On the night of October 30th, 1938, Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the Air presented a dramatization of the HG Wells Classic “The War of the Worlds”. Their play took the form of a series of news bulletins portraying a realistic-sounding fictional Martian invasion. Those who tuned in late missed the introduction of the play, taking them out of their fictitious context. Many mistook its realistic presentation for actual reports of an imminent invasion. Whether is was thought to be Martians, or humans disguised as Martians, people believed their homes were under attack by a foreign enemy. For forty minutes Welles’ broadcast horrified the minds of his growing audience, until an intermission revealed the reality of the drama.
War of the Worlds Broadcast is an experiment in HTML5 Audio and Animation. It presents a recording of the actual 1938 broadcast, accompanied by visual embellishment. There are several animated scenes depicting events from the play, with more to come. If you’re not already acquainted with the broadcast, it’s well worth your time to visit the site for the full hour-long presentation. Even if you’ve heard it already, prop up your tablet and let WaroftheWorldsBroadcast.com run in the background while you work.
The Martians are right outside your house! Relive the night of October 30, 1938 and listen to the War of the Worlds Broadcast!
A couple of weeks ago I learned of the Mozilla “Apps for Phones” program. The idea behind the program is to get developers on board with their upcoming Firefox OS. Anyone with an existing web app can submit to the Mozilla team for review. If accepted, Mozilla sends the developer a free Firefox OS phone for testing. Just for the fun of it I submitted my app, The Prize Inside, for review. It was accepted. Last week the FedEx guy brought me a brand new bright orange phone.
On the surface, Firefox OS functions no differently than any other smartphone OS. In fact, much of it feels heavily influenced by Apple’s iOS. There is only a single static Home button on the phone. No back or menu buttons as Android users are accustomed. App icons and a global search function adorn the home screen. The system level search bar behaves somewhat differently in Firefox OS, which is where the OS separates itself from competitors.
At the core of Firefox OS is the browser. This has a few advantages. Native apps for the OS are essentially packaged web sites. This gives it the ability to leverage every existing mobile web app. Apps don’t have to be installed, some are copied over to improve performance, others are simply links to the mobile web. Since apps don’t have to be installed, they’re tied directly into the system wide search function. In Firefox OS, you don’t to go to the store to find an app. You simply search for what you need, whether it be a web site or an app, and Firefox returns whatever it finds most appropriate.
Firefox OS has a lot of potential for web developers. If you can make a mobile web app, you can make a Firefox OS app. There’s very little additional work involved. Naturally, there are drawbacks. Web browsers aren’t going to produce mind blowing 3D rendered video games. But what you do get is a level of consistency you have to work toward in iOS and Android. For products born of the web, there’s value in remaining web based.
I’ll begin my port of The Prize Inside soon. Since it was designed from the start to work in mobile browsers, I don’t anticipate much effort involved. I’ll post an update in coming months, detailing the work involved in supporting Firefox OS.
It all started when my daughter was watching James and the Giant Peach, on Netflix. I found her waiting in the next room. One of the scenes had frightened her and she was waiting for it to end. I had just set up my Chromecast the other day, and realized it was a perfect tool to empower her in this situation. I paused the movie with my phone and called her back into the room. We got her Kindle Fire and opened the netflix app. I showed her the Chromecast button and how her Kindle was now the TV control. Starting up the movie again, I showed her how she could scrub along the timeline and skip the scary part. She sat back down and continued to watch the movie, hugging her Kindle.
Moments later my son came into the room with his Droid 2, wanting to show me a youtube video he was laughing at. This brought into play the other aspect of the Chromecast which I love: sharing and cooperation. We asked my daughter for permission to pause her movie so that her brother could share a funny video. She obliged, and he pushed his video from the Droid to the television. We got to watch the youtube movie together, afterward my daughter continued her Netflix movie where she left off.
That simple merging of all our mobile devices with the television is the true power of Chromecast. It demonstrates that the best interface for television is no interface at all. Think about it, television never had an on-screen interface in the past. It was just you and your remote control. Then digital cable came along and we had menus and guides. Suddenly you’re using your 4-way directional control to navigate a labyrinth of icons and menus.
Right now, most of our television viewing is done with a Roku box. Imagine how my scenario may have played out were we using that instead. While it’s true that the Roku would have allowed my daughter to fast forward through the scary scene, it would have required her to seize the remote control from me. She wouldn’t have been able to do it with her Kindle, which is what she is comfortable using. When my son entered the room with his youtube video, we would have had to back out of the Netflix interface, enter the YouTube interface and find our way to the video. More likely, the two of us would have resigned to watching on the phone, leaving his sister out of the experience.
There are already solutions similar to Chromecast, but none have the same potential for range and diversity. You’re not limited to a single remote control, or a proprietary technology. An iPad controls Chromecast no differently than a Kindle, or an Android phone. If your household has a growing number of these devices, Chromecast gives all of them the power to share content on the big screen.
The only negative thing to say about Chromecast is that it was released a bit premature. The developer kit isn’t complete yet, due to be officially released at some unannounced date. Since app support is where Chromecast gets its strength, the wait for full developer support has the potential to destroy its momentum in the market. Right now, you’re limited to Netflix and Youtube.
Many have already pledged to support the device; including Plex, our preferred media center solution. Plex support would complete Chromecast, for us, as a replacement for Roku. Any other services would be an added benefit, and I expect there will be many. Considering its price of $35, there’s little to go wrong in purchasing one. It’s nice to forget about finding the remote and push-button navigating my way through menus. For now, we use it constantly with just Netflix and YouTube. I look forward to the day when Chromecast reaches its full potential.
As of this past Sunday my twitter account, @greenzeta, has been shut down. Not by choice, but clearly a result of my action. There’s a good story behind it, with some valuable lessons I have learned in using the tweeters:
Being Shark Week, I had one thought in mind: Time to beat the dead horse of JAWS Converter one more time. The site was built to be a joke for @ThatKevinSmith, nothing more than that. It served its function extremely well But from time to time blogs pick it up and it still generates traffic. It’s the site that keeps on giving and these days I’m just curious how much further it can go. Hell, this is Shark Week! What better time to build interest in a silly shark joke site than Shark Week?
Of course, the programmer in me had to beat down what little humanity I have and said: “Let’s automate this!” Using a few old projects, I hacked myself together a script to cull #SharkWeek on twitter. It automatically sent @replies of the JAWSConverter url and tagline “Measure your world in terms of sharks!” to people talking about #SharkWeek. At first things were going great, tweeting at a rate of one a minute. Traffic to the site was suddenly way up. I was getting favorited and retweeted. Life was good, until my script started throwing errors.
Response from the twitter api: Bad Authentication Data. I logged into twitter and there it was: “Your account has been suspended!” Not one hundred tweets later and I was smacked on the nose by the twitter police. To unlock my account I had to fill out a form promising I would no longer send “too many unsolicited @replies”. Feeling defeated, I logged into my server to delete the crontab entry. The programmer in me jumped back up. The message had said “too many”, that implies a tolerance. Just send less, fly under the radar. This time I added some filtering to my script and a moderation queue. Surely a few tweets, manually enabled, will be fine.
Thirty tweets more and my script was throwing errors again. This time I went straight to my profile: “Your account has been suspended!” Now there was no promissory form. This was it, one warning and my account is completely disabled. Not just all my tweets, retweets and favorites from others were gone too. JAWS Converter traffic instantly fell. My only recourse was to manually email an apology and beg for my account. I have yet to hear a reply.
Not to be silenced, I decided a different approach was in order. A kinder, friendlier, almost human approach to branding. @JAWSConverter was born. This time I took my Nexus 10 to the couch and began scrolling through the #SharkWeek tweets. The approach at first was to retweet anything interesting, follow the person, and occasionally tweet my own #SharkWeek message. It went slow, really slow, and there was no interaction with other users. Feeling more confident, I stepped up my game and began sending clever replies to some tweets. Positive comments, asking people talking about anything shark & measurement related to convert into JAWS units. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Nine out of twelve messages got at least a “favorite” status. Then, once again, it was over. A message popped up on my tablet: “Your account has been suspended!” There I was, filling out the promissory form for my hours old account. I wasn’t about to lose two twitter accounts in one day. The experiment was over.
I did learn some valuable lessons. First, twitter takes those spam reports extremely seriously. Regardless of positive engagement, if you breach that threshold of three or four complaints your account will be shut down. Second, some people just hate anything that looks even remotely like an advertisement. Even if what you’re advertising costs them nothing. Third, twitter is an extremely difficult place to build relationships from scratch. People liken it to a crowded room where everyone is shouting. But if you try to start a conversation with strangers, you risk getting thrown out. I’ve had @greenzeta since 2007. I built up over a hundred non-superficial followers. Yet with all that time and effort there has been only one person I had any significant interaction exclusively through twitter. @AngrySam, I’m pointing to you.
One final word of wisdom: If you ever get that first warning with the promissory form, stop doing everything. Fill out the form and back away from twitter for a good while. As of this post, it has been three business days since I appealed @greenzeta’s suspension and I have still heard nothing.