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Entries in Technology (77)


DVD Recorders & Over The Air Digital TV

After Christmas, I made the decision to buy to a DVD Recorder and digital tuner, which is one of the best TV gear purchases I've ever made.

PanasonicDVD.jpgMy plans for a new DVD recorder was to capture favorite TV shows (Heroes, The Office and Numb3rs) and convert DV tapes of Nathan and our VHS wedding video to DVD discs.

Choosing a Device
After my research, I chose the Panasonic DMREZ27K, a DVD player/recorder with a built-in ATSC digital and analog TV tuner. It plays DVDs, records DVDs, reads SD cards and receives both analog and digital TV signals from local stations. It also has S-Video, and Firewire ports which are critical for converting our DV tapes to DVD.

When looking at these types of devices it can be difficult to compare, because features are often inconsistent across brands. For instance, many DVD Recorders don't come with an ATSC digital tuner, while others do. To deal with this, I focused on what features I most needed and chose the best device within my price range.

DVD Player & Recorder
The recorder and player were pretty easy to get used to, being very similar to our old DVD player and VCR recorder. You can record immediately or on a timed program, from digital TV signal, RCA jacks, S-Video port, or the Firewire port.

It can record 4 hours of video on a single disc in LP mode at decent quality, or 6-8 hours at lower quality. I'm still experimenting with settings, but have recorded from digital TV, through S-Video and Firewire from the DV camera and through RCA jacks from VHS tape with pretty good results.

Once a DVD is recorded, I can toss the DVD disc into my Mac and view the video, or convert the video files into a format optimized for the iPod touch. Nice!

Commercial DVDs look pretty good when played, though I should mention — we don't have an HDTV yet. The Panasonic up-samples DVDs to decent quality 1080i resolution video via an HDMI port, so we'll be able to enjoy old DVDs when we do get an HDTV screen, at least until Blu-Ray Recorders are reasonably priced.

One feature I've not tested yet — recording with DVD-RAM discs. Apparently the Panasonic recorder can treat DVD-RAM discs like hard drives, pausing live TV while the program is still recording. I'll update this article once I try it out.

Digital TV Tuner
The surprise feature of the Panasonic DMREZ27K was the ATSC digital TV tuner. We had subscribed to bare bones cable for years, but when we moved last summer, our basic cable got fewer channels and went from $12/month to $20/month. Ouch!

After researching Digital Terrestrial Television (DTTV) I decided to take a chance, replacing our cable with over the air digital TV, saving $20/month.

I found a variety of helpful resources on the web: the Engadget article OTA HD demystified, HDTV Magazine's DTV reference,, HDTV Antenna Guide, and TitanTV providing customized, web-based, local digital TV programming schedules.

Once I had the digital tuner setup, I was amazed at the picture quality and the variety of local channels! We had all of our local Milwaukee stations in digital, a 24 hour weather channel, 9 different public TV stations and several more to boot.

We love the two kids stations we receive: a PBS station with Sesame Street, Curious George, Clifford and the other, Qubo, with a variety of quirky, fun programs like Postman Pat, Theodore Tugboat and Pecola, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When analog TV shuts down on February 17, 2009, we'll still receive the digital broadcasts we see now, and may even gain a few by then.

In this transitional period between analog and digital TV, regular and HDTV, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs, it's nice to find a device that does a lot for a reasonable price.

I've been very pleased with the Panasonic DMREZ27K. I've converted VHS and short DV tapes to DVD, recorded TV shows in digital quality over the air, and have two fun, educational stations for our son, all while saving $20 a month on cable.

Not bad for $200 bucks!


Attending SXSW Interactive 2008!

ia-header.jpgFor the past few years, I've been very intentional about attending thought-provoking conferences and events, to learn, grow and meet new people.

In 2007, I attended BarCampMadison, UX Intensive, SOBCon07, BarCampMilwaukee2 the SEED Conference and excellent monthly Web414 meetings through the year.

For several years I've heard great things about SXSW (South by Southwest) Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Many of the people I admire attend yearly, I've enjoyed podcasts from the event, but it's never worked out for me to attend.

That will change in 2008. On March 7th, I'll be heading down to Austin, with fellow Web414 members Ashe Dryden and David Overbeck. We're all excited to see first-hand, just what all the SXSW buzz is about.

Thanks MakaluMedia!
I've been given the opportunity to attend SXSW as art director and designer from MakaluMedia. I'm very thankful for this opportunity, and I plan to make the most of my time in Austin. I'll attend multiple sessions, take notes and capture sketchnotes similar to the ones I did at the SEED Conference and UX Intensive.

Advise the Newbie
Since this is my first time to SXSW Interactive, I welcome tips and ideas from seasoned veterans. I'm also open to Austin tips and suggestions from any Austin dwellers out there who would like to share. Just leave a comment below. :-)

Contact Me SXSW-Goers
I also want to meet old friends and new people while I'm at at SXSW. If you're attending SXSW Interactive 2008 and would like to meet for a coffee in Austin, drop me a line with the subject SXSW. I'd love to connect before I head down to Austin.

As I prepare for SXSW Interactive, I've compiled a selection of resources to share with other SXSW attendees, and those interested in the event:

SXSW Interactive 2008 — The official site.
SXSW Interactive 2008: Panels (Time) — SXSW Panels, time schedule.
SXSW Interactive 2008: Panels (Day) — SXSW Panels, by day.
SXSW Interactive 2008: Panels (Category) — SXSW Panels, by category.
SXSW Registrant's Guide — Registrant's guide.
SXSW Registrant's Mobile Guide — Mobile registrant's guide.
SXSW '08 Insider's Guide — Information and forums on
SXSW Baby — Un-official Weblog and forums for SXSW.
Ze Frank Explains SXSW Interactive In Under a Minute — Classic Ze Frank humor!
SXSW Core Conversations — Directory for informal conversations.
SXSW Past, Present, and Future — Great podcast interview with Hugh Forrest, Director of Events for SXSW Interactive on the history, culture and future of the event.
SXSW Geeks Love Bowling — Bowling with SXSWers, Sunday, March 9th.
Airbag: Hampton — Greg Storey's Guide to SXSW Newbies.
John Phillips — Beginner's Guide to SXSW.

Have a resource to share? Email me and let me know!


What Happens When Web Services Fail Us?

failure.gifAs Web 2.0 gets into full swing and mainstream "average joes" start using and relying on web services, what will they do when those services eventually fail them?

A few stories have brought me to this line of thinking:

  • TinyURL went down Sunday and Monday for several hours. TinyURL conveniently shrinks long web links into tiny web links and handles redirection to the long link's site. When TinyURL failed, so did all of the web links I and thousands of others have created to help our friends, family and colleagues.

  • Pete Prodoehl mentioned the plight of Phil Wilson, who had all of the web services he used on Google fail in a different way — account suspension. Without any warning, his email, documents, and other data was denied him for over a week, as of his last posting.

  • Google penalizes hundreds of blogs who offer text-link advertising on their websites, by dropping PageRank, a number from 1 to 10, assigned to sites based on Google's secret algorithm and other criteria. In a single day, many who relied on Google (too much I'd contend) saw their PageRank and AdSense revenue drop at the whim of Google.

I see these stories as a warning: be aware that the web services I'm using can fail at any time. Be aware that I could be denied services, without notice. Be aware that I could face a lack of access to my account and data, at the whim of the service I use. Be aware that the company who provides advertising income and my search results could change its mind about the value and importance of my site.

I'm not against web services — I use them all the time. However, I keep mission critical data like email on my Macs and my own servers. Maybe it's a generational thing to want my data local, and to be a little leery of giving away too much information to web services.

What web services do you depend on? Could you survive if they folded tomorrow?

Have you considered what you would do if your services went down for a day, a week... forever?

What if those services simply denied access for a terms of service violation you can't prove because the service doesn't respond to your emails?

How would you handle denial from years of your email for 1 week, 2 weeks, a month?

Something to think about.


SEED Conference Thoughts & Sketchnotes

SEED Conference: Sketchnotes 17Whew! I'm back from Monday's excellent SEED Conference in Chicago.

What a great event! The Illinois Institute of Technology and Rem Koolhaas' Tribune Student Center building, was an incredibly cool venue. Funky lines and the architectural space provided a unique backdrop for the sessions of the day.

Carlos Segura
All of the sessions were very good, though the most interesting for me as a designer was hearing Carlos Segura speak. He talked about taking risks and thinking deeper for clients and going beyond only what they ask to figuring out what they really need.

I was especially inspired by the Corbis Stock Photo case study, where Carlos' team changed the stock agency's overall approach to consider their clients (designers) and in doing so, changed an entire industry.

Segura also stressed keeping small, working on projects and with clients you really want to work with. Good work comes from these situations, and by staying small you aren't constantly taking jobs you dislike just to keep everyone busy. In fact, this turned into a thread that connected all of the talks of the day.

Jason Fried
Jason spoke very briefly, so he could open the floor for lots of Q&A time. He recommended these 5 items:

  • Watch out for red flags
  • Keep your team small
  • Make sure your staff has alone time
  • Keep meetings short and focused
  • Make tiny decisions instead of massive ones

Jason also recommended a small team size, though his perspective focused a little more on communication issues with small vs. large teams and scaling projects to fit your team size rather than scaling your team to fit scope.

I resonated most with Jason's call for alone time. I work remotely, but even though I work alone, there is always a temptation towards IM, email or phone calls, and I find that blocking out chunks of alone time makes a difference. I know this may be a tough one for the multi-tasking generation, but I think it really can help your focus.

Jim Coudal
I loved Jim Coudal's candor and relaxed approach, and especially his openness in sharing his firm's successes and failures. He shared several stories and films, and drew ideas from them. My take away:

  • Be curious
  • Choose people on their taste
  • Don't be afraid to fail

Jim talked about his curiosity and how many of the things he's been curious about have turned into business ideas. Curiosity helps with client work, since you can get to speed quickly and often see a problem from a different perspective than the client.

He also talked about identifying people and hiring them on taste over technical talent. Not untalented people with taste, but rather if you had to choose between two people and one had good taste, go with taste over talent.

Coudal suggested that failures are OK. They're learning experiences which often create opportunities that might never have happened otherwise. You have to learn to identify and capitalize on unexpected opportunities that often grow out of failures.

Discussion Session: Segura, Fried & Coudal
The most interesting of the sessions was the final hour or so of open discussion time with Carlos, Jason and Jim at the front of the room. They fielded all sorts of questions from attendees about their ideas. Questions about small teams, marketing, simplicity, community, building products while still managing client work, questions about creating apps that rely solely on other platorms (Facebook), and more.

Of all the sessions, this was the one I and the 4 other guys I met, thought was the best of all. Why? Because they had a chance to respond immediately and candidly to random questions. I also enjoyed hearing them discuss and explore ideas in depth that hadn't come out in their talks. Finally, it was interesting to hear their similarity of thought and subtle differences of approach and opinion on the same questions.

As mentioned last week, I took my pocket Moleskine sketchbook along and captured 17 pages of sketchnotes, from the entire day's talks and discussions, including Carlos Segura, Jason Fried, Edward Lifson and Jim Coudal.

I didn't try to capture everything said during yeterday's event, since others were probably doing that.

Instead, I took time to listen and analyze the talks, distilling and capturing the main ideas I was hearing. By doing a bit of on-the-fly processing, it forced me to boil down what was being said, then express it in ink on the page in a way that would be meaningful to me and to others who might read my sketchnotes later.

To make the notes interesting, I played with typography and images with the sketchnotes, to provide a little texture and depth beyond pages of gray text.

SEED Sketchnotes on Coudal Partners
Seems my notes have struck a chord. Jim Coudal of Coudal Partners emailed about my sketchnotes on Flickr and made mention in their Fresh Signals feed. Thanks Jim!

SEED Sketchnotes on Signal vs. Noise
Awesome! 37signals noticed them too: Mike Rohde's SEED Conference 2007 sketchbook notes. Thanks Matt!

Pretty cool to have speakers and sponsors mention notes taken during the event. :-)

Overall, SEED Conference was well worth the time and price to attend.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


BarCampMilwaukee2 Was a Success!

Another BarCampMilwaukee has been successfully pulled off!

IMG_7702.JPGIn my wanderings and speaking with people in attendance tis weekend, BarCamp was a success.

I repeatedly received positive comments such as "what a great event!" or "wow, people here are so helpful and friendly!" and "this was very well planned and managed" from attendees.

Those who have been involved in putting on a conference will know it's a different view from the inside. We certainly had our glitches, but I was always impressed with the team of organizers and random attendees stepping up to help.

It was very encouraging to see the group do it for themselves, giving of themselves and sharing what they had to make BarCampMilwaukee2 happen for everyone.

As an example, I was set to handle registration and t-shirt handout with several helpers. All was well until I found that the spreadsheet I was using was somehow un-searchable in NeoOffice, two co-organizers moved the file to another machine, while several others started taking names and shirt sizes on good 'ol paper and pencil. Several fresh registrants stepped up to help distribute shirts to other registrants.

Things like this happened repeatedly throughout the weekend, problems being identified and helpers stepping up to solve them. It was a great experience seeing that sort of ad-hoc willingness pop up again and again.

Great Sessions
Sessions were varied and interesting, ranging from personal branding, portable apps, web and graphic design and analog tool capture, to hacking elevators, the Flickrverse, social networking history and more. In each of the sessions I attended, fascinating discussions got going, and kept right through to the end of each hour.

Piano GraveyardI went on the BarCamp Photowalk and had a great time shooting a few images and getting to know several campers better. Check out photos from the event on Flickr. We wandered Schlitz Park, and we then invited into the building of an attendee to snap images inside. We rode in a creaky freight elevator in a old warehouse building, to explore a room full of busted piano parts.

But I think I most enjoyed meeting new people. People like Marcus and Jen and Tracy. There were many more and everyone had a story, an interest, a passion. And those I met seemed to be having a great time, just like me.

Thank You
Thank you to Pete and all of the organizers! I'm very proud to be counted as a small part of the BarCamp organization team, handling t-shirt design, production and printing as well as various other tasks. It was a true honor to be part of this group, watching it move from planning, to preparation to fruition.

Thanks go to our sponsors, who made this event possible. On a several occasions I had attendees ask who was paying for food or shirts — it was a great feeling to tell them that everything was covered by sponsors and individual donations. I'm very proud that the company I work for, MakaluMedia, was a sponsor of this event.

If you're curious about the event, check out the batch of photos generated at the event on Flickr, or check out other postings on Technorati.

Attend or Organize a BarCamp!
If you learn of a BarCamp in your area — go! It's a blast and you won't regret it. If there isn't one in your area, start one! You'll find fellow BarCampers very helpful, and full if ideas and information.

Lord of Chaos T-Shirt
You can see the story behind the Lord of Chaos T-Shirt I designed for Pete Prodoehl, and if you like itm pick up your own directly from GoodStorm:

Lord of Chaos T-Shirt (

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