Video Adventures: AppleTV

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I don’t have the spare income to indulge myself in all the new toys that come along. However, I considered the Sprint refund to be ‘found’ money, and used it to buy myself not one, but two new toys: a Kindle eReader, and an AppleTV.

The AppleTV is a little box that connects to your TV through an HDMI cable and to your computer and iTunes either wirelessly, or via an ethernet cable. I can use the box to look at video podcasts, watch movies or television shows, peruse photos from my local drive or via Flickr, watch YouTube videos, and listen to music.

Before the recent software update, I had to find podcasts through iTunes on my computer and sync to the AppleTV. Now, I can search and browse on podcasts directly from AppleTV. Apple still needs to filter the podcasts to those that can only play on AppleTV, but most can so it’s not too much of a hassle. Many of the podcasts are pretty lame, but some of the podcasts, such as those for the Hubble podcast and the Spitzer Science Center, are in HD and absolutely exquisite. Best of all, the podcasts I’ve checked out to this point are free.

I can sync television shows and movies from my computer to the AppleTV. After the recent software update, I can also rent movies and buy TV shows directly through the AppleTV interface. Apple is still adding movies to its library, but about 70 are in HD, and at least a couple of hundred are in SD. I don’t know how the movies look on the 50 inch televisions, but they look great on my smaller 27-inch 720p TV.

The movies aren’t cheap. An older movie rents for 2.99, 3.99 for HD quality. A new release is 3.99/4.99. If you have Netflix, it’s going to be cheaper to get your movies through that service. However, I’ve found that blu-ray movies sent from Netflix fail about 50% of the time. Being able to rent through Apple provides a second avenue for HD content. Plus, it’s a nice option when the weather is cold and there’s nothing else to watch.

The movies are ready to view in about one or two minutes after making the purchase (TV show) or rental (movie). I’ve found, though, that waiting until about 2-3% is downloaded works best.

You can sync music, but I only have the smaller 40GB machine, and don’t want to load it down with music. I also prefer to listen to music through my other computer, which is connected to nice speakers.

I can watch YouTube videos through the AppleTV, but I’ve not found it worthwhile. The YouTube photos look bad on a computer monitor, much less on a bigger TV screen.

Where I’ve found the AppleTV to be particularly useful is with photos. You can choose to sync a local directory with your AppleTV, copy photos to this directory, and they’re automatically uploaded to the machine. I can watch the photos in a slideshow, which is a great way to check out the pictures for flaws, bad cropping or focus, and so on.

There’s something about seeing the photos on the larger screen, while you’re seated several feet away, to get a good, objective view of the images. Since the AppleTV is connected to the TV through an HDMI cable, I get a nice, sharp view of the pictures. In addition, I can have the AppleTV use my photos, rather than its own built-in pictures, for the very nice screensaver. I’d like to have that screensaver for my Macs.

When I get bored looking at my own work, I can connect to a .mac or Flickr account, and add as many Flickr contacts as I want in order to look at other people’s photos. So, who has a .mac account I can try?

The AppleTV interface is very easy to use, and the box is small and out of the way. It runs a bit warm, which is typical for an aluminum Apple product. Whatever you do, do not stack it on your DVD player. The remote is very small, about the size of an iPod nano. So far I haven’t lost it, knock on aluminum. Unfortunately, AppleTV is restricted to US access at this time, but the Apple company has stated it will be rolled out to other countries hopefully later in the year.

Is the AppleTV worth the money? I wouldn’t buy one of the larger hard drives. The AppleTV is not separate storage from your computer, because it works by syncing so you’re really not getting any additional space. I do think the smaller versions are worth the money, especially if you don’t have a computer that supports a DVI or HDMI connection. It’s been fun viewing the different podcasts, and the device is a nice alternative if you don’t have cable (which I don’t). If you’re a photographer, the photo slideshow capability is especially useful.

Note that Apple has refurbished AppleTVs for sale for 199.00 at the Apple store. It’s not much of a savings, but thirty bucks is thirty bucks–enough for 5-10 movie rentals.

Legal, Laws, and Regs

Arbitration update

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I need to write an update on arbitration and what’s happening with the Arbitration Fairness Act of 2007. In a way, I’d almost rather we wait on a vote until after we have a Democratic president, because anything that doesn’t support corporations over the people will be vetoed by President Bush. At least with a Democratic president, we’ll have someone who cares about consumers, employees, and regular people like you and me.

In the meantime, you can compare how various sides debate this issue. Kia from Tortdeform has three recent items. Huffington Post has a story about more women abused by KBR employees in Iraq and forced into arbitration.

Then there’s Ted at Overlawyered. Ted works for one of the conservative think tanks. I wouldn’t want it said that I didn’t point out the opposition. Here’s a couple of recent posts from Ted. Personally, I think Ted does more to sell the Arbitration Fairness act of 2007 than almost anyone I know, and he’s against it. Do be sure to check out the comments.

This is my favorite from a recent exchange:

Me: The only choice I know of with arbitration clauses in employment contracts is not to take the jobs. That doesn’t strike me as a true choice. Does that strike you as a true choice?

TF: KBR employees have that option. They don’t have to work for KBR if they would rather have lower wages with an employer that does not have a mandatory arbitration agreement. It’s just one of the terms and conditions of employment, like free parking, a free gym, and how many weeks of vacation are offered.

Yes, I typically equate the loss of constitutional rights with free parking and a gym pass.


Body Worlds

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the St. Louis Science Center today. If you’ve not heard of this, it’s an exhibit of preserved human bodies formed into shapes to best demonstrate the human anatomy.

The human bodies are without skin, so that the muscle, bone, tendons, organs show. Believe me when I say that there is nothing at all gross about the exhibit. On the contrary, it was all rather fascinating. Our bodies are incredibly sophisticated machines, and the exhibits were a celebration of our wonderful sophistication.

In addition to the staged human bodies, the show also featured cross sections and preserved organs, both diseased and healthy. Another interesting type of display was the vein work sculptures, displaying only the veins.

What was terrible, though, is that I had the strongest craving for beef jerky during the show. I confessed my hunger to my roommate, and he said that he had the same craving. As we were leaving, we could hear the people behind us, debating where to go to lunch because they were starved.

There was something very Freudian about all of this.


I gather there was or is a 20/20 investigation of Body Worlds, especially about where the bodies originated. According to the information I know, the bodies used in the displays at the Body Worlds in St. Louis were all donated at the behest of the individuals, and with permission of the individual families.

As for whether the show was purely entertainment, most of the show is devoted to a closer look at organs, including those diseased, as compared to healthy. Displays of lungs damaged by smoking, livers damaged by drinking, and one cross section display of an obese man with diagrams detailing of the damage to his body based on his weight–including a cross section of the pacemaker he wore–were juxtaposed with bodies seemingly in the peak of health and vitality.

Was the work educational?

One elderly woman wearing a camel colored coat, and a hat with a little feather was talking with three kids who part of a school tour group. Their discussion was occurring over an exhibit of hip bones, including one demonstrating a hip replacement. Evidently, the kids had been at the display, looking at the hip replacement when the lady heard them talking. She started telling them about her own hip replacement, her mobility before and after, answering their questions. The small group of four were so intent, they were completely unaware of the kids’ chaperons, patiently waiting for them to finish so they could move on.

Was the work art? Art is, as always, in the eye of the beholder.