Scripting News for 11/30/2006

Scott Rosenberg: “Are we going to spend the next two years pretending that we’re still ‘nation-building’ and ‘fighting the terrorists’ while American soldiers keep filling body bags and Iraqi morgues keep overflowing?” 

Russell Holliman says Apple still thinks it owns podcast. 

When Amazon says “If you order this in the next hour and pay us $3.99 extra you can have it tomorrow,” they’re full of it. I’ve now done it twice, and gotten the normal 2-day delivery. The first time I chalked it up to chance, but yesterday I went for it again, and from the tracking page, it’s pretty clear the order is still sitting in their warehouse. I think they should at least (automatically) refund the $3.99 when they don’t deliver. It costs me more than $3.99 of my time to file a complaint. But I’m willing to do a blog post about it. Anyone from Amazon listening?  

Living in Berkeley is really getting my legs, heart and lungs in shape. On yesterday’s walk I decide to go straight up, from the top of Solano Ave, to see how far I could get. Well, I went all the way up to Grizzly Peak Blvd, it’s straight up for about 2 miles. I’m pretty psyched, but I have no idea what I can do to top that. That’s the toughest hike around here. Coming down was actually harder, my knees were all wobbly by the time I was back on flat land.  

I was telling a friend about an old psychadelic song from the 60s, wondering if the lyrics alone would help at all, then I found there was a video of the song up on YouTube. Voila.  

The Rojas-Winer-Calacanis podcast device 

Michael Gartenberg made a list for the Rojas-Winer-Calacanis podcast device. Peter responded positively to my query, so we’re going to meet on the 21st, here in Berkeley, to talk about the device. I agree with many of the things Michael says, but there are some I strenuously object to. And there are others I’d add to the list. I’ll explain.

First, did you think I’d really go for no RSS? You gotta be kidding. That’s the whole point. The trick to these devices is to simplify, to remove features, and having it be an RSS aggregator simplifies it a whole lot.

Since we agree that it should have built-in wifi capability, why should it have USB? USB may be a little faster, but if I can save money and space by only having one communication interface, then I’m going that way. I don’t see myself pushing content from a desktop or laptop to the device, I see it downloading on its own over wifi. I do think I’m going to have to tell it what to subscribe to over the interface, the podcast discovery mechanism really has to be on a system with a rich user interface. Wifi has plenty of bandwidth for that kind of communication.

I agree that it’s a good idea to stay lean and mean, but I don’t accept a premise that says we have to make this work with less resources than Apple and Microsoft. Peter, Jason and myself are designers, not bankers nor are we manufacturers. That’s why there are banks and plenty of Asian companies that can make devices to spec. We just need a good business person with chutzpah to rep us. I don’t think there’s any shortage of chutzpah between the three of us. Why can’t we raise $100 million to make this baby? I know John Doerr’s phone number. We used to be neighbors. 🙂

One thing’s for sure, if I have any say about this, we’re going to zig where Apple and Microsoft are zagging. At the first sign of DRM, I’m out. It’s amazing that they left this door open. The guys from Hollywood can threaten us, but my podcasts are free for copying, as are all their podcasts, as are all podcasts. This is a podcast device, so it has no DRM. Period. Non-negotiable.

Another zig to their zag, which I think is a good idea, is a reasonably open design process. I don’t want to do it completely open, because there are parasites out there (wish there weren’t) so any really non-obvious ideas will stay off the blogs. But having a healthy public discussion is a good thing, it will make our podcast device a more powerful, more competitive product.

Phil Thompson suggests a fractional horsepower HTTP server. Of course. Doh!

Thomas Beutel chimes in.

WSJ debate 

I’m participating in a Wall Street Journal debate today. It’s an interesting process, better than the usual interview, because you get to form complete thoughts, and they have to run them verbatim. I can’t say what we’re debating, or who my adversary is, you’ll see all that when the debate is published (online only). But I’m having a good time with this. 🙂

36 responses to this post.

  1. Hi Dave,
    A ‘COMMP3’ player – community/communicating mp3 player – sounds like an excellent idea. And naturally you’ll be supporting RSS ;p – But, as you know, the RSS out there is in a right old mess.

    So, in order to avoid having to deal with the required ‘fuzzylogic’ to parse out the potentially broken and messy RSS there out there (trust me, there’s alot!) ON the device, AND deal with feeds which contain hundreds of items – you dont want to deal with all that on a mobile device – then give us a shout. We have a system in the pipeline right now which can help developers of mobile aggregators/players – AND help the producers of the podcasts of course. It’s their content, after all 🙂

    Normalization. Sanitization. Mobilization. 🙂



  2. I haven’t read his list yet, but the best reasons to have USB:

    1. Data exchange while you recharge. Grandted, you could probably do this with wireless — I know you can, in fact — but if you’re going to be recharging your device, why not have the option of mounting is as a harddrive while you do it.

    2. Thumbdrive support. I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to shift files from my thumbdrive over to my Palm, and vice versa. Having an MP3 player that I could use (and expand) with a thumbdrive would be a plus in my book.


  3. MP3 device sounds exciting. It will be fun to see what you can do.

    I think I’d have to have USB, though, to use it with my old desktop.


  4. Re. Podcast listening device….

    One reason podcasting became popular is because most people didn’t need to buy a new device, which isn’t to say there isn’t a need for an alternative to a music player but yuors will be competiting with devices probably including phones and other capabilities, whcih will be able to play podcasts.

    So how about a slight other tack where you form a symbiotic marketing relationship with a provider for ‘global’ or local Wi-Fi? Perhaps under such an arrangement the device could be free as part of a subscription? Or vice-versa.

    It’s struck me while searching for Wi-Fi around the place that there is an under-utilsed network of metal waterproof enclosures that could contain Wi-Fi transmitters – the one on my street corner is red with E2R on the side….


  5. Posted by brad on November 30, 2006 at 8:36 am

    Do you really want to leave out people who don’t have easy or reasonable access to wifi? A lot of people don’t use it, and would have to find it to get their podcasts? As nice as wireless is, I don’t think we’re quite at the point where leaving wires completely behind makes sense. We don’t all live in hyperconnected places.


  6. One thing to remember about wifi on a pocket mobile device, is that it can really drain your power. I have noticed this on my XDAII, Archos PMA and Nokia N91. All perfectly capable wirefree podcatchers – given the right software.

    The Nokia N91 (4gb or 8gb HD) is a great device, with a great podcatcher app – which supports OPML (1.0) directories (without inclusion) and RSS subscriptions.


  7. Allow it record fron a mic in socket at selectable sample rates just like the iRiver ifp799, and give it a good powered mic preamp with clean flat A to D conversion.
    Also allow annotation of recording input for marking places etc..


  8. The Wifi could also allow you to Geo tag, as could an inccluded GPS of course


  9. Yep, USB, per the arguments above.

    Yep, no DRM, per Dave and anyone with a brain who’s considered that issue ever.

    Haven’t checked yet, but hopefully your design allows for CompactFlash or SD memory of high-capacity. But maybe that’s too out of the minimalist thinking.

    The digging continues.

    — stan

    [a bit nervous about jonesing sans-Scripting News if Dave holds to his my-final-year thing ….. we who need thee are on knees saying say it aint’ still so … )


  10. Posted by Phil Thompson on November 30, 2006 at 9:36 am

    I would also like USB for recharging purposes. I have a USB-cigarette adapter in my car at all times, in my computer (duh), and in a pinch can even use my laptop to recharge USB devices when I’m on the road.

    How about a fractional HTTP server which runs on the device? (I know you like those 🙂 That way I could manage subscriptions from any computer in wifi range.

    How about running some form of linux on the device and making it OPEN so people can design and install there own podcatcher client if they don’t like the one that ships with the device?


  11. Stanley, on jonesing, I’ve made one of my fictional characters all depressed about The End:


  12. Re: Amazon

    When complaining about customer service, I hold up Amazon as the shining example, the only company that gives a damn about its shipping committments, and about the performance of its shippers.

    A couple of times, I have had overnight orders delivered late — and without any prompting on my part, Amazon has refunded the shipping charges on the entire order, even the items that arrived on schedule.

    Sometimes their tracking information lags significantly, though: more than once, I’ve had my package in hand before the tracking page said that the thing had left the building.


  13. Posted by Allan Smith on November 30, 2006 at 10:00 am

    Dave, keep on going up to Tilden Park; lots of wonderful trails. All the way up to Vollmer Peak if you want elevation.


  14. Regarding the Amazon shipping issue, I’m with you. A while ago I ordered something from them that I needed soon, so I paid the extra fee for faster shipping on an item that was supposed to be in stock – I think it was 2-day or perhaps even overnight shipping.

    Sure enough they shipped it by the fast method I requested… about a week and a half later. What a joke!


  15. Way to be studly on the walking, Dave. You should come on down to Santa Cruz and I’ll take you on the Loma Prieta epicenter hike in the Nisene Marks Forest. It’s a good warm-up for another hike you should do – from the floor of Yosemite Valley to the summit of Half Dome. We do that every year (except for last year, dangit). You should do it with us this summer.


  16. Posted by Ben Brooks on November 30, 2006 at 11:20 am

    I here you on the Amazon ordering, but it comes down to where you live and are shipping to for that matter. I live in Lakewood, WA next to Tacoma, WA. I always order from Amazon using only 2 day shipping, and unlike you I usually get my things next day. Are you far from the distribution center?


  17. PodcastReady has a Windows Mobile client that supports wireless on a Pocket PC today. click on Windows Mobile and your ready to go.


  18. USB is a must have, in fact its more important than wifi. USB allows for charging, configuration, and synchronization. Furthermore with USB charging, you forego the cost of a power adapter, which more than covers the cost of USB.

    Also, if you use USB, you can have a PC app to configure wifi, rather than have to do it on the device. MUCH better user experience.

    Wifi is very questionable – it massively ups the cost of the unit, it ups the complexity, it ups the power consumption. More importantly, it ups the number of things that can (and WILL) go wrong for a user, thus upping the return rate AND tech support requirements.

    As I offered on Peter’s blog, I’d be happy to help you guys out with some of the challenges of the product design, marketing, and retail challenges you have ahead of you – I was the VP of Product for Sling Media (we built the Slingbox).


  19. Thanks Charlie!

    We do have an MS Mobile client available today in beta ( … we also have a version for storage devices (such as thumbdrives and U3 devices) and MP3 players that act as storage devices allowing you to plug your player into any internet enable machine (running Windows or OSX; Linux beta code to be added this week) and receive your podcasts without installing any software on the host machine, or leave anything behind.

    The next iteration of the MS Mobile version will incorporate this functionality as well giving you the freedom to use either WiFi, cellular, or a computer’s connection to download your podcasts.


  20. Posted by BobV on November 30, 2006 at 1:06 pm

    Didn’t Steve Jobs make basically the same decision with the Next box, forbidding a diskette drive because it was no longer cool, even though everyone at the time wanted to get data in and out that way?


  21. Have you taken a look at the neuros dac?
    Sort of an open source effort. I haven’t tried one myself – still trying to push the envelop of whats possible with the ipod. That being said, maybe you can just rewrite firmware or extend an existing device or like or
    Also sort of off topic but I got one of thoes nintendo wiis and it is wifi and i stuck in a 2gb sd card… It has some channels that will be available in January or something – I wonder if they are going to utilize RSS. Too bad its not orange.


  22. Jeremy, where are you based?

    I say things like “No USB” to see what comes back.

    Ben, what diff does it make how far I am from Amazon when the product hasn’t left their warehouse yet? Have they even made an effort of any kind to keep their commitment? Clearly not.

    Anyway I have no idea how far away I am, but I suspect not too far, given that I’m in the Bay Area, close to all the airports.

    Amazon has more than one distribution center. A lot of stuff comes from Sparks, NV. That’s pretty darned close.


  23. If we’re going down the wifi route, all that someone needs to really do is build a Palm and Windows Mobile client that’s worth a damn. I’ve got a Palm Pilot with wifi and an MP3 player built in. I still prefer my iPod because I download my podcasts on my computer and then plug it in. I’ve got more than enough to listen to without worrying about ‘topping up’ with MP3s while at a hotspot.

    I know you’ve had bad experiences with the iPod, but for me, it’s been one of the best products I’ve ever owned. I get home, drop it in to a dock next to my laptop and then sit back. Overnight, it gets filled with new podcasts and charged up so that all I have to do is wake up, flick in to iTunes and hit eject.


  24. It would be great to be able to play media on the device and easily watch/listen to it on others near by at the same time. I’ve often been in a room where many people are taping away on their laptops and someone finds something really great they want to watch with everyone at the same time. Some sort of X Window System?


  25. I’d suggest, don’t get too fancy with “The PMP we really want”.
    – Easily replaceable battery and hard drive. One let’s you keep going by swapping the battery on a long flight. The other will let you upgrade it in 2 years time. Or fix it yourself when the drive dies.
    – Plain old USB Mass storage
    – Charging over USB. No more wall warts
    – Rockbox firmware
    – And for those with huge audio/video collections. Have a version with a 2.5″ drive.
    – And no DRM. Or DRM support. Let’s just turn our backs on that sorry mess.

    There’s a thread on the Rockbox forums about 2 angles on this. 1) designing hardware specifically for Rockbox. 2) Supplying Rockbox for a manufacturer. Both have merit.

    Only when that stuff is done is it worth turning to the next layers of wifi, radio, TV, http servers, direct RSS downloads, embedded bittorrent clients and all that other good stuff.


  26. Posted by brian on November 30, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Very interesting stuff…

    MiniUSB (with USB Host) for power, data sync, setup, firmware updates, etc, great idea.

    I like Phil’s idea of an http server. Along those lines, something similar to Newton Personal Data Sharing modules would be really cool for sharing all sorts of lists, *cough* OPML *cough*. Heck, even Nokia is working on mobile web servers

    Add a GeoIP tracker service for community/social networking uses (think Dodgeball). Out-Zune the Zune!

    WiFi with a built-in mobile http server would definitely expand the geek-appeal of this device, and leaving it open enough would allow the community to build innovative services is a must.


  27. Going downhill is always harder on the legs, particularly the knees, than going uphill.


  28. Posted by Klaus on November 30, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    Hey Dave, stay away from the hardware biz – you will fail.

    Talk to some system/hardware/chip guys who know this world, everyone will tell you the same.

    BTW: You will not find a music player chip on the market that comes without an USB port.

    There is absolutely no point in building your own podcast player hardware, everyone is using the same one or two chip solution anyway.


  29. I have been thinking this one over for a few days, how many of us have dreamed for the day when some Big Dogs like your will do this the way that it can be done. Way to go Dave, Peter and Jason.

    What about two players, one aimed at minimalism, cool factor and geekines , and another that would be larger, and appeal to the over 50 crowd and make sense. Easy enough for a 70 year old to power up, record a story about their life, tag, publish, and we might be able to capture some wisdom from the “Greatest Generation”. I am talking about something that polish sausage fingers could use with ease, big screen, big buttons. and a few line in / mic jacks


  30. Dave, when I run into problems like this, I just call the Amazon 800 number.

    They have a real customer service operation, though they don’t make it easy to find. I’ve received shipping refunds, shipping upgrades, or (in one particularly egregious incident) gift certificates. Google for the number.


  31. If we all started calling those Mp3s we send over the RSS feeds “Zunecasts,” how long do you think it would take Apple to retract its trademark claims on podcasting?


  32. Based in SF, my email is jeremy at 🙂


  33. Oh and if you do enable input have a proper Mic- in with a low noise pre-amp, talk to Mackie and learn something about theirs. That would make it great for casual podcasters, and we want people producing as well as listening, increasing that non-DRM’d pool selection.


  34. Posted by David Fumento on December 1, 2006 at 4:35 am

    Amazon has the very best customer service. For instance, recently my $150 Norelco 9160 XL which I had purchased from Amazon would not turn off after 1 year on a 2 year warranty. I called Norelco a couple of times over two weeks promised I’d get a replacement. Finally, when I called a third time I was told they had none of my razors in stock. So I suggested 1) they buy one from Amazon who had it in stock or 2) ship me the next higher model they had in stock. They would not do either.
    I then called up Amazon and complained that they ought not carry $150 razors from major manufacturers if the manufacturer will not back up the warranty. They agreed and sent me out a new razor, two day.
    I use Amazon Prime many, many times and only on one case did they mess up as you described (on some music CDs). I’ve even ordered a giant microwave oven next day and I got it. I order books on Sunday and have them Monday morning by 10:30. Not bad. I have had other cases where there have been problems with Amazon and they have always taken care of me. I only like dealing with companies that minimize my problems (e.g. Lenovo/IBM Thinkpads, Lands End, Amazon, ….) and do what they can to fix them.


  35. Posted by Joe on December 1, 2006 at 6:11 am

    Re: Podcast Device
    Here’s a way to make the device easier to setup. Give each device a unique e-mail address (printed on the device), and you host the server. Let users e-mail RSS feeds, opml files and links to the device.

    You could give the e-mail to your friends, and they could send you links to podcasts and other RSS feeds (I am assuming it will at least read newsRiver types of feeds).

    This way, you don’t need such a rich UI on the device.

    For anti-spam, you could add a ‘password’ that needs to be included in the e-mail, that the user can change.

    Sign me up to buy one, when it’s released.


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