Author Archives: ayman

Watch What I Watch

I’m often amazed about the “real world”.  Naaman would say here that I have yet to experience it but my case in point is I got cable tv.  I haven’t had cable tv…well.  Ever. With the exception of couch surfing at my friend’s places.  Comcast in SF gives you some unreal number of channels…most of which require an additional fee – and with the exception of Anthony Bourdain and Alton Brown (on Travel HD and Food HD)…ok and Top Chef on Bravo. I really don’t need cable tv.  So I’ve thought about canceling it after the 1.5 months I’ve had it.  What’s curious here is, I’ve lost my old pattern.  I used to just go to a friends place and watch my stories there.  Or better yet, one friend of mine always wants to show me her favorite new show on SpikeTV.   TV just isn’t fun by yourself.  Now I find myself IMing my friends to see if one of them is watching a show…so I might chat and watch.

While this has been the recent subject of much research and discussion, I want to talk politics for a moment.  Throughout the debates, CurrentTV ran a ‘hack the debate’ program. 

Current TV's Hack the Inaguaration

Basically, while you watched the presidential debates, they would show Tweets from Twitter’s public timeline marked with the tag #CURRENT.  This was an amazing feat indeed.  Why?  They not only did it on the web—they did it on their cable tv channel!  While this may seem like just some technical wiring, there is more here. CurrentTV was using Twitter as a filter for op-ed content which (one could only assume) was filtered by their editors in real time.  This is an example of not just ‘send your photo to us and we will put it on the air’.  Rather, the production of the entire show revolved around the success and the compelling nature of people and how they tweet.  Unfortunately, for me and TV, I don’t care what other people think.  I care about what my friends think.

Enter CNN. Together with Facebook, they made an app which is dead simple. In 2006, I was on faculty at the Medill School of Journalism where I was teaching News and New Media. I recall demoing Facebook to the class and explaining this was going to be the future of aggregation, but that’s another post. Moving on, show me the TV and what my friends status updates are!

CNN Facebook Inaguration

And now, I get to see what my friends are saying. Plus, I can individually respond to each status message. This creates a mini conversation. Sweet indeed. I watched the inauguration with all my friends at the same time. There was some debate (amongst my Facebook friends) if this was really a conversation. Ustream had a nifty stream and chat room (which you could interact with from your iPhone even) – but the chat room is a different thing. Its continuous. Not episodic. Me, I liked the status messages and short conversations. Not as telegraphic as twitter, not so committal as a chat room.

Course this brings me back to my TV. WGNTV in Chicago published my watching of the event (in a piece edited by a former student of mine from Medill). I saw her update her Facebook status asking if you have an iPhone and are watching the inauguration, send a photo.

Two streams. One conversation. It was sweet indeed. More so, the lull of silence during the inauguration address really did add to the experience from the sofa. Even if it was in the form of a visual mute. Hey readers, how did you watch the inauguration?

The People’s Build

Hey Naaman – having a nice holiday?  Still thinking about your grandparent?  I never met mine.

Over the past few days, I was doing some hacking. Well actually ./configuring.  You see, I got myself a media server which does uPnP.  And, I was building MediaTomb to get my mac to transcode and send videos on the fly to the server.  Took some doing.  You see I had two package managers installed on my MacBook for several wrong reasons.  So I did an rm -rf on Fink…leaving me with MacPorts (google those yourself if you like).  MediaTomb wasn’t my real problem.  You see I wanted it to hook to FFMPEG to make thumbnails and transcode as it streams.

This brought me to the ffmpegthumbnailer-1.3.0 project on Google Code.  I couldn’t get it to configure (which you have to do before you can compile it).  OK – so i set some flags:

$ env CPPFLAGS=’-I/opt/local/include’ LDFLAGS=’-L/opt/local/lib’ PKG_CONFIG=’/opt/local/bin/pkg-config’ PKG_CONFIG_PATH=’/opt/local/lib/pkgconfig’ ./configure

And it still dies.  Turns out, you have to install some variants along with FFMPEG.  Long story short:

$ sudo port install ffmpeg +gpl +lame +x264 +xvid +avfilter

This will put all the libs in place so you can compile happily.  Now I wanted to share my findings (in more detail).  SO I turned to the WIKI for the project.  And I can’t post my instructions.  So where do I post it?  How do I share my findings to help others?  How do they find it?  Really? Am I left to leaving ppl to google around to find something and maybe see my humble blog post?

It seems while we build communities for photos sharing, throwing zombies, and taking photos (and any mix thereof) – communities for builders are overlooked.  Cast somewhere between DIY and blog posts of command line args.  Think someone might help us eventually? GitHub – I’m looking in your general direction.

Holiday Competition

Yes, Naaman, there is a Thanksgiving.  Our families are gathered up in the bigger houses, planning dinner, and finding some way for several adults and kids to get along.  This year brings me to Atlanta.  This year also makes the Wii the supreme ruler of all that is collaborative game play.  Well that and a Harry Potter trivia game which you just can’t win against a 10 year old.

I’ve not been a big fan of the Wii.  I don’t hate it either.  But its never really got me to run and buy one.  I like the controller because it really re-thinks modality.  Then again, I like the PS style controller because it has accuracy and feels more like, well, a video game – rather than shaking the last bit of ketchup out of a bottle.  The Wii controller does have a nice advantage – small kids can easily use it.  And thats really cool to see a 2 year old play a simple game that lasts 20 seconds.

And so, after several rounds of proving I was indeed a better jedi than the rest of the family and a few rounds of having a pickachu vs mario battle – I decided to get my older brother a birthday gift: FIFA 09.  My brother and I have an established history around this game; his two young boys were puzzled by our elation.  This didn’t look ‘cool’ nor did it have super powerups or cheat codes visible (some games now a days have a ‘cheat code’ menu item for you to enter the code – what ever happened to L L R R U Fire?)

We loaded the first game and proceeded to our normal epic battle of England v Argentina – the two boys scanned the other menu items.  “Look daddy you can play with your Mii” “oh wow you can buy stuff at the FIFA store with game points”  “You can play a FooseBall Game!”  Yet we older people, just clicked on through to our match….and the boys proceeded to look at the manual.  I admire EA for making kiddie style games so you can pass the controller back to someone who doesnt care to play as Didier Drogba.

Not knowing the Wii controls, we fumble around a bit as the boys try to explain to us what the bars, numbers, and letters mean.  With each explanation, we would politely say “This isn’t about energy boost” or “It doesn’t really matter if the player is hurt” or, my favorite, “Really, I wouldn’t rather play with my Mii”—Thought the boys did make me a nice avatar before I showed up.

As they began to see what we were doing they would point out, well, the obvious “oh now you can select where you want to pass the ball – that’s new!”  We tell them no its not.  “Oh hit shows you the spin of the kick”  Um, that’s also not new. Whats interesting is, they didn’t comment about the graphics or game play realism.  And why should they.  But they did once ask if this was like the TV soccer.  They sought to find out what made this game new for the Wii and were insistent that there was something unique about it (they were right, there is an advanced play mode where you can point with the remote to place the ball).

Finally, as we made it to half time, I said “so you know we’ve been playing EA FIFA since before you boys were born.  Its really been the same game all this time.  Its not about the power ups or the realism or the Miis or the advanced play control”.

“Whats it about then?” asked one.

Before I could respond, my brother says “It’s about beating your sibling senselessly and trying not to get a red card.”

“Oh” said the boys and nothing else.

The next evening when I handed the remote to the boys to play, one of them asked me only one question “now how do i slide tackle again?”  I smiled and thought there was indeed there was hope for the universe.

Sixteen years of change.

So I noticed a few things happened while I was dancing in the streets of San Francisco. First, Naaman posted to our humble blog without mentioning me in the post.  Second, my friend the Practicalist posted several maps of “New York Times Election Results: County by County“.  The maps are indeed beautiful.  But I thought to myself to see the change.  This leads my mind down a wonderful path where I envisioned a beautiful movie done up in Processing and leaves you, the reader, with a very rough difference map I forced Photoshop to spit out.

Difference map, from red to blue and blue to red.

A few things to note. I’ll point out that I’m a Photoshop expert. It takes all kinds of mad skills to make it produce something quite ugly. Next, notice the bright pinkish spot growing around Arkansas: that’s a Blue to Red shift that’s been happening in the past 16 years.  Brown colors are a shift to Blue from Red.

Maybe I’ll make something more pretty next time with more granularity. Meanwhile, if you’re headed to CSCW, stop me or naaman and say hi!

HDTV Lag


Bleecker Street

Originally uploaded by aymanshamma

Question to our readers (Frank, I’m looking in your general direction): How come HDTV broadcasts a good 4-5 seconds behind its analog counterpart?

While hanging out with Naaman on Bleecker St, we noticed the bar had both HD and non-HD sets playing a football game. Those watching the game were huddled around the analog screens as the HD signal was brighter, clearer, and 4 seconds behind the live broadcast analog signal.

It was fun to watch them turn to the HDTV for an ad hoc replay, but we were left wondering ‘why such a big delay?’ Is it from the station? Is it buffering packets? Enlighten us if you can…

Instructable Goodness.

Work has me transcribing video footage these days. While the work is interesting, I thought to make a footswitch…makes the transcribing easier. Armed with an Arduino, a VOX amp pedal and a little bit of code, I made my first instructable.



Mac OS Foot Switch from a Guitar Amp Pedal.More cool how to projects

This growing repository of procedural knowledge is pretty sweet. A happy stomping!

Show me the text!

My grande latte friend likes to think in pictures. Most people tend to gravitate towards text…or at least its easier to build texty things over imagey things (where you apparently have a fight on your hands).

Thus began the hunt to mix text into video in a meaningful way. Nico Nico did something stunning with regard to design and implementation. Occlude the video – show the comments. In a sense, the video becomes a MacGuffin.

Really, it is quite something – the above video is someone cooking chicken. The sad thing is – there is no English version of the site…I did manage to log in by setting the language to Spanish. Running with the idea, Anodos decided to kick it up a notch (or back) over to the sofa:

The $2,000 prototype gives you that MTV4 SMS comment stream on any TV channel you might be watching…course its a hardware tv widget. I’m left wondering (and hoping) if this is becoming a style of virtual temporal graffiti.

Remixing the World’s Knowledge.

Not unlike my other friends, Naaman decided to draw my attention to Omnisio’s acquisition.  Now its not like we all haven’t seen this before.  Google’s acquisition, well, it just follows the time.

At Yahoo! Research Berkeley, we investigated the hypercontexts around sharing and linking videos through social constructs.  Last year we claimed pragmatics are more important than semantics.  It was a pretty bold research move (but was typical of myself and my tall colleague).

The core of whats happening here (and hopefully Google knows their purchase is indicative of this) is we dont always consume media for content.  We watch videos to be conversational.  We watch videos to add or listen to commentary.  For example, violence during a soccer match can be conversationally funny—we saw the hilarity ensue. YouTube’s annotations were a start but I didn’t see much come of it.  Maybe Omnisio will help.  The tricky part is making something useful available to people, be it in sync or async. Oh, and you should checkout Andy Baio’s use of Viddler; its my favorite video tagging usage to date.