Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Kinect Mini-Review and Looking Forward

Kinect is awesome – but far from  perfect. There are plenty of great reviews out there so rather than comment on what Kinect does right and an overview I am going to cut to the chase of what it needs to do better. I mostly bought the Kinect for the dashboard integration versus playing games (it does that quite well).

Dashboard Integration

The current dashboard experience is subpar at best. Overall I would give it a C+ with a future outlook of an A. It is too disjoint and not integrated with the rest of the dashboard. I am sure Microsoft is hard at work on the next update. Some of the glaring issues:

- Only the Kinect Hub responds to gestures and voice commands.

- Some voice commands leave you down paths where you have to start using the controller (wth?).

- The voice commands are too strict. More natural language options would be better. I shouldn’t have to say “Watch a movie” exactly as it is spelled on screen. “Browse movies” and “movies” should suffice.

- The gesture to “press” takes too long and if you are impatient like me a setting would be nice to decrease the hover time.

- The Zune Music and Video Kinect experiences feel disconnected from the whole and if you choose to use your controller at any point you have to get thrown back into the other Zune Music and Video apps.

- Navigating the menus is extremely slow compared to the controller, but this is subjective to a person’s taste. There is something liberating about not having to use the controller so there is a tradeoff here.

Cool things:

- Scrubbing the video – once you get the hang of it – feels very futuristic and is just plain cool

- Swiping through movie trailers and songs is fun and has elicited many oohs and ahhs from my friends

- Voice commands to play and pause a movie are great although I would like an option to

Even fixing all of the above issues wouldn’t make the Kinect as outstanding as it could be with respect to the Dashboard.

Making it a must have device

The following things should be  considered to make this the *must-have* device for every household.

- Let me turn the Xbox on or wake it up with my voice! How cool would that be?

“Hey xbox turn on.”

Better yet:

“Hey Xbox turn on and start playing music”

Better still:

“Hey Xbox start playing my hip-hop playlist”

- Custom gestures: I want to be able to define a gesture to jump to a certain area of the Dashboard

- Extended speech support: similar to above let me say almost anything and have the Xbox interpret it or find the best match. A menu could come up asking me for the closest matches.

- Let me use it to scan real-world objects to pimp out my avatar – a couple hacks have seemingly already done this

- Use the camera capabilities to skin the avatar with a real-world look and feel

- When I am home and online allow my Windows Phone to use the Kinect as a speaker phone

- Assuming Windows Phone someday gets a FaceTime component let me use Kinect Video Chat with Windows Phones

- Performance: This is really a request for the whole dashboard experience but it is very sluggish and then only makes the whole thing feel more disconnected

- Allow the camera to be viewable when I am away from home via a remote machine or the Windows Phone. It can double as a security device. (this is just icing)

- Let me browse the internet! Read the news, look at photos, etc. You just created a virtual iPad (albeit mounted on my wall).

I plan to update this post with more ideas of what would really set the Kinect apart.

What things would  you like to see the Kinect do in the future?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Does Foursquare’s Mayor System Promote Monotony

Let me preface this by saying I like Foursquare and am more or less addicted. However I was having lunch the other day at my one of my normal spots in San Francisco’s financial district when it struck me that Foursquare’s mayor system is flawed. The system itself works but to strive to be the mayor feels flawed.

I had just checked into Pasta Paradiso in the One Market building and the Foursquare app said something to the effect of “Congratulations you are still the mayor of Pasta Paradiso”.

And I thought – is that a good thing. Of all the places to eat in the city why am I the mayor of this one. Does that even matter?  Why have I checked in here six times in the last month or so.  I know exactly why. I usually eat there when I need a quick lunch and am stressed about work or just have a lot of work.  In that respect Foursquare is a good way for me to analyze my work/life balance.

I have another mayorship in the same plaza and another around the corner. Of my 5 mayor-ships all are lunch spots. I recently lost two mayorships: One Market Bar and Bullit Bar – and I am glad I lost these.  I still love the venues, but am glad I don’t have the mayor title. It means I have been going to other areas for my happy hour and weekend outings.

Until Foursquare becomes much more mainstream the mayor system is flawed because you are the mayor among people in the Foursquare ecosystem. Barely any of my friends use Foursquare, else they would likely be the mayor instead for many places. So basically you are winning mayorships over people you don’t know.

Overall I think Foursquare is hot, but the point/mayor/ranking system needs an overhaul. Maybe something more game like similar to MyTown. I am not going to comment on Gowalla because I haven’t used it enough.

Rather than put a focus on becoming the mayor of a place more focus (and perhaps a point system of sorts) should be put on being at places with your Foursquare friends (who are hopefully your real friends where as in with Twitter they might be random people). Maybe group mayorships, bar crawls (I know the swarm badge is kind of like this), group badges (that would be fun), etc.

Now, time to go check-in somewhere…new.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bali - Candidasa

Days 12 to 14 (November 18th – November 20th, 2009)

(My continued, long overdue Bali trip details)

The last morning at Villa Amala was spent just relaxing. At about 1 pm two drivers took us to our next destination, Candidasa.

Map picture

The ride was going to take about two hours. On the way there I stopped at the ATM for the first time of the trip.  I remember not feeling too well during the drive and mostly tried to sleep it off but wanted to see the cities we were driving through.

Before long we arrived at Villa Gils which was more or less right on the water. It was owned by a very boisterous Australian woman who now resided in Bali. She owned three villas in a cluster on the Candidasa shore. I didn’t have any accommodations when I arrived and she graciously gave me one of the rooms for 30$ a night – which was pretty much a steal.

Here are some pics of the villa and shore:

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That first night we had a pretty mellow dinner at at seaside restaurant. Huge thunder clouds were forming in the distance but never quite reached us.


After we had some drinks and everyone turned in relatively earlier – we had a big snorkeling trip planned for the next day.  After waking up and reading my book for about an hour we had breakfast and were picked up at around 9am by our ride to the beach.

The plan was to take two outriggers (our was named Reed Schapper - note the spelling error), seating three of us a piece, to the Blue Lagoon Bay where the snorkeling was supposed to be pretty good – and it was. Here are some pics of the outriggers, me in my snorkeling get-up, and the gorgeous view:

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After snorkeling the outriggers took us past our villas a way for lunch at Puri Oka restaurant. I had – surprise surprise – grilled fish (probably snapper) and a Bintang.

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We were driven back to Villa Gils and the rest of the day was spent drinking cocktails in the pool until dinner. That night we went to a high concept restaurant called Le 48. It was interesting and more or less failed. The highlight was the concrete squares placed in a pond that you had to navigate to get to the tables….doing it drunk would have been a disaster.

The next day was an adventuring day.  Almost all of us piled into the car and trekked north. Our first stop was one a set of buildings I am going to dub a water palace: Taman Ujung.  My guidebook wasn’t too into the place, but I thought it was beautiful.  The King had a room in the central building which was surrounded my manicured lawns, fountains, a large pool and numerous ornate statues.

Pics of Taman Ujung



After getting our fill of Taman Ujung we headed to Tirta Gangga

Taman Tirta Gangga is a beautiful water palace built by the same King who built Taman Ujung. In addition to its pools and plant life it also has a maze like pond that you can walk on (see pics), a huge banyan tree, and if you really want to you can take a swim. At one point I was walking on the pond maze and a couple was coming toward me. As far as who had the right away to move or step aside onto a neighboring disc I have no idea, but a local guide more or less commanded me to jump to the grass bordering the pond. Luckily I have long legs :).

After walking through the palace we decided to eat there (there are accommodations at the actual palace – it might sound touristy, but doesn’t have that feel).

Pics at Taman Tirta Gangga


While we were in the area our driver suggested we go and see an actual silver smith. Some of these “trips” are in fact fake and the people working the silver are just a ruse to get you to buy jewelry from the store. However this one was pretty legit and watching the people work the silver was interesting.

I didn’t buy anything and spent most of the time outside talking to the roosters and looking at the chickens…


After getting back in the car and getting caught in a monsoon we arrived at Virgin Beach (White Sand Beach) which would cap off our  day of travelling. I was the only one in the group to take a dip. Everyone else kept in real by downing a Bintang.


Upon arriving back at the Villa we started drinking, watched the rain fall and had an excellent dinner prepared by the staff. The next day I was going to separate from the group and head north while they headed west.

Zune Card