Monthly Archives: October 2005 - Page 2

An Open Letter to ABC Affiliates

I recently read about a letter written by the ABC affiliate association president to the head of ABC. It seems that the affiliates are upset about the recently announced licensing of ABC’s ‘Lost‘ television program for distribution via the Apple video store. I must say that I am both disappointed and underwhelmed by this predictable letter from threatened affiliates.

For years networks have relied on so called “appointment viewing” of their shows but this model does not seem to interest the iPod wearing, Xbox playing, Tivoing and all too busy generation of today. The time where the family would gather around the radio each week to listen to the latest installment of Fibber McGee, Burns & Allen, Jack Benny and Richard Diamond. Today our lives and the lives of our children are filled with work, school, sports, music lessons, debate team, play practice, scouts, yearbook, medical visits, twenty-four hour grocery shopping and all the other things every American family wants to partake in. We no longer clear our schedules to watch a TV show. Empowered by timeshifting technologies such as the programmable videocassette recorder and the digital personal video recorder many of us now watch our favorite shows on our own terms. Meanwhile television stations and networks have been neglecting the radical shift in viewing habits hoping they would just go away. I applaud ABC for recognizing this is not the case. Rather than be preempted by the rising star of the audio and video podcasts such as This Week in Tech, DigitalLife TV, Systm and others ABC has taken the lead by taking the content to the consumer in the format they want.

This is smart on the part of ABC for a couple of reasons. First, they have jumped ahead of the other major networks by cutting this deal early on. Secondly, they have started a trend of paying for mobile video content. Think about it, if consumers can get used to paying for mobile TV content this early in the game ABC will have paved the way. It’s much easier to do this now than after consumers become accustomed to free content such as the podcasts mentioned above. If subscription supported mobile video content becomes the norm ABC will have gone a long way towards making sure it stays a relevant player in the video production and distribution game for some time to come.

Of course, all this progress comes at the expense of the affiliates and they know this. You’re affiliate probably won’t be going off the air today or tomorrow but with this deal they see the writing on the wall, traditional TV distribution will eventually die. Of course they would like to prolong that as much as possible. What I would have liked to see instead is a commitment to local programming by the affiliates. People are still going to want their local news, sports and weather. What if the affiliates decided to embrace this personal media empowerment and worked a deal to offer mobile audio, video and on demand web versions of their local newscasts? Some of the affiliates have played with web video but it’s clear the main business is still the broadcast news. By adopting a system like the video podcasts mentioned above local stations could offer news updated throughout the day that viewers could download to their media devices and watch or listen to on the train in to work, over lunch or on the trip home.

The world of broadcast media is changing but that doesn’t mean the affiliates need to be left out in the cold. Instead they should be banding together and working out a plan for offering RSS based local audio and video content to the consumer. Make it inexpensive or free and advertising or sponser supported. Whining will get them nowhere, if they don’t change with the times they will be left behind. On demand internet media has arrived for geeks and before long everyone will be on board, either that or they’ll be “Lost” themselves.

Open Source Webmail Clients

For a long time I’ve been running SquirrelMail to provide webmail for my users. It does some things really well like allowing me to tie it into my Amavis/SpamAssassin spam and virii filtering solution on a per virtual-user basis. On the other hand the usability is not so great which is why I’m excited to see a new crop of AJAX powered webmail solutions on the horizon. For those not familiar AJAX lets you make web apps much more like desktop apps ala Google’s Gmail. Zimbra, communik8r and RoundCube have all come to my attention but none of them is quite ready for prime time yet. I hope that at least one of them stays an active project and allows for SquirrelMail style plugins which are essential to my webmail and need to work in a complex MySQL virtual user and Amavis per-user environment. If anyone else knows of any great webmail packages I haven’t seen please let me know!

*Edit: Based on the number of Google referred hits to this page I’m guessing that a lot of people are looking for a better open source webmail package for their mailserver. If you find one you like please post a link in the comments section and share your knowledge!

Vertically Centering with CSS

It’s always been a challenge to get vertical centering to work using CSS. I recently located a solution which supposedly uses valid CSS for centering in a div or a window. Cool stuff.

More Open Source Software Finds

This morning I found a few open source software projects I had not seen before and which look interesting. Scribus is an attempt to create an Adobe InDesign or PageMaker like experience. Primarily for Linux, Mac OSX and Win32 ports are in the works. The screenshots look promising I’ll have to take this one for a test drive some day.

Bluefish is billed as an advanced web editor. Looks like a great tool for doing PHP site programming but it’s definatly not a WYSIWYG editor like Macromedia’s Dreamweaver. For that you should probably take a look at Nvu which I’ve written about in the past.

The new TSS?

For those fans of the now defunct tech show “The Screen Savers” formally of ZDTV, TechTV, G4TechTV and G4 I have exciting news. Patrick Norton, Robert Heron and Jim Louderback (all of former ZDTV/TechTv fame) have been working on a new project for ZiffDavis called DigitalLifeTV. It’s still getting started and has rough episodes occasionally but production value is consistently increasing and it is a lot like the old TSS format. The show is streamed live on the web and is also availible for download after the fact in a variety of formats. If you’re a former ZDTV/TechTv fan or just someone interested in technology but not looking for something over your head I encourage you to check this out!

Canon offers to repair defective CCDs in digital cameras

In April 2004 I purchased a Canon PowerShot A70 from to experiment with a digital camera. By December of 2004 I noticed problems where the LCD on the back of the camera would flicker periodicially and picture quality was decreased. While at the January 2005 Consumer Electronics Show I attempted to show this to a Canon rep who gave me the brush off and no real suggestions as it was an intermittant problem. As time went by the problem got progressivly worse but didn’t bother me because I had purchased a Canon RebelXT just after it hit the market and that had become my primary camera. Over the summer I noticed the LCD was doing a lot more flickering and would even go black or show random patterns and colors at various times. Today I found out that Canon has issued an advisory notice about this problem and has offered to repair any units with problems, even those out of warranty. I called Canon this evening and everything is set to get my camera fixed. To find out what to do if your camera has a problem check for notices posted in the “Service Notices” section of the Canon support website for your camera. Even though I’ve upgraded to a RebelXT I do like having the A70 as a carry around camera and something to keep in the car or with me for imprompu photography.

U.S. residents are kindly directed to contact the Canon Customer Support Center for further assistance at 1-800-828-4040. Support hours are Monday thru Friday – 8:00 AM to 12:00 midnight; and Saturday 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM (all times EST). Alternatively, if electronic support is preferred, please send your email to

The CCDs in question are used in the following models.
Digital Cameras
PowerShot A60, PowerShot A70, PowerShot A75, PowerShot A300, PowerShot A310, Digital IXUS V3, Digital IXUS II, Digital IXUS IIs

Digital Video Cameras
MV600i, MV630i, MV650i, MV700i, MV730i, MV750i, MV5i, MV5i MC, MV6i MC
ZR60, ZR65 MC, ZR70 MC, ZR80, ZR85, ZR90, Elura 40 MC, Elura 50

Web Based OS

Today I happened across the eyeOS project which aims to create a browser based personal content management system. It is PHP based, has partial AJAX support and is GPL. Cool idea, it could be an easy way for web newbies to create and maintain websites.

From the site:

EyeOS is a free, cross-platform Personal Content Manager System based upon the style of a Desktop Operating System. The base package includes the whole Operating System structure and ten apps, as a Calendar, a File Manager, a Text Editor, an Internal Messenger, a Browser and a Calculator.

VoIP and Conferencing

I’ve been working on my Asterisk server again cleaning up the configuration and peering with various VoIP services so today I signed up for the Gizmo project. Gizmo is a lot like Skype in that it provides an easy way for the VoIP novice to get online, chat with friends and make and receive calls from the phone network. A big reason I like Gizmo much more is that Gizmo is based on the open SIP protocol which means it’s easily interfacable with Asterisk and other VoIP devices. Be sure to check it out.

While I was setting up the Gizmo account I also ran across the FreeConferenceCall site. My guess is the free service gives you a long distance number to call in while the paid service gives you a toll-free number but it’s still a cool idea and a nice way to get a big conference call going, especially with those free nights and weekends on your cell phone plan. They also have a way to dial in via Gizmo (and thus any SIP client) so you can get free access that way too.