Media

Fantasy a risk in moviemaking?

At the Oscars last night (which were pretty boring, with one nice joke featuring Billy Crystal camcordering a new movie) Peter Jackson thanked the Studios for having the courage to back a big fantasy epic like the Lord of the Rings.

But a look at IMDB's list of all-time movie revenues reveals something else. Of the top 25 grossing movies of all time, how many were science fiction and fantasy?

23 of them. Only Titanic (at #1) and Forrest Gump were not. So with that record, how hard should it have been to pitch the generally regarded top fantasy book in history (not counting the Bible) for big box office. Yes, the prior two animated productions had been poor performers, but with modern moviemaking techniques, and skilled people, this was not a risky proposition.

(Yes, the list is in current dollars, which heavily biases towards recent films. Even the constant dollar list is heavily loaded with fantasy and science fiction.)

And the next 25 are heavily loaded that way too.

Car dock for my MP3 player

I like to use our Rio Karma MP3 player in the car, but it's not nearly as good as it could be. So here are some jottings on what an ideal car dock would do for the player.

  • Power and charge the player, of course
  • Offer various options for sending audio to the car, including a built-in quality FM transmitter, a port for a special Cassette sized interface (more below) and various cables for car stereos that have an accessory jack (as mine has for a trunk CD-changer) or plain audio inputs.
  • A wireless remote control to stick on the wheel (not needed if other remote control methods can work.)
  • A microphone.
  • To get really fancy, an 802.11 interface to allow it to sync up with computers inside the house while in the driveway. Though strictly, this would be even better inside the player, not in the dock.

The microphone would perform several roles. One, it would detect the ambient sound level in the car, and boost the music volume as the car gets noisier. No more super-loud when you start the car either.

Secondly, it would listen for the sound of the music the player is playing. It would try to tell if it was playing, so it could detect when the stereo is turned off or switched to something else, or when the car is turned off (if the loss of power from the accessory jack doesn't already reveal this.) When the sound stops (even if this takes 5 seconds to confirm) just pause the music back in time when the sound was first detected to stop. One could then from time to time send out pulses of the forthcoming audio, and if it hears them, treat that as a resumption of play.  read more »

Limit children's hours of TV viewing

Generally, I'm the last person to suggest we use technology to control people's lives and what they view. However, it's also the duty of parents to help teach their children how and when to use the media. Most commonly today you see things like the V-chip, which let parents block their unskilled children from seeing shows with certain "ratings."

A far more useful concept, I think, would be a device which limits the amount of time children can spend watching the TV. What they watch in that context can be mostly up to them, and if they understand the concept of a time budget, it will probably improve not just how much they watch but what they watch.

A PVR like the Tivo, or in particular, the DirecTivo, is the ideal platform for doing this. Children would get their own remotes, or a code to enter on the master remote to start using their weekly budget of TV hours. Once the budget was used up, they could not watch TV for a while. With a PVR, this would not block them from seeing a highly desired show, but it would delay it.

If two children wanted to watch the same show they could both enter their code to halve the amount of TV credit used, encouraging sharing and (minimal) socialization. Siblings would pretty quickly develop a market, trading TV hours like prison cigarettes with one another for real-world things, even money. This need not be discouraged. Random TV surfing would be discouraged, and commercial viewing strongly discouraged.

Adults would have to take the burden of having to enter their own code for unmetered viewing, a price they would pay to cut down their kid's TV hours.

Of course there are also some privacy considerations to consider.  read more »

More on Tivo for Radio

Thinking more about the future of mobile audio (see Tivo for Radio Entry) I start to wonder if XM and Sirius satellite radio are doomed propositions. They seem like a good idea, nationwide radio, 100 channels, many commercial-free.

But how many of the stations does any given listener actually use? I would guess most people only listen to a few of them, just as they only listen to a few on the local dial.

And more to the point, how many need to be live? Very few. Certainly not the classical stations or other music stations. Generally only news, sports and (localized) traffic and weather need to be truly live. Political talk shows should be current though need not be live.

So what this means is that the satellite systems may be way overdone for bandwidth. One might attain all one wants from Satellite Radio with the hard disk based car-audio system, which by 802.11 sucks down all the new content it needs when in the driveway (or when near an authorized 802.11 node.) The live content can come from conventional radio, or the sideband on a TV station or other local transmitter.

(The local radio stations might not be willing to assist so readily in their own demise.)

The selection of Internet Radio blows away even satellite radio. Combined with your own personal music collection it's a no-brainer. The quality is just fine for use in a car. XM an Sirius proudly boast they have 3 classical stations, 3 jazz stations, whatever. Internet radio has hundreds of each type of station, as well as custom stations.

One could build an equivalent satellite network buying just a few hundred kilobits of bandwidth (for all the live talk, sports and news stations, which can use higher compression codecs as they are just talk) from satellites if you need the coast to coast coverage on the live data, or piggyback on other platforms if you just need the major areas.

You could also cut deals with 802.11 hotspot owners to let cars driving by quickly pick up more live news and talk. You laugh, but if you are in range of 5 megabits for 10 seconds, that's enough for 40 minutes of 20kbit talk radio.

XM and Sirius need to pay for a hugely expensive satellite infrastructure. Did they overbuild?

I want my "Tivo" for radio in my car

Recently, we picked up a Rio Karma, which is a 20gb handheld jukebox that plays MP3, WMA and Ogg Vorbis. Particularly nice things about it include the Ogg support and the fact it has Ethernet, so that any machine on our net can transfer music into it. That's about all it does with the ethernet (it also has a small web server to serve the manual and a java transfer app) but I expect it will do more later, like be a streaming media gateway when docked on the stereo, allowing control from anywhere.

We've also used it a lot in the car, where we get to use it a bit like a Tivo for Radio. The Tivo is the hard disk video recorder I have for TV, and is the only way I watch TV now. Every Tivo owner has probably wished they could pause their radio as well.

To start, I download radio shows with some simple linux scripts. Some programs like NPR's "On the Media" and the CBC's Quirks and Quarks let you download shows directly. Kudos and Huzzah to them.

For other shows, you must capture streams and listen later, which is legal. For example, each morning I capture a 32kbit MP3 stream of 2 hours of "Morning Edition." It syncs to the player, and can then be played during the commute. The newscasts are 2 hours old but you can fast-forward, pause and rewind, which is great.  read more »

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