Quantum Statement

The New Internet, the New World

Product Review: Aiptek MPVR Digital Camcorder

THE DREAM OF THE TAPELESS CAMCORDER

For two years, I have been in pursuit of the perfect low-end, inexpensive, flash memory, video camera. This search has proved more illusive than I ever imagined. For some mysterious reason, this product, whose singular purpose is to shoot and record compressed video for the web, does not exist in any pure form. This leaves me scratching my head for a number of reasons. First, the proliferation of flash memory video cameras in hundreds of cell phones, PDA’s, and digital cameras, beckons the development of tiny, inexpensive devices that can record video for myriad purposes. Second, the recent explosion of video on the net, epitomized by YouTube and Google Video as well as the entry of News Corp’s Myspace into the realm of streaming video. Third and less obvious is the success of Tivo and other Digital Video Recorders. These insights become obvious to me last week when I found the first digital video camera that met my stated objectives.

It was for no practical reason whatsoever that I wandered into Best Buy last Thursday. When I walked out, I had in my possession one Aiptek MPVR, which I procured, along with a 1GB SD card for less than $250. I never spend more than $150 on an impulse buy, and I most certainly shouldn’t have; however, I felt a certain buzz when I saw the indiscriminately shelved package that this might be the product I am seeking.

The Aiptek MPVR is marketed as a six-in-one (6mp digital camera, video recorder, mp3 player, voice recorder, video player, web camera). I am not going to talk about all of these functions since I am chiefly concerned with the video recording attributes, but I mention this to illustrate a point. There are many inexpensive, hybrid devices on the market, and as one would expect, they are mostly terrible. These products are poorly designed and completely inadequate for all practical purposes. The controls are put in the wrong place, the menus are non-intuitive, the cameras have lousy image quality, and the video quality ranges from terrible to most awful. I must conclude that the purpose of these neato products is for people to think they are getting a good deal without realizing they have to shell out an additional $50-$100 for a flash card.

THERE IS A LIGHT

The Aiptex MPVR is by no means a panacea, but it is the best example of value and performance in a low-end, tape-less camcorder I have seen thus far. After several years of selling novelty cameras through various schlock-dealers, Aiptek has evolved into a worthy and sophisticated brand. Their camcorder is cute, well put together, and seemingly resilient. It runs on a li-ion cell phone battery, a smart choice that combines the power and durability of Lithium with the affordability of a mass-produced battery. The menu is intuitive and relatively comprehensive, demonstrating Aiptek’s competence in UI design. A switch on the top of the camera toggles the lens to macro, which doesn’t produce the sharpest images, but allows some control over depth of field. In addition to white balance, the MPVR has exposure and shutter control. The LCD display is not terrific, but it can be positioned in any direction.

My favorite feature is the video-in cable, which allows you to plug your camera into a VCR or DVD player and record straight to flash disc. I sometimes leave my camera plugged into the TV for those times when I see something I want to record and put on the Internet (Poor Man’s TIVO). It is also an adequate tool for digitizing old tapes. While the 640×480 video may not be suitable for archival purposes, those old VHS tapes aren’t getting any younger. I’m so excited about this camera that I plan to buy another. I may buy a third, if for no other reason than to stave off the threat of the threat of the dreaded black box.

Rather than install the software I got with the camera, I opted instead to mount the camera as a drive on my USB port and drag the asf files off of the flash card onto my harddrive. I have taken great pains to find a way of converting those tricky ASF files into QuickTime MOV files, and I’ve found a method that works pretty well. I will post it in the next blog, but here’s just a taste: Quicktime Pro, VLC Player, and FFMPEG. Until then…

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May 30, 2006 Posted by | Camcorders, DVR, Google Video, Internet, MySpace, technology, Tivo, video, youtube | 3 Comments

Can Blogs Resemble the Human Mind?

The weblog, Metafilter (Meta Filter or MeFi), has evolved from a news filter / community blog into a reference site with a distributed folksonomy. The community of users that edit Metafilter adhere to explicit guidelines for what content is suitable for posting, how to respond to a post, and too many other rules of etiquette to list here. Wikipedia has a volumonous set of Policies and Guidelines for editing. There is also a more distilled version of their Ruleset.

Metafilter, unlike Digg, strictly enforces its guidelines. The website Metatalk is a blog dealing specifically with enforcement of these guidelines and usability issues. Typically, when a post or FPP [Front Page Post] is deemed inappropriate by community-members, it winds up in Metatalk, where Matt Haughty, Metafilter’s housekeeper, diligently weeds it out (is that a mixed metaphor?)

If you ever want to check out a fascinating document, read Metafilter’s Guidelines. Just kidding. Its really quite boring but integral to the success of the site. That and the diligence and alertness of its users. Metafilter is constantly grooming itself. Since this grooming is carried out in a semi-distributed fashion, there is less chance that anyone will be asleep at the wheel or using his or her power with abandon.

Resulting from this vigelance, Metafilter has developed a distinct character: a sharp, witty, insighteful, and even compassionate character. One of the facets of this personality is a level of quality control that takes enormous presidence. A new member of the community might find this elitist or off-putting. This trait accompanies other sites as well, such as SomethingAwful (Something Awful). These are adaptive conventions that were adopted by the community members to stave off trolls. In fact, all of these conventions were developed to insure the orderly governance of a community forum within a largely un-policed Internet.

Metafilter encourages community members to post multiple links in each post. Single-link posts are discouraged within the community but tolerated to a certain extent. The multiple links transform each post from a mere link to something much more valuable. What results is a group of links that are connected by some commonality. This commonality may or may not be implicit. It may be a series of links about saber-tooth tigers, but it might also be a series of links composed of diverse topics containing the word ‘tiger’ or ‘saber.’

Here is a classic example of a post where the links share a common subject theme.

The final chromosome in the human genome has been sequenced. The Human Genome Project has completed sequencing Chromosome 1 and has published its work in Nature here. If you’re impatient, here’s a sneak preview..
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:45 PM PST – 32 comments

The author of the post has gone with an obvious choice for relating these disparate links. Each link points the user to a site that is relevant to the topic of the Human Genome Project, whether it is a link to a Wikipedia article describing what a chromosome is or a link to the Human Genome Project website, all links share this common thread.

Here is another example, which is not a classical example of subject-linking, but the common thread, Stephen Merritt, stays the same.

Is Stephen Merritt a racist? Sasha Frere-Jones, the New Yorker’s Pop Critic and maybe the finest music critic writing today, has long been an activist against rockism. Stephen Merritt, the gay, white auteur behind such postmodern pop experiments as 69 Love Songs, and sometime target of S/FJ’s ire, recently got into hot water with Jessica Hopper, among others, for allegedly racist comments made at the EMP Pop Music Conference, which is Christmas and Halloween all rolled into one for music crits and their fellow nerds. Slate’s John Cook defends Merritt, claiming that disliking rap doesn’t necessarily make one a racist, and S/FJ responds with some further thoughts. But was Frere-Jones accusing Merritt of racism, specifically, or simply of wack unexamined biases? And is that a fair criticism? Slate’s readers don’t seem to think so.
posted by maxreax at 4:53 PM PST – 177 comments

Here’s a novel example of a post where not only has the author included many relevant links about Ayaan Hirsi Ali but has included links to other metafilter mentions. This type of post connects not only the external links, but those links from the earlier post as well.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (née Magan)
has already been mentioned in several times in Metafilter. Whether you consider her a couragous campaigner for women’s rights and against Islamofascism, or a crass opportunist, there’s no denying that she’s some character. However, it now seems that her Becky-Sharp-ish rise to fame and power also left a similar trail of embittered ex-friends and lies that has ended up landing her in serious trouble with fellow right-winger (also previously mentioned in Metafilter) Rita Verdonk, Dutch Immigration Minister.
Before feeling too sorry for Ayaan, consider that she’s moving to Washington DC, where she’s landed a job at the American Enterprise Institute. I’m sure she’ll fit right in…
posted by Skeptic (34 comments total)

Each of these posts, which are relatively compact, have a quality not unlike a human memory. Memories are visceral sensations that do not adhere to any meta data scheme. If we could tag an individual memory, it could have lots of different attributes. For example, Summer Camp: (sitting under a tree, the sound of creaky bunkbeds, the color of my dufflebag, the smell of the dining hall, the sound of the bugle in the morning, the fear of going in a canoe, betrayal by a girl, etc. etc.) These tags might appear at some other point in life. I may hear a sound on the radio that sounds like the bugle from camp. The sound triggers a memory of hearing the bugle along with other thoughts that are relevant to camping as well.

One might argue that web links differ from memories in that they are malleable and vulnerable to alteration. What if my memory of the bugle call at camp were actually transformed into a beat box or removed entirely. My response is that most of our thoughts are ephemeral as well. When I recollect that bugle call, I might not get it exactly right. I might have only a fleeting impression of the bugle, or that there was a bugle, or a musical instrument. These are the pitfalls of having a brain. Sometimes memories stay crystal clear; other times, they fade depending upon how much effort is put towards preserving them.

As the web grows out of its awkward ‘text’ and ‘jpg’ phase into a more multi-media experience, we will begin to see more paralells between blogs and memories. Perhaps this is the ultimate destination of the Internet for our human culture?

Technorati Tags: neuroscience, science, blogging, metafilter, MeFi, Wikipedia, Information Science, Web2.0, Web 2.0

May 18, 2006 Posted by | Blogging, Information Science, Internet, mefi, metafilter, neuroscience, Science, Web 2.0, wikipedia | Leave a comment

“When Whitaker says ‘free’ he’s not talking about beer…”

“…It’s our Freedom of Speech that’s at stake here.”

I apologize for linking to BoingBoing posts all the time. This is the last one this week I promise. Via BoingBoing, David Isenberg of “Stupid Network” fame wrote a Dr. Seuss style poem explaining Network Neutrality. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate a confusing and arcane subject …except possibly a Youtube Video?

Now the law has a flaw, or so they say
So the telcos send our data to NSA
As if we’re all Osama and we might get away

There’s also a podcast (link to mp3)

Technorati Tags: video, Network Neutrality, Net Neutrality, YouTube, video

May 10, 2006 Posted by | Internet, Internet Speed, net neutrality, technology, video, youtube | Leave a comment

Stairway to Heaven Backwards

BoingBoing has a great post about a guy who sings Stairway to Heaven in reverse.

Backwards speaking is incredibly non-intuitive; to speak in true acoustic reverse, elements like dipthongs and plosive consonants have to be reversed, and they do so in surprising ways. To truly complicate matters, add in the backwards rise and fall of the intonations of speech.

The backwards rendition of Led Zepplin’s Stairway To Heaven can be viewed here [via]

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May 7, 2006 Posted by | Culture, Humor, music, video | Leave a comment