It’s impossible to imagine a world now in which developers proudly browser-sniff to check that the customer is using the “right” browser on the “right” operating system, while they race to code applications that revolve around non-standard “extensions” thereby locking themselves and their users to one browser because it temporarily has the shiniest proprietary extras. That’s absolutely unthinkable as we approach 2011.1

It looks like Apple nailed an important thing in “Notification Center” in OS X Mountain Lion (see 28 seconds into the video on their product page). The desktop slides away and reveals Notification Center underneath the regular UI, as opposed to the iOS model where NC drops down on top of whatever you’re currently doing.

Revealing underneath is much more consistent with Apple’s previous use of the fake linen texture.

With just five words, “Design is how it works” expresses succinctly and accurately that engineering should and can be part of the art of design.1

John Gruber writes a great article about Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs Biography, and about five simple words that could easily be used as a replacement for Apple’s “Think different”-tagline.

DVDs suck! They really do. The basic idea was great and when they were news they were actually good news but today DVDs (and Blurays as well) suck.

Why?

The main reason in my opinion is their reliability, or lack thereof. The optical media is extremely delicate. If you are obsessively anal retentive about your discs – like me – and always take them straight out of the player, put them back in their casing and make sure the print on the disc lines up with the print on the case then this is only occasionally a problem. However if this is not the case, or even if you are like me but rent movies from time to time, the brittleness of the disc means the player will likely fail to read the content in a key scene of the movie, thereby forcing you to either restart the movie and try to fast-forward past the damaged section or forcing you to return to the video rental store with disappointment written all over your face.

Apart from this the disc format overall is very, very slow. For DVDs this means that it takes forever to transfer any data to and from them, which makes them pretty useless for anything other then movies. For Blurays it means that the time from the moment I put the disc in the player to the moment I can actually start interacting with the content is far too long.

Piracy is a crime!

Yes, I happen to agree to this. Piracy is a crime, that’s why I buy movies. But why should I, who do buy movies, be penalized by being forced to watch almost 2 minutes of propaganda declaring that I would have been a thief, if I had pirated the movie? (Incidentally, the simplest way of not having to watch this propaganda is to pirate the movie. )1

Time well spent?

Let me tell you a little story, and show you a little math. A couple of summers ago (3 I think) I bought a DVD box with The Complete X Files series (plus the first X Files movie). This meant 202 episodes of awesome TV magic. It also meant a lot of time spent watching ”Piracy is a crime” spots.

Let’s assume I watched one episode each time I put a disc into my DVD player. That means I watched ”Piracy is a crime” 202 times. That means I’ve spent almost 7 hours watching the damn infomercial, just for the X files watching. That’s almost a full work day! Now imagine how much time a person spends in his/her life watching this propaganda. And that is because you do buy movies.

(Also, let’s not forget the times that a microscopic dust particle managed to get onto a disc and interrupted the playback. In some players this actually mean you have to watch the damn thing all over again.)

Solution

Needless to say, these problems bothered me quite a lot. The solution was apparently to rip the content of the DVDs to video files and play them back from a computer. There are multiple tools to rip, convert and watch movies. I will just list and write about the ones I actually use.

Ripping

The ripping can be done two ways, either as a on-stop process where the source is the DVD and the result is a couple of movie files, or as a two part process where the DVD is first ripped to the computer, but still in DVD format, and then converted to movie files.

I generally prefer the second way since it means I can rip a lot of discs (which requires quite a bit of manual labour) during the day and then let the tedious (but very automated) converting be done in the night.

Mac the Ripper (rest in peace)

My tool for ripping discs has been Mac the Ripper. Unfortunately it’s a PowerPC application and with the discontinuation of Rosetta in OS X Lion, Mac the Ripper is now useless.

Handbrake

Handbrake is an awesome application that convert video files from one format to another. It is great for converting a DVD (or the ripped content of one) to H.264 video files that plays back smoothly on most modern computer hardware.

Playback

So ripping and converting things isn’t really a problem, which means the next question will be how to play back the video files in the best way. Playing it back in QuickTime and using folders to sort your library is one way. iTunes is another, slightly better but still not great, solution.

Plex

The solution that I’ve found to be the best is Plex Media Server. It’s a fork of XBMC, originally only for the Mac but nowadays compatible with Windows and various Linux flavors as well.

Plex is a two-piece solution with a media server and one or more clients. You can read all about it over at their web page, but the best way to really get to know about it is to download it (it’s free) and try using it.

What I’ve found to be great about Plex is mainly three thing:

  • Media Management
    The way it handles my media and enables me to easily see what I’ve watched recently, what I’m in the middle of watching and what’s next in TV-series etc.
  • Meta data
    As long as I name the files correctly the media server will fetch all a necessary meta data such as posters, synopsis etc.
  • The ease of use
    My girlfriend is not as tech savvy as I am, so any high tech solution for common things needs to be easy to use. So far, Plex certainly is. She uses it by herself all the time and the fact that I ultimately threw out the DVD-player met with no backlash what so ever.

Happily ever after?

So that’s that. A fairly long piece about the greatness of Plex. Apart from trying to convince all of you to try it, this article is also the first piece in a greater puzzle. The next piece in the puzzle is about clients for the media server, and that is maybe the more important piece but I felt that this introduction to why I hate optical media and love Plex was necessary.


  1. I will likely write a more lengthy piece about my opinions on copyright sometime in the future. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BneruaJqlsY

This is a great documentary about how Peter Gabriel wrote, recorded and produced the album Security, back in the early eighties. If you have even the slightest interest in music production, this is mandatory watching.1

All four parts can be found on YouTube:

kent is probably my all time favorite band. Yesterday they released a new single called 9991. So far I think it’s a great song. It’s an unusually euphoric, almost Coldplay like, ”freedom rock” song. It’s definatly worth checking out.

There is also a video that you can watch:

(This is the second part of my short series about the iPad at work.)

The first day of the conference is about to end. I’m currently in my hotel room, writing this blog post. So far the iPad has worked great as my main computer-like tool for the conference.

I’ve mostly been taking notes, which has worked out a whole lot better than I thought. I can actually type really fast on the on screen keyboard, much faster than I’d imagined. There is however a small difference between taking the notes and writing this blog post, even though they’re both mostly done in Byword. The difference is that while the blog posts is written in English, my notes are in Swedish. Surely you’d expect me to be better at Swedish than English and that is certainly the case, however the small difference that makes a big difference is the keyboard. In Sweden we have the characters ”å”, ”ä” and ”ö”. This means that a few extra keys need to be fitted on screen which in turn means all keys gets slightly smaller, and have a smaller space between them. The difference is subtle, but it does have some impact on my typing abilities.

20120320-004520.jpg
The english keyboard

20120320-004614.jpg
The Swedish keyboard

Apart from taking notes I’ve also been preparing a keynote for tomorrow. This, however, will be saved for another blog post.

I’ve previously written a bit about using the iPad (and before that the iPhone) as an entertainment device while on the road. This is the first post of a short series about using it for work. I’m not the first to post about this and I will certainly not be the last, but I think it’s interesting for me to actually writing down my experience with the iPad as a post-pc workhorse.

Anyway, right now I’m on a conference in Örebro where all the sound and music production educations in Sweden meet. I’ve decided to leave the computer at home and just bring the iPad for note taking, email and all other things that might be necessary. This post is also written on the iPad in the newly launched app Byword for iPad.

(This post will be updated with links to all subsequent posts in the series.)

If you showed TiVo to Steve Jobs, his head would explode1

Last weeks episode of Hypercritical featured a truly epic rant by John Siracusa about the TiVo Premier Elite. I listened to it this morning and thought it was really great. Apart from the pure amusement of hearing someone complain so passionately that you as a listener fear that he will get a brain aneurism, it also contained a pass about the attention to details, which he did not elaborate on, but that I found really interesting and important.

Part of the rant was about the menus on the TiVo. Apparently2 previously they haven’t been high definition, even though previous devices had been HD devices. In the Premier Elite version this was said to be fixed, but some lower level menus still contained standard definition graphics. This is the kind of faulty detail that most people will live with but that drives obsessive perfectionists list Siracusa insane. When asked by Dan Benjamin to guess why TiVo hadn’t bothered to fix something like this, Siracusa thought that it likely was because some number cruncher had decided that it would give enough return on investment to justify the efforts spent. It was in this context that he said the thing about Jobs’s head explode.

I think he really nailed what separates a few companies (among them Apple) from the rest; the attention to all those tiny details that in themselves will not provide enough of an improvement of the product to get sufficiently more revenue to justify the investment. It is however, in my humble opinion, this meticulous work that result in a product that ”just works” of feels so much more smother, better and is simply joyous to use. The result from all these small improvements is so much bigger than the sum of them. And, as proved by Apple, the return on investment can be tremendous in the long run if you stick to it.

The lesson I will take from this is to always sweat the details, keep pushing the good or workable to excellent. That is the only way to accomplish something truly amazing, whether it is a piece of computer hardware, a web site or a lecture.

Anyway, listened to Hypercritical #59 for some great entertainment and an important lesson and, most importantly, pay attention to the details as well as the whole in your work and you will output greater results.


  1. John Siracusa on Hypercritical #59 
  2. I’ve never used a TiVo. 

Learning to think first rather than react quick is a life long pursuit. It’s tough. I still get hot sometimes when I shouldn’t. But I’m really enjoying all the benefits of getting better.1

This is something that I need to think about. I can sometimes argue against a point made by someone else without thoroughly thinking about what that someone meant. Even if you ultimately still disagree, thinking through the other persons argument and points makes your counter-argument so much stronger.

As discussed in previous Monday Notes (here and here), there’s one strong, clear reason to bet against an integrated or smart Apple TV set: To perform the expected magic, a computer must inhabit the otherwise “dumb” TV. Very quickly, in a year or two, Moore’s Law will obsolete that computer. To get a new computer — more powerful, more fun –  you’ll need a whole new TV set. We might be willing to buy a new phone, tablet, or laptop every other year, but not a new 47” HDTV.1

Jean-Louis Gassée makes a great case for why Apple will not release a TV set.

On March 7 Apple is hosting a press event. The invitation makes it pretty clear that the event will be about the iPad 3. I will not rehash the rumors about retina display etc. since they are already all over the internet, but I will make some other predictions/guesses/wishes.1

According to sources (as well as Apple Store stock counters), the current Apple TV is becoming increasingly sparse at stores around the country, with most locations reporting no availability at all right now. More tellingly, at all of the stores where the device is out of stock, availability is listed as starting on or after March 7th2

So it’s very possible that the Apple TV will get some sort of update at the event.3 To this, add the following news from last week:

CHIPMAKER Intel is finally set to launch its Xeon E5 chips next week with server and workstation vendors keen to show it isn’t going to be a paper launch and that chips are already in the channel.4

As far as I know, this is the most likely chip to be used in the next generation Mac Pro and the very reason why the Pro hasn’t been updated for a long, long time. ”Next week” coincides well with the March 7 event, so maybe the Mac Pro will actually get some keynote time.

One of the features advertised for OS X Mountain Lion is AirPlay. What if the event reveals something new about this were you will be able to stream both ways between Macs, Apple TVs and iPads? Or maybe some other form of integration between the pro apps and Mac Pro and the Apple TV. I would very much like the ability to stream from my computer to my iPad, as well as the other way around.

Actually showing a new Mac Pro at the event would be a great move since I know a lot of people is beginning to doubt Apple’s devotion to the pro market, in part because the Mac Pro never gets any updates or press event time and in part because of the ”consumerification” of Final Cut (X). I think and hope that this is not the case. It’s very possible that Job’s Apple was ready to axe the Mac Pro, but that Cook’s Apple has other priorities. The pro market may not be as lucrative as the consumer market, but my gut feeling is that having the pros on your side is great marketing to bring more consumers in.


  1. Keep in mind though, the last time I made a prediction I said the then upcoming iPhone would absolutely not be called the 4S. 
  2. The Verge: http://mobile.theverge.com/2012/3/2/2839070/apple-tv-stock-shortages-appear-sources-say-new-model-imminent 
  3. Clarification: I do not think that Apple will release an Apple TV set, but likely a new Apple TV box 
  4. The Inquirer: http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/news/2156563/intels-xeon-e5-channel-boston 

An intriguing piece of marketing for the upcoming movie Prometheus; a video of Peter Weyland’s, the founder of Weyland Corporation, speech at TED2023.1

(Unfortunately it requires Flash for embedding, so I didn’t, since that made it look weird in my own, non-flash, browser. MP4-downloads is available from the page.)

I’ve been forced to explain homosexuality to my kids (aged 3 and 4) because their uncle is gay. This incredibly difficult and traumatic experience went as follows:

Child: Why does Uncle Bob go everywhere with Pete?
Me: Because they’re in love, just like Mummy and Daddy are.
Child: Oh. Can I have a biscuit?

We’re all scarred for life. Scarred, I tell you.1

A wonderful comment on a equally wonderful article about the gay marriage issue of Archie selling out, despite boycott threats from conservative groups.

John Goldwater, The co-CEO of Archie Comics, also has a great comment:

As I’ve said before, Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. It’s an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday.2

There are so many things about the USA that I love. In fact I could definitely see myself living there. However some Americans narrow-minded views on others lifestyle choices is just frightening. Big thumbs up for Archie Comics for standing up for peoples right to love whoever they want.