April 20, 2006

I slept in until 6:30 again this morning. I guess that I need to be getting to bed earlier than I have been. Or maybe I need to open the windows at night or something. It was way too warm when I woke up this morning and that was making it hard for me to wake up. I really don’t sleep well when it is too warm.

I had breakfast at work this morning. My $.65 bagel with peanut butter. I am acclimating and eating poppy seed bagels now on a regular basis. It is hard to believe in this day and age that you can sell a delicious, toasted bagel topped with peanut butter and pay the person to take your money for just $.65. It seems like you must use more electricity than that while you are in the process of preparing the bagel.

I discovered yesterday that New Brunswick is known as “The HealthCare City.” How cool is that? John would be proud.

Bob Wegmans, the aged founder of the Rochester grocery store chain, died today at Strong Memorial Hospital. Mr. Wegman was a staple of the Rochester community and most likely second only to George Eastman in his level of local fame. He will be missed. I am fortunate enough to at least have been able, along with Andy, to have worked at Wegmans while he was still alive although he never visited the offices during my time there and we never crossed paths at any of the stores.

I had a busy morning today for a change. That was nice. Kept me hopping until lunch time. It was really warm in the office today which, of course, makes me really sleepy. It is hard to keep looking at the computer monitor when you are way too warm.

Tonight I managed to make the first real over the Internet phone call between sites. I called dad in his home office. I am using the XTen X-Lite softphone and he is using a GrandStream IP hardphone and the sound is pretty good. The whole thing works great. Right now we have extension to extension calling, voicemail and caller ID working. Over the weekend I will be attempting to roll out a few more features.

This evening Dominica turned me on to the in2TV service from AOL. in2TV is an on demand Internet “television” system. I use the term “television” loosely because technically this is not a television replacement technology. Here is the quick explanation:

Traditional television whether you are referring to terrestrial broadcast, cable or satellite (aka cellestial broadcast) is, fundamentally, a streaming not-on-demand system. Even cable providers with “on demand” do some tricky and very limiting things to mimick non-television technology to appear to be on demand. When using television, if you want to be able to pick you programming you needed to traditionally add a video cassette recorder or more recently a digital video recorder that would be required to be on and recording at the precise moment that the program that you wanted was being streamed and then you could watch it whenever you wanted. This system is not technically “on demand” but is more accurately referred to as Time Shifting because you must be connected and prepared ahead of time. On demand means that you can get the program whenever you want once it is created. You don’t have to wait for a “program air time” nor do you have to decide that you want to see it the moment that it is aired. You can learn about it later and get it whenever you want. So these are different animals. But traditional television doesn’t have bidrectional communications necessary for true on demand services. Now that we have the ability to put traditional television programming onto the Internet we, of course, have the option of doing so in a traditional, pre-programmed way but users are not happy with this paradigm for obvious reasons. So with the Internet we are now beginning to see television programming actually available “on demand”! Yay!

AOL is providing its programming through two different mechanisms. The first one and likely to be the most popular is a fairly straightforward “streaming on demand” style. What this means is that you open a web page for the show that you are interested in, select the episode that you want to watch and the AOL in2TV servers begin streaming that show to you right at that moment. Nothing weird. Just what you would expect. The thing that is really amazing is how quickly they have made the shows start up and how well the image looks. Now they are only providing a very small image but traditional, legacy television’s image is miniscual compared to what we are used to with computers so it could very easily be the same size or nearly the same size as the original shows were. In any case, the shows are quite watchable in this format. What I like is shrinking the window that the show is in and putting it in the corner of my monitor so that I can still do everything as normal but while watching a television show. In fact, I think that the image looks a bit better than it does when dad does the exact same thing using an actual televisin tuner! You are able to maximize the image and make it into a full screen image so that you can use your computer just like a television. In this mode you can really see the problems with the image but you have to keep in mind that the original show would look terrible on a high quality computer monitor today if you were to sit very close to it. So it is very unfair to compare it in this way. If I back up and watch the show from across the room it looks very similar to regular television. The place that it is noticably different is when there is a scene change – you can see the scene start off blurry and then become sharper as the movement slows. This is typical for many key frame based video compression schemes. DVDs using MPEG2 do this as well but not as dramatically.

The second method that you can use to get programs is through what AOL terms “Hi-Q” which is actually just a proprietary video podcast player and aggregator. So the system is pretty simple. You simply install the software and subscribe to shows or channels that you are interested in. Then the aggregator will download programs from your subscription choices in the background while you do other things. Once a program has been downloaded you store it on your computer and can watch it at any time that you like. This method takes longer to get you the program but the programs are of higher quality and it shows if you are going to watch the programming in full screen mode. Although for a lot of the kinds of programming that they have on in2TV right now I don’t think that this method is particularly worth it unless you are planning on watching the same show multiple times. If you have a lot of disk storage space you could download a lot of programming and just keep it stored on your computer so that you can watch it at any time. So there are some real upsides to this method. But it uses a lot of disk space and it will be some time before we see how well you will be able to manage, backup and move this data around. Hopefully AOL will make this process simple so that this programming will be really valuable and not just a higher quality version of their streaming service. But in either case, the system is pretty nice.

Right now there is not the widest selection of programming available but there are a few really good shows well worth your time like Growing Pains, Head of the Class, Bablyon 5 and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. AOL/Time Warner is using their old catelogue of classic shows as a proving ground for the system and they have a lot of really good stuff to put out there. Unlike most companies interested in doing this type of thing who would have to purchase content or create new, AOL is able to go into their vaults and pull out material that is costing them money to store and earning them nominal amounts of income and put it to good use. Even if they get nothing but PR it could be of good value to them. But they are getting advertisers in the form of Intel and others so there must be some positive cash flow involved. Maybe AOL has discovered a sustainable business model. Perhaps not a cash cow but a revenue stream that generates income from idle assets. Good idea, if you ask me. And for the chance to be remembered as a leader in the television to Internet transition it is a really good deal.

Mary called just before I went to bed and we talked for a while. It is hard for us to make contact because she is busy with school during the day and then she has been working part time at Dee’s Deli in Silver Springs and doesn’t get home until almost 10:00 at night which is pretty close to when I go to bed. It is a rough life being old and responsible. Well, old at any rate.

It was close to 11:30 by the time that I got to bed.

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