A Windows 8 SteadyState

A few months ago we were searching for an alternative to the sometimes troublesome CleanSlate tool for wiping changes to a Windows system on reboot. I came across Panos Macheras’ Windows 7 SteadyState Solution Simplified! and found it pretty interesting.

A combination of MDT and AutoIT scripting, this tool does one thing very simply: It creates a Differencing Virtual Hard Drive (VHD) on every boot, and on every reboot, that VHD is wiped and replaced with a new on. A much more straightforward (not to mention cost effective) means of undoing potentially harmful user changes.

For whatever reason, I couldn’t get this solution to work for our Laptop Lending program here at the University Library System at Pitt, so I got to work modifying it.

What you need to know:

  • This solution requires some understanding of Microsoft’s Deployment Toolkit and was made to work with MDT 2013 specifically.
  • Requires M. Niehaus’ CopyOEM MDT Script
  • You’ll need a copy of AutoIT if you want to recompile the scripts.

Changes I’ve Implemented Here:

ToDo:

Create a power scheme and scheduling system that will allow Windows 8 SteadyState pcs to reboot into their permanent drives for updates during maintenance periods.

Etc: 

I originally rewrote the AutoIT scripts in Windows Batch because I’m a terrible coder and I may put them up on my Win8SteadyState repository at some point.

Download all scripts and compiled binaries here.

Thanks to Panos, Mike and all the others around the web who sent me in the right direction on this.

Voice Dialing Google Voice from iPhone

I’ve been using Google Voice for a few months now and I’m more or less happy with it. I occasionally get word that some calls haven’t gotten to me but I can live with it as telephony is not really my primary method of communication at this point.

The one thing missing from making GV feature complete for me was voice dialing from the iPhone- a feature I use quite frequently as I often need to make and receive calls while I’m otherwise too occupied to bring up the keypad. Really. Also, it’s cool.

Took me a while to figure this out but its quite simple:

Choose the contact you want to voice dial. For me there are only a few I’m really interested in so I’ve no need for this, though you can do something like that too if you want.

Add a new number for this contact or edit a current number, though I prefer to have their legitimate number in there as well.  In the field for their new number add:

your google voice number, your google pin number, 2 (to make a call) and finally the number you are calling.  It’ll look like this:

(777)555-1212,1234,2,4123919500

This page shows how to find the comma (pause) in the iPhone menu.

iBooks vs the world

Providing an iBook title is available on Kindle or B&n, there is absolutely no reason to do so through Apple. Hell it might even be worth paying extra for the competitor’s, just for the ability to read it on multiple platforms. A color LCD and snappy page turning animations aren’t enough.

Flash vs Usefulness

Not that I really need to pitch into this bloodbath of a conversation, but I just wanted to share a thought on the iPhone and Flash:

No matter how well optimized Flash could ever possibly be on the iPhone, it would always offer a substandard experience with the slightly possible exception of video playback. And while Flash playback is important, it is also obviously becoming less so with HTML5 video players quickly picking up the slack.

The big problem comes with all the other things users expect and experience from Flash on the Desktop. You’ve got games, you’ve got banner ads, you’ve got entire sites designed in flash (when they really should be HTML). These Flash movies are almost always designed for a specific desktop size or higher, be it 800×600 or 1024×768. Many of them allow you to right click. They all ultimately expect you to be interfacing with a mouse and keyboard easily at the ready. At best you’re going to get a mix-and-max of sub-standard to downright awful browsing experiences. One could even argue that Apple got full web browsing so right on Mobile Safari by ignoring Flash completely.

At best a Flash designer could possibly create two versions of the Flash interface: one Desktop, one “mobile.” And then of course you’d be designing for every potential Flash enabled phone out there, regardless of speed, screen size, or interface.

Whether you chose to write your Flash for the desktop or you chose to “optimize” for mobile, if you targeted both at any point you are now providing a lowest-common-denominator, feature incomplete interface that will likely not look or interact as well as versions specifically designed for Desktop or mobile. So let Flash be Flash, a time wasting game interface and the bane of mobile users searching for restaurant menus everywhere. The iPhone doesn’t need it, and if it had it it would be worse for it.

iPhone OS 4

Lest anyone think Apple is in some way benevolent:

Ipad: The Dream of the Netbook Realized

Dawn and I are ubiquitous computer users: our laptops are always sitting along the periphery of our lives.  They come out too look up a quick reference, or to read the days news.  We download our baby pictures on them and share those pictures with family through them.  We do our work on them and we relax on them.  They come into the kitchen with us when we need a quick recipe reference.  It goes without saying that we watch video and listen to music on them as well.

The problem, and honestly this wasn’t much of a problem until now, is that they are rather bulky.

The netbook was supposed to be the solution to the bulkiness of a “full sized” laptop.  Early adds for the EEE series of laptops featured a rather unrealistic image of a woman sitting on a beach, computing her heart out on the toy-like EEE.  But as we’ve seen the netbook evolve from a tiny keyboard, tiny screen computer to a more or less full sized but underpowered laptop.  This evolution speaks to the problem of netbooks:  A tiny form factor and tiny screen don’t mean much if the way you use them is the same as on a full sized computer.  The squinting and key-hunting become more a burden quickly.

The potential of the iPad is that it takes the small-form factor and makes it true.  This is a device you will take to the beach, into the kitchen and undoubtedly into the bathroom.  Gestures and quick magnification will make using it second nature, and unlike Microsoft’s ultimately failed Tablet PC, the fact that the machine’s operating system was built from the ground up with this form factor in mind will mean that this time it will work.  The stripped down feature set and relatively powerful processor mean that not only can we watch high quality video but we’ll likely be able to edit it to some degree as well.  The same goes for music.

The funny thing is that I thought that all of this was what made the iPhone special, but it was not enough to take the laptop out of the equation, and the reason was that the iPhone is simply too small.

Low impact lifestyle computing is what the Netbook promised; its what the iPad will actually deliver.

Batch Tools for Group Policy

I try not to bring my day job into the blog all that often but I love these tools:

Group Policy Batch Tools by Markus Stephany

I don’t know that he is supporting them any more but they let you manipulate Group Policy in Windows environments in incredibly powerful and dangerous.  The tool I’ve been using most: Gpscript.exe, lets you dump an entire group policy file out of Active Directory into what is essentially a registry file.  You can then manipulate the text files and reupload them into AD Group Policy.   Of course the potential to destroy the universe is great, but if you take your time and use this wisely, it is a fantastic tool.  Particularly for large, unwieldy policies that involve a lot of hand input- Windows Firewall Group Policy can be pretty robust, but if you want to use it to its fullest, applying different policies to different sets of devices and the like, it is a practically impossible task because of the sheer amount of work you’ve got to put into creating exceptions and lists.  GPscript.exe has made that task  at least functional.

Building a Reliable Home Backup System

I’ve been looking into solutions to store our increasingly insane media collection.  With the sheer number of pictures and hd movies we’ve made of Max (and no end in sight) as well as our formerly 1000+ cd and lp collection ripped and various iTunes TV Shows and Movies our need for backup and storage is pretty severe.

Criteria:

  • At least 1 TB of storage.
  • DLNA (and optionally iTunes) streaming
  • RAID1 or some other type of data redundancy
  • Time Machine compatibility to back up our laptops
  • An operating system that will allow the installation of apps, either through a console or graphically.

Options:

  • Time Capsule Unfortunately no redundancy.
  • HP MediaSmart Server (too expensive, limited storage options unless you go really expensive- bonus iTunes streaming)
  • Drobo (nice in that it uses as many drives as  you can throw in it, network is an additional cost and slowed down due to USB)
  • Roll my own– yeah I think that’s it.

Roll Your Own NAS

Many advantages here:

  • I can put whatever operating system I want on it- Windows Home Server or some Linux NAS distribution, even XP
  • I can install apps I’d like to include, from backup, bittorrent, itunes, streaming tools, or anything else I can think of.
  • I choose the hard drive size and I know it will be mirrored.
  • I can set up Time Machine backups to it.
  • All things considered, its very reasonably priced.

Negatives:

  • WHS is by all accounts not great, despite its potential.  Roll your own NAS tools can be cumbersome to configure and maintain.
  • Buying barebones pc hardware almost always results in a return or two before everything works.
  • Time Machine is a kludge and certainly not guaranteed by Apple to work.

The Server:

APEX MI-100 Black / Mirror finish Steel Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case 250W Power Supply:
One of the few Mini-ITX computer cases that are compatible with the Atom based NVIDIA ION platform I want to use.  Fits two drives and has enough power to drive my equipment.  $36

ASUS AT3N7A-I Intel Atom 330 (1M Cache, 1.6GHz, Dual-Core) NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo
I wanted an Atom and ION combo board so I’d have enough power to drive a few apps and maybe even transcode video if necessary while keeping the power draw low.  $150

HITACHI Deskstar HD31000 IDK/7K (0S00163) 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive
Eh, its a hard drive.  I’m buying 2, so that’s $180

CORSAIR 2GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Desktop Memory Model VS2GB667D2
It’s RAM. $86

$452 before shipping.  All things considered that is pretty darn competitive.  I’m taking donations.

Apple’s Tablet Letdown

Yeah, iPad is a bad name.  I thought Canvas had a nice ring to it.

As a gaming device, it is simply nothing special, as by all accounts it is a giant iPod Touch, the only thing you get as a gamer is a larger screen and in most cases, blown up graphics rather than improved graphics.  The problem of iPod gaming is there is no tactile interface beyond holding the device and sliding your fingers across the screen, the iPad does nothing to resolve it.  This isn’t to say gaming on it won’t be fun, but at $500 minimum you’re better off staying with an iPod touch, or your other sub-$200 portable gaming device.

Beyond gaming, a bigger screen is nice for reading, but not as good as e-ink.  Nice for movies and television and podcasts, but not widescreen?  Functionally, there are almost no differentiating features between it and Apple’s iPad-nanos.  Where are the rumored two camera’s for video chat?  Where is the facial recognition for passing the device around the room?  No mention of medical use when that is the only functional market for tablet computing?

Granted, this is a first generation Apple device and one need only look at the iPhone to see what can happen in a single software (or hardware) generation, but the iPad has a long way to go.

Jamie’s got some excellent points (especially regarding how it is a closed platform) here.

QTControlCommandLine

Part of my job is working with media of all types, and for quite a few years I’ve loved the way I could use tools like AppleScript and Automator to quickly do the types of batch conversions I’d needed using Quicktime Pro.  QT is actually a pretty robust tool if dive into it a bit.

The problem for me has always been finding similar functionality on the Windows side.  QT still has extremely robust programmability through COM, but accessing it has been difficult because I am a shitty programmer.

Enter: QTControlCommandLine

This wonderful little tool lets you perform practically any Quicktime operation you would want from the command line, which means setting up batch scripts is a cinch.  It even gives you complete control over export settings, something the QT exporting tools I’ve seen have not been able to offer.

A few notes though, the precompiled EXE that came with the tool did not work on my 64-bit Windows 7 device, so I recompiled it specifically for 32-bit using VS2008 and it is running fine using the 32-bit Quicktime install on my PC.  Also for some reason it is not taking configuration settings from the xml file it lets you designate as you export files.  Hopefully I’ll get to the bottom of that.

Update:
When in doubt, make sure you’re case sensitive…

Microsoft Writes Itself out of CE

This morning I thought I’d look around and see what bombshells Microsoft dropped at their CES keynote last night but I really couldn’t find much, and what I could find seemed really insignificant in light of things like this, this and this.

Ballmer is driving the company into the ground.  I don’t know if it is zealous focus on “winning Search” or his love of the cash cow that is Microsoft in the Enterprise but all of their Consumer Electronics seem to be flagging or flatlining.

Off the top of my head.

  • Did they even mention Windows Media Center?  What was once the centerpiece of Microsoft’s attempt at taking over the living room has been completely overshadowed by cheap set top boxes and game consoles.
  • Hardly touched on WinMo 7 and Zune, out of what I can only assume is embarrassment.  They have nothing even approaching Android let alone iPhone OS and they know it.
  • Their Xbox announcement wasn’t really the “game changing” user interface breakthrough Project Natal, but a pay-to-play MAME ripoff for old people?
  • Their game lineup for 2010 is pretty lackluster (not including Mass Effect 2)
  • They even kind of waffled on their “Slate” announcement.  For good reason though- no one really has any idea what Apple is up to with their new tablet concept, and from what it sounds like, “iSlate” is so far removed from the tacked on uselessness that was Microsoft’s Tablet PC initiative that they might as well not show anything at all.
  • Huge focus on Windows 7?  That’s all well and good but “Windows Everywhere” ain’t exactly what it used to be and we’re seeing Linux (Android, embedded, etc) ALL OVER THE PLACE at this show.

Bottom line: Microsoft’s corporate inertia has rendered them unable to keep up with the ecosystem they had a huge hand in creating.  Blame Steve Ballmer, blame their org chart, whatever, they’re done.

Severing a limb in the name of savings

I’m turning back the clock folks.  Despite my love for the iPhone and all of the ways it enriches my life, I’m giving it up.  I’m going back in time to the year 2002, when “smart” phones meant WAP web browsing and a good camera was VGA.  Yes, I turned off my iPhone and popped my SIM card into this beauty:

Sadly, Lollercoaster not included.

Despite its insanely designed keypad, this phone actually does almost everything a modern smart phone does- browses the web, takes pictures and records video, plays mp3s, allows bluetooth syncing and tethering and SENDS MMS!  Note: Iphones were only given that privilege in 2009. One thing it does not share with the iPhone, besides the touch screen, app store and incredible functionality, is the $30 DATA PLAN!

As much as I loved the iPhone, I simply could no longer abide our ridiculous phone bills every month and something had to give.  So as of today, my iPhone is a glorified iPod Touch, crying out for a SIM card and connecting to the net only through Wi-Fi.   C’est la vie.  We’ll see how long I can last.

Joost Invites

If you want one let me know. I personally do not use Joost very frequently. The content is currently far from compelling, and while I do kind of enjoy the interface of the client, and the video does indeed work really well, I find the “channel” model of video distribution to be completely unnecessary in the connected world.

Update: All invites are gone.  Sorry to those who didn’t get them.  Enjoy!

Do we need gatekeepers?

As the wave of video on the net slowly overtakes traditional broadcast as the medium of choice for watching things, a lot of people are trying to get in the game.

One of the chief arguments aggregators and commentators have made regarding the current video revolution is that there is simply so much of it, we must have some kind of mediator who is capable of sorting out “the good stuff”. So we have places like Network2, who accept video feeds based on the notion of “shows” and some relatively vague criteria of “quality.” What these folks fail to realize is that the mediator is dead. Channels are dead. They are hanging on to old paradigms without even realizing it. Update: Coincidentally, this is what is killing Joost, which I’ll get around to reviewing at some point- I’ve been beta testing it for about a month.

The social networks of today- and by social networks I mean social websites, the blogosphere and ad hoc networks of friends and neighbors who create communities on the net- provide mediation through hyperlinking, message boards, email threads and the like. Viral distribution is all that is needed to get a video into the hands of those who want it, and aggregation through a few mediators at the top of a site is completely unnecessary. Will some things be overlooked? Absolutely. I would love to see 54 Hours be more popular than it is. But then that raises the question of whether or not we are truly participating in a way that we could actually see our videos find increased mindshare. By not jumping into YouTube more fully and relying on the podcasting/vlogging methods, are we avoiding opportunities?

Pardon the digression. My point here is that the assumption that filters need to be provided is as dead as the television broadcasting paradigm. With limited bandwidth (both broadcast and temporal), television could only afford what it deemed most acceptable to the most number of people. Contrast that to today’s world of near limitless bandwidth and the ability to time-shift programming to suit your schedule. Why revisit that world by placing boundaries to content that people should be free to discover for themselves? We will create the filters we need through our networks of connected people. By participating in different networks we will witness and redistribute other content. Any new boundary based on these new freedoms is- whether intentionally or not- aimed at limiting access.

Things we learn from the Simpsons…

So Jason Calacanis, Dave Winer and Peter Rojas have been “jokingly” talking up producing a limited run, luxury mp3 player. I think the original inspiration was right on, and some of the features they’re talking about are great:

  • RSS based wi-fi file transfers
  • Podcast recording
  • NO DRM

However, I think instead of making the perfect mp3 player, they’re in danger of making the Dave Winer podcast player- a branded, commercial supported, podcast friendly monster that forgets that (most) people like podcasts in addition to their music, not the other way around. These three (possibly two- I don’t get the feeling Peter is all into podcatching) are forgetting that it has to be a great music player before it’s a great podcast player. Peter brought up a good point about mass storage mode players, though I personally have no problems with iTunes syncing- I sync 3 ipods between four computers and have never lost a track, I simply learned the use and limitations of the device, then built a workflow around them.

Overall, I think they’re on the right track but if this thing ever came to pass you’d be surprised how few people are really interested in Winerstein’s Monster. To sum it up, perhaps designing should be best left to designers, lest we arrive at:

And now a word from our sponsors.

Since my initial post regarding Podcamp, a lively conversation has erupted both here and over at the Something to Be Desired blog as spurred on by Podcamp Pittsburgh organizer Justin Kownacki.

I don’t have the attention span to cover everything point by point but reading over it all and thinking about it has lead me to reconsider some of what I’ve said, or at least look at it in another way.

First off, I want to be clear that I do not in any way believe that sponsorship of podcasts or an event like podcamp is a bad thing.  My previous post would most certainly lead one to believe that I do, but I will say that courting sponsors and working with them will inevitably lead to questions regarding your motives in what you produce- whatever you produce.

With that said, we can discuss how new media producers are supposed to earn money from what they do.  Making money is difficult enough, and doing so with a freely distributed good is nearly impossible.  It is the fundamental problem of digital distribution.  Currently advertising certainly seems like the best means to this particular end.  No one would argue with the kinds of numbers Google is doing.  As long as we are able to maintain an editorial line between advertisers and content, then we are safe.

Now, there will be those who cross that line, as there are in every medium.  This is expected and inevitable.  However, the difference is that we are working in an age where reputation is everything, and as Calacanis has pointed out, the community of media consumers will not put up with content that is bought and paid for by moneyed interests when it gets in the face of the openness and “truth” of the blogosphere.  Authenticity is king, after all.

Which leads me to my final point in this long and winding road:

Sponsorship is a necessity, but it must not frame the discussion. 

Podcamp would not work without its incredibly gracious, incredibly giving sponsors. Most conferences have sponsors and the attendees still have to pay!  I am so thankful for that.  But despite the “unconferenceyness” of it all, I really feel that having sponsors leading discussions, shilling their products and then disclaiming those shills is really disingenuous of those participants.  I think Network2 is a great idea, and I thought Chris was a really nice guy, I have purchased clothing from SpreadShirt, but when you open a panel called “The Future of Video” with a five minute pitch about the company you work for, I’m calling bullshit.  Even if that company has no business model, yet.
We are treading a very fine line, for sure.  Podcamp needs sponsors.  We all need to eat.  We all want to represent our stuff- I was there to talk about 54 hours as much as I was to network and learn.  Part of what is great about all of this is that people get to talk about what they love and we all get to hear about it.  I just don’t want to watch something with so much potential be subverted so quickly without at least calling attention to that subversion.

Podcamp Pittsburgh 2006

Before I begin, I will preface this by saying that I am not good at interacting with people. One-to-One communication is lost on me as I can not bring myself to actually approach people. Thank god for smokers as they’ll talk to anyone- even the people standing by themselves outside waiting for the whole thing to be over. Now when it is one-to-many, me and an audience, I’m fine. My public speaking skills can use some work but for the most part, I can hold my own. The point is I could have gotten a lot more out of this had I been willing to actually communicate with the people there I was so excited to be in contact with.

With that said, things I’ve learned:

  • Mac users really do think they’re superior to PC users, and don’t hesitate to pound that into the ground when given the opportunity. Thankfully I have a mac.
  • Everyone is concerned with making money, but there is very little concern about content.
  • There is a movement afoot that is trying to shoehorn podcasting, videoblogging and other new media into a format that is palatable to traditional forms of media consumption. This movement is in place partly due to short-sightedness of participants, and partly by the corporate interests that are already consuming far too much mindshare at events like podcamp.
  • There is a huge amount of bias against YouTube. I heard “America’s Funniest Home Videos” repeatedly over the weekend. What these folks don’t get is that that’s where the audience actually is with web video, and while we’re bitching about finding an audience and getting sponsored, YouTube users are building communities around their homemade content- and lot of which is actually quite compelling.
  • Corporate sponsorship frames the conversation at these events. From Network2 to Scion, they were everywhere and they all wanted a piece. The smell of money is now in the air, and everyone is grabbing for it. Of course I am partially to blame, as it was an “unconference“- I should have done more to shift the overall discussion.
  • The economics of podcasting is really uncertain, but I can tell you this: There are not enough viewers or advertisers in the world to get everybody paid, and that is the way it should be. The people who rise to the top are going to be the ones who work really really hard, build communities, and define themselves for the space. Not by simply transferring old paradigms onto new contexts. There is big money in TV because for a long time it was the only venue for video and there was a limited number of channels, a limited amount of time. With no limit on bandwidth or time, the potential for ad revenue will drop as media becomes a-dime-a-dozen.
  • Alive in Baghdad was one of the few people actually discussing the potential of new media as a disruptive force. Most people were trying to build “channels” and worry about whether pre-roll or post-roll ads were better. Brian is an inspiring individual and this work needs to be seen by everyone.

With all that said, I did meet some really nice people and most of my depression stemmed from my own inability to deal with situations like this. I learned a lot- particularly from the technical sessions on Saturday. Alex Lindsey must have an amazing amount of energy, and he was willing to put up with all kinds of crap to help people out and do what he could. The Tikibar folks too were very gracious and had a few questions for the 54 hour presentation.
I sat in on a session of GeekRiot with Shawn Smith. Don’t know if he’s going to post it or not as some of it was non-optimal. We were just starting to get to a good place when the session ended.

I am going to try to go to the Philly podcamp to rep with BK and Wrestling Team. Hopefully we’ll be a little better prepared to discuss the art of the medium, the potential of it, and the actual future of online audio and video outside of where the money is going to take it.

Taggin’: , , podcamppittsburgh2006

Microsoft indemnifying Zune Users from Piracy Lawsuits?

NYT Link Here

I am trying to find the specifics of this agreement between Universal and Microsoft, which includes a royalty to Universal on every Zune player sold.  They are basically trying to recover royalties they would have received had the AHRA applied to hard drive based music players.  Does this mean I can listen to any music on Universal-owned labels, regardless of how I acquired it?