Sony bets on Rocketboom distribution for push into new media

Aiming to step up its new media game, Sony Pictures Entertainment has acquired worldwide, exclusive distribution rights to Rocketboom, one of the oldest news-oriented video blogs. Not much will change at the show for now, but Sony hopes that acquiring a successful show can bring some sizzle to its web-based video entertainment network, Crackle. HangZhou Night Net

Rocketboom launched in October 2004 as a short vlog (video blog) that featured commentary on everything from mainstream news to Internet culture and anything else noteworthy. Distributed in a multitude of file formats and distributed by a range of channels, and via RSS, the show's ubiquitous presence and zippy format helped garner it a sizable audience of a few hundred thousand daily viewers. After the introduction of a new host and commercials in mid-2006, Andrew Baron, the show's producer, claimed that Rocketboom's audience had risen to 400,000 daily viewers, though BusinessWeek disputed that claim.

Setting aside traffic numbers, Sony's negotiations for exclusive distribution rights to Rocketboom marks a new chapter for the site as Internet video matures. It should also bring some eyeballs to Crackle, Sony's "multi-platform video entertainment network and studio." Originally known as Grouper, a user-generated content (UGC) competitor to YouTube, Sony acquired the company in 2006, ditched the UGC angle, and rebranded it as Crackle. With a new focus on professionally produced video and multiple audience-centric channels, Crackle has finally begun enjoying more positive traffic growth over the last six months, though numbers from a few stats-tracking services paint slightly different pictures. comScore says Crackle has risen from around 1 million unique monthly visitors in April 2008 to over 3 million in June, but in September 2007, a cofounder told VentureBeat that the site had 20 million uniques.

Regardless of Crackle's current traffic stats, Sony has high hopes for Crackle content syndication and the audience that Rocketboom can bring along with it. The Rocketboom distribution deal is said to be in the seven-figure range, and while Sony and Crackle never answered Ars Technica's requests for comment, Baron declined to give us an exact number. In addition to the vlog's current distribution formats and channels, Rocketboom will get integrated into the PS3, PSP, Sony BRAVIA televisions via BRAVIA Internet Video Link and, naturally, mobile partners. Sony will also take total control of Rocketboom's ad sales.

In a blog post on his personal site, Baron speaks about the changing new media landscape being a primary catalyst for this decision. "The hyperbole surrounding the free ability to podcast, videoblog and in general publish and distribute video to the world with the touch of a button is an old story now." Baron details Rocketboom's steady growth as an independently produced Internet video show, as well as adventures in advertising and syndication, then finishes on "the complete package" that Sony offers as the reason behind the partnership. Allowing Sony to take over distribution and ad sales will leave Baron to focus on Rocketboom content, which he maintains complete creative control over.

Sony's exclusive acquisition of Rocketboom distribution rights is one that may not pan out for some time. While Sony's gaining a decently sized audience for what is probably a small price and Rocketboom gets to remain Rocketboom, Crackle has yet to garner its own significant audience—let alone become profitable.

Athletes, cheaters, and statistics

With the start of the summer Olympics in Beijing just days away, the attention of many throughout the world is turning towards athletic competition and the national pride it can bring. However, even with all the celebration and pageantry, the specter of doping weighs over the games more heavily than ever before. HangZhou Night Net

In order to ensure a level playing field for all athletes, the World Anti-Doping Agency, International Olympic Committee, and individual national delegations have worked together to establish testing protocols designed to catch athletes who, despite the growing sophistication of testing methods, choose to pharmaceutically enhance their chances. In this week's Nature, Dr. Donald A. Berry, chair of the Department of Biostatistics at University of Texas, writes that the methods used to catch doping athletes have substantial statistical flaws.

Dr. Berry's analysis pertains mostly to testing for the metabolites of banned substances. Many synthetic forms of testosterone (far and away the most common form of doping among athletes) are metabolized and passed from the body through urine as a variety of derivatives that occur naturally. The metabolite concentrations in urine can vary based on diet and natural variations in hormone levels. The World Anti-Doping Agency determines whether an athlete has doped by testing for unusual ratios among these various metabolites that are indicative of synthetic hormone use.

This type of testing assumes that an unusual result is proof of guilt, a flawed form of reasoning known as the prosecutor's fallacy. As an example (lifted from Dr. Berry's commentary), consider a criminal suspect who is accused based solely on blood testing that matches only 1 out of every 1000 people. The prosecutor of the case may try to convince a jury that the odds of this person being guilty are 999:1, but in a city of 1,000,000 people, if there is no other evidence, the true odds of guilt are actually 1001:1 against. This, in essence, is the same reasoning applied to many forms of drug testing approved by the World Doping Agency; an athlete is assumed to be guilty simply by having a relatively rare test result.

Dr. Berry states that this does not mean we cannot determine cheaters by these testing methods—he argues that we simply need to apply the appropriate statistical methods to the tests. In order to determine whether a test result is simply unlucky or the result of doping, we need to know two statistical properties of the test: the odds that a true doper tests positive ('sensitivity'), and the chances that an honest athlete tests positive (one minus 'specificity').

Herein lies the problem – the Wold Doping Agency has neither conducted nor published the necessary studies to establish sensitivity and specificity in these metabolite ratio tests. An analysis of the case of Floyd Landis from the Tour de France, assuming reasonable values of sensitvity and specificity, indicates that there was between an 8 and 34 percent chance of registering a false positive. Given that he had eight different opportunities to test positive (far more than the average Tour rider because Mr. Landis was a front-runner throughout the race), the case against him suddenly looks substantially weaker.

It is important to note that the current statistics are equally as poor at proving innocence as they are at proving guilt. Considering the extreme ramifications of testing positive, however, the World Anti-Doping Agency owes it to the athletes to establish more statistical rigor in testing methods, and should be far more transparent when it comes to its methods. It is quite clear that, with current methods, some cheating athletes are going undetected while a finite number of innocent athletes are being ruined by false-positive tests.

Nature, 2008. DOI not yet available.

Notebook Nehalem may not pop for 12 months

Nehalem has been the talk of the tech industry for months, but a number of signs point towards a relatively slow launch from Santa Clara. While enthusiast-class Nehalem platforms are scheduled to arrive this fall, mainstream desktop parts may not hit the market until the third quarter of 2009 if leaked roadmaps are accurate. Road warriors, meanwhile, shouldn't hold their breath—Nehalem may not arrive in notebooks appreciably sooner than it does in mainstream desktops. HangZhou Night Net

DigiTimes has identified Intel's next-generation notebook platform as Calpella, and states that it won't arrive until 3Q 2009, or around the same time we expect new desktop parts. With the memory controller ensconced safely on-die, Intel will move its new mobile chipset to an integrated single-chip solution, codenamed Ibex Peak-M. The Ibex, in turn, will support both Clarksfield (high-end mobile, on-die memory controller, quad core) and Auburndale (performance mobile, dual-core part, integrated GPU). Intel first announced its intent to partner Nehalem with an integrated GPU earlier this year, although there's no word yet on how that GPU will compare with AMD's own Fusion project, or what sort of power consumption we'll see from the two devices. Current rumor suggests that Fusion (or at least some part of it) will be produced on TSMC's half-node 40nm process, but AMD has yet to clarify if Fusion's GPU will be on-die or on-package.

Economic events over the next 12 months could conceivably alter Intel's launch plans, but right now a slow ramp seems to make the most sense. Integrating the memory controller, GPU, and processor in a mobile form factor is no small engineering challenge, and Penryn is competitive enough to keep the pressure off. Intel has all the time it needs to tweak Auburndale, and it wouldn't be surprising for the company to take it.

WindowsLive.com revamped, Windows Live Clubhouse launched

Following the revamp of the Windows webpage in mid-July, Microsoft has updated the WindowsLive.com website. Although it doesn't follow the white and light blue themes of the new Windows and Windows Mobile pages on Microsoft.com, it does have a similar look to it. WindowsLive.com currently features 11 Windows Live products (including five that have mobile versions). The new site also has a "See how people like you are using Windows Live" section (both on the homepage and individual product pages) for featuring Windows Live Spaces blog entries that offer related tips and stories written by Windows Live users. HangZhou Night Net

Senior Product Marketing Manager Marty Collins detailed how this site came to life: "We began developing this community-driven site about a year ago with some pretty basic questions: How can we help our customers help each other? How are they using Windows Live in creative ways that make their lives better and more fun? In the process, what can we learn about making Windows Live better?"

This user-generated content will arrive from the "Windows Live Clubhouse," a new Windows Live Space for enthusiastic Windows Live users that one must request permission to view. Content is driven to WindowsLive.com via tags, ratings, and comments; a user part of the Windows Live Clubhouse can use related tag on a Windows Live Space blog entry. The entry then gets aggregated through RSS so that other Windows Live Clubhouse members can rate it and comment on it. Each member also has a user page created automatically on WindowsLive.com that highlights Windows Live content from his or her Windows Live Space. The content that appears on the site will not be edited by Microsoft; if enough users positively rate a negative blog entry about a Windows Live service, it will still appear on WindowsLive.com.

Further readingThe Space Craft: Your space could be highlighted on WindowsLive.comThe Windows Experience Blog: WindowsLive.com Launches with Community ContentMarketing Today: WindowsLive.com gives customers a voice

Review: Hand-draw animations on your iPhone with Flickbook

As long as you aren't an artistic perfectionist, many drawing applications on the iTunes App Store can be a lot of fun. While drawing with a finger isn't the most accurate or a comfortable way of getting your ideas into visual form, for a quick doodle, it can be fun. For some, it might even bring you back to your kindergarten days when your parents think that a drawing of your dog is a rocket ship. HangZhou Night Net

One of the newest drawing applications to hit the App Store is Flickbook, an old-school animation app from the developers of Bokeh and Misu, Ollie Wagner and Geof Pado. This is the way it was done before the days of computer-generated animations and 12 hand-drawn frames per second of animation. The results will give you something more reminiscent of Dr. Katz or The Simpsons circa the Tracey Ullman Show than today's Saturday morning cartoons.

The aim of Flickbook, not to be confused with FlipBook, is simplicity. The goal, the devs tell us, is for a user to be able to pick up the iPhone and go. To begin, you simply point and draw—a line follows your finger as you drag it across the screen. To create a new page, you simply touch the + sign that appears underneath the curled page once you begin drawing. After making a new page, the drawing on the last page is shown as an onion skin so the user can easily trace or judge where to make the next image in order to simulate movement. You can do this over and over again with no performance hit; the duo of programmers has used a different means of rendering the animations that involves very little memory footprint.

Drawing options are scarce; this was a conscious effort to keep things simple. While there aren't multiple brush sizes, an eraser, or even a plethora of colors, the developers do allow unlimited undo (just shake the iPhone) as well as color overlay, which allows for the creation of new colors through mixing and the darkening of present colors. Saving is somewhat unintuitively done by going to the "add document" icon in the upper right hand corner. Deleting a movie is done just like deleting an e-mail: by swiping a finger over the name from left to right.

There are three methods of playback: you can single-click the play button, which will lead to a steady playback of 12fps; double-click the play button, which will lock the movie in a loop; or you can scrub through the animations manually by dragging the slider through at the desired speed.

While the ability to save your creations and revisit them later is nice, the app's biggest downfall is the inability to export your animations. Since they are made up of multiple frames of still images, the movie can't simply be exported to the iPhone's camera roll. While this isn't a huge issue for everyone, for those who want to share their creations with people across the world, it may be a reason to wait for the next version of the software (according to the developers, the next version will include a means to share your creations). However, since it will be a free update, you could start playing now if this appeals to you.

Since simplicity was the name of the game in the development of this application, Wagner and Pado have certainly succeeded. For casual users, Flickbook will be more than enough to entertain. People who are really into this sort of thing will enjoy the app's performance, although they might miss some of the options present in more robust applications.

Name: Flickbook for iPhone (iTunes Link)
Publisher: Ollie Wagner and Geoff Pado
Price: $4.99

Pioneer gives BD room to grow with 20-layer 500GB disc

Pioneer has announced demonstrations of Blu-Ray discs with 20 layers, capable of storing 500GB of data on a single disc. Commercial players and discs are currently confined to two layers. HangZhou Night Net

The multilayer rush began with video DVDs. Each DVD data layer holds only 4.7GB, making storing a complete movie at high quality impossible. Resolving this had drives reading two layers of data from a disc, the second layer underneath the first, with reading lasers passing through the translucent first layer to reach the second. The technology was expensive, and did not come to consumer drives for a number of years after its wide deployment in commercial movie pressing. Multilayer CDs were never commercially released.

Blu-Ray has had dual-layer availability since its inception, but plans for adding more layers are not clear. HD DVDs with three layers were demoed before that format's demise, but technical problems made manufacturing expensive. Fundamentally, each layer is an optically active interface, and accurately reading data through multiple layers is complicated by increasingly complex echo patterns or light bouncing through the layers. This interference gets worse as the number of layers increases, and provides the main technical barrier to heavier multilayer technology.

Pioneer claims to have made a breakthrough in mitigating these issues. They say that by using alternating layers of two different thicknesses, this "optical crosstalk" can be minimized. This and other, proprietary, technologies allow Pioneer to read accurately from no less than twenty layers of BD data. With BD at 25GB per layer, this means a single disc would hold 500GB of data. This improves on an announcement of 16 layers holding 400GB last month.

The usefulness of such a capacity is not immediately clear. The format's inherent limitations on bitrate and such prevent its use to drive ultra-high-resolution video, and portable computer storage at this level is a niche market. If the discswith very long shelf life can be developed, they might replace tape as backup for someapplications. The biggest potential impact of this technology, though,is to allow the size of Blu-Ray discs to scale massively without fundamentally altering the technology involved. As needs expand, new BD formats can be launched with increased sizes, relying on fundamentally the same technology.

Since Pioneer claims the new demo involves proprietary technology, it is very unlikely current BD players can read 20-layer discs, even with new firmware. New players and drives will have to be distributed, but if the technology pans out, BD can scale to be more and more heavily multilayer for a goodly number of years. Longevity as a technology is desirable, because economies of scale and entrenchment will lower prices and increase quality over time. Giving BD room to expand is a very good thing, and Pioneer seems to be leading the way.

Lenovo S10 Subnotebook: 2133 features at a Cloudbook price?

Lenovo has announced it's launching a new netbook, the Ideapad S10. The S10, in evident homage to the Thinkpad line Lenovo inherited from IBM, will compete with other subnotebooks. It will run Windows XP and launch in September starting at $400. HangZhou Night Net

Hardware-wise, Gizmodo reports, the S10 is fairly standard for its ilk. It runs Intel Atom processors on a 945GSE chipset with GMA950 graphics, and has a 10" 1024×600 LED-backlit screen. Wireless options include WiFi and Bluetooth, but a 3G or WiMAX option is notably lacking. An ExpressCard slot is available to provide it, though. Lenovo claims battery life of three hours with a 3-cell battery or six hours with an expanded 6-cell battery, in league with the X10s subnotebook rivals. Card reader and webcam are standard. The S10 weighs only 2.4 pounds, but will use standard DDR2 and 2.5" hard disks; purchasers will have the choice of 512MB and 80GB for $400 or 1GB and 160GB for $450.

Cosmetically, the S10 has something to offer. Lenovo will offer it in white, black, and red, and the clean lines and choice of colors should be quite appealing. While significantly cheaper than the HP 2133, probably its greatest competitor, the S10 sports very similar hardware. Customers who balk at paying $750 for a fully-specced subnotebook may find $450 a lot more palatable, even if the screen is larger, its resolution smaller, and the keyboard not quite as large. While the 2133's keyboard is 92 percent full-sized, the S10's keyboard is only 85% full-sized, which could make typing difficult for ham-fisted users.

It's difficult to anticipate the S10's level of success in the subnotebook market. Its hardware and aesthetics closely match those of other subnotebooks, with subtle differences, and its low price may serve as a draw given this. However, the large screen, small keyboard, and lack of onboard mobile broadband may serve as deterrents. We've yet to see how much difference will be made by the muscle of a major laptop force like HP or Lenovo, but it's clear a new entrant like ASUS can meet with success. The subnotebook shakedown is upcoming.