The Apple Live Event – My Wants

Wednesday for the first time normal people can watch Steve Jobs reveal new iterations of Apple products live. Now instead of checking the live blogs of various Mac news sites, we can watch the new Apple goodness as it is unveiled.

So what will the event bring? There are tons of rumors out there. These are a few I’d like to be true:

iTV
I love my Apple TV, but ever since I got a Blu Ray player I have not been using it as much. My player can stream Netflix, so I find myself opting for that more often. I’ve never been a fan of the iTunes rentals on Apple TV. The 24 hour limit really turned me off. I used it to watch my own movies. I have a few iTunes movie purchases, but have only ever rented one movie. Even at a potential $.99, TV show rentals are not appealing.

But an iOS device that can stream both my content and use apps to stream from the internet would be very nice. And it would fit into the current crop of iOS media consumption devices.. Imagine watching Netflix on your iPhone, they picking up again on the iPad, and eventually ending up on a TV. or, more likely, imagine watching a show on your TV, and taking it with you on your iPad.

And an app-based device would easily allow for expanding video offerings.

iPod Touch
It only makes sense for Apple to update the iPod touch to mimic the new iPhone. And they could use the user base to help Facetime take off. Combine that with the 720p HD camera and a new iPod Touch should be a huge hit.

If this does not happen I will be shocked.

iTunes in a Cloud
I think this is a long shot, but having my content available for streaming through all of my Apple products would be very nice. My major complaint about the whole iOS device line is that you must have a computer with all of the files loaded on it in order to load the media on the different devices. Being able to load my media up in the “cloud’ and then enjoy it where ever I am without worrying about storage would be nice.

But the logistics and licensing for this may be beyond what we should expect for this event. maybe some time in the future.

There have been some other rumors, like a new version of the iPad. The only real chance for a new iPad would be if they add a front facing camera, again to build the user base for Facetime. We should get a definite date for the release of iOS 4 for the iPad.

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The End (of Cable TV) is Nigh!

I got an email yesterday from Microsoft about my Xbox Live subscription. They are raising their prices for Gold membership:

“Over the past seven years, Xbox LIVE has evolved from an online gaming platform to an all-in-one gaming and entertainment service. As an Xbox LIVE Gold member, you can not only play blockbuster games, such as Halo: Reach with your friends online, you can also stream movies from Netflix and music from Last.fm right to your TV. You can even connect with friends near and far on Facebook® and Twitter™. Plus, you also enjoy exclusive discounts and early access to game demos.

And we aren’t even close to being done. This holiday, Xbox LIVE is adding new Gold features, including ESPN and Video Kinect, with Hulu Plus coming on Xbox LIVE in 2011.

• With ESPN on Xbox LIVE, you can stream and watch over 3,500 live and on-demand sporting events plus highlights.

• Video Kinect allows you to chat with family and friends on the big screen, right from the comfort of your living room—no headset or controller required.

• With Hulu Plus on Xbox LIVE you will be able to enjoy a customized Hulu Plus experience that will include Kinect navigation and Xbox LIVE Parties”

That’s right, soon I will not only play games and stream Netflix on the Xbox, but watch ESPN and Hulu Plus TV programming.

Tomorrow Apple will host an event where it is rumored they will reveal a new iOS based iTV box, replacing the ill fated (but loved by me) Apple TV. It’s not certain they will announce this, but it would make sense with the rest of Apple’s strategy. An app-based iTV box designed to stream video, pictures, audio, and play simple games would fit right into the iOS line. When you add in another rumor that Apple will allow “cloud-based” content streaming to iOS devices, it could be very easy to consume all kinds of media on your TV.

That’s what has been missing from the conversion from cable to web viewing, simplicity. The average person doesn’t want to figure out how to use a multimedia PC and get the video from websites to stream on their TV. They just want to plug in a box and watch. They need an Xbox or iTV, or Playstation, or boxee box, or blu ray player with streaming capabilities or they won’t switch. Media PCs have been around for years, and never been widely adopted by the masses, not because of their cost, but because of the lack of simplicity.

If people can buy a simple solution to stream the same video content as offered by cable/satellite from the web, they will. It’s niche programming taken to the logical conclusion: pay a low fee, and watch what you want when you want.

All that remains is for local channels to figure out how to deliver through the web, and cable can devote all of it’s bandwidth to on demand and internet traffic. Cable companies wont go out of business, but they won’t offer 300 channels anymore either. Currently, I subscribe the the base cable package of 20 local channels and an internet package. We spend less than 3 hours per week watching cable. We spend many more hours streaming content via the internet connection.

It won’t happen fast, but within a couple years or so cable will find less people paying for the massive channel packages, and more adopting fiber and faster connections to the web. They will have to change their model to survive.

For those of us that deliver content via cable and network channels, we have some strategic thinking to do, and we had better get on it.

Lack of Planning on Your Part…

“Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”

If you have ever worked in an office you have probably heard that phrase or seen it on a sign. Basically, just because someone else didn’t do their part, why should that mean you have to worry or rush? As long as you cover your… self, it’s the other party’s fault they didn’t get their job done.

While that would be a horrible climate in any office, it is totally unacceptable in ministry.

In ministry, that should better read:

“Lack of planning on your part means I will do my best to help you.”

Most people who work in ministry are people oriented, not detail oriented. They are big idea people, not detail people. They are creative types, not detail types.

I often come into the office to see a pan of brownies, or bouquet of cookies (Yes, they make them in bouquets, I don’t know why). They have been left as a thank you for my ministry area going above and beyond to help another ministry that forgot something, or waited very late. While I like the bagels you bring, I would rather have the time.

Sometimes the crisis was innocently caused. The person who needs the work simply doesn’t understand how long it will take. A couple of years ago I was working on a church wide communication piece. There was a lot of talk about what it should be, and those who were asking for it did not have the details together. Knowing the timeline for printing and duplication of the media I figured out the drop-dead-line. Then we made it happen. The final result was the the piece was delivered and inserted in the bulletin on time.

None of the people asking for that piece were purposefully dragging their feet. They simply did not know how long it would take to print thousands of folders and duplicated thousands of CDs. In their mind it was simply a matter of deciding before the weekend. But we needed a week to complete the duplication process. Once we laid out the time line, they got on board and worked toward the goal.

Other times, well, it seems like the party doing the asking should have known better. Maybe they want to stream video from a room that has never had a camera before, and they ask 30-minutes before the class starts. Or they need a bulletin insert for the weekend and ask for it on Thursday. At those times I have to resist the urge to tell them that if the request wasn’t important to them it isn’t important to me.

In ministry I have to step back and look at the end goal. If things are too late, I should be a “detour“. If not I should do what I can to support their ministry.

I was once in a very long group meeting with worship and tech team members. One of the worship leaders was trying to give the media people the freedom to push back on his requested changes for the service. At the end, he looked at me and asked, “So if I come to you with some kind of crazy change for the service, what are you going to do?”

I replied, “I will do my dead-level best to get it done.”

Now, some of you other media ministers are probably sitting there thinking I blew it. Here was permission to tell a music guy his last minute changes will not happen, and he should have planned better. I totally understand that sentiment. I have some times dreamed of doing that. Dreamed of telling them that the Holy Spirit can work Monday through Friday just as he can work 5 minute before a service starts. But that is not what I serve for.

I lead support ministries, pure and simple. While we do some things that could be considered primary ministry, most of what we do is helping other ministry areas accomplish what God has set before them.

Who am I to tell a worship leader that his last minute idea isn’t really from God, and is really caused by a lack of preparation? I cannot see his heart. I have to trust that what is being asked of my team is being prompted by God. After it is over, I can have a conversation about how the timing and nature of changes can affect the ability of volunteers to perform with excellence. We can discuss the risks of asking too much of a volunteer staff, and creating unnecessary stress among volunteers. But I will tolerate any stress necessary to accommodate the promptings of the Holy Spirit in a worship leader. If that leader feels strong enough about the change to ask for it, I will do my dead level best to make it happen.

What it really comes down to is education. The people who need the support of my ministry areas, for the most part, have no idea what the people on my team do. They do not understand it. For them, media and communications is some sort of black box where requests go in and results come out. It is my job to help them understand, to some degree, what it takes to accomplish their requests. We put down guidelines, have conversations, and try to help ministries know how get the absolute best from my areas. It’s our job to teach them what it takes, so that when the last minute request comes, we know that they know what they are asking. We have to trust that they wouldn’t be asking if it was not really important.

We will set about getting it done or offering alternatives if it cannot be done. Then, later, we will go back and find out why it was late.

Maybe that sign should read:

“Lack of planning on your part means I will do my best to help you, and when it’s over talk about how we never have to be in this position again.”

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Roadblock or Detour?

It’s inevitable. Sometime in media ministry, someone is going to come to you with an idea that just won’t work. There can be any number of reasons why, but they will propose it, and you will be placed in a position of saying “No”.

Here’s the question, will you be a roadblock or a detour?

Will you just say no, and give all the reasons why it won’t work or shouldn’t be done? Or will you step back, look at the end goal, and suggest an alternate route?

I find that when I am tired or frustrated it is much easier to slip into the roadblock mentality. The request may just be the last in a long line of ill conceived ideas, or something that unduly impacts my work for little gain. When I am run down, my focus shifts and I tend to react as a roadblock.

When I am focused on the big picture, I tend to point the way to an alternate solution. I will suggest another way to get the same result. If pushed, I’ll go into why the other path is blocked, but always circle back to how the same goal can be reached.

The challenge is to stay in the “detour” capable frame of mind. Media Ministry exists to support the church. The tools and pathways of communication we use have nuances that not everyone knows. They may suggest something that won’t work, but our job is to help the ministry get where it is going, not just throw a roadblock.

Focus on an alternate route to get to the same place. When you have to say no, be a detour, not a roadblack.

Advice for Alex Sink

The nation watched at Rick Scott upset poll favorite Bill McCollum. In what turned into a very nasty and expensive race, just about every piece of dirty laundry in Rick Scott’s closet was aired. And Republicans still chose Scott.

Now the race is between Democrat Alex Sink and Rick Scott.

To date, Sink’s campaign has risen above the dirt. She didn’t really engage in the race yet, easily beating her opponent. As a result, she is relatively unknown.

I’m sure she will be getting all kinds of advice today. Here is mine: focus on the issues.

McCollum tried everything he could to defeat Scott. He pulled all kinds of mud from the past. Scott responded by telling his side of the story. When things got ugly, Scott focused on things McCollum had done in office and things he had said in the campaign.

People have seen the dirt on Scott, and the voted for him anyway. Sink should focus her campaign on the issues. That is the hope she has of winning.

Shooting Pentax in a CaNikon World

Why Pentax? How did I end up shooting Pentax DSLRs? Luck. Blind luck.

A few years ago I wanted to get into a DSLR. I didn’t have a huge budget, so I was looking at used kits on eBay. I wanted high enough resolution so I could print a 5×7. I figured I would buy one and maybe one or two lenses. Then upgrade a couple years later.

I didn’t realize that buying a DSLR body was actually buying into a collection of lenses. I bought a Pentax *ist DS 6.1 Megapixel body with the basic DA 18-55mm f3.6-4.5 lens. At $295, I had gotten into a DSLR for less than I ever expected.

And I was pleased with how it took pictures. The kit lens, normally not the best of lenses, was pretty decent. That’s not to say there weren’t some deficiencies, like vignetting at the wide end. But it’s still a lens I use, years later. [Below is picture from near Rainbow Falls in TN. Pentax *ist DS and kit lens]

When I bought that Pentax, I didn’t realize that I had bought into the perfect lens collection for low budget photography. I started doing some research on what lenses are available for Pentax bodies, and they have some very nice ones. Having spent under $300 for a body and lens, dropping double that on one lens was not going to happen.

I happened onto pentaxforums.com and started reading reviews and posts. Suddenly I realized that every K Mount lens made in the past several decades would work on my DSLR body. And with an adapter, even the M42 screw mount lens would work. That means that any good glass from years past would work on my DSLR. And there was quite a bit of decent glass for cheap available online, as long as you didn’t mind shooting in manual mode.

I first found a Vivitar 75-150mm F3.8 for $30. From my research I knew to look at the serial numbers. For a while in the 80s several of these were made by Kiron, Komine and Tokina. I got one from Kiron. Then I snagged one of Pentax’s fast 50 mm for $20. [Right: *ist DS with Pentax M 50mm f2.0] So my lens collection began to grow. Over the years I have bought and sold lots of older lenses online.

Spending such a small amount on a lens allows you to do things you would never dream of with more expensive lenses. For example, I spent less than $6 on a Ricoh 28mm f2.8 prime lens. I had to take it apart, cut off a flange and remove a pin before I could use it. But I took a great picture of my daughter with it [below]. I ended up selling it because it lacked the multiple-coating others had, and I didn’t like the lens flare.

My most expensive lens is an f2.8 16mm Zenitar fish eye. It was $160. I got it just in time. The main seller on eBay announced they were selling the last of them right before I got mine. In time I upgraded bodies. Mainly because I kept damaging them. Leaving a DSLR where it can be knocked off a ledge is a bad idea. Although upgrading to a video capable DSLR would great.

Right now my entire kit (K10D with 6 lenses) cost less than a Canon T2i body. Shooting in manual is fun, and teaches me a lot about how light an lenses work together. I use my kit lens when I need autofocus. In body shake reduction works on all lenses. I’d like to have better, newer glass, but not on this budget. Pentax makes some great glass today.

Hard to find it though. I can go to any photo store in town and see the latest offering from Canon or Nikon. There’s only one place I have found that has any Pentax gear, and it’s used. I can buy new from B&H, or used from KEH or eBay. Or from fellow Pentaxians. But it’s not like you can check out the latest lens at Target or Best Buy. (Of course, they don’t sell the best CaNikon either)

My friends who are onto Photography have either Nikon or Canon. Discussions about DSLRs end up with me trying to explain why I still shoot Pentax. Now, my photo-interested pals have some very nice kits. I’d love to have one like it. But dollar for dollar, my Pentax kit will take pictures as good as I need for my family memories, and more.

And really, that’s what matters. I specifically chose to post pictures here I took with the oldest, least capable camera I owned, the *ist DS. I like to think they are pretty good. Maybe not award winning, but they please my family and me. I now own more capable equipment. I have a lot to learn.

There are people who own Canon and Nikon (Sony, Pentax, etc…) kits that could show pictures that would blow me away. There are some who have spent thousands and thousands on their kits, and cannot take a decent picture to save their life. Equipment is important, but not as important as the photographer.

So, whatever you shoot with, shoot well. Learn how to use what you have and capture life around you.

If it’s Free, Leave it Free! (My Main iOS App Pet Peeve)

I like apps.

I have said for a long time that the thing that makes an iOS device work is the apps available for it. The iPad will live or die based on the apps that are written to take advantage of it’s hardware. The iPhone sells so well precisely because of the apps on it. Apple knows this, as you can see from their ads (“There’s an app for that…”).

And there are a ton of great ones. Some of them cost a bit, but you can find quite a few that are free and very functional.

I think it is admirable for developers work hard on a app and deliver it for free. I have no issue when developers charge for an app. People have a right to get paid for their work.

But do that up front. Do not release a free app, and then load up an update with annoying in app purchase notices and “donate” messages. If you want to capitalize on your free app’s popularity, release a 2nd version for pay.

My kids like an app that records their voice and plays it back through an animated cat. Nothing big, but it was a pretty popular app. Recently an update was released. Suddenly the main screen is crowded with in app purchase icons. My kids kept accidentally hitting them, launching the purchase dialogue. No fun for the kids. Pretty much ruined it for me. I deleted the app. An app that popular could have carried into a version 2 for a fee. Instead, they decided to tack it onto the free app, and clutter the interface.

I had a free note app for the iPad. It was great. Then an update added a pop up box, asking for money. And, incidentally, a bug that hampered the app. It became too annoying to use. Then the company launched a pay version of the same app, a “pro” version. I moved on to another note taking app.

Free apps should remain free. Don’t annoy your customers. If you think your app should cost something, do that on the front end. Don’t offer it for free and then try to stick to those of us that download it.

Flipboard and Outdated Copyright Law

There is an interesting article about the recently released social reader app for the iPad, Flipboard, and copyright law. While the “scraping” the app does is apparently similar to what Google News does, there is a renewed focus on how existing copyright laws cannot handle new modes of information transmission.

The app, on the surface, appears to just gather articles and posts from various source around the web, and let the user view them in a magazine-like format. If it was able to use an RSS feed to accomplish this, there would be no issue. But, in order to deliver the user experience Flipboard wants, they “scrape” the content from the web and publish it agin through their servers. They call the process “parsing”. In an interview, co-founder Evan Doll said, “It simply wouldn’t be possible to run on the client for reasons of speed and complexity.”

Does the app technically violate existing copyright law? Yes. It takes intellectual property from others, stores it on servers, and republishes it in a slightly different form. At the very least it violates the derivative work and distribution clauses of the copyright act.

Does the app violate the spirit of the copyright act, and use the content in a way that the authors would/should not allow? I don’t think so. Isn’t the point of putting this content on the web for people to read it? I can tell you that using Flipboard has dramatically increased the amount and variety of internet content I view. Instead of having to go to multiple websites, the content is gathered and delivered in an easy to read format. Not only have I continued to read sources that I had already been using, but I am seeing new sources.

In the world of social media, and sharing/liking, the old ways of protecting content do not work. Flipboard is doing what companies should be doing; adding value to the user’s experience. Flipboard is also adding value to the websites and content creators. They are driving users to their sites. They provide a snippet of content, and a link to the full content on the content creator’s page.

Bill Seaver from Micro Explosion Media says the “Golden Rule” of social media is to always add value to the people you want to reach. Do that, and they will in turn and in time take care of you. Hopefully that rule will apply to this situation.

In the same interview from earlier, Doll said, “In the past 48 hours, we’ve received an incredibly positive response from content creators who are happy about being featured in Flipboard, and who want to work with us on doing a better job displaying their content. Hopefully we can do more on this front soon.”

In my opinion, what Flipboard is doing should be explicitly legal. Gathering content from public web sites and delivering them to users should not be illegal, even if the content is passed through a server to prep the content for better delivery. I know this isn’t the most important thing the government should be looking at, but an across the board revisit to the rules surrounding digital content would be welcome.

Current copyright law cannot handle the changes in media distribution and consumption. In the meantime, smart content providers will work with companies that create apps like Flipboard, not against them. They should join Flipboard in making the experience of viewing their content better.