Chromecast: Pretty neat

A few weeks ago, I received my Chromecast in the mail. This is a small $35 device sold by Google that vaguely resembles a USB flash drive and fits into the HDMI port on your TV, and connects to your WiFi. For what it does, it is a very nice device.

Chromecast plugs into your TV

My television comes with built-in software to watch Netflix and YouTube. Alas, that software is slow and is a pain to use. Entering a search term using the arrow keys on my remote control, one letter at a time, is absolutely frustrating. However, Chomecast has much nicer software for watching Netflix and YouTube, which you can control using your computer or mobile device. For example, I can launch the Netflix app on my iPad, pick a show off of my instant queue (or whatever they are calling it these days), and send the info on my selection to the Chromecast, which starts streaming the show to my TV. (Chormecast uses your home WiFi network to stream video and get commands from your devices.) The same is true of YouTube, and I guess Google Play movies, which I have never used. I love watching YouTube videos on my TV, selecting them from my subscriptions using my iPad. (I can also use my laptop or Droid 4 smartphone.)

Chromecast plugs into your TV

Chormecast also allows you to send any Chrome browser tab on your computer to your TV. This doesn’t work quite as well as the built-in apps. For one thing, there is a delay of a few seconds between something happening in the browser tab on your computer and the display of the tab on the TV. (Fortunately, the sound also gets delayed, so watching a video in a Chromecasted tab will mean the sound and video will be in sync on your TV.) Second, this is bandwidth-intensive when watching a video, since the computer has to stream the video from the Internet and then restream it to your TV over WiFi. So, it’s better to use the built-in apps to watch Netflix and YouTube.

Nevertheless, casting tabs still works good enough. The other night, I Chromecasted a NYT article on the president’s Syria speech, and played the embedded video of his speech. It worked fine.

Now, this device is not really that necessary. My TV has built-in apps for Netflix and YouTube. Likewise, as you can see from the photo above, it’s perfectly possible for me to hook my computer up directly to the HDMI input on my TV, which would allow me to send the whole screen to the TV, not just what I can get in a Chrome tab. But Chromecast is much easier to use than my TV’s built-in apps, and less awkward than stringing HDMI cables back to the couch. For $35, this nice little device is a good help.

Facebook’s news feed was not a novel idea

Today in Slate, Farhad Manjoo celebrates the 7th birthday of Facebook’s news feed feature.

Get this: Before news feed, which launched seven years ago this month, you could post a picture or some other personal detail somewhere—your Facebook or MySpace or Friendster page, Flickr, Blogger, LiveJournal—and be reasonably sure that it would remain just there, unseen by pretty much everyone you knew. The only way someone might find it is by checking your page. Sure, some people would do that—but everyone had scores of connections online, so no one was checking each of their friends’ pages. The net effect was solitude.

Sorry, but this is complete bunk. Every LiveJournal user has a friends page, which shows all recent entries by their LJ friends. When I joined LiveJournal in July 2001, over 12 years ago and before Facebook even existed, LiveJournal had this feature already. Granted, as LiveJournal never attained the market penetration that Facebook has, posting something to your LiveJournal was never as effective at spreading your news as posting to Facebook today. But that’s due to Facebook benefiting from a network effect on a scale that LiveJournal never did.

I wouldn’t dispute that Facebook’s news feed is an important feature that has allowed for those network effects. Without the news feed, the site would just be a glorified directory and messaging service. But it’s an absurd revision of Internet history to say that Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, as smart as they are, came up with the idea from scratch.

What (not) to do if you don’t like sports

Let’s say you don’t like watching sports. You have no interest in the World Series, the BCS, or the NBA Finals. I think that’s okay. It’s okay to not pay attention to sports. It’s okay to flip past ESPN on your TV. But here’s what’s not okay to do:

  • Make fun of people for liking to watch sports.
  • Derisively dismiss sports as “sportsball”.
  • Assume people are dumb because they like to watch sports.

If you are a geek about my age, you may have not-so-fond memories of being ridiculed when you were a teenager for having geeky interests. You may remember people teasing you for socializing on the Internet (something just about every teenager does today), or for being interested in Star Trek. For someone with those memories, it’s very tempting, now that geek interests are more mainstream, to turn the tables and dish out ridicule for being into sports. But you should resist the temptation because it makes you as much as a jerk as the kids who teased you. Actually, it makes you worse, because you are some decade-and-a-half older and should know better.