Audio Visual Nirvana

I admit it – I’m currently obsessed by two things: sound and style.  In sailing, rule #1 is: look good.  It turns out that you have to be able to sail well to obey that rule.  I’ve decided that the same rule should apply to my audio visual life at home.  In my mind, this means four things:

  • Excellent sound and picture quality everywhere.
  • Control of the sound and picture from anywhere.
  • No computers next to AV equipment.
  • No visible wires.  Anywhere.

To truly obey rule #1, I’ve discovered a few things.  Placing devices into iPod docks does not work.  It’s inconvenient, and you have to walk into the room to control the sound.   I want my phone with me, not connected to my home stereo.  Also — connecting speakers directly to a computer sucks.  I don’t want “computer speaker” sound.  I want stereo HiFi.  I want to be able to shake the room while I’m working, but pause the sound in all parts of my house instantly if my phone rings, without taking a step.

Here is the solution I’ve come up with.  To the tech-religious nuts who read this – I’m sure it can be done equally well with some other product suite.  I’m not trying to sell you on my choice of platform, only the end result. Do please use whatever you want to build the same thing if it makes you happy.

Here is my architecture:  if you want details, read below.  With the architecture below, I get fantastic quality stereo from any of the bottom three devices, to any of the top two high-quality zones.  My office stereo is completely physically separate from my desk, nicely tucked away in a bookcase. And I can control either of these zones from my iphone without getting up from wherever I’m sitting.

The Architecture

The Details

My system works through the use of the following bits:

  • Home Sharing:  this is an iTunes feature that lets you broadcast music and video from an iTunes Library.
  • Airplay:  this is a feature of iPod/iPhone apps for music, photos, and movies that let you choose a remote output source.
  • Remote:  this is a free app from the app store (made by Apple) that lets you connect to and control both iTunes Libraries and devices like AppleTV.
  • AppleTV:  this is a device from Apple that streams audio and video from Home Sharing, Airplay, and other internet sources and outputs to HDMI and/or digital audio.
  • Airport Express:  this is a device from Apple that streams audio only from Home Sharing and Airplay sources using digital audio or RCA.

All of the named entities in the above diagram are network entities with unique IP addresses in my home network.  Gemini and Soyuz are computers running iTunes with Home Sharing Enabled.  Soyuz is an old 12″ powerbook that is now acting as a server, both containing my music and video library, and acting as a Time Machine backup server.  Sputnik and Apollo are audio sources that show up when the Airplay icon is selected from any of Atlantis, Soyuz or Gemini.

Setup is pretty well plug & play – you will need the airport utility to configure the Airport Express from your computer, because it has no video interface.  The AppleTV can be configured from your TV.  All of the devices connected to the AV equipment are for all intents and purposes invisible. There are a few notes though:

  • All of the devices must both be on the same network and home sharing must be enabled with the same Apple ID.  Apple sees all, would you expect anything else? Note that while Home Sharing Apple IDs must match, the Library itself can sync to the iTunes store with a different Apple ID, so this architecture does allow everyone to keep their own AppleIDs for apps etc.
  • This solution only works with iTunes.  If I watch a video on YouTube in my office browser, there is no way to get that sound to my office stereo (I can go to my living room and play it on the apple TV though, because the apple TV can directly stream from YouTube).
  • As far as I know, there is no need for any Apple computers to use this setup.  A PC running iTunes can replace either Gemini or Soyuz.
  • You’ll pay as much for the Airport Express as your Apple TV even though it is lesser tech from an A/V perspective, because the Airport Express can also be configured as a wireless router.
  • No  proprietary cables are needed for these solutions, not that this saves you any money, the standard stuff costs a fortune.  The cost of assorted speaker wire for 5.1 audio, HDMI cables, digital audio cables, and an RCA-to-mini-audio-jack collectively surpassed the cost of both the appletv and airport express combined.
  • You stream photos to the AppleTV, both as a screensaver and for slideshows.   I have my screensaver set up to stream photos from my Favorites list in Flickr, meaning every time I add to that list, I’m enriching the photography shown on my wall while music is being played, or while AppleTV is not busy with other things.
  • If I stream video from an iTunes Library, it will be from Soyuz, which is hard-wired to my wifi router.  Currently my plan is to rip my DVD collection to iTunes – at that  point, I won’t even need a DVD player.
  • The weakest link in this whole setup is iTunes itself.  Maybe one day Apple will wake up to the fact that iTunes should be a personal DJ system – allowing you to classify, organize, and moderate your media content with the most sensitive of nuances — as you’re listening, not in advance.  In my opinion, they’ve put a pinto at the center of their media empire, instead of the lotus esprit that they should be capable of.

Life is good :)

What a Team

In case you hadn’t heard, Ping Identity just hired Travis Spencer to work with Paul Madsen, Patrick Harding and myself in the Office of the CTO.

Score!!!

We’ll all be meeting up in January for our first in-person strategy session, and I can’t wait!

This Woman in Tech says: Thank you

I’ve been reading the various recent articles about women in tech bubbling around the interwebs with mixed feelings.  I’ve seen a lot of these debates go by, and although I have strong opinions (I know, you’re surprised, right?), I usually choose not to comment here.

There is only one thing that I find myself wanting to say publicly in this week’s resurgence of the debate, and that is: Thank you.   I have had the incredible blessing of being surrounded by group after group of intelligent, thoughtful men and women who have not only treated me equally and fairly, but have encouraged my abilities and helped me to reach greater and greater heights.  I have nobody to blame, but many to acknowledge – and why should the jerks get all the press time?

I may not be on anyone’s top 30 women in tech, and I may never be the CxO that people seem to so desperately need all women in tech to be, but I have a fulfilling and challenging job and I have achieved my primary goal in my career, which is to work with people who make me smarter every day. By the only standards that count (mine), I have it all.

I believe that a lot of women have fought difficult fights over the years so that I could have this kind of positive experience, and I know that not all women in tech have been so fortunate.  To those women who take on the establishment in this area – You have my support, gratitude and thanks.  You take the heat today so that the next generation of girls can simply accomplish and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Why am I writing this?  I don’t know. I suppose, it seems wrong for the unhappy examples to be the only examples out there. What I do know, is that I am one of the luckiest women in tech; the people who stand out in my life are not the ones who tried to hold me back, but the ones who have helped me fly.  Thank you, to some of these exceptional people: Darcy, John, Cliff, Don, Cullen, Alan, Tammy, Tim, Pete, Doug, Brian, Dave, Janelle, Kaliya, Gordon, Derek, Barb, Bob, Kim, Craig, Mike, Vittorio, Ben, Sydney, Dale, Patrick, Julie, Sean, Andrew, Gil, Laura, Andre, and so many more.

Digital Dumpster Diving

Brian Krebs wrote a fascinating post recently on keylogger results that are being posted in various cloud locations.  As Brian put it, insult is added to injury — not only has your machine been compromised, but the results are hanging out on the internet to be scavenged by random opportunists who know what to look for.

And to think that the biggest worry used to be shredding our documents to prevent physical opportunists from sorting through our leavings…

Photo credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumit/

Patience only goes so far

Mike Waddingham writes about how Facebook has run afoul of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and will likely end up in court.

He notes:

I’ve never had a Facebook account.  I can be patient.

But those that still trust Facebook with personal information — and haven’t bothered to examine the minutia of the site’s privacy settings — will continue to have their personal information shared with 400 million users and thousands of advertisers, data aggregators and, well, pretty much anyone else on the Internet.  At least until the wheels of justice grind to conclusion…

You may not have a Facebook account – but when everybody else around you does, it’s like pulling one string out of a rug — you can still see the pattern.  You’re still in the photos.  Your holidays may still be announced.  Your birthday may still be announced. You’re still husband of, and father to, and friend of friend for all sorts of people who will share freely about you.  Perhaps you aren’t as semantically dereferenceable as you otherwise would be – but you aren’t invisible either.

On the other hand, if are ever accused of a crime, chances are that some other poor schmuck’s picture will end up on the evening news… that’s handy.

One last point — Mike forgot to add governments to the list of places you are sharing your personal information with.   Facebook gives governments the ability to collect and analyse the one thing that is still uncool for them to ask for – details of private lives.  As long as we all remain overfed and obsessed with who won Survivor and how to get an iPad, nobody will mind that Facebook is the worlds greatest surveillance tool.  I hope it stays that way for a very long time.

CardSpace *OR* ADFS 2.0

Microsoft announced last Tuesday that CardSpace 2.0 beta would not be releasing at the same time as ADFS 2.0.  That fact may not have immediate significance to you, but it certainly does to me.  Microsoft, you’ve blown it.

On one hand, I’m immensely relieved. A premature release of CardSpace 2.0 would have removed personal card support from the desktop, meaning that CardSpace would have been relegated to nothing more than Home Realm discovery.

On the other hand…  We won’t know for sure until ADFS 2.0 ships, but from what I and other people have seen from the beta and release candidate versions, Microsoft has broken backward compatibility with CardSpace 1.0.  This means that unless Microsoft has taken recent steps to regress their information card issuance code, ADFS 2.0 will ship in information card limbo.

I am trying not to care and failing miserably.   Let’s face it, Microsoft can release their software in whatever shape they see fit.  If they want to, they can release an initial version of a client with no server, and then release a version of the server *years* later that can’t work with the initial client, and can’t be deployed with the later client because that later client “isn’t done yet”.  I’m sure that the collateral damage is the least of their problems, and I actually know and understand better than most what internal and external pressures may have been brought to bear.   Resources are precious, and both FIM and ADFS have slipped themselves, so somebody had to draw a line.

But see, people were waiting.  Big companies, waiting to run information card pilots.  Governments, excited to use ADFS 2.0 to implement higher-assurance consumer identity projects.  There weren’t a huge number of interested parties, but dammit, they were BIG interested parties.  Those interested parties need a sustainable closed circle — a production server and a production client.   Not a production server that can only work with a client that “isn’t done yet”.

In the meantime, there is a very hardy little information card community that can at least now stop the horrible waiting and wondering game with respect to ADFS 2.0 and CardSpace 2.0.  The choice for the immediate future is becoming clear:  CardSpace 1.0 remains the defacto standard for information cards.  The rest is moot. Regardless of the hole that Microsoft may have dug for itself,  the quality and uniqueness of the interactions that the IMI spec makes possible are undeniable, and I hope inevitable in some variant. I continue to believe that this protocol represents our best hope to regain rational control over our own digital relationships.

It is entirely possible that companies like Azigo and Avoco Secure will see the silver lining here and do the extra work to shim up the ADFS server to work again with the rest of our ecosystem.  We’re not out for the count, and at least now we finally know what the biggest player in our space plans, even if it is a big fat WTF…

Burton Group: is this thing on?

Is it just me, or has the Burton Group gone dark?  Outside of twitter, I haven’t heard anything from anybody on anything.

Are they publishing somewhere else now and just haven’t bothered to update their old blogs to help existing followers to make the move?  Or maybe now that they are part of Gartner, we shouldn’t expect any kind of presence, just a set of reports in the mail and a webinar every so often?

It’s a bit of a boggling strategy, really.  If there was any time for them to be pushing into the public eye, I would have guessed it to be now.

XAuth: First Take

XAuth has had me fascinated since it was announced yesterday.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, I think Dare Obasanjo’s summary is one of the better descriptions, although his site seems to be having issues this morning.

What is XAuth?  It appears to be one service, running on one domain, that will maintain the login state of every user at (ideally) every consumer Identity Provider in the world, in real time.  A service users have to opt out of.  The goal is discovery of authenticated providers.

There are interesting nuances here. As far as I can tell, for the large providers who are already a fixture on the standard NASCAR page, adopting Xauth means that their logo can only be shown on fewer pages than they are today. This means that Google, Microsoft Live and Yahoo! are essentially volunteering to delist themselves from NASCAR pages when the user is not registered or not logged in.  Meanwhile Facebook and Twitter, who are not at this time involved in XAuth, will be there on every single NASCAR page, holding their spot, nice and predictable, day in and day out.  If you travel to Zoho, for example, and you are logged out of both Facebook and GMail, you will only see Facebook’s logo.   And since xauth.org is by design a single point of failure, any service disruption that threatens revenue for the relying party is likely to result in an abrupt re-adoption of a static NASCAR page.  So – what is it that these providers gain from such a dance?

They get to remove the user from the equation.  Relying Parties and Identity Providers get to finally discover each other all by themselves, they can talk right over everybody’s heads without prompting users.  In one sense, I completely get this!  Business runs so much smoother when the decisions get made en masse.  Asking the user is time-consuming, difficult, and frequently unappreciated.  And eventually you just have to solve the problem and get stuff done.

XAuth, if it succeeds, will be the antithesis of user-centric identity.   It is what happens when companies with businesses to run finally realize that asking users is a thankless, hopeless task that can only get in the way. We all know it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission – for better or worse, XAuth is that principle, taken to its logical conclusion.