Monday, April 30, 2007

Office sun spot

Certain times of the year, around the equinoxes, the setting sun shines right in a round window in my office and makes looking at the computer screen difficult. This is what it looks like. The window was behind me as I took the picture.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Best video I've seen in a long time

What an amazing group of people. They did this in one take, apparently. Wouldn't it be great if everyone could go to work at a place like this?

Lip Dub - Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger on Vimeo

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Thoughts on the Brogan/Pulver Show

Yesterday, I took part in the inaugural Chris Brogan/Jeff Pulver show on Ustream. I was one of the early callers. I was very impressed with the quality of the video, and the fact that the video and audio stayed in synch for the whole broadcast, and never dropped out. That may sound more like "It didn't suck that bad", but seriously, if you've watched any live video on the internet, you'll agree that that's a significant accomplishment. Good on ustream!!

The chat stream did crash early on in the show and never came back, but to be honest, I didn't miss it much at all. I'm not a fan of chat to begin with, and this chat line didn't change my mind. Most chat is pure drivel because the motor-mouths drown out any redeeming content. Even when it was on, Chris didn't seem to be paying much attention to it, and it's perfectly understandable why. It's like trying to listen to a whole roomful of people talking at the same time.

When they had one caller at a time on the phone, the show seemed to really take off. I give both these guys major props for putting themselves out there. It must have been a bit like doing stand-up for the first time.

If the show continues as a call-in talk format, they should really get Skype integrated. They could host callers from all over the world at no charge, have multiple on-air at the same time, and still be in control of who was speaking. Who knows, maybe ustream is working on providing that capability as part of its site. That would be a great addition to the service.

In the aftermath, this has been hailed as a revolutionary event, a paradigm shift, a disruption to broadcast and cable TV. See Pulver's and Grayson's posts. Also, Steve Garfield, in his customary trailblazing role, started doing live broadcasts using his Nokia N95 using wifi connectivity a couple of weeks ago.

Now, I'm not trying to be wet blanket or anything, but I don't see these developments as a fundamental qualitative technology change. That is not to say they are unimportant. But rather, as many times happen in technological breakthroughs, the difference is quantitative; a change in degree but not in kind.

After all, web-cams and web-casts have been around for literally years. What's the difference now? I see these significant quantitative changes.

Ease of use. Just like and YouTube did for videoblogging, sites like ustream have made it very easy to do web-casts of high quality.

Quality. As I noted above, last night's show was, at least relatively speaking, of very good technical quality. It's no mean feat to keep video and audio streaming without interruption or stuttering and with good synchronization. And I want to emphasize good synch. Good sound and good sound synch convey a subliminal but very strong quality experience. And that subliminal quality is what sometimes pushes a technology up over the bar of wide acceptance.

Inter-modal fusion. How's that for a phrase? :) What I mean is the mutual reinforcement of other internet modalities like Twitter, blogs and IM to flesh out the interactive experience and make it more than the sum of its parts. This is one thing that Internet broadcasting has all over conventional TV and that mainstream media may never understand. "It's the conversation, stupid."

In his post, Jeff Pulver emphasized the disappearance of the "gatekeepers" as one of the significant developments of last night's broadcast. But the internet has never had gatekeepers (and I hope, never will). The difference now is that you have nearly broadcast quality with no gatekeepers and no cost barriers to entry.

I was around for the Golden Age of Television in the 50s and 60s. The developments we have the privilege of witnessing right now are in many ways even more significant. The democratization of the communication channel is on a level with the development of the printing press. And therein lies a warning.

All through history, tyrants, despots, corporations and totalitarian regimes of all kinds have at one time or another outlawed, confiscated, destroyed or otherwise tried to suppress the printing press. For the moment, we seem to have beaten back attempts to destroy neutrality for the internet. But I don't think the the Lords of Old Media, facing prodigious losses and disintegration of their empires, will go that quietly. We need to redouble our efforts to secure net neutrality and universal access, or this wonderful revolution will fall to the forces of money, greed and power like broadcasting has before it.

Can't wait for the next show, guys!!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Making promises

I have a hard time making promises. You see, I'm an engineer. I deal with inanimate objects, laws of physics, software. These things are notoriously unmoved by persuasion, argument, anger, cajoling, threat, incentive or contract terms. We engineers live at that distinctly difficult place where the elastic rubber of human expectation meets the hard road of reality. In other words, we have to fulfill what the salesman promised.

In the world of software, making any kind of estimate is risky business. There have been books written on why this is so, so I'll not trouble you with my own explanation. It must suffice to say that anyone who doesn't accept that this is true and inescapable is not living in the same world that I am. But that doesn't stop bosses and salesmen from selling unimplemented features and promising delivery dates, usually without asking the people who have to make it happen. In fact, this is the conventional management approach for getting engineering to produce.

The former CEO of the company I used to work for used this technique all the time to "take business off the table" as he put it. In other words, promise the customer a feature set or delivery date to get them to sign the contract. Often, he wouldn't even tell Engineering until a few weeks before the actual delivery. Then, we'd have to hack something together in crisis mode. To be fair, he would always take the heat from the customer when we didn't make the date, but it sure didn't do a lot for my blood pressure, or the quality of the work, or my estimation of him, or after a time, the company's reputation. I found this technique of promising and then "managing" failed expectations abominable.

In my experience, it is far better to be completely transparent and not yield to the great temptation to promise, or even suggest that something can "probably" be done.

What do you think?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Good Design: The Toyota Prius - VBW2007 #3

Last week a friend at work asked me about my Toyota Prius hybrid, because he was considering buying one. I took him for a little drive and he was so impressed, he's going to buy one. I like this car so much, I thought I'd take all of you for a similar ride so you can get a consumer's eye view. Watching it after editing, I realize I left a lot out, so feel free to drop questions on the comments or drop me an email. videobloggingweek2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Stupid TV noises - VBW2007 #2

I like my Samsung LCD HDTV for the most part. But for some reason, the designers felt it necessary to add this stupid noise when it boots up and shuts down. And I haven't found any setting to turn it off. Tell me Samsung, what's the point? I can tell by looking at the unit whether it's on or off. I don't need a sound to tell me. videobloggingweek2007

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Boston Media Makers - April 1, 2007

Today was the monthy (first Sunday) meeting of Boston Media Makers at Sweet Finnish in Jamaica Plain, MA. Another very interesting crowd today. Going around the table was a little more under control due to Steve Garfield's use of a little bell timer on his Vista machine. Finally, a practical use for the Vista! :)

This is also my first video of VideoBloggingWeek 2007!

bostonmediamakers videobloggingweek2007