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This... makes my head hurt

Inverting the Inversion of Control. (Warning: nerdy by nature.)

Worst. Holiday specials. Ever.

Whatever: The 10 Least Successful Holiday Specials of All Time.

A marriage made in heaven?

Yesterday, I had one of those "million dollar" revelations that I occasionally have. The problem is, that I invariably have them too late to do anything about them. (This explains why I'm still working for someone else instead of sitting on a beach, drinking beer and getting a tan. But I digress.) Nevertheless, I'm still going to commit this one to the ages, so if it comes to pass I can point at it and say, "Look how smart I am!".

The latest rage seems to be Microsoft's Media Center PCs—computers that integrate into your home entertainment system, bringing the multimedia capabilities of modern PCs to the living room. With one of these, you can (I gather; I haven't seen one of these in person yet) play CDs, MP3s, DVDs, and PC games, view photos, and probably just about anything else that doesn't require a keyboard, while sitting on your sofa. The display is your TV, and the input device is a remote control. Built-in networking means that you're not limited to what's on the Media Center PC; you can pull data from any other computer on the network.

This feels like it's smack in the middle of the "digital convergence" space that Apple has been talking about for several years now. As a result, one is starting to hear rumblings about when they're going to move into this market. For example, The Register reports that "Merrill Lynch looks to 'killer' Apple home media server". This is why I figure that I'm too late with this idea; I suspect that Apple either has soemthing in the works already, or has decided to move in a completely different direction altogether.

Almost everything Media Center PCs can do, Apple hardware and software can also do, today. (I have used a 1999-era Powerbook as a DVD deck for our TV and an MP3 jukebox for our stereo in the past.) The only things missing that I can think of are the ability to run PC games, the hi-fi stack form factor, and the TV/remote control interface. I'm not going to spend any time on the first one; PC games won't run on Macintosh hardware, and while some games have Macintosh versions, many more don't. We're going to have to write this one off as unsolvable—although I have a peripheral idea that I'll get to at the end, assuming I remember to.

Apple tried the stereo component form factor before, with the Pippin. It failed to go anywhere, probably as much for being ahead of its time as anything else. Nevertheless, there's no magic in this form factor; it's just a laptop without a display or keyboard, and with more (but not substantially different) jacks and sockets. There's no technical reason Apple couldn't produce a Macintosh in a stereo component box.

As far as the TV/remote control interface goes, very few companies do user interface like Apple. They're not perfect—just ask Tog—but in my (admittedly biased) opinion, they know how to do simple, clean, usable interfaces. Just as important, they recognize good interfaces when others create them, and put them to good use; for instance, the iPod interface originally came from Pixo. So, while Apple could produce their own interface for a "digital convergence hub", I think they'd be better off turning to another company who has already done it, and done it well.


The CPU in TiVo PVRs is the PowerPC, same as in Macintosh. They run Linux, but I suspect that it could be replaced with Darwin (the foundation of Mac OS X). (Conversely, the Mac OS X applications that would power such a box could probably be ported to Linux without much difficulty. I'm not saying we'll ever see Linux versions of them outside of any such box, but porting from Darwin to Linux should be a lot easier than, say, porting from Darwin to Windows.) Series 2 TiVos already have many of the hardware bits necessary to make this work, so all that really remains is to get Apple and TiVo together.

Imagine that Apple licenses the hardware reference design and software from TiVo. They add the "digital convergence" applications that already exist—iTunes, iPhoto, iCal, GarageBand. Put Apple and TiVo logos on the front. Call it "iTiVo". Watch them sell like iPods. :-)

I've got some ideas for some new synergies that could come out of this, but I'm already running long. Two final thoughts, one of which was referenced above.

  • Series 2 TiVos have jacks for cable TV and Ethernet. Add a wireless Ethernet connection (and why wouldn't you?) and cable modem hardware and you have a broadband router/firewall for the whole house.
  • Remember how I said that a Macintosh-based box can't run PC games? While you could do it by emulating a PC in software, I doubt that the performance would be acceptable. Instead, consider that gaming consoles like the PlayStation/2 could probably be condensed to the size of a PCI card....


Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked for the Holidays

Our holiday CD this year is Barenaked for the Holidays by Barenaked Ladies, and let me tell you, this may be the holiday CD to end all holiday CDs. On one (one!) CD they give us:

  • a rendition "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" recorded backstage at a concert (with guest vocals by Sarah McLachlan)
  • "Green Christmas" from the soundtrack to How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • their own version of "Do They Know It's Christmas" that, while sounding sincere, makes you think that they're poking fun at Bob Geldof
  • "Jingle Bells" and "O Holy Night" performed on the Hammond organ (Angela's reaction: "It sounds like they're at a baseball game")
  • and "Deck the Stills"—the tune is "Deck the Halls", but the words are "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" repeated over and over

That last one has to be heard to be believed.


Enabling SSH access through the firewall

This isn't going to make any sense to the vast majority of you, and the others will point and laugh at something that can be looked up elsewhere. But I've been carrying this little piece of paper around for almost a year now, so I figure it must be important enough to write down somewhere a little more permanent.

At home:

    ssh -R 9722:localhost:22 servername

On the server:

    ssh -p 9722 username@localhost

How to de-stink a Volvo

From David Weinberger: How to de-stink a Volvo. It reminds me of how Dave Barry used to write:

Our Volvo has heated seats ("The Warm Ass that Cluetrain Bought"), so you have to remove some electrical bits first. On the bottom of the seat are two black boxes, each held on by a single torx screw. Remove and deposit at the bottom of a storm drain, just to teach yourself a lesson.


Trying out ecto

I'm giving ecto a spin 'round the block. Not that expect a fancy tool to make my blog posts any more interesting... or frequent, for that matter.