu Plus (which I don’t use), HBO Go (soon HBO Now) and several others. But I’m not really a big fan of the layout and navigation of the Netflix app. While it offers more control than the Netflix app on my Vizio smart TV (such as the ability to rate videos and search by genre), I have to jump through more menus and it doesn’t give a quick description of the movie or show when you highlight over the poster icon like my Vizio does. As a result, my girlfriend still prefers the Vizio version of Netflix and I honestly can’t blame her. I was hoping for an even better Netflix experience on the Apple TV, but apparently that’s not the case.

Most of the other apps like ABC, History, etc, are generally pretty useless. They offer a handful of full length shows, but often they are random episodes like episode 6 and 9 of season 3 of some show you’ve never seen. Hardly a good way to get into a new show. Not to mention all the randon “clips” from shows that these content providers give you, which again are useless. I don’t really understand who out there wants to watch one or two minute “clips” of a show.  So even though there are all these channels (or apps?) most of them are pretty pointless. I will mostly take advange of Netflix, Youtube, Vimeo and soon enough, HBO Now. Strangely there is no Amazon app. Which is really disappointing as a Prime member.

HBO Now is the main reason I decided to jump on the Apple TV train at this point. While I’ve always been curious about the device,  I never felt compelled enough to buy one. Once Apple and HBO announced last week that HBO would be offering a stand alone service called HBO Now with a three month exclusive on iOS devices just before season five of Game of Thrones started and then also dropped the price of the Apple TV from $99 to $69, I decided it was time to make the jump. Wow, what a long sentence.

My girlfriend and I both like a lot of HBO shows, but we cut the cable cord over a year ago. We use just Netflix, Amazon prime, Blu-ray/DVD and over-the-air TV broadcasts. So it will be nice to get a Netflix-like HBO service.

The Future of the Apple TV

So far the Apple TV is proving to be useful if not overly exciting. What the future holds for this device I do not know. I assume more services and apps will be released as time goes on, including rumors of a streaming TV service offered by Apple itself.

Some people are waiting for Apple to release a new version of the Apple TV. A fourth generation. I’m not entirely sure what they expect new hardware to do, as this is mostly a streaming device that just needs more software/content options. Something that could be added to the current model.

Although I can take a few stabs at guessing what new hardware might be able to do. Which would really only be higher frame rates and resolution. Such as 60fps 1080p video and possbly UHD (4K) at up to 60fps as well. To do that, I would expect a fourth generation Apple TV to sport a single core version of the A8 processor, which we know is capable of both UHD resolution and H.265 codec support. If such a chip and resolution is implemented, I would also expect an HDMI 2.0 port and probably 802.11ac wireless. Prossible ram boost to at least 1GB and possibly 16GB of storage, though maybe 8Gb would still be enough. I also wouldn’t expect this new device before early 2016. At the earliest, sometime after the release of the next iPhone this fall. I think Apple would wait for new devices with an A9 processor before putting even a single core version of the A8 into the lower cost Apple TV.

All of that is just a guess though. But I honestly can’t see what more an Apple TV would need from a hardware perspective. It’s not as if Apple is going to turn this device into a full-blown stereo receiver with a bunch of ports and controls. I seriously doubt they’ll ever make an actual television set. The cost would be too much. What they really want to do is get as many people on this platform as possible to lock up content deals and sell you access to content.

Overall, I think I’ll keep this Apple TV. It was cheap enough at $69 to be a spur of the moment buy and with HBO Now coming, along with AirPlay mirroring from my iOS devices, it will prove to have some use. Even if it’s not the most sexy of Apple devices.

SocialMore Update

Now this is awkward. I’m giving a SocialMore update on my personal blog, not on SocialMore.com.

Have you seen the movie The Lone Ranger, the new one with Johnny Depp? Throughout the movie he’s always feeding his dead bird. That’s how I feel about SocialMore.

I started this project in late 2009. I brought on a couple programmers, one after the first completely bailed on me. We were supposed to launch on February 4th, 2011. My birthday. I wanted to share my birthday with a project I was passionate about. It also seemed like a good deadline. For reference, Google+ launched in June of 2011. Sporting some ideas that we’re designed to be in SocialMore. Their circles feature specifically. An idea I had actually gotten from Livejournal years ago.

To be fair, we did officially launch on that day and it has been running since then. It’s just never been anywhere near where I needed to be in terms of functionality.

After another year of work I lost my programmer. Personal life issues. He didn’t have time anymore. I don’t fault him for it it. It is what it is. I’m happy he spent as much time on it as he did with me.

After losing him, I took a long break. It’s been over a year now. Until yesterday when I started working on it again for eight hours. Giving it a fresh new look. Trying to simplify it as much as possible when still trying to keep the feature set the same. Sometimes it’s good to step away and get a fresh persepctive. Other times it’s good to step and away indefinitely.

It’s one of those projects I just need to let go of, consider it a failure and move on. I’m not a programmer. It doesn’t matter how much HTML/CSS I write or how many jquery scripts I patch in, it’s not going to do anything without PHP/MySQL behind it.

I even started taking a programming and database design class at college last year to try and learn it myself. I ended up dropping the classes  after about 8-9 weeks. Java not PHP. No collegs seems to offer entry level PHP classes to my dismay. Plus two programming classes for a newbie is too much. Especially with a full time job and parental duties as well. But that’s just an excuse. The truth is, I was discouraged. I had missed a number of classes for other personal reasons, got too far behind and it felt like I was drowning. So I backed out. I really need to go back.

This is one of those things man. Something I can’t just seem to put to rest. Like my screenplay for Alien Prophecy I’ve been “writing” since was 15 years old. Twenty years now!  Rewritten countless times. Completely different each time but never a completed script any of those times. There was always some hangup. I didn’t know where it was going.  Truth was there wasn’t ever really a story there. Just a handful of characters and a title I liked so much I kept working on it. Never satisfied with the story. Eventually it got to a point of legendary stature in my mind after so many years that no story was good enough for the title. Yet truthfully it’s kind of a b-movie title isn’t it? Something that took me till my 30’s to realize. So why did I cling too it so much? Because I had already put some much time into it and I didn’t want to fail.

There actually is substance to SocialMore and I still think it’s a great idea. But if it never happens, it doesn’t matter how great of an idea it is. Hover cars are a great idea. You can design some amazing hover car designs. But if you can’t make them hover, it’s all for naught.

You know what’s going to happen don’t you? That I’m going to pick up some programming skills here and there over the next eight to ten years. Then it ten years this thing is finally going to fully launch, fourteen plus years after I started it. One of those things that had I known how long it was goinng to take to do I would have never started it. By then, I would have either missed my window of opportunity or worse, find out after all those years that no one was ever going to care. That even if I got it working years ago it was never going to take off.

Wow this is sounding depressing, time to jump back on the optimism train I like to ride. No matter what, it gives me something to do. Even it it never gets off the ground or goes anywhere, at the very least I have something to toy with. Something to dream about. After all it’s not the end, it’s the journey right?

http://www.SocialMore.com

 

 

All Natural

There is an argument known as Appeal to Nature and the basic concept is simple, “That which is natural is good and that which is unnatural is bad.”

The problem with the appeal to nature is that it is not true.

People tend to romanticize things. Sometimes that is ancient Chinese medicine or the words of people who have long since past or in this case, the concept of all natural.

All Natural Living

My girlfriend and I recently spend some time watching the first season of the new show Naked and Afraid. If there is anything this show confirmed to me, it is that nature is equally our enemy as it is our friend.

Nature doesn’t often give you something free of charge. Sure there could be a lot of stuff around you. Maybe some fresh berries and some dry sticks, but you’re going to have to work for a lot of it.  You need shelter, fresh water, a balanced diet, clothing to keep you warm or at least keep the sun off you when it’s blisteringly hot out. Good footwear is a must. It’s also best to have some kind of weapon to use against predators should they come lurking. Last but certainly not least, you need fire so you can cook your food, boil your water and stay warm. Nature will provide you the raw materials for these things, but it’s your job to figure out who to make it all happen. That’s technology.

If you obtain all of that, you still have to hunt or farm for a steady supply of food and you have all types of other possible calamities that can arise. Anything from viruses to broken bones or infections. It is as if nature wants to continually try to kill you unless you work your butt off to survive. But we forget that in our modern world.

We complain about taxes, driving in the snow, internet outages, genetically modified foods, you name it. But very few of us would trade any of those problems for the kind of problems we would face going all natural. Our modern struggle is not nearly the same kind of struggle as having to go find and kill your food whenever you get hungry. Very few of us have to deal with poisonous snakes, bears, lions, alligators, scorpions or any other small or large predator. In our modern world, the term “watch your step” typically applies to a piece of uneven ground, not a predator below your feet that wants to kill you.

We have it pretty good today. The reason we have it good is because of our technology and the efforts of people that came before us. But there is a problem. We’ve separated our daily lives so far from living in the wild that we’re now romanticizing the wild. We now have people running around preaching the virtues of all natural and damning anything that we’ve created using technology. Come on now… we need to look at this logically.

Nothing is perfect. Are some of these things we’ve created bad for us? Sure, maybe they are. But we must not suddenly turn our back on technoogy as a whole, like it’s some evil thing. It is technology that has helped us survive and live the relatively comfy lives we’re now used to. We’re still figuring a lot of it out. We have to keep a balanced perspective. We’ve already stated that nature itself is not all good. Generally speaking it wants of kill us. But we’re all survivors, at least for a time until nature finally catches up to us and does find a way to kill us. Maybe it’s a virus or maybe it’s our heart giving out at 75 years old. We’ve learned to surivive infections with antibiotics. We’ve learned to survive predators by building better weapons and better shelter. We’ve learned to survive starvation by finding ways to get more food on a regular basis. Eventually we will learn to live longer by modifying our bodies to slow down aging. It has all taken trial and error to get there and it will continue to take some trial and error. Are genetically modified crops bad for us? Maybe some of them all, but maybe some of them aren’t. Just because it’s modified doesn’t suddenly make it bad. That’s just one example. There are countless others. Let’s just not fall into a trap of black and white thinking where we label everything natural as good and everything created as bad.

It’s all a game of survival where our obstacle course is nature. So remember that. Nature is not your best buddy. It is not to be romanticized. It is an obstacle course you must battle through for as long as your can.

Do you trust the internet long term?

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How much do you trust the internet long term?

Think about that. Can you imagine putting something on the internet and having it last for decades?

The media today talks about things staying on the internet. That once it’s on the internet there is no taking it back. Usually they’re referring to young people posting naughty pictures. But what about if it’s something that is actually important. Like something you want to pass on after you’ve passed on. Like a website or a film or a piece of art you’ve created that you want to stay online.

On one hand you can pay for web hosting, but if you or someone else isn’t around to pay for it, it goes offline. What about social media sites like facebook or any other service based site like this? Do you trust them to hold your data long term?

What solution is there for that?

In the real world, something actually exists in a physical form. It could be damaged or thrown out, but we at least have examples of things that are hundreds or even thousands of years old that are still around. Shorter term I have family films and photographs from 40+ years ago. Will Facebook or Google be around 40 years from now hosting my photos still? Will Youtube still have my videos?

A few months ago I was backing up a blog I had on Xanga to my own computer. I then transfer those entries to my personal website. It occured to me at that point that my personal website has been around now for 12 years. Longer than any social media account I’ve ever had. So even though i went through times of money shortages I still managed to pay the pittance to keep my website up. As a result I trust my own website more than anything else online at this point. But like I said, if I wasn’t around to pay the bill, what then?

Nobody I know even knows who my webhost is or my login details. It would probably be the last thing they think about. Even if I gave somebody this information, do I put that burdon on them to pay that bill every three months and that url registration every year?

So really, how permanent is everything online? For the little people like us that is. Is there anything we can do about it to make things more permanent?

Galaxy S4 vs iPhone

So my girlfriend and I decided to upgrade our iPhones to Galaxy S4 phones a couple days ago. I had been pining for a larger screen phone for some time. In fact I almost took the leap to the Galaxy S2 before getting my last iPhone. An iPhone 4S. But I didn’t feel that Android was up to par yet, so I waited and bought the 4S instead. My girlfriend joined me on a family plan and picked up the same phone. Her iPhone in white and mine in black.

For the last 18 months we’ve been using our iPhones. This was her first iPhone and my second, having previously used a 3GS for a couple years. Although to be fair I did own an original iPhone for about a month. But at the time it was AT&T only and I was on their goPhone plan. It ended up being too expensive for me to keep at the time. So I’m not even going to count that, except to say that I was impressed enough with it that I knew I wanted to go back when I could. So I did with the 3GS.

20130904-103001.jpgWhen looking at the specifications and the screen size, it appears at first that the Galaxy S4 is a stellar phone that has the iPhone beat hands down. Admittedly it is a nice phone but both of us knew by the second day that they were not the phones for us. So we ended up return the Galaxy S4 phones and going back to our old iPhones.

Some would say we didn’t give it enough time and that we would have gotten used to the differences. That might be true. But why should we? What I’ve learned over time that there really are three different types of mentalities when it comes to computers, be them desktops or smartphones. There are the people that are just cost conscience and almost care less. They go for what seems like a good deal and what is sold to them by store clerks. This group is most certainly the majority. For them they typically use PCs and Android phones. Because when they walk into a store, the majority of computers and phones are PCs and Android devices. Most of these people aren’t going to for the top shelf devices either. They are going for the best deal.

The second group are the techies and programmers and tinkerers. These people also go for PCs and Android devices. They like to customize and root and more than anything are sold on specs. They go for the top shelf devices.

The third group is where I discover myself. Even though I built my first PC back in 1998 and several others since, I ultimately ended up switching to a Mac about 5 years ago beause I got tired of always needing to deal with system upkeep on a Windows box. Today I value usability more than specs. Every once in a while I need to remind myself of that, like a did a couple of days ago when I picked up the S4. I quickly discovered that I didn’t like the overall interface and the way things worked on Android. While it has made many improvements since I first looked at a Galaxy S2 over 18 months ago, it still wasn’t where I wanted it to be. In fact it probably never will be because the philosophy behind the two operating systems is vastly different.

As an iPhone user and a mac user, my biggest issues with the S4 revolved around usability. It’s not that the S4 or most high end Android devices are not capable of doing the same things as and iPhone, because they are and so much more. You can customize those system till kingdom come. The problem for me was that it was a pain in the ass to do things my iPhone made simple. For example, loading music onto the device was not as simple as just syncing it to iTunes and getting all my playlists as well as books, movies and podcasts. Instead I had to jump through a few hoops. As a mac user I had to download some Android file transfer application which would only recognize my phone about 25% of the time. I kept having to reboot both my phone and my mac mini before I could get it to recognize. Once it did, it presented me with just a folder to drag and drop files into. No playlist syncing, no podcasts, no books, just a jumble of files. Far from easy or a good user experience. I also attempted to try DoubleTwist and Winamp, but again I faced a brick wall. DoubleTwist required the phone to be in a file transfer mode my S4 won’t allow without rooting the phone. Winamp (for Mac at least) doesn’t support syncing yet. So I was stuck without any way to get my content to my phone. Maybe there were alternatives, but by that point I was already fed up. If I was going to have to jump through hoops every time I wanted to do simple things like this, this was not going to be a positive phone experience for me.

There were other aspects of the phone that also annoyed me. The lack of a hardware mute switch being one of them. I was not a fan of the stock earbuds the phone comes with. I don’t care for the in-ear style earbuds to begin with. They sound nice, but I don’t like how they muffle outside sounds and create vibrations when the cord hits something. The volume and play/pause controls aren’t as responsive as the Apple earbuds and they only work with the native Samsung music player unless the other player (like Winamp) is front and center. If you’d doing something else on the phone, while listening to winamp, the controls don’t work. I also noticed some hiccuping of the music when jumping from app to app. Something I had never experienced on an iPhone.

The straw that finally broke the camels back for me was when I was listening to the BBC app in the car and a text message came in, shutting off the BBC radio feed. This caused me to have to grab the phone, unlock it and navigate back into the app and into the radio panel/button to turn it back on. All while driving. Annoying. That was only one text message. What I was getting multiple messages coming in? Would I have to keep repeating this process.

I noticed other problems as well. The Netflix app for example started the show I was watching all over again after navigating away from the app and then back to it. It might have been a one time occurrence, but being that I had never experienced that on iPhone, it left a bad taste in my mouth for Android. Especially my first day with a brand new phone.

I was also rather annoyed by the lack of text messages lighting up my screen. The phone will light up the screen and show the text message or app notification front and center the next time you turn on your phone. The S4 on the other hand, was keeping the screen dim, and barely beeping. When going to the phone, half the time the new messages weren’t showing up on the lock screen. I missed a couple text messages and nearly missed a few others.

There were several other smaller issues I won’t bother mentioning, like my alarm clocks not going off and causing me to be late to work. But that was probably just user error on my part.

Don’t get me wrong though, there were some things I did like about the S4. The gallery for example is wonderful. I love how photos and images get saved to albums automatically based on the app they are coming from. I like how Google+ and Facebook albums get pulled in. I discovered some old photos I hadn’t seen in a while.

I also found that I liked the screen a lot. It wasn’t bulky in the pocket because of how thin the device is. My iPhone 4S feels like more of a bulge even though the screen is much smaller. But as much as I had been dying to get my hands on a larger screen, I must admit that from a usability standpoint I see now why Apple has held off. Most of the time I am a one-handed iPhone user and I’ve got longer fingers and thumbs. Big American hands. But even I had issues with the S4 when reaching for the upper icons or the notification screen. There were a bit more martial arts involved in using it one handed and I found myself using two hands more. This is not horrible. It’s something I would have gotten used to. But ideally I realize now that something around 4.3 to 4.5 inches is probably better for me personally.

The screen size and resolution from a viewing perspective is wonderful, but the AMOLED technology is harder to see in bright sunlight and the phone always seemed to favor a dimmer setting than the iPhone does when set to auto mode. So the iPhone screen is viewable in more conditions than the S4 was. The iPhone also looked a tad sharper, even though the PPI (Pixels per square inch) is less. The reason for this has to do with content. The S4 screen is pushing a lot of pixels so when viewing images online that are lower resolution they are getting blow up more making them not as crisp. My girlfriend also complained about the graphics in her game looking too saturated and bleeding too much.

Overall the experience going from the iPhone to the S4 for me was not a positive one. My girlfriend felt equally as strong and it was kind of funny how both of the came to the same conclusion at the same time, miles away from each other. In fact she was the one that text me first and said “this phone is not working for me. I want to go back to the iPhone.” I felt the same way.

So we ended up returning the phones and getting our old iPhones turned back on. Deciding to wait until the Apple iPhone announcement next week before jumping into new iPhones. We’re both happy again. As if we had come back home from a bad vacation. Happy to be in a place we know,

DSLR or Mirrorless?

Canons

When it comes to hobbyist and pro cameras, their are two types on the market today. DSLR and mirrorless.

DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. In the film days before digital we called them SLRs without the D for digital.

The term comes from the mirror inside the camera that flips up when you take a picture. Back in the days of film cameras there was only one way to see the image you were going to take, exactly as it would be taken. Light coming through the lens would hit a mirror that was slanted at a 45 degree angle. It would bounce off the mirror and into a pentaprism and then out into the users eye through the viewfinder. When you clicked the shutter button the mirror would flip up (blacking out the viewfinder) and the shutter in front of the film would slide open allowing the light to pass straight through the lens and hit the film directly. The process would repeat for every photo. Below is a diagram of an SLR.

Slr

When digital started to replace film, the cameras remained generally the same. The film was replaced by a digital sensor and a small screen was added to the back of the camera for the user to view the photos they had taken. However the mirror and pentaprism was still in place. As these cameras have gotten more advanced, larger screens have been added to the back and a feature known as LiveView was introduced. LiveView flips up the mirror and locks it in place, allowing the light to pass through to the sensor the whole time. A live view of what the sensor is seeing is displayed on the screen, but the viewfinder itself is unusable this whole time.

All modern DSLR’s still work this way with the exception of one Sony model which I won’t get into here.

Mirrorless

fujifilm-x-m1

About 5 years ago Panasonic and Olympus introduced the format known as Micro Four Thirds. The concept of this format was to build large sensor interchangable lens cameras without mirrors in them. To do this, they replaced the mirror and pentaprism with an electronic viewfinder (EVF). The benefit is no mirror that needs to flip up and down, reducing the wear and tear on the camera. The cameras can be built smaller because the space and distances needed for the mirror and pentaprism can be eliminated. It also means that the evf can display all the time, even when the screen on the back of the camera is displaying. It’s not blacked out like it is on a DSLR.

Since the introduction of Micro Four Thirds, Fuji, Samsumg, Canon and Nikon have all introduced mirrorless camera systems of their own, while still building DSLR cameras as well. Most all of these companies have focused on smaller size as a selling factor for their mirrorless cameras.

One would think that moving forward into the future, mirrorless would be the obvious choice for digital cameras. Afterall, mirrors are really just a holdover from a time when film cameras (a mechanical technology) actually needed mirrors. With digital sensors and displays, mirrors almost start to appear a silly choice for inclusion on a camera. But the data is showing us that the market prefers DSLRs.

The Data

mirrorless-decline

Vitaliy Kiselev (the man who hacks Panasonic and now Nikon cameras) has taken the data from worldwide shipments of cameras through the past several months and noticed a trend. Mirrorless camera sales are on the decline while DSLR camera sales are on the rise again. It’s anyones guess as to why.

My guess has to do with perception in the market, the way the cameras have been structured and other factors involved.

Most people today have replaced their old point-and-shoot pocket sized cameras of yesteryear with the camera built into their smartphone. Smartphone cameras keep getting better and the photos are easier to share since you can upload them stright from phone to internet. Add in apps that do filtering like Instagram and the fact that you always have your smartphone with you, suddenly you become hardpressed for a reason to put a dedicated camera in your pocket or purse when you go out somewhere. There just isn’t a point anymore.

So when people go out to buy a “good” camera. They are typically looking for something bigger with the perception that bigger cameras shoot better photos. As most mirrorless cameras tend to look like slighly bigger point-and-shoot cameras, most people pass those by and head straight for a Canon or Nikon DSLR.

So I don’t actually believe that people are buying DSLR’s because they want a relfex mirror, they simply want a bigger camera. They also want something that is well known like a Canon or a Nikon. It also doesn’t help that slightly bigger (more traditional looking) mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic GH3 or the Olympus E-M5 aren’t sold in stores like Best Buy, Walmart or Target. Both of these camera are on the $1000+ end of the spectrum which pretty much rules them out for sale at Walmart and Target.

I think the mirrorless manufacturers have found themselves between a rock and hard place. On one hand the benefit of mirrorless is the ability to build smaller cameras, so they do. But on the other hand, people are buying bigger cameras because of their perception that bigger is better. That leaves them in a niche that is hard to market. If they build them as bigger cameras that pretty much defeats their purpose of existing. But if they don’t, they will continue to be outsold by DSLRs. Unless perceptions change.

Canon-versus-Nikon

But that’s not being completely honest either. The real threat is two companies. Nikon and Canon. Both of which have 50+ years of legacy in the market as being market leaders. Not to mention 30+ years of lenses in their camera systems which includes a healthy used market for older glass. That alone makes it a tough sell for mirrorless systems from Sony, Fuji, Samsumg, Panasonic and Olympus. All of which are relatively new as of the last five years. Even the Nikon and Canon mirrorless systems struggle against their bigger DSLR brothers.

Personally I shoot with Panasonic GH2, mirrorless Micro Four Thirds camera. Not because I want a smaller camera. I have big American male hands. I actually perfer the look and feel of something like a Nikon D7100. A mid range model. But the reason I shoot with a GH2 is because up until recently they’ve been the best cameras for video work with some of the higest quality video footage. Not to mention they price was right. I bought my camera body used for under $500. But now with newer Nikons like the D5200 and D7100, the video quality and capability is there and it looks great. Not to mention the hacked Canon cameras with their raw video capability. So things are changing and I may very well soon find myself back to using a DSLR. Which puts me in line with market trends I guess. ;)

Surviving a Xanga apocalypse

xanga-apocalypse

Let’s assume Xange doesn’t meet its fundraiser amount and disappears. Even if it does meet the required amount, it’s still the end for a lot of Xangans who don’t want to pay to blog. So how do we survive as a community?

Admittely Xanga had a lot of nice features. Recs, footprints, pulses, easy theming, etc. There isn’t one piece of software that can really replace all of that in the same way. Things will be a little rougher.

The first thing you need is a blog that supports RSS.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s a way of broadcasting your posts to others. Most major blogging platforms support it. Xanga even supported it, though I bet most of you never used it. WordPress, blogger, and tumblr all support RSS. So chosing any one of those as your next blogging platform is a good choice.

Which one? That’s up to you. Whichever one you are most comfortable with. But to make your life easier it’s best to have an account at all three, even if you don’t blog there youself. That way when you visit someone elses blog you can comment.

As a side note: WordPress comes in two varieties. WordPress.com and wordpress.org. The .com site works like xanga. You sign up, start blogging and follow people.  The .org is where you go to download wordpress (as software) if you want to self install it on your own web hosting provider (i.e. you pay for webspace and a domain name).

Next you need an RSS reader. A reader grabs RSS feeds from other websites and creates a viewable list of content, just like the Xanga home page that shows all the newest posts from your xanga subscriptions.

WordPress.com and Blogger both have built in readers. They both even support adding RSS feeds from external sites. So for example  if you are using wordpress.com you can add people who are using blogger or using standalone wordpress.org sites (like this one). Same is true in reverse with blogger.

But those are not the only readers. My current favorite is Feedly.com which is not a blogging service, just a reader. It’s free and allows you to add RSS feeds from anywhere and even lets you categorize them so that you can view everything or just given category at a time. For example, I created a category called Xanga where I am putting all my Xanga peeps. See the screenshot below:

feedly

There is also a nice iPhone app for Feedly.

Aside from feedly I am also trying out the new AOL Reader (which is still in beta) and I’m using the wordpress.com reader as well. But both of those are proving to be slower with than feedly. Which means that when someone adds a blog post, it takes a while before it shows up in either of the other two readers.

In addition to an RSS reader, I created a facebook group called Xanga Feed. The purpose of this group is to act almost like a new Xanga front page. Whenever you publish a new blog entry you can add your link to it there, as well as browse the group for new entries from other ex-xangans.

In a post Xanga world there really isn’t going to be one easy solution. It’s not as if all members of Xanga are going to jump ship at the same time and go to the exact same place. When I left livejournal for myspace years ago, I lost some people I was subscribed to. The same happened again when I left myspace for facebook. So whenever we make a move like this we’re going to lose some people. Which sucks, but it’s just the way it is. In my last blog post about personal websites I mentioned how important it is to have a personal website as your home base on the internet. Services like myspace and xanga come and go, but this personal website for example, has been around for over 12 years. If you bookmark roxics.com chances are really good that 12 years from now you can still find me here. So my ultimate recommendation is to get a domain name and a webhost and set up a personal website if you’re savvy enough to do so.

 

 

Are personal websites still relevant?

We live in an age where everyone has a facebook account, twitter, instagram, youtube, possibly even tumblr and google+. There are so many “social networking” sites out there grabbing for attention that it’s almost easy to forget how the internet used to be back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s when I really started using it. Back then the closest thing we had to social networks were message forums and chat rooms.

I spent a lot of time on messageboards back then talking to people about indie film. I even ran my own indie film messageboard for several years. But I also spent a lot of time tweaking my own websites; ScapeFilms.com and this site Roxics.com. Can’t believe these two sites have been around this long.

roxics.com screenshot from September 4th, 2004

roxics.com screenshot from September 4th, 2004

Back then a person would tell people on the messageboards about their website, put a link on their profile and in the signature line of their posts. Actually that hasn’t really changed. In fact I still use messageboards to tell people about my websites. The difference now, that’s not the only place to get the word out.

I remember some of my other friends also having their own personal websites. Specifically my friend Steve who maintained a page with a list of concerts he had been to. But at some point social networks began to take hold. For my friends and I it was Livejournal in 2002 followed up about four years later by MySpace and then Facebook where most everyone still hangs their hat. But that’s also diversified a bit with places like Instagram. Yet even the photos that get posted there tend to find their way onto Facebook.

So where does this leave personal websites today? Honestly where they have always been, in a niche zone on the internet that people have to go out of their way to visit. Even getting friends to click on a link from their facebook feed can be like an exercise in marketing. It very much is. With so many services out there, people tend to stick to what they know and what they are most interested in.

All of that said, I’ve been spending more time lately on my own websites. Mostly blogging. Whether there is an audience or not, I find it therapeutic. I’ve also come to realize that over the years my personal websites have stood the greatest test of time. Just look at all the services I mentioned above. Half of which nobody uses anymore. To think of all that time and content I poured into those services that were eventually abandoned. I could have spent that time and content on my own sites where it would still be easily accessible today. It makes me think twice before hitting the submit button on facebook or google+. At the very least I’ve gotten in the habit of copying my longer posts and adding them here as well.

It also helps that software for building personal websites has gotten better over the years. This website is currently powered by WordPress 3.5.2, which makes it super easy to add posts, pages and images. I’ve been using wordpress here for the last eight years. It’s only recently with my renewed interest in personal websites that I’ve begun to really explore and learn all of its bells and whistles. I’m pretty pleased. I also recently discovered feedly.com and the wordpress.com reader. Both are good ways of subscribing to other blogs and getting a facebook or pinterest styled feed.

Will all my friends follow suit and start their own personal websites? Likely not. I’m tech savvy and many of them are not. Most of them probably don’t see a point in it and wouldn’t want to spend the time doing it. One of my buddies has several sites, but they’re all based around music. His and other bands. Even though he uses wordpress to power some of his sites, he’s not interested in setting one up to blog his personal thoughts. He’ll chime in with status updates on facebook and photos on instagram. That’s just his way. To each their own.

I think most of my friends are like him. They like throwing up a quick thought or commenting on something, but aren’t going to go through the trouble of doing a long blog entry or setting up a personal website to do that. So the services work best for them.

It’s always a hard call to make when you have both. The audience is on the services, but the services don’t offer the same level of control and customization that a personal website gives you. A personal website is your own space. It’s like owning property on the internet versus renting an apartment on facebook. There is a just a different feel to it. It’s yours. I’ll always love that.

Here is to more time spent… here :)

What I would do with Xanga

xanga-logo-texture

Xanga has three problems right now as far as we know.

1. It’s out of money.

2. It has a dwindling userbase.

3. Its software is out of date

Their solution right now is to raise $60,000 from members, restart Xanga based on the wordpress platform and start charging people a yearly fee to blog. Free members will be limited to just commenting on other peoples blogs.

There are a couple problems with this solution.

1. Xanga has been around for 14 years and has gained a member base on it’s own custom built software. If people wanted to use wordpress they would be using wordpress instead of xanga. I’ve already heard several xanga members say that wordpress is too confusing. I’ve been using wordpress myself for about 8 years, I have self installs on eight of my websites (including this one) and even I think it’s too confusing at times. So I can see how someone who is not very tech savvy could have issues with it. It’s a powerhouse of a system. But it’s also software that was built to be self installed and has been shoehorned into a hosted solution by Automattic, the company the makes wordpress. For Xanga it’s a backwards move as a company that has spent the last 14 years running it’s own custom code and offering free customizable blogs. It’s going to confuse and frustrate their current userbase and not give any real insentive for new users to sign up when they an just go get a free wordpress blog from the company that makes the software.

2. There are a lot of free blogging platforms out there today. The major platforms are wordpress, tumblr and blogger. But there are many others as well. There are even paid blogging platforms like squarespace. All of these platforms run their own custom software and incorporate unique features the others may not have. If someone just wants to blog, they can easily sign up for a free account on any of these other services and begin blogging. No paywall. That’s not even counting social networks like facebook, google+ and twitter which themselves are being used as microblogging sites by people who don’t feel they need a full on blog.

Xanga faces a huge uphill battle by only allowing paid users to blog in a world where free blogging is everywhere. There is little insentive for new users to join Xanga as free members if they aren’t getting anything out of it. Without fresh blood (i.e. new readers) coming in, that in turn gives little insentive for paid users to keep paying.

Xanga as a community works on a very basic principle; you read my blog and I’ll read yours. Xanga is about to break that principle.

 

The Solution (or what I would do if I were Xanga)

For starters I would have begun designing and building a new custom platform two years ago. Figuring out what features we wanted, how we could make revenue and where we would go in the future. I would then get my in-house programmers on the ball.

Back in 2010 I started designing SocialMore and it was being designed to address issues I had with sites like Xanga and Facebook. My problem is that I didn’t have a programming team or money behind me to help make my vision a reality. I’m going to assume that in 2010 Xanga had full time in-house programmers. It woud have been ridiculous for a popular dot com that had been around for 14 years not to have a team like that in-house. Even if it was just one or two people who spent 40 hours a week coding.

So my point is, if I saw the issues in 2010 and started designing/building a new social network myself, Xanga should have as well. It’s their job to keep innovating and grow their business.

The new platform I would build would include more social capability. The ability to create “follow groups” and put people into multiple groups. Very much like google+ does with their “Circles” and executed in the same way. You are forced to group someone when you follow them. That way you don’t end up with 400 uncategorized people you are following that you later have to weed through and categorize into groups. Nobody wants to spend half a day doing that. There are of course default groups already set up like: online friends, real life friends, co-workers, family, interesting people, etc. You can create as many new follow groups as you want.

I would allow people to search other other people by location, age range, gender, interests, relationship status, sexual orientation, online status and more. This is something myspace allowed that no current social network has. In fact I met my girlfriend this way through myspace and we’ve been together now for over five and half years. This capability can be used for dating but it can also be used for finding new friends and interesting people if it’s done right. There is no point in having a social based site with a feature like this is not built in to allow people to find and meet new people.

I would refocus Xanga as a whole away from being simply a blogging site. There are a lot of free blogging sites already. As mentioned above. We don’t need a paid blogging site build on wordpress. I would instead focus more on being a social network with incredibly powerful blogging features built in. I woudl focus on the potential weakness of other social networks like facebook and google+ who have strict policies against being anonymous. So I would offer a solution that allowed people to be anonymous if they wished. Maybe a twin profile system that showed anonymous information to the public, but allowed people to have a real profile underneath they can invite others to view by giving them permission.

This is as simple as asking the following question in the users settings menu:
“Which groups can view your real life profile?” – check off the groups that are allowed
(public, online friends, real-life friends, family, co-workers, interesting people, blackbook, private)

This is where follow groups become useful, because users can now use them for permissions on who is allowed to view what. Everything from your real life profile to individual posts, pictures, galleries and pages. Absolute macro control over who is allowed to see what. There may even be other types of profiles available that users can enable, like an adult profile that shows racier stuff that they only allow certain groups of people to see. Invite only.

I would have two user types, free and premium:

Free users would be given a basic profile and website/blog with a couplle of ads on the side. Much like a facebook profile or google+ profile where the user can change the top banner but that’s about it. They can still blog/microblog, add pictures, ten minute videos and interact with others. In very much the same way they can on facebook/google+. For most free users this would be a perfectly acceptable solution. It still allows them to be an active member in the community and have a place of their own for their own content.

Premium users would buy bandwidth. Bandwidth would be priced at $5 for every 5 gigabytes. Minimum of $5 per month. They can add more bandwidth in $5 chunks as needed. If they run out of their 5GB in less than a month their website will resort back to a basic free account until their next billing cycle or until they add more bandwidth. They can also set up a billing cap where they will be rebilled when they run out of bandwidth rather than have to wait till the next month or manually buy more. They could set their cap at $10 or $15 or whatever their maximum limit is per month. They would of course have a control panel where they can view their usage and an email alert will be sent if they are running low of bandwidth.

Premium users would have the ability to cutomize their own website. They woud have access to the theme shop where they can download and tweak free themes as well as buy premium themes designed and sold by other xanga users. They will have other features like site statistics, the ability to create static pages on their website, create menus, use widgets like sliders, polls, forums, ask-me-anything boxes, shopping carts/buy it now buttons to sell goods or digital content, the ability to upload videos without length limits and offer download options to users that want to download pictures, audio or HD videos to their computers. They will also be able to use their own domain name if they desire so they can really make it their own full blown website. The only limit their websites would have would be the amount of bandwidth they bought.

Premium users can have multiple websites and can divide their bandwidth up among all their websites as they wish. Bandwidth can also be gifted to other users in 1GB increments. Users can even use bandwidth to pay for things on other peoples websites. For example, if I had a video that was 800MB’s on my site and people wanted to download it but I didn’t want to pay for all these people using my bandwidth to download it, I could offer them the ability to pay me the 1GB which would allow them to download it. There would simply be a “buy with bandwidth” or “download with my bandwidth” button on page.

This creates an economy on Xanga where otherwise free users may purchase bandwidth just so they can download or get access to other peoples content, even if they themselves have no desire to have a fancy custom website/blog of their own.

This is also where follow groups play a role. People can set certain content pages/forums/post categories that are viewable to only a certain group. In order to get into that group you would have to pay, either with bandwidth or money. Allowing Xangans to have a paywall on their own sites for premium content they may offer including digital downloads of mp3s, mp4s, pdfs or just access to sections of their site.

Premium users would also be allowed to put up their own ads on their own websites through Xanga ad service, which could work a lot like google ad-words/ad-sense. Other users could buy ads that other users put on their xanga sites. Xanga take a small cut for the service fee. Ad categories from G rated to X rated. Something google ad-sense doesn’t allow which is another place xanga could make its mark.

These are just a few ideas. I’ve got a million more. But in my opinion this would be a much better route for Xanga than what they currently have planned, which seems rather dull and the “same old thing” by comparison.

What the above idea does is address a service platform that is currently missing on the internet as a whole. That is a service that combines a webhost with a social network. The best of both worlds where you have active users who all belong to a single community, but who each have their own custom websites. WordPress fails at social interaction and easily meeting new people. It’s a blogging service with social tacked on as an afterthought. Facebook and google+ fail at customization. They offer only profiles that all look the same without any option to pay to host your websites there. Yet the combination of these two models would offer place where people can have their own websites that other people will actually visit because new posts and pictures from those sites will show up in their feed. When they go to those websites they are already a member, because those sites are build on that platform. It’s simple and easy.

This is what SocialMore was to be and so much more. But considering I can’t seem to get that off the ground myself, maybe someone else like Xanga can. Hell I’d be thrilled just to use it and I would tell all my friends to dump facebook and move over to it. 

Pinterest and the downfall of patience

So basically they took a photo hosting site, renamed albums “pinboards” and renamed share “repin” and suddenly they have a service that is making women everywhere orgasm in delight?

Ok. Cool.

I guess realistically the idea of taking a womens magazine and “twitterizing” it for the internet was bound to happen eventually.

I thought my girlfriends response upon first seeing it was kind of funny. “Oh that’s cute, but they don’t show you how to make it.”

To which I thought “Of course not sweetie, no one has the attention span to read anything anymore.”

I can’t say I dislike Pinterest. Obviously the site is a knock out success. But it plagues me that this is what the internet is turning into. Hell even on facebook it’s a chore to get anyone to read anything longer than three sentences.

I’m worried we’re heading toward the Idiocracy point of the internet. Maybe it’s data overload. Presented with so much we feel overwhelmed to spend any real time on a single thing. But the truth is it’s remapping our minds. It’s like drug use. We expect that faster and faster high. That can’t be a good thing.

How is it that we could walk into a library or a bookstore previous to the internet and not feel overwhelmed with thousands of great books before us? Yet with the internet our attention has increasingly become shorter and shorter.

I aim to figure that out. But something tells me the secret has to do with value association.