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Category Archives: technology underpinnings

So, after dinking around for awhile with various rails-based blog engines and CMS’s, I ended up getting frustrated. I’m not even sure I can describe the reason why. I’m not a programmer, so I couldn’t pick at any specifics regarding either ruby or rails. What I did feel, is that trying to roll my own CMS in rails wasn’t as intuitive as I thought.

Now, having said that I’m not a programmer doesn’t preclude at least some facilty for writing code on my part. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve done some. I feel like I should be able to get at least a basic CMS up and running, but for the most part I’ve been pretty frustrated. Then this designer guy, Jeff Croft, keeps talking about Django like it’s the best thing since sliced images. So I decide to give it a second look.

I’d tried installing Django before, but couldn’t get it up and running. Adrian (who’s Django’s DHH) even commented on that post, asking what the problem was (I couldn’t remember, it’d been long enough since I’d tried when I wrote that post). In the interim, either my subconcious worked out the installation problem I was having, or the Django folks made it clearer how to install on windows because I followed the instructions, and *poof* a working Django installation.

So I start working on the Poll tutorial on the Django site. I’m following along, making a nifty one-question poll when *whack* I get smacked in the face with this really elegant admin site for creating and managing polls that just came out of left field. I was all like “holyfreakingfritos that’s amazing!”

And then I realized part of what was so dang frustrating about my previous CMS development efforts: I didn’t want to have to code the administive interface. I just wanted to say “this is how a blog post works, this is how I want to show my flicks, this is how I want to integrate Flickr, etc.” The Django admin creates a really nicely designed back end to do all your CRUD, and it Just Works™. I think I might just be learning Python in the future.

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Recently Apple announced that they’re working on device that’s designed to take content that’s sitting on your PC’s hard drive and stream in wirelessly to your TV set. Overlooking that there are already products out there that do this kind of thing, the implications of this announcement get me really jazzed up. The opportunities for both consumers and content producers have just gotted larger.

For Consumers

First, there’s the opportunity to junk your cable or satellite subscription. This kind of setup really means you can pick your TV and movies a’la carte. If you’re like me, you don’t spend much time watching TV, but you’ve got one or two programs you try to catch when you can. Now, instead of paying the cable company $40 a month for tons of channels you don’t watch, you go to your favorite show’s website, find the link to their RSS feed, and pay a subscription fee (or perhaps a per-episode fee, if you’re not sure you’re going to like the show, but want to try it out). Then, when the next show gets pushed to their servers, your PC snags it and the next time your fire up the iTV, Front Row shows you the list of episodes you missed because you had a million honey-do’s or you were out of town. You squeeze them in between running the kids to soccer practice and volunteering at the soup kitchen.

Only video is big. It takes a while to squeeze through the tubes. Luckily, the content producer is aware of this (more aware than you are, actually) and has provided a link to a Bittorrent feed. Your PC will now download the show at your internet connection’s maximum capacity while you’re out watching kids circle around a white and black ball and kick each other in the shins.

Your computer does all the work that your Tivo used to. If you’re reading this, you’ve already sunk the money into the necessary hardware/software, aside from that little box Apple’s coming out with at the beginning of 2007.

Let’s say that a season’s worth of subscriptions to a show is 40 bucks. Three or four shows runs you $120-160 a season. You’re not paying that $480 a year now ($40/month cable/dish), so you’re saving money during the summer when the only thing on is reruns. And, you’re only paying for the things you want to see and not all the excess cruft. Besides, you’re guaranteed that the money you spent went directly to the guy making the show you love, giving him more ability to keep producing. He keeps on making, you keep on buying, in a virtuous circle. (Firefly fans can attest to their willingness to do this, just to keep such a great show on the air.) Maybe the producer’s even able to provide this stuff advertising free. Or because his audience is such a targeted niche, the advertising he accepts can be just as refined. You might actually LIKE his advertising. You might watch the show JUST for the advertising. (Re: Super Bowl).

For Producers

Used to be that you had to get someone else to really fall in love with your magnificent creation in order to get it in front of an audience. It just cost too dang much to make and distribute video over the airwaves for anyone to do it independently. But on the internet, you only pay for the amount of video you actually distribute. You only get charged for the bytes you serve, and if your customers pay (subscribe) before they download, then you can actually negate the cost of serving those clunky video bytes. It’s not a problem if more people download the show, because built into the subscription cost is the cost of transferring that show over the tubes. A scaling audience means absolutely zero in terms of scalability costs. Add in the benefits of a Bittorrent-distributed show, and you may not even end up having to serve all the bits to all your customers. In an intoxicating display of customer loyalty, they take on some of the load themselves.

If your show inspires enough customer loyalty, they’ll be clamoring for extras. DVDs of behind-the-scenes. T-shirts and mugs. Jedi Lightsabers. Let’s not forget that Lucas built an empire not from the box office receipts, but from millions of kids who bought the action figures. You’re not going to have the struggle most filmmakers go through to retain merchandising rights, because you didn’t ask someone to distribute the show for you.

And you don’t have to have a 21 million person audience. The internet was made to serve niche markets. If you like it, odds are there are a couple thousand other internet-connected folks out there who will too. You’re main problem will be in finding those people, or more precisely, getting them to find you, which is a topic for another day.

For Apple (and other iTV cloners)

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to subscribe to a show straight from within Front row (or whatever your GUI is)? Wouldn’t it be great for Front Row to include some kind of Bittorrent client, so your users wouldn’t even have to think about getting one? Wouldn’t it be great to make this as easy as possible?

I wasn’t a big fan of Typo once I got it up and running. I can’t even describe why. It’s just a general feeling of unease. So I decided to go hunting some more for a rails-based blogging engine and hit upon Mephisto. The install was drop dead easy (though, had I not figured out my Typo install, I’d be stuck in the same spot). The admin interface is nice, and the templating system seems to be right up my alley. I’d never heard of Liquid before, but it seems easy enough. Pretty rails-like. I’ve started creating a new theme for Mephisto, and will let you know how it goes. So far, so good.

I’m giving Typo another chance. I really don’t feel like building my own custom CMS from scratch, but I do think I could hack some functionality into an already build blog system, and I’m most familiar with rails, so Typo is really the only choice there is, AFIK. Until the Rubish guys get their act together, that is. That’s the custom CMS the RadRails guys use keep all their ducks in a row. With their version 4.0 release, the typo guys claim to have made the install a whole lot easier.

Thing is, I can’t seem to get the stupid thing up and running. My setup: WinXP, Apache 2.0.59 w/ FastCGI, and or course, Rails (other rails apps are working just fine). Every time I hit the public directory of the Typo install, I get this rather generic error, with no help from the logs: “Application Error – Typo could not be reached.”

I tried hitting up the guys in the #typo channel on IRC, but the place seemed dead. There were about 20 people in the channel, and not a single one made so much of a peep after I’d posted my question there. I sat in that channel for like 40 minutes, and the only action happening in #typo was people logging in and out. No one posted a single message.

In the meantime, I decided to check out the installation support forum over here and got really excited to see that there were actually posts there. Closer inspection revealed that the overwhelming majority were questions posted by newcomers like myself. Those posts averaged around 250 views and 0 (as in zero) replies. The Typo folk don’t seem to be too concerned that people are having trouble. Even with the new fancy installer I’m unable to breathe life into my version of Typo.

So it looks like I’m left trying to dredging up insight into “Application Error – Typo could not be reached,” by doing google searches. Nothing to report so far. If anyone has any startling revelation, post a link in the comments. Please.

Aptana and Rad Rails LogoThis post is just a little P.D.A. (public display of affection) for a couple tools I’ve recently discovered and have fallen in love with. I guess that makes me a bigamist. Anyways, props to the RadRails and Aptana teams. Even in pre one-point-zeo states, you both make my life lots easier.