Brandt Krueger

Freelance Technical Meeting and Event Production, Education, Speaking, and Consulting. Geek Dad, Husband

Consultant, Meeting and Event Technology
Owner, Event Technology Consulting
Instructor, Event Leadership Institute
Cohost, #EventIcons - Where the icons of the event industry meet

Filtering by Category: Gear

Serious Vulnerability Discovered in Popular Hotel/Venue WiFi Router

It doesn't have a sexy name like HeartBleed, RowHammer, or even POODLE, but security company Cylance announced last week that it had discovered an incredibly serious vulnerability in the ANTLabs InnGate Internet gateway device. If you’re a frequent traveler, as many event professionals are, chances are you’ve been connected to one of these devices. They’re popular with hotels, convention centers, and other places where temporary internet access is offered, chiefly because they offer the ability to tie the billing for that access to a specific room number or account. Some of the other features of the device includes express checkout and viewing of guest folio charges.

 Photo: ANTLabs

Photo: ANTLabs

The vulnerability, which offers a “complete compromise of the vulnerable system” is apparently trivial to exploit, allowing relatively unsophisticated attackers to gather any and all plain text communication sent through the device, including unencrypted websites (no locky-lock on the web address, no https), and virtually all email sent through email applications such as Outlook. More advanced attackers would have “seemingly no limit to what they could do” including potentially intercepting even HTTPS encrypted web pages (like banks or Gmail), stealing usernames and passwords, adding malware to software downloads, or much, much worse.

Put simply, when we’re connected to a hotel or venue WiFi, literally every bit of information we send and receive is going through their infrastructure. What happens when that infrastructure can be compromised at it’s very basic levels? Anything an attacker wants.

More than just sniffing your Internet

This particular exploit isn’t just limited to hotel guests Internet browsing, however. One of the selling points of the InnGate is that it can connect to a location’s PMS (Property Management System). A PMS can contain a tremendous amount of data including guest bookings and information, on-property sales, sales and marketing information- even HR and payroll, depending on the system. What’s even scarier, is that a PMS can in turn connect to other systems, such as “central reservation systems and revenue or yield management systems, front office, back office, point of sale, door-locking, housekeeping optimization, pay-TV, energy management, payment card authorization and channel management systems.” (Source:Wikipedia) Likewise, according to Cylance, if that PMS controls multiple locations, the attackers “could potentially leverage that access to infect the other branches of an organization.”

Scared the bejeebers out of you? It probably should. This one was pretty bad. Over 270 instances of this particular device were publicly accessible, and exploitable, via the Internet. The hotels and venues involved ran the gamut, and were not restricted to any brand, star rating, or price, and were spread out all over the world. They also ranged from “places we’ve never heard of to places that cost more per night than most apartments cost to rent for a month”, according to Cylance.

One can’t read about this exploit and not think back to a few months ago when Kaspersky revealed that high-end business travelers had been targeted for years by a group that it dubbed DarkHotel. There was plenty of evidence that the group had state-level tools at their disposal, but this new exploit has some wondering if perhaps it’s been much easier to target and attack hotel guests than anyone previously thought.

The good news is that ANTLabs immediately leapt into action as soon as the vulnerability was reported to them, getting a patch ready and releasing it in just over a month. Cylance noted that it’s “not often that vulnerability reporting goes smoothly and ultimately resulted in a timely patch from the vendor.” Cylance is also working to notify the hotels and venues that it identified as being vulnerable.

So what do we do?

I’ve been telling people for some time now that the vast majority of hotel WiFi networks are not secured properly, referring to the fact that the network itself doesn’t have a password. Sadly, I had no idea that this level of attack was even possible. When you can infiltrate a gateway device this deeply, it’s pretty scary. There are a few things we can all do to help make the bad guy’s jobs more difficult, though:

Hotels and Venues:

  • Make sure your network devices are checked regularly to see if there are any updates available, and if you use ANTLabs InnGates, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO MAKE SURE THEY GET UPDATED RIGHT FLIPPING NOW.
  • Secure your WiFi routers with a password. Yes it wouldn’t have helped in this case, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. And you should.
  • Of course, you could also make WiFI free, in which case a lot of this integration with PMSs would no longer be necessary, and things would be, more or less, just as secure as our personal and business WiFi routers. Or at least less of a target. Just sayin'.

Individual guests:

  • Don’t do anything on public/hotel/venue WiFi that you wouldn’t want the ENTIRE WORLD to know. While HTTPS connections to banks, Gmail, and other encrypted sites should be safe, this exploit shows that might not necessarily be the case. While we all have to use these networks from time to time, try to restrict your traffic to as few sites as possible, and to avoid anything relating to financial data, company secrets, or other, er… sites… that you might not… er… want folks to find out you visit.
  • If at all possible, when on these networks, use a VPN. A VPN is a Virtual Private Network, and it acts like a secure, encrypted tunnel for your Internet access. The reason this type of vulnerability works is because it’s intercepting your traffic right there in the hotel as you surf around the net. With a VPN, your data goes through the encrypted data tunnel to your office, or other location, before it goes out onto the Internet- so all the venue WiFi sees is noise.

Stay safe out there people…

References:
Cylance - http://blog.cylance.com/spear-team-cve-2015-0932
DarkHotel - http://www.wired.com/2014/11/darkhotel-malware/
WikiPedia PMS - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Property_management_system
ANTLabs InnGate - http://www.antlabs.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=69&Itemid=88
ANTLabs InnGate Patch - http://www.antlabs.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=195:rsync-remote-file-system-access-vulnerability-cve-2015-0932&catid=54:advisories&Itemid=133

Special thanks to Steve Gibson for reporting on this on his Security Now netcast:
http://twit.tv/show/security-now/501

On Teleprompters- What are they, and when should you use them?

It is no secret that being a good communicator is key to success in business. We value those who have the ability to communicate well, and that often includes public speaking. One proven tool to aid in the delivery of a speech or presentation is the teleprompter. However, knowing when and how to use one may be just as instrumental in earning that standing ovation.

History of the Teleprompter Simply put, a teleprompter is a device that “prompts” the person speaking with a visual text of a speech or script. This allows the reader to read the text word for word, ensuring a consistent and accurate speech, while maintaining the illusion of spontaneity.

In the 1950s, Fred Barton, Jr. came up with the idea of a teleprompter as an actor. He later helped found the TelePrompTer Corporation, which built the first devices. Although in some countries it may be referred to as an AutoCue (a UK brand name), the TelePrompTer name has become the generic term for these devices in most of the world.

The earliest teleprompter was nothing more than a scroll of paper with a script printed on it that was then run over a mechanical device operated by a hidden technician. It wasn’t long before the initial version was improved upon by becoming automated and mounted on a television camera. These improvements, though better than cue cards and a standalone prompter, were not enough because the speaker was still looking slightly off camera. Thus came the next, and most important improvement: reflective glass.

Instead of being mounted facing the speaker, the prompter was mounted below the camera and facing up, or mounted above the camera and facing down, with the text reflected off a piece of glass directly in front of the camera lens.  The placement and construction of this glass prevented it from being seen by the camera and allowed the speaker to look directly into the camera while reading.

The computer revolution in the 1980s brought many advances. Scrolling paper rolls were replaced with monitors and computer-generated text as early as 1982, but were still in use as late as 1992. The advancement of technology has also enabled teleprompters to become lighter and thinner, straying away from old bulky ray tube monitors to ultra-slim flat screen monitors. Voice recognition software has also played a part. For example, high-end news organizations are testing teleprompters with the ability to be voice activated, ensuring that the prompter is always going the right speed for the speaker.

Today’s Types of Teleprompters The three main modern types of teleprompters are camera mounted, presidential, and floor or stand mounted.

  • The camera mounted teleprompter, as we’ve already discussed, works with text being bounced off special glass placed in front of the lens. This type of prompter is used mainly for pre-recorded videos for speakers, guests, or top-level management. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, weights and need to be coordinated with the AV provider to make sure that the right type is used and matches the camera.
  • The presidential teleprompter works basically in the same manner as the camera mounted monitor, except the mirrored glass is mounted at the end of a thin pole instead of on a camera. However, just like the on-camera models, the speaker is able to look directly at the audience through the glass as if it were not there. This is great for a live event. They are almost always used in pairs - one to the left and one to the right of center - encouraging the speaker to change focus and look at the entire audience.
  • The floor/stand teleprompter can be placed at an angle on the floor, mounted on a stand, or hung from rigging points in the back of the room. When using them by themselves, floor mounted prompters can be just as good as presidential prompters but it can cause the speaker to look down more or make them appear as if they are only talking to the first two rows of attendees.

In addition to the actual teleprompter itself, there are some other components that are also essential -- the software and the remote control. Both camera mounted and presidential prompters require images to be reflected off of a piece of glass, which then requires that the original text be reversed.  All professional prompter software should have this feature. Teleprompters also require a way in which to stop, start, and manipulate the speed of text.

When should/shouldn’t you use a Teleprompter? Using teleprompters, such as a presidential monitor, infers professionalism and makes a speaker look more “presidential.” In general, prompters make the speaker look better as they allow them to connect with the audience, whether live or prerecorded, through eye contact, and studies have shown that eye contact can be a major factor in whether or not we trust someone.

The average person (not a trained actor, or someone with a photographic memory) has a difficult time memorizing large chunks of text. This is why many speakers use PowerPoint or notecards to keep them on-track. However, these methods can be cumbersome and make the presenter feel the need to add graphics or slides when they may not be relevant or useful. Teleprompters are also used when a speaker needs to convey a lot of detail or technical specifications.

Just as knowing when to use a teleprompter is important, knowing when NOT to use one is just as essential. The budget of an event can play a very big part in the use of a teleprompter, because you not only have to pay for the equipment but you have to pay for the person to operate it. Cost is not the only factor when considering a teleprompter; the environment is just as important. If the room and audience are small, the use of a teleprompter might be awkward. Imagine being in a small breakout session and having the speaker behind a pair of presidential monitors.

Preparing Speakers for a Teleprompter Picking the right equipment is only half the battle when it comes to delivering a good speech. The speaker and the speech itself have to be a finely tuned machine. Options include hiring a speechwriter, which is surprisingly inexpensive, and they can work with the speaker to hone a message and to use language comfortable for the speaker. It is very important to write as one speaks, because if the language isn’t familiar, it often sounds stiff and awkward.

Not only does the speech have to be well written, the speaker delivering it has to also be well trained. The speaker should rehearse in the space before the event and allow plenty of time with the prompter itself. Even the most experienced speaker can find a prompter a little unsettling for the first time. Otherwise, a prompter will likely hurt the presentation, rather than help it.

One of the most important tips is to make sure that the speaker knows they are in control, not the teleprompter. It’s the operator’s job to make sure the speaker has the words they need, when they need them, not the job of the speaker to try and “keep up” with the prompter.

Conclusion In conclusion, knowing your audience, your prompter equipment, and your speech will ultimately reward you with a successful presentation. It is wise when budgeting to accommodate for not only the equipment itself, but for the operator and a possible script writer as well. Also, make sure that plenty of time is allowed for rehearsal and practice. Practicing with the equipment and with the operator can help make or break a perfect prompter presentation.

Originally published at metroConnections.com

Enable On-Screen Android Navigation Buttons on the Galaxy S3 (Requires Root)

On Screen Navigation on S3

***UPDATE*** If you're using the latest builds of CyanogenMod, you don't need to do this! Just go to Settings, Buttons, and check the "Enable on-screen nav bar" box. Et voila!

OK, this is one that's fun to try.  You'll either:

  1. Love it -or-
  2. Hate it

I know it might seem redundant with the hardware softkeys on the the Galaxy S3, but I really like this mod and it's one of the first things I do after flashing a new rom.  The S3 has plenty of screen real estate to handle it, and I find it a much faster way of navigating around the phone, with faster access to app switching and Google Now.  Also, frequently while trying to reach down to the "Back" hardware button with my left hand, the phone feels like it's going to shoot out of my hand like a bar of soap.

To enable the on-screen navigation buttons:

Use a file explorer (like Root Explorer) to navigate to

/system/build.prop

and open the file with a text editor.  Add the line

qemu.hw.mainkeys=0

at the end of the file.  Save and close.  Reboot.  Done

That's it!

Be advised, there a are a few apps that don't behave well with the keys, such as the camera.  For some reason (probably because it's a stock app) instead of resizing, it partially covers up some of the controls.  Still completely usable though.

For extra credit, you might try one of these other mods...

Disable the softkeys: Navigate to

/system/usr/keylayout/sec_touchkey.kl

and open the file with a text editor. You will a giant list of key numbers and what they do.  Try to find these...

key 172    HOME key 158    BACK key 139    MENU

Add a # before any key you don't wan't to use anymore.  Save and reboot.

Thanks to jastonas over on XDA for the post!

Prevent the "HOME" key from waking your phone up: Personally, I like to keep the softkeys engaged.  I do still use them from time to time, such as when you can't find the freaking "MENU" key on a poorly designed app.  But, in a completely made up statistic, I have found that accidental pocket-engagement of the "HOME" key is responsible for 80% of battery loss.

Navigate to

system/usr/keylayout/sec_keys.kl

and open the file with a text editor. You will see this...

key 115    VOLUME_UP           WAKE key 114    VOLUME_DOWN     WAKE key 172    HOME                     WAKE key 116    POWER                   WAKE

Just delete the word "WAKE" from the "HOME" key (or more if you like, but be careful you still need a way to wake your phone!!!).  Save and reboot.

Thanks to Eric over on Galaxy S3 Forums for the post!

That's all there is to it!  So now that the S4 is coming out, is anyone getting antsy to trade in their S3?  Personally over a year in I'm still happy as a clam...

Galaxy SIII Owners: Make Google Voice Actions (and now Google Now) the Default Instead of S-Voice

*** UPDATE 12/20/12 *** While I'm still recommending Home2 Shortcut (easier on the eyes and more functionality), reports are coming in that Bluetooth Launcher will still work with 4.1.1.  Apparently you just need to select a different activity. Process is updated in the post, but I was unable to get it to work on either my or my wife's S3.

*** UPDATE 12/18/12 ***

Based on the comments and questions below, it appears that Blootooth Launcher does not work this way anymore with Android 4.1.1.  If someone figures out a way to make it work again, leave a comment and I'll update this page.

I now am recommending Home2 Shortcut for this getting direct access to Voice Search (which contains most of the original Voice Actions).

I found it over on XDA Developers and it can be found on the Play Store.  It allows you to set Home Double Press as well as other key combinations.  I found "Voice Search" under "Activities->Google", but YMMV.

****

Some of the more popular posts on this blog have had nothing to do with Event Technology per se, but rather have been tips and tricks that I myself found hard to find and decided to repost when I found the answer.

This is one of those posts!

I searched for a really long time to find a way to make Google Voice Actions, instead of  S-Voice, the default action when double pressing the Home key on my fancy new Samsung Galaxy SIII.  I just couldn't get S-Voice to do what I wanted it to do, and it was basically useless in the car.  Turns out there's a clever little workaround using a 3rd party app that isn't actually designed for that specific purpose!  The tip comes from Sorka over on Android Forums and is a great little workaround.  NO ROOT REQUIRED!!

Here's the trick:

  1. Download and Install "Bluetooth Launch" from the Google Play store.
  2. Open Bluetooth Launch and scroll down to "Voice Search". (*See update below*)
  3. Tap on it to expand it out, then select: "com.google.android.voicesearch.RecognitionActivity" (*Update* Some are reporting that on Android 4.1.1 you need to use this: "Google Search->com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox.VoiceSearchActivity"  I have been unable to verify)
  4. Exit by hitting the back key.
  5. Double click the home button.
  6. Select "Always complete using this activity"
  7. Select Bluetooth Launch.

You're Done!

Thanks again, Sorka, works like a charm, and there's a metric crapton of other options offered by Bluetooth Launcher.  Nice workaround!

Meanwhile everyone, how are you liking your S3?

On Value

This is the tale of two clients.  The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

The question: Which client got the better value for their money?

The show:  Both clients requested pricing for almost identical situations- a 500+ person sales conference, including AV, stage design, meeting room decor, graphics and PPT template design, special event design and decor for their awards banquet, and production support, including show caller, technical director, and production manager.  There would also be some post-meeting video editing of the footage.  Both bids were full scale meeting productions, but were based on some smaller work we’d done with each client, so this was a big inroad for us in each situation.  As such, very reasonable pricing was given out of the gate to help sweeten the deal, in order to get the larger portion of the total event expense.

Client A- The Negotiator.  Even given the initial generous pricing, the client negotiated the price even further down, until a lot of what we pitched was dropped down to at cost or below cost to get the business.  Many services were even thrown in for no-cost, including the post production editing, which is my time.  Hey, we all know this happens a lot, especially with new clients.  Once you get the business, you hope to recoup over the long-term relationship you build with the client.

They continued to question every single price in the process, citing non-realistic consumer level (think Home Depot) and internet pricing for room decor (which did not include labor, setup, delivery, etc). They changed one of their conference days from a half day to a full day, and seemed outraged that we’d charge more for labor for the AV crew.  They questioned the roughly 10% (a couple hundred bucks) in profit we sought to gain for arranging the hanging of several thousand square feet of ceiling treatments.  They tried to cut staff that we weren’t charging for anyway in hopes of further discounts.

On top of the negotiating, they also kept requesting more and more of the “free” services we were providing.  More graphics, more video, alternate edits, and “oh by the way”s galore.  We finally had to put our foot down and start line item-ing each and every addition, which inevitably meant more price negotiation on each and every item.

On site, and throughout the conference, there was even more of these add-ons, and truth be told I couldn’t help but feel like they thought they owned me for the run of the show.  We continued to line item every item, every request, and we only did what was asked of us and no more.

I also got the feeling they were looking for mistakes, cataloging every minor detail and filing it away, so that after the conference they could come back for more money off the bill.  We always strive for the perfect show, but in my 15 years in the business, I’ve only seen maybe one where absolutely nothing went wrong and this was no exception.  Additionally, a lot of equipment and crew redundancy was cut due to the budget concerns.  Unfortunately there are some clients that you can't help but feel that they count on trying to get money back at the end of a program,  by accumulating a list of things they're dissatisfied with and disputing the bill.  The entire conference run was one of stress and anxiety.

After the show I was tired, cranky, bitter, and feeling a little used.

Client B- Minnesota Nice.  Almost the polar opposite of Client A.  While budget conscious, there was never the feeling of constant nit-picking or chiseling.  They seemed to understand that things A) cost money, and B) we might make a profit on them.  Whenever things were added, they were always amenable to adding to the overall bill.  Above all else, they were always extremely polite, and very understanding of the time and effort that goes in to putting on a conference.  As their conference went on, I genuinely came to like the people involved- the conference committee, the executives, the attendees.  As a result, as I look back, I actually did a lot more for them than Client A.  All the little add-ons didn’t feel so bad, and I found myself wanting to help them make their conference better and better for their attendees.  They added a rush order to the post-production, and even after a week of travel I found myself wanting to work through the weekend to get it done for them so that they could get the conference materials into the hands of their folks in the field.

Due to hotel restrictions, we were forced to use the in-house AV, and unfortunately for our client, they really stunk up the house.  Tons of equipment and crew issues.  In the case of Client A, we might have been tempted to just shrug our shoulders and say, “Not our fault”, but instead we were right there in the fray, passionately advocating for our client, making sure they were dealt with fairly in the end.

Since the program, we’ve even provided some “at cost” services to help them out with the post production distribution. Why? Because they asked nicely.

After the show I was tired, but really looking forward to the next time we work with Client B.

My Take:  While we all agree that, in theory, all clients should receive the same treatment, I think we can also agree that that’s not human nature.  In the end, the two companies' bills, minus the differences between the two shows, were probably only a few thousand dollars different.  I’d be curious to know, if they knew each other, which client thought they got the best deal- the best value for their money.  My guess is that they both would think so.  In my heart of hearts, I’d have to say that at least when it came to my time, my effort, Client B got the most value for their money, and will continue to do so as long as we have the privilege to work with them.

I am not anti-negotiation.  Around the office I have the (occasionally derogatory) nickname “Consumer Brandt” because I detest bad customer service and have no trouble telling people when I believe they’re giving it to me.  I will not hesitate to ask for fees to be waived, prices matched, or things to be thrown in.  But there is a line, and it’s largely a matter of tact, manners, and polite civility to know when that line's been crossed.  There’s working the system, and there’s abusing the system...

As I move forward, I’m going to try and keep all this in mind as I work with our vendors.  I’d like to think to a certain extent that I do already, but it never hurts to try harder, right?

So what do you think?  Who got the better value?  Does it matter who the client is and who the vendor is?  Why?

WiFi Security Alert- "WiFi Protected Setup" Security Flaw

The Dlink DIR 601 Wireless Router: One of the millions of routers with WiFi Protected Setup This is a legitimate and serious security alert regarding WiFi access.  Apartment-dwellers, businesses in strip malls, hotels, and convention centers all should be advised.  Basically if your WiFi signal reaches to a point where someone could park for a while (less than 24 hours), you are likely vulnerable to having someone hack into your WiFi network, even if it is secured.  This could be, for example, an apartment next door, a lounge in your building, a nearby parking lot, or a car parked on the street if your signal reaches that far.

As usual, making things simple makes them less secure. There is a convenient "feature" of almost all WiFi access points built in the last few years that allows you to connect a device to your network (such as a Windows 7 computer, a cell phone, a printer, etc.) by pressing a button or clicking a dialog box and then entering a short 8 digit pin stamped on a label on the WiFi device.  This is known as "WiFi Protected Setup".

It turns out that the pin can be cracked and give a hacker access to your network in less than 24 hours (sometimes only a couple of hours) of brute force attacking because of a really stupid way that the password is sent/received between the two devices.  Once unencrypted access to your network is gained, the attacker can (at best) use your internet connection and (at worst) sit quietly and watch all of your internet traffic.

If you're comfortable configuring your wireless router, poke around in the settings and look for something called "WiFi protected setup".

THIS IS ENABLED BY DEFAULT.  If you uncheck this "feature" you should be protected from this type of attack until your manufacturer can push out an update.  Check your WiFi router's manufacturer's website frequently over the next couple months to look for an update for your device.

If you want to learn about this in great detail, I highly recommend this podcast, Security Now! with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte:

http://twit.tv/show/security-now/335

For more general info, just search for "wifi protected setup flaw" on your search engine of choice.

Please feel free to pass this on to anyone you may know with WiFi access points in their home or office.

On Why Apple Better Watch Its Ass.

I want an iPad 2.  I don't need an iPad 2, but I want one.  I'm not even sure I can tell you why, other than I was kinda sorta thinking about maybe getting a tablet this year.  Then I watched the keynote announcement of iPad 2, and if it wasn't for the March 11th launch date, all you would have seen in my office was a swiveling chair and some cartoon *PIONG* lines indicating my rapid departure for Best Buy.  Maybe a couple of dollar bills floating gently to the floor for comedic effect. And I don't think I'm alone.  To say that Apple has hit it out of the park with iOS is an understatement.  According to the iPad 2 keynote, Apple has sold 100 million iPhones and 15 million iPads, which I'd like to remind you came out LAST YEAR.  Whatever the "secret sauce" is to the iOS ecosystem, Apple's definitely got a hit on their hands- which is precisely why they need to start watching their ass.

Why?  History, baby.  History.  Not that long ago, in our own very galaxy, another come-from-behind player had emerged victorious and was dominating the market.  Windows, in relatively short order, had become THE operating system for mainstream Earth.  And shortly thereafter, things started to get ugly.  Licensing disputes, and claims of anti-trust violations started to circle.  Independent browser companies felt that packaging Internet Explorer with Windows unfairly pushed them out of the market.  And it's difficult to say they were wrong- Does anybody remember that you used to have to pay for the higher end Internet browsers?  It was over a decade and hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars in fines and legal bills later before the dust started to clear.

So what's this have to do with Apple?  Simple.  They're teetering on the edge.  Steve Jobs proudly proclaimed that the iPad had outsold in one year all the other tablets ever sold, so it's safe to say they're the dominant player in that market.  I love Android, but I just don't see the Android tablets as being anything but second fiddle to the iPad 2 anytime soon.  As for the iPhone, depending on what report you read, approximately 50% of all smart phones are iPhones.  That's pretty damn good too.  Finally, how many people to you know that have an MP3 player other than an iPod?  Not bloody many.

"Big deal," you say.  "So what if they're successful?"  It's not their success that the problem.  It's the scrutiny that comes with success, and Apple's begun to throw their weight around a lot lately.  Already we are hearing grumblings from developers and partners regarding Apple's cut of the proceeds when it comes to subscription services.  Apple forces subscriptions to sell for the same price outside the App Store as they do inside.  Combine that with their strict application regulations, and you start to see some cause for concern in the ability for the "little guys" to compete fairly in the market.

The strongest possibility for a source of an unexpected ass-munching comes from something that most people have seen as merely an inconvenience: the fact that all roads travel through iTunes.  Apple needs to change this.  Fast.

If you look at the Microsoft troubles, they didn't come, for the most part, from other operating system developers- they came from the browser developers (which is why the European Union now requires a browser "selection" screen on all Windows installs to level the playing field- Sleipnir, anyone?).  If an attack is to come on Apple, it will come from the media sales and playback front.  Apple requires you to install iTunes to set up your iPod, iPhone, or iPad on both Mac OSX and Windows.  Having device software is nothing new, but why does all of this have to go through, what is, for all practical purposes, a media player?  The answer is both obvious and dangerous- it drives traffic to the iTunes store.

For most consumers, the path of least resistance is the way they go, so why would the averege consumer even consider using anything else like Winamp, or Windows Media Player when iTunes is right there?  And why would they consider using another MP3 or video store like Amazon or Emusic when iTunes is right there?  Hell, iTunes even opens when you plug your device in!

Why is this any diferent than the Microsoft anti trust suits?  Apple is using its dominance in a hardware market to push itself in a software market and a media sales market, and if they don't watch themselves, the next bite out of the apple logo isn't going to come from Microsoft or Android, it's going to come from the US Justice Department or the European Union.  Fortunately, though it's an easy fix and it's not too late.  All they need to do is offer a software utility that handles most of iOS to Desktop/Laptop functionality ("iManage" anyone?).  They can keep all the iTunes integration they want- it's their software, so it should be convenient to use, but there needs to be a separate utility that is the first point of contact for the consumer in order to make their new purchase functional.  They can "recommend" iTunes,  but it can't be the only way to get your media onto your device, and they have to make it easy for other stores like Amazon, and other media players like Window Media to send and retrieve media files from the devices.

I think if Apple makes those two concessions, it will go a long, long way towards keeping the anti-trust investigations at bay.   What do you think?

***Update 6/21/11
I'm curious to know what IOS 5 holds, and how the wireless sync will work.  It feels like they might be moving away from iTunes a little, so let's see what we see...

On Recording Meetings - Avoid Post Event Trauma and Save Money by Asking a Few Questions

An image of a DV-HDV DeckI'm noticing a trend in the meetings industry:Easily 5 out of the last 6 shows I've worked on have requested the recorded video of their meeting.

While that's not all that unusual in and of itself, what's different is that they're requesting it almost immediately after the program, and are wanting it in a digital format so that they can edit it and get it up on either their internal or external websites.

What does this mean for meeting planners?  You might think, "Nothing" or "No big deal" or even "Duh."  With the proliferation of high bandwidth internet connections, smart phones, and the ubiquitous YouTube videos (and their ease of creation), clients are naturally expecting to be able to get bits and pieces of their event onto the Internet in short order.

What it does is add one more conversation that needs to happen before the event, and preferably before the equipment budget is finalized.  There are many different "levels" of recording a show, varying from "goes in a box somewhere" to "going to be sold as a Blu-Ray DVD", and that level not only has a direct impact on the equipment needed for the meeting, but also can affect the out of pocket expenses of the client before, during, and after the show.  Put simply? Planning ahead can save everyone involved headaches and money- most of which are caused by having the wrong level of record, or one that doesn't meet the clients expectations even if they aren't sure what those expectations are themselves.

Here's the low down on the various types of meeting and event records:

Level 0: "No recording." Frankly, this rarely if ever happens when there's a camera in play, but it never hurts to ask your AV provider if recording is included in the price.

Level 1: "Goes in a box somewhere." For this level we usually see one of two types of record strategies.  First, there is the on-camera record.  Only the video taken by the camera is put on the tape.  On slightly older cameras these are usually DVCAM tapes, and on newer "pro-sumer" HD models the video is recorded on what's called HDV tapes.  The cost increase from level one is the cost of tapes, which aren't cheap. Almost $35 per 184 minute tape.

The second option is a "program feed" record.  A separate record deck is inserted into the video rig, and whatever's being sent to the screen is recorded.  Be careful- there's a terminology trap here. Some AV vendors (and myself, before being bitten in the rear one too many times) use the terms "Line Cut" and "Program Feed" interchangeably, however... "Line Cut" is a term derived from Television production, and refers to a particular edit that just contains camera angle switches.  A "Program Feed" should include anything that's being shown on the screen.  Make sure you know which you're getting!  Most vendors are capable of doing this kind of record, but you have to ask for it.  The cost goes up by not only the price of the tapes, but also the cost of the deck.

When the show is over, your AV vendor gives you or your clients the tapes, and they go in a box somewhere.

Level 2: "There's a chance we might use it someday," or "We might want to at least watch it." Basically you're looking at the same as above, but you need to keep a couple things in mind.  If you just hand your clients the tapes, they probably can't watch them.  Most people don't have a DVCAM or HDV (or BETACAM, which still rears its ugly head from time to time) deck lying around the office.  Your AV vendor or production company obviously does, as you just used one on your event.  See if they'll include a basic video transfer to DVD so that at least you can give the client those, which should be watchable on any consumer DVD player or computer.  If they can't, there's usually at least one company in every major city that specializes in media format changes- VHS->DVD for example.  They can usually do this for a moderate fee.  For our part, metroConnections usually includes this transfer of the program feed to DVD in the price of production.

Level 3: "We're definitely going to use it at some point." Either of the previous two options will work for some clients.  Hopefully you've handed them the tapes along with a DVD copy.  They can watch the DVD, decide what they like, hand the tapes over to a video editing company and have their footage professionally edited and put together.  If the client knows this is going to happen, though, you might throw one more option at them- the combination of both the "on camera" record (also sometimes known as ISO) as well as the program feed.  This is especially helpful when PowerPoints or other PC/Mac-based presentations are involved.  The client can provide the video editors both sets of tapes, and the editor can use the program feed as a reference to add the PowerPoints back into the final edit.  By having the ISOs as well as the original PowerPoint materials, the editor can precisely edit when the speaker is on the screen and when the slide is- something that doesn't always come out perfectly with the on-site switching that gets sent to the program feed.

Level 4: "We're definitely going to use it next week." One of the biggest problems with the above scenarios are that they're all tape-based.  That means that when it comes time to get that information off the tape, it has to happen in real time- just like all those VHS tapes you have in your basement somewhere.  If your conference was three days long, eight hours a day, guess how long it will take just to get the footage into an editable form? Yup. Ouch.  This is probably the biggest "gotcha" point." Video houses are probably going to charge you or your client wicked rush charges to turn around that much footage in a short amount of time, or simply won't have time to do it.  If your client knows they're going to use the footage, try and get a reasonable understanding of when they intend to do so, and set their expectations accordingly.

Another option is to use a hard drive recorder.  This is basically the same as the tape decks of old, but records the video directly to either an internal or external hard drive.  These are definitely going to be more expensive than DVCAM or HDV decks, but you can turn around the footage much faster.  Usually they write to a format that can be edited almost right away in Final Cut.

If you get the right cameras, you can record them on hard drives there as well.   Then you're able to get the benefits mentioned in "Level 3".  Again it's more expensive on the front end, but theoretically you or the client is saving money on rush charges and editing time.  If you don't have ISO records, the editor has to guess where the PPT slides go, and this usually involves watching the program from start to finish.  If you have both the program feeds and the ISOs, you can skim around and look for the changes.

It's important to note that all of the options above involve some kind of specialty equipment at some point in the process before the client gets the footage in their hands.  DVCAM Tapes require tape decks that can read DVCAM tapes, HDV decks the same, and even when recording to hard disk, chances are you're going to need a Mac (most of the formats I've seen are QuickTime variations that don't play nice with Windows).

There's a bunch of levels in between the ones I've laid out here, but these are the most common ones I've run into.  I mentioned the "Going to be put out on Blu-Ray" level- if that's the case, you need to have a very serious talk about expectations, because in most cases that's going to involve an entirely separate record crew from the normal production crew, essentially doubling your costs.

Hopefully though, this is enough to get the conversation started, and enough to give you an informed viewpoint in that conversation.  Ultimately you should be able to guide your client into the right fit for what they want balanced with what they can afford to pay.

Top Five Watches the GeekDad in Chief Should be Wearing

by Brandt Krueger, Geek Dad since 2007 Obama w Superman_02Much has been made about the geektitude of our current president, from his use (and correct pronunciation) of Superman lore, to his insistance on keeping his BlackBerry, to his ability to properly give the vulcan hand sign of "Live Long and Prosper."  So when I found out that there was a website where a mere mortal like myself could buy the President's watch, I had to check it out.  Needless to say, I was a looking for something a little more geeky than what I found.jorg-gray-watch-debut-2

I don't know, I guess I figured the GeekDad in Chief would have something like an original Casio CA53W.

ca53w

You know, for tackling those pesky budgets and figuring out how to pay for universal healthcare without raising taxes.

Don't get me wrong, the watch he wears is a nice watch and all.  It has all your standard geeky dials and dates, but I can't help but feel like he might be neglecting an important presidential accessory.  And so I present to you,

The Top Five Watches the GeekDad in Chief should be Wearing:

5.  LED Binary Watch

Basic, and self explanatory to even low-level geeks.  Baffling to the non-geek.

4. Casio Telememo 150

Ok, so the calculator watch is still an option.  I was surprised to see that Casio was still pumping out these babies, updated for the new century.  And what does almost 30 years of calculator watch get you over the CA35?  Semi-permanent EEPROM memory of 150 "pages" consisting of 8 letters and twelve numerals per page.  Perfect for the POTUS to keep track of his schedule, and to be alerted he's got an important "MEETIN" to go to (see photo).

3.  Missile Command

When I ran across the title for this watch in my searches, I was really hoping it would look like this: Missile Command Watch

No such luck.  Apparently Atari didn't cash in on the Missile Command franchise in the watch department.  You gotta admit, though, that would have been pretty cool.  Still would.  Somebody get on that.

Anyway, even though it looks like this...

Chase Durer Missile Command Watch...this watch is still worth an honorable mention, and the President is, after all, the ultimate Missile Commander for our country.

2.  25th Aniversary G-Shock

25th Aniversary G-Shock

The G-Shock is the gold standard for geek watches.  Nobody's sure why, as most of its functionality is based on athletic pursuits (something geeks are not generally known for).  Nonetheless, the watch became so popular for so long, Casio released the 25th Anniversary edition in white and gold, perfect for those fancy White House dinner parties with foreign dignitaries.

1.  Nixie Tube Watch

Nixie Tube WatchA favorite of "The Woz", the Nixie Tube Watch is the perfect mix of geek chic and old school tech.  Nothing says "I represent change!" better than a ridiculously over-sized vacuum tube watch.   Press the button and the two digits flash the hours, minutes and seconds.  I love the fact that the inventor has a detailed history on his site of how he developed it from breadboard to production.  Click on the photo to check it out!

So snap to it, Mr. Prez, and embrace your inner geek!  I want to see one of those watches on your wrist before the August recess...