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We’ve seen a decent amount of hype the last few weeks surrounding the launch of Wolfram Alpha, with premises of ‘search engine evolution’ and ‘Google killer’ tossed about. But I admit that I haven’t been paying very close attention – Google meets most of my search engine needs, the last big launch (Cuil) failed to make a dent, and Mr. Wolfram isn’t the most dynamic spokesperson. So, I was pretty surprised test driving the now-live Wolfram Alpha to learn it’s not really a typical search engine.

What I discovered is that W|A is essentially a a spartan (lifeless?) Mahalo or Wikipedia focused on collating “objective data” and performing calculations (he’s the dude behind Mathematica, after all) with the assistance of volunteer curators. There’s not much in the way of people (no ‘dave zatz’) or products (no ‘slingbox’), and WolframAlpha provides relatively few overt outbound links to the web at large – a few in the sidebar, but most are buried in a Sources pop-up. ‘George Washington’ links Wikipedia, ’12 Monkeys’ data is scraped from IMDB -why not just start these searches at the obvious sites anyway?

But where Wolfram Alpha really seems to excel is in providing cleanly formatted company profiles (TiVo v. Netflix above) and census-type data. In fact, all search or calculation results can saved as a PDF. In theory. Amongst the various glitches I ran into (some pics below), one was an inability to export data. Once these issues are worked out and in its current form, W|A seems best suited for student research. With perhaps less tampering or bias than you might find in a Wikipedia article.

But decide for yourself – give it a spin and let us know what you think.



A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our friends at Last100:


A glimpse into the Nokia N97’s Facebook app
With just a few weeks before the N97 is set to debut, Nokia have published an interactive demo of the phone’s User Interface, including a walk-through of some of the features of the included Facebook application.

Apple bans iPhone apps related to BitTorrent
Apple has rejected the iPhone/iPod touch BitTorrent client Transmission remote control from the iPhone App Store.

Keep your hands off our iPhone Kindle eBook revenue
Amazon has made it relatively simple for users to purchase Kindle content in a way that replicates the iPhone’s upcoming ‘in-app purchases’ feature, all without giving Apple its 30% cut or, presumably, breaking any terms of service.

Flip Mino HD playback on the PlayStation 3
Since publishing my hands-on review of the Flip Mino HD ‘point and shoot’ camcorder, I’ve discovered a really neat feature: the ability to play High Definition video shot on the Mino on a PlayStation 3, directly from the camera itself.

Google, Android and the future of Netbooks
According to a flurry of reports, a number of established PC manufacturers – and new entrants – are planning to release a Netbook running Google’s Android operating system.


Folks in the streaming media industry are probably already aware of an Adobe product called DVRCast. Adobe has talked about it for several months, and you can find the occasional forum thread on it as well. If it’s a feature you’ve been waiting for, take heart. Adobe’s Kevin Towes announced in a Streaming Media East panel session that DVRCast will launch within the week.

In short, DVRCast allows you to turn a Flash video that you are streaming live into an instant on-demand asset. Adobe manages automated edge caching for you so that as soon as a piece of video hits the Internet live, it’s also available from the beginning for any viewers who may have joined the video session late. You can pause the video and use video seek to scroll through any part of the stream that has already been broadcast. Think of it as Network DVR (including functionality like Time Warner’s Start Over service) for Internet video.

From a consumer perspective, the value of this comes from being able to jump into a live video event late. We’re already accustomed to being able to pause adobe-dvrcast-flash-media-server-streaming-media-east-drag-and-dropand rewind video on the Web, but not for live events. And as more important events are streamed live (the Olympics, presidential inaugurations, NFL games), the more useful it is to have this functionality. It’s an instant archive.

From a developer perspective, it’s highly appealing that Adobe is offering the DVRCast feature in a drag-and-drop format. No extra coding needed.

Adobe’s unofficial announcement of DVRCast comes on the heels of new support for Adobe’s Strobe Media Framework. Strobe is a media player platform with an open plug-in architecture. Adobe announced this week that twenty companies have signed on to support the open framework.

UPDATE: Adobe informed us that what’s really new is the upcoming free sample piece of code (DVRCast), which will help Adobe’s customers implement DVR functionality in Flash Media Server 3.5. Sorry for any confusion.


My initial impression of the Verizon Hub wasn’t entirely positive – I’d rather have a touchscreen Eee Top in my kitchen. –DZ, 02/09

Given my pre-release proclamation above and after catching Brad Linder’s (Lilliputing) ASUS Eee Top ETP1602 review, I had to get my hands on a unit. Fortunately, Brad (and ASUS) were quite accommodating and I’ve been playing with his very same review loaner the last couple weeks. Whereas Brad dropped the Eee Top (~$500) in his office, being a fan (conceptually) of the Audrey and Icebox computing appliances of lore, I placed the 15.6″ all-in-one PC in our kitchen. Where I believe it belongs.

First off, while definitely plasticy, the Eee looks pretty sharp. Minus the cable clutter. My phone related paraphernalia could easily be cleaned up, but I positioned it front and center (well, off to the left) to demonstrate connectivity. Unfortunately, the wired keyboard and mouse would require an additional investment to free yourself of cables. In fact, if we’re counting pennies, I’d prefer ASUS provide wireless interfaces over the touchscreen – which I found myself rarely using. (Perhaps compounded by the review unit not shipping with its bundled stylus.) I appreciated the volume and brightness controls located on the bezel, in addition to the screen blanking button. And the Eee Top rear, which Brad photographed, features a simple yet effective, adjustable kickstand and various ports.

The custom apps (i.e. Eee Easy Mode) and third party software (i.e. Cyberlink media shell) that Brad felt made the Eee Top stand out, were mostly a distraction for me. (But are perfectly suitable for non-techies and children.) Thus, they were banished in relatively short order. Windows XP has been around for eons and I’m comfortable mousing around the UI as designed. To meet my widget needs, I installed all of Google Desktop. For telephonic capabilities, I plugged in the magicJack ($40, free US calling the first year) on a side USB port. (Although Skype would also work well, given the built-in microphone and video camera.) I had hoped the ETP1602 would made a great web-based kitchen television, but the video capabilities are a mixed bag…

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Digital Media Bytes

Dave Zatz —  May 9, 2009

A periodic roundup of relevant news… from our other blogs:

Top Cablecos to Debut Online On-Demand Shows
In recognition of the need to bridge the gap to the Internet, both Comcast and Time Warner Cable have now said they will make select programming available online to TV subscribers in the second half of this year.

Operator Plans for Mobile Broadband

Even as cable and telecom companies gear up with 4G wireless broadband strategies, Wi-Fi continues to grow in popularity, and more operators are starting to use it to their advantage.

The Kindle DX, Bigger and still expensive
At Amazon’s press event they announced their new, bigger, more expensive Kindle. The focus for this one is definitely on the newspaper, periodical and textbook consumer.

The (Sweedish) Pirate party is on
If the Pirate Party can translate their current momentum into enough actual votes to get representatives into the EU parliament, it would get the word out on precisely the kind of copy-left, file sharing, network neutrality that the Pirate Bay has promoted for years via far more mainstream avenues.

How to Share News Items, Music, Videos and Websites on Facebook
Ever wanted to share a blog post, website, video, music or news story in Facebook? There are two ways to do this, by using either: the ‘Share on Facebook’ bookmarklet’; or the attach ‘Links’ method.


DISH has joined other DVR vendors (DirecTV, Verizon, TiVo, Moxi) by (officially) launching online scheduling. While TiVo was a pioneer in this space, they’ve begun to lag as others provide a direct connection for interactive conflict resolution and to view listings of recorded shows or scheduled recordings. As DISH now offers broadband-connected ViP 612, ViP 622, ViP 722, ViP 722k DVRs. Additionally, they’re leveraging the (EchoStar) Sling Media acquisition by embedding a web-based Slingbox player into the DISH Remote Access site, providing one-stop shopping for dual Sling+DISH customers. (And as we saw at CES, the next generation DISH Network DVR, due later this year, will ship with integrated Sling placeshifting technology.)


I recently saw a link to an online survey on DivX’s website, and since I’m not shy in sharing my opinions, these sorts of things are the perfect click bait for me. Most questions covered how and where I watch online video, but after answering a dozen or so, one caught my eye:

5. Would you be interested in a free service that lets you bookmark online videos to queue and play back in media center software or on a device?

I’ve never really been a heavy user of bookmarking services, but being able to bookmark television content would be much more appealing. One of the biggest problems in bridging the computer to TV gap, is the process of finding the content that you want to watch and then getting it to the television set. For downloadable media this is easier to accomplish, but for streaming media you’ll need some kind of a PC or internet connected gadgetry. Once juiced up to the net, trying to navigate the vast sea of digital content with a remote is like trying to paddle upstream while going over Niagra Falls backwards.

So far, Netflix seems to have come up with the best solution, but there’s still room for others to build a better mousetrap. Instead of letting consumers use a remote to browse all of their programing, Netflix makes you bookmark your watch now movies via the old fashioned computer. This hybrid tv/computer approach may lack some elegance, but it does ultimately create a more satisfying experience to the end user. Sometimes having too many choices can create a paralyzing effect when it comes to finding content.

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