Tech tales

A couple of interesting artifacts that I found online and wanted to share with y’all.First up, video conferencing, why is it so crap and what are you going to do about it?

Ok, we’ve had video online, we’re now living in an age of pretty much ubiquitous broadband, why do we stop with using our VoIP client of choice and use video instead.Well there is the network side of things: IP networks provide a ‘best effort’ service so the signal may be come degraded. All the pixels will get to the other end eventually but they won’t get there in the right order and the latency of the signal will depend on the slowest part of network travel that they have to make through the internet ‘cloud’ no matter what kind of pipe you have between you and your local telephone exchange, wireless hub or cable television outfit. Look at video streaming, it has errors and flaws in its signal even on my 2MB pipe AND the signal is buffered to smooth out these glitches like a CD player. With real-time interactive video conversations that is not a technical option.

Also you may not want to have the person see you as well as speak to you, imagine if you have a bad hair day or want to lie?

The third factor is a much more basic human system and the best way of illustrating it is by looking at the picture above. Notice how you don’t have eye contact with the people that you have a conference with because the camera’s perspective is slightly different to the view you would have if it were a real-world conversation. Notice how the men on the left and right are looking above their screens and the ladies are looking below, this is just enough for you to notice and process at a low level. It doesn’t feel natural, the conversation won’t flow as well as a real-world sit down would because the eye contact feels wrong.

This is why video conferencing can feel so wrong, even Apple’s attempt at correcting it with a small mirror picture (the one at the bottom) to see how you look to the callers feels wrong.

Historically the way to do that is to have the difference between camera angle and the viewing angle of the screen as small as possible. This was achieved by using big TV screens with a camera on top and the participant perched at the end of a big conference table at the other end of the room. That’s why big oil companies and George Bush love video conferencing but you’re not likely to see it adopted en masse in UK homes soon.

Its also not exactly the most elegant solution, which the reason why I was really intrigued by this Apple patent which I saw courtesy of those nice people at AppleInsider.

Imagine where the screen viewing area was the camera with camera elements squeezed in between the pixels on your LCD. The back-light would provide the ambient light required for the picture, you an have eye contact with whoever you are speaking with without living in a mansion and having a conference table the size of a small yacht.

In theory this principle would also work with on mobile screens (at a lower quality-level), televisions etc. On the scary side it would also allow the omni-present two-way tele screens for surveillance like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Web 2.0 and the Enterprise have an interesting article Web 2.0 meets the enterprise how companies like IBM and Visible Path are using technologies like social networking, RSS feeds and wikis to help large companies build IT systems. make a big show of how these ‘consumer’ (their word, not mine) technologies are changing the enterprise software landscape.In addition, Forrester sent out an email newletter talking about how service-orientated architecture (SOA) (simply put: enterprise-grade web 2.0-type technologies) are having an accelerated take-up with happy IT directors to be found everywhere.

The truth is more complex than the story about how the kids are showing big business the way, the process is much more complex.

AJAX is generally a hard thing to do well so it is interesting that Michael Robertson is selling AJAX-based web services through ajaxLaunch and looking to use AJAX as a way of providing applications and widgets on top of an OS. Its an interesting take from a business head on all the utopian dreams such as the network computing meme or Netscape’s ‘the browser is the OS’-hype back in the day and an ideal way for novices to get web 2.0 see his ‘everything is moving to the cloud’ keynote here which also has a good product demo (RealPlaya required).

Nice definition of what AJAX means to marketing people – ‘rich web applications right to your computer’.

Jargon Watch: Pokemonetize

PokemonetizeTo make money by appealling to the stupid human instinct to collect dumb things. Developed by Simon Willison in the bowels of our office in London and eagerly catalogued by prankster and tech strategist Tom Coates. The scary thing is that its a really articulate mission statement for any web 2.0 enterprise that you care to mention. Thanks to Tom for sharing this work of genius with us, I can see a book deal and a speaker tour coming soon ;-).If I don’t make it in heaven, I’ll run shit in Hades” – Everlast (Soul Music)

PR masterclass

This special installment of PR masterclass comes courtesy of Popbitch email newsletter. How to use a celebrity to your advantage and maximise your publicity budget:

1. Have a new online gambling company? Look around for a popular, downmarket celebrity to front it.

2. Announce that Kerry Katona is the new face of your brand.

3. Watch her career slide under accusations of drug use and boozing.

4. Decide you want to get rid of her but don’t want to look like you’re kicking her while she’s down.

5. Prepare to leak to the papers that she’s been up to some bad behaviour so her contract has to be ripped up.

6. You get publicity, the tabloids get a story, Kerry gets thrown out on her ear, you don’t look bad.

… 7. Except it’s not a good idea to discuss this so openly on a Palma-London EasyJet flight,

within earshot of two reporters… The moral of the story is of course not to fly with budget airlines where this nothing to eat, drink or read and so you have to talk about business. Also fly first-class so you won’t have to be surrounded by lots of beastly people? ;-)

There is an old adage that was attributed to the founders of Hill & Knowlton that you shouldn’t say in public anything that you wouldn’t be happy seeing in the following mornings papers.


Bring out your dead

When I worked on the Palm account the most valuable asset the company had was a vibrant developer community from large organisations like Sybase and Oracle to one-man bands selling their shareware over services like Tucows. Now according to Is the PalmOS missing the Multimedia Boat? by Tom Krazit that developer love don’t live here any more.

What’s more given that Access are building a PalmOS as what is basically an embedded Linux platform there is a curious lack of development tools for the next iteration of the PalmOS? What on earth is going on?

What’s the benefit of using an open source codebase then over offerings from the likes of WindRiver or QNX?


Code Martyrdom and The BBC

I saw this interesting article from the San Jose Mercury News: Work widow’s blog fuels uprising at Electronic Arts by Nicole Wong (April 26, 2006) about how tech company employees are rising up and casting off their shackles to try and get a life outside of work. Whilst the article focuses on the games industry, it has been a matter of pride in the tech sector since polyester shirts, pocket protectors and punched cards were geek chic.

Which is why sites that cater to code monkeys like ThinkGeek stock up on so much caffeinated materials and celebrate The Sacred caffeine Molecule (check the bottom right of the page).

Indeed the seminal book on the invention of the internet Where Wizards Stay Up Late canonised this practice in its title. This ethic has also slipped into supporting sectors like PR and design agencies working for technology clients.

Instant messaging software, Treos or Blackberries and laptops mean that the work doesn’t stop, there isn’t downtime and there is a very real social cost. It makes interesting reading.

On the BBC 2.0 coverage, Tom Coates provides an informed opinion at the developments, based on his experience as a former BBC mover-and-shaker.

Bank Holiday Plans

I am stuffed with a duff leg but if I wasn’t I’d be taking advantage of the following events in London this weekend – details courtesy of FACT magazine:‘Proper’ Acid House Warehouse Rave @ secret East-End location They say there’ll be laser shows, a 15K rig plus Dennis the Menaces, rhubarb & custards and snowballs available at 1990 prices! Party runs 11pm till 6 am and is strictly invite only. To add your name to the list, email: – directions will be available on the night on 07736 961 169. Feel the rush!

Breakin’ Convention ’06 @ Sadler’s Wells, Saturday 29th & Sunday 30th April Annual celebration of breaking lands in fine style with displays from the UK’s Zoo Nation Youth and Holloway Boyz, Deep Trip from Switzerland, Storm from Germany, Medea Sirkas from the US and French headliners Wanted Posse. Plus DJs, films, graf and an abundance of hip-hop related shiznitz – all this good stuff and a weekend pass costs a McGuyver – bargain!!! Check:

Driving Seat: Veoh and misc. tech stuff

Veoh Networks is a great company, though I haven’t worked out yet whether it is sailing too close to the wind or not. The company is funded by media conglomerate Time-Warner and Michael Eisner (the former ruler of planet Disney). The website looks like YouTube, but with some important differences:

  • Veoh lets you submit full-sized streaming videos
  • YouTube limits its users to 100 MB files.
  • Veoh can do 2 GB files distributed via a P2P-client available for Mac and that other platform

I’ve been enjoying a selection of ‘so-bad-they’re-good’ 1970s martial arts movies off there. The Mac client is really easy to use. My main concern is how will the company make money in the longer term. I can see someone like TimeWarner using Veoh as a guinea pig to further is experiment with AOL and online TV. On second thoughts just enjoy it while you can!

I’m with Stupid
Apple has apparently moved away from using a PortalPlayer media processor in all its iPods and instead moved to Samsung for the next-generation of MP3 players. PortalPlayer is very exposed to the Apple business, with iPods counting for about 70 per cent of its sales according to a Reuters report that I’ve read. Its not healthy for PortalPlayer, hopefully the company will diversify its client base to become more independent.

However Samsung as a supplier was also a dumb move for Apple. This is not a commodity product like flash memory where Apple can use multiplie suppliers and change at will, the media chip is central to the iPod functionality and experience.

Does it sound like a smart move to work closely with (and educate in the art of engineering a killer MP3 player) a large ambitious, hyper-aggressive company that wants to eat Apple for lunch? It has been alleged that Samsung had meetings with creative agencies in London where the central theme was Kill iPod.

You can chart the fall of the iPod empire from this moment on…

Jargon Watch and Code Sludge

MSM – shorthand for mainstream media: the kind of publications that web 2.0 advocates think will be washed a way in a sea of RSS feeds, XML data and AJAX-coded pages. It’s funny how web 2.0 companies want the benediction of substantial coverage in these magazines though isn’t it? Kudos to Richard Edelman.I looked forward to the debut of Plaxo on the Mac. I think that its a great service if you use it wisely and not spam the-world-and-their-dog with it.

The product is a beta which often means not fully functional, watch out for side effects. In my case the product slowed my computer right down so that the only thing that worked was the spinning beach ball cursor and my Mac would no longer recognise my iPod.

I hope that Plaxo resolves these issues and unveils a product ready for prime-time.

Picture courtesy of CBS News.

This is most likely a hoax, but I love the irreverence of it anyway

Blogosphere slooowwwwing down

David Sifry’s blog posts on the state of blogosphere are now the webs equivalent of the Halifax House Price Index. Each announcement causes people to go scrabbling off to update their PowerPoint presentations. In the case of David’s postings there follows a stream of phrases like participation media, citizen journalism and even heaven forbid Web 2.0. For all you PowerPoint jockeys, here’s the numbers for this month

  • Technorati is tracking over 35.3 Million blogs
  • The blogosphere has been doubling in size every six months
  • It is now over 60 times bigger than it was three years ago
  • On average, a new weblog is created every second of the day
  • 55 per cent of bloggers are still posting three months after their blogs have been created

Ok, where it gets interesting is looking more closely at Sifry’s graph pictured above by clicking on the image. The rate of increase in blogging seems to be slowing down if you look at the period of August 2005 – April 2006. Thoughts?

Links of the Day

Linspire have finally released a free distribution of their Linux operating system. This is an interesting move, which could see them moving away from being a z-list box shifter to being the iTunes of consumer software through CNR.There is lots of tired Gateway and Dell boxes out there that could be given a new lease of life and installing Freespire provides a good way of removing and helping proof against malmare targeting the Windows platform.

It would be especially attractive in wi-fi enabled homes were computer access is at a premium as kids and parents currently duke it out over two or more computers.

For any tech-heads passing its based on the Debian distribution like Linspire.

AOL promises that it is releasing a MySpace product for the rest of us that will be ‘kick-ass’ according an AOL spokesperson quoted over on a Business 2.0 article at CNN Online. Looks like they’ve finally figured a way to leverage their huge instant messenger user base.

Apple have released a 17-inch version of the MacBook Pro, but it isn’t really news as the rumour sites had it down pat for a few weeks now. Over at Crack Unit Iain Tait has been talking about life with his new MacIntel companion.

Blog Post 800: The Relative Freedoms of the Internet

 A couple of stories came to my attention this morning, first off today’s New York Times magazine has an indepth feature about the challenges that China presents to Internet companies seeking a Chinese audience. Google’s China Problem (and China’s Google Problem) by Clive Thompson is balanced and well written, there are some interesting aspects to it:

  • The censorship is open rather than furtive
  • It involves self-censorship as a key element in it’s execution
  • Chinese people interviewed do not view freedom of speech as an absolute binary state (you’re free or you’re not) but as a continuum and are prepared to make trade-offs; so Google’s ‘Do the least evil’ approach makes more sense
  • The role of chat and forums in Chinese internet usage is far higher than we’re used to
  • The assumption that the US readership of the article enjoy ‘absolute’ freedom of speech

The last point brings me on to the text of a speech given by US attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales at National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.Vigilant civil rights activists have noticed a number of items in the speech which would extend the government powers of censorship and surveillance well beyond child pornography with the implication being that in future US legislation freedom of speech may not be the absolute that it once was.

Lauren Weinstein of pressure group People for Internet Responsibility made the following post to the Interesting People email list:

In a speech a few days ago, Attorney General Gonzales announced DoJ plans to send Congress new legislation to control “pornography” and (apparently) ultimately to require activity log and other data retention by Internet Services (in follow-up interviews, Google and other search engines have been specifically discussed). Gonzales is pitching this legislation using child abuse as the hook. That is, he is arguing for tools to use against child abuse and child pornography — certainly a “third rail” issue these days where virtually everyone will support enforcement efforts. However, it’s also clear that the DoJ seems to have no intention of limiting such tools *only* to child-related areas. The legislation itself is currently titled: “Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006”

A transcript of the Attorney General’s speech is here:
Note this key quote: “This legislation will help ensure that communications providers report the presence of child pornography on their systems by strengthening criminal penalties for failing to report it. It will also prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet.” Requiring the reporting of child pornography on systems (when it is known to exist) is something that few people would argue against, obviously.

But let’s examine the second sentence again: “It will also prevent people from inadvertently stumbling across pornographic images on the Internet.” This seems to be addressing the entire broad category of non-child “pornography” (which of course can be defined in any number of ways in different locales and contexts), and suggests a requirement (here we go again!) for proactive ratings/controls (presumably ID or credit

card based for “offensive” materials) for all (U.S.) Web sites. So this isn’t just about children, it’s likely about broader government controls over many U.S.-based Internet entities (of course, Gonzales doesn’t effectively address the issue of Web sites outside the country). Gonzales goes a lot further in another quote:

“The investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers. This evidence will be available for us to use only if the providers retain the records for a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, the failure of some Internet service providers to keep records has hampered our ability to conduct investigations in this area. As a result, I have asked the appropriate experts at the Department to examine this issue and provide me with proposed recommendations. And I am going to reach out personally to the CEOs of the leading service providers and to other industry leaders to solicit their input and assistance. Record retention by Internet service providers consistent with the legitimate privacy rights of Americans, is an issue that must be addressed.”

Again, we see that protecting children — the goal that we all support — is being used as the raison d’etre to likely later propose broad data retention requirements on all manner of Internet services. Ironically, this is occurring shortly after calls for mandated data *destruction* legislation that arose in the wake of the DoJ vs. Google records battle (where I strongly supported Google’s stance).cted that this sequence would occur — though it is happening even faster than I expected. Record retention is a particularly risky area. DoJ might be expected to argue (as Gonzales implies) that such records would only be demanded in cases involving children.

That’s today’s line. But in a general records retention environment, you cannot a priori retain only the records related to child abusers whom you don’t already know about — you must retain *everyone’s* records. While the criteria for records access might be child abuse today, does anyone seriously believe that calls for access to user log data will not massively expand over time, to the extent that such data is available? Of course it will. If the data exists, all manner of ostensibly laudable reasons for government digging through users’ Internet activities will be forthcoming. And that will create a wholly different kind of Internet, where ultimately our every action on the Net may be subject to retroactive inspection. The term “slippery slope” is definitely applicable.

We need to see the specifics of legislation before detailed comments will be possible. But the handwriting is on the wall, and it does not bode well for either Internet users or Internet-related services.


I went to the V&A in South Kensington with Stephen and David to check out the Modernist movement exhibition that is currently on.Modernism: Designing a new world 1914 – 1939 speaks to a more continental European experience than a British one. Much of the modernist work that I most like (such as the work of Charles and Ray Eames) was post-war.

The exhibition has been well put together, highlights include an original Tatra saloon, though the exhibition is ‘disrupted’ by the exhibitors not wanting to address modernism in Fascist-era Europe. An exception to this is a statue that takes the profile of Musolini and rotated through 360 degrees so that it gives it an abstract but recognisable shape.

What the blak is that?

Coca-Cola have launched a new variant of Coke in the States called Coca-Cola Blak. Essentially is some sort of Coke-coffee hybrid. Fast Company blogger Jennifer Reingold thought that it was designed to compete with Starbucks head on, or is it supposed to compete with Jolt cola – a heavily caffienated cola that acts like nitrox for jaded geeks?This would explain why it is in a ‘Coke-shaped’ PET bottle with a wrap that looks like the kind of camoflage pattern that would be worn by Satan’s storm-troopers in the battle between heaven-and-earth.

It has been launched with a pretty standard brochureware site in Flash and the home page has a female voice over that sounds like she should be reading the news on a smooth jazz radio station with second-rate lift music in the background. This vibe is continued in the free wallpaper downloads that feature a bongo player.

The product and the brand messaging feel schizophrenic.

Weird, if Coke wants to sell more drinks, what about selling Barqs in Europe?