Connected Home EXPRESS
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August 28, 2002—In this issue:
1. GETTING CONNECTED
- Digital Audio Books Are a Great Way to Experience Books, News
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
- AOL, AT&T, Comcast Deal Gives Cable Users Choices
- Industry Hopes for More Broadband Adoption with Rate Changes
- Recording Giants Drop Legal Pursuit of ISPs
- Who Needs Voice Recognition? Try Eye Typing!
- Life Gets a Bit Less Colorful for Embarrassed Palm
- Enter the Windows & .NET Magazine/Transcender Sweepstakes!
- Mobile and Wireless Solutions--An Online Resource for a New Era
4. QUICK POLL
- Results of Last Week's Poll: Using Internet Telephony
- New Poll: Digital Audio Books
- Tip: Wireless Speeds Got You Down? Consider Next-Generation Wireless Technologies
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
- Protect Your Broadband Connection
- Network Through Existing Electrical Systems
7. CONTACT US
- See this section for a list of ways to contact us.
1. GETTING CONNECTED
By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]
I don't commute to work in the typical sense (I work at home), but if I did, I'd pass the hours in the car, bus, or train listening to audio books. Audio books have expanded dramatically beyond the old cassette- and CD-based delivery systems and are now available online in electronic format. So, in preparation for a recent business trip, I decided to join Audible.com, a popular online audio book seller, and see whether new technology has improved the audio book experience.
My first audio book experience in 1990 involved a collection of Stephen King short stories with a unique 3-D sound effect that greatly enhanced the audio. I was in the hospital at the time recovering from basketball-related knee surgery and received the audiocassettes as a get-well gift. I don't know whether listening to Stephen King in such a situation was a great idea, but my knee recovered, and I still recall being impressed with the sound quality.
This year, a deal between Apple Computer and Audible.com calls for the service to expand its products' compatibility to iTunes 3 and Apple's excellent portable audio player, the iPod (Audible.com works with the PC, of course, and other portable devices). Audible.com offers several ways to purchase audio content, including a retail-only option (which I used) that doesn't require you to join a subscription service. Under this plan, you simply pay as you go; most audio books cost $10 to $20 each. However, if you think that you'll listen to audio books more often, the company also offers two subscription plans:
- BasicListener. For $14.95 a month, you receive one audio book of your choice each month plus one daily, weekly, or monthly subscription to digest versions of newspapers such as "The Wall Street Journal" and "The New York Times," public radio recordings, newsletters, magazines, and other audible selections.
- PremiumListener. For $19.95 a month, you receive two audio books a month.
Audible.com lists about 4500 audio books and more than 14,000 other audio programs, which can range in length from just a few minutes to several hours. Audio books come abridged or unabridged (sometimes the same title has both choices); the unabridged versions generally cost more and, obviously, take more time to hear in their entirety. For example, the unabridged version of the "The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time," a current best-seller by Douglas Adams, takes about 8 hours to listen to.
Audible.com's selections are generally available in several sound-quality formats (I always go for the highest quality because I use a hard disk based iPod), and you can generally burn them to CDs if you want to use car or portable CD players. The original authors occasionally read the book selections, or professional speakers read them. Long-time Adams collaborator Simon Jones, who played the Arthur Dent character in the original radio broadcast of Adams's "The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy"; Stephen Fry, a favorite of mine from the excellent UK TV series "Blackadder"; and other famous actors and speakers read the Adams title mentioned above. I recommend checking out a book's online audio sample before buying it, however. Not all the readers are of this quality.
To test the service, I downloaded a free, short, original interview with Robin Williams and Pixar animation genius John Lasseter; Ken Auletta's "World War 3.0: Microsoft and Its Enemies" (an abridged insider's look at the corporate battles between Microsoft and Netscape, read by Robert O'Keefe); and Stephen King's "LT's Theory of Pets," a live recording of the author reading this entertaining short story to a London audience.
Audible.com selections are available for immediate download when you purchase them, and they remain available to you for download forever afterward (assuming the service doesn't disappear, I suppose). This option is a huge advantage over traditional audio books, because you can purchase a book online just minutes before you leave for the airport or work, download it to your computer, and have it available at any time. And, of course, you don't have to worry about ruining the original recording because you can download your purchases again and again. I downloaded the three selections into iTunes 3 under Mac OS X and experimented with them briefly, then copied them to my iPod and headed off to my Seattle business trip.
One benefit of computer-based or portable digital-audio devices is that the device or software automatically saves a bookmark when you stop listening, which isn't the case when you burn the selection to CD (or multiple CDs, in some cases). But many CD players are smart enough to remember where you stopped and will start at that point when you return. Falling asleep was a problem I ran into twice: Something about Robert O'Keefe's droning voice caused me to nod off while listening to "World War 3.0" (which is otherwise excellent, incidentally). So I had to manually rewind and find my spot, which can be a problem both with cassette and CD playback, of course.
I'm intrigued about but didn't test Audible.com's selection of news subscriptions. I think it'd be nice to listen to "The New York Times," say, on the way to work each day. A 1-month subscription to "The New York Times" or "The Wall Street Journal" is $12.95, and you can get those subscriptions as part of the BasicListener package. "The New York Times" is available daily for about $2, if you need that service only occasionally. Audible.com has other daily selections that cover a wide range of topics.
Overall, I'm impressed with the Audible.com service and audio books in general and would take greater advantage of them if I were a commuter. As it stands, I'll probably grab an audio book for each of my future business trips because I found the experience worthwhile. But I use an iPod and a portable computer. If you have a car-based or portable CD player, you might be better served with CD-based audio books, which seem to be more plentiful, available in a variety of locations, and potentially less expensive. However, the Audible.com services are probably cost-effective for frequent listeners, so you might need to make a decision based on those factors. Whichever option you choose, I highly recommend audio books, especially for people on the go.
2. NEWS AND VIEWS
(An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)
AOL Time Warner has struck a deal with Comcast (which is buying AT&T Broadband) to offer AOL high-speed Internet access over Comcast's cable lines. The deal, which is described as "giant," doesn't so much represent a group of competitors deciding to work together as it does Comcast's obligation to meet a requirement of its AT&T Broadband merger that says it must divest itself of AT&T's stake in AOL. This requirement would cost Comcast about $9 billion, but the bandwidth-sharing agreement effectively removes that burden and opens up AOL's service to millions of new users.
Broadband Internet providers are increasingly moving their consumer-oriented cable modem and DSL services toward the tiered pricing model that's currently offered to businesses. The move means that consumers will be able to pay more for faster connections. But more important for the struggling broadband providers, consumers will also be able to pay less for slower connections. Broadband today is prohibitively expensive--most cable and DSL lines start at around $40 a month. If the providers can bring that cost closer to the $25 a month customers now pay for dial-up connectivity, the theory is that more people will sign up for the faster service. But our theory is that we want faster service. Why can't we sign up for faster cable modems now?
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA--aka Satan by its critics) announced this week that it has dropped a legal challenge to several US Internet providers in which it had hoped to prevent them from letting customers view a Chinese Web site called Listen4ever.com that offered copyrighted music content for free. Thirteen record companies supported the legal challenge, which they first directed at an entity that wasn't directly offering illegally copyrighted content. Apparently, someone has knocked the Web site offline (probably because it got too many hits, one might imagine), making the challenge moot. RIAA named AT&T Broadband, Cable & Wireless, Sprint, and UUNET Technologies in the suit.
A new software technology that uses optical movement to provide hands-free interaction might soon replace the keyboard and mouse for many PC users. The software, Dasher, uses eye-scanning cameras on the PC's monitor to let users type on a virtual onscreen keyboard that uses a new layout that's more eye friendly than today's QWERTY design. Researchers expect the software to be a huge boon to people who are paralyzed or don't have limbs. But we suspect that any move away from the keyboard and mouse will probably also benefit people who face computer-related repetitive-stress injuries. Never before has doing so little all day caused so much pain.
Last week, PDA maker Palm had to admit that its Palm m130 device displays far fewer than the 65,536 colors the company previously advertised in its "as colorful as your life" campaign. Instead, the m130 displays only 58,621 colors (about 9 percent fewer than advertised), which might not be as colorful as your life but is arguably colorful enough to supply a reasonable facsimile. Palm says that it wasn't being deceptive because it believed that the device was in fact capable of displaying 65,536 colors. But after the company discovered the problem, it decided to face reality. Palm is offering customers an apology but no rebate or recall. Maybe we're just jaded, but we think an 9 percent rebate is in order.
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4. QUICK POLL
The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Are you interested in Internet-based phone calling (Internet telephony)?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 135 votes:
- 13% Yes, and I use it now
- 58% Yes, but I need to learn about it
- 30% No, I'm not interested
- 0% Never heard of it!
The next Quick Poll question is, "Have you used audio books in digital format?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a) Yes, b) No, but I'm interested, or c) No, and I'm not interested.
(contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])
If the paltry speed of 802.11b wireless technology--advertised as 11Mbps but typically no faster than 5Mbps to 6Mbps--has you wondering about digital-media playback performance or transferring large files, it might be time to look into some of the higher-speed solutions that are just now becoming available. Hardware that uses 802.11a, for example, typically runs at about 20Mbps to 25Mbps, with a theoretical maximum throughput of 54Mbps. And because it operates in a less-crowded radio frequency than Wi-Fi does, chances are you'll experience less interference, further improving performance. Another high-speed wireless solution, 802.11g, offers backward-compatibility with 802.11b and (again theoretically) speeds comparable to 802.11a. However, because 802.11g runs in the same radio frequency as 802.11b, it's subject to the same performance concerns that plague its slower sibling and will therefore probably be slower than 802.11a. Another advantage of 802.11a is that 802.11a solutions are available now, whereas 802.11g is still a few months away.
Got a question or tip? Email [email protected] Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.
6. NEW AND IMPROVED
(contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])
SofaWare Technologies announced the SofaWare S-box, a security appliance that protects your small office/home office (SOHO) broadband Internet connection. The device offers an intuitive Web interface, automatic security updates, and a home-network platform that's compatible with cable and DSL modems. You can integrate optional URL-filtering and antivirus capabilities. For information about pricing, contact SofaWare Technologies at [email protected] or on the Web.
GigaFast Ethernet, a provider of networking solutions for small office/home office (SOHO) users, announced the availability of its HomePlug line of devices. HomePlug products let you use existing residential power lines to create high-speed LANs. HomePlug's plug-and-play support eliminates the need for new jack installations and bulky cables. The devices offer data speeds as fast as 14Mbps. The HomePlug line of devices includes the HomePlug USB Adapter and the HomePlug Ethernet Bridge. Each HomePlug device costs $99. For more information about the HomePlug devices, contact GigaFast on the Web.
7. CONTACT US
Here's how to reach us with your comments and questions:
(please mention the newsletter name in the subject line)
- TECHNICAL QUESTIONS — [email protected]
- PRODUCT NEWS — [email protected]
- QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS SUBSCRIPTION?
Customer Support — [email protected]
- WANT TO SPONSOR CONNECTED HOME EXPRESS?
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