Archive for June, 2005

A New Kind Of Conversation

June 30, 2005

Robert Scoble’s post “A new kind of conversation is needed with Microsoft” asks us to tell them what we want in Windows Media Player, what kind of podcasting support we want and what we feel about the longevity of podcasting. Like it or not, Microsoft is going to the masses to find out what they want. Is this ‘design by committee’ a good thing? In many cases it’s not (look at the Pontiac Aztek), but in the case of blogging and podcasting I think it is. We’re talking about taking publishing out of the hands of the few and plunking it in the hands of the great unwashed. So they’d better have *some* idea of what the great unwashed wants.

But that leads me to another point. Are they really talking to the great unwashed? Let’s call them the GUW for now to ease my typing. The GUW in this case are not the people reading Scoble’s blog or Scripting News, the GUW are not checking Technorati or finding out what Doc Searls latest thoughts are. The GUW are like the guys in my office. I have approximately 12 co-workers, all male, most in their late twenties – early thirties, in what I would call a moderately technical workplace. We design buildings. We are a structural engineering firm. We are not idiots (save a few). But not one.. I repeat not one of them would be able to tell you what a blog is. This is not an insult, this is a fact. They are absolutely amazed by Google maps and it’s satellite photos and would likely not have seen it for another year had I not pointed it out to them. Many of them have direct high-speed internet access but have no idea about things like blogging, podcasting or videoblogging. You mention MP3’s and they think of Napster and PhUNny cHatRoOm signatures. The fact that MP3’s can contain something else other than pirated Blink182 songs is an utterly foreign concept to most people. Wikipedia sounds like some kind of mental affliction to the GUW.

With their adoption of RSS and their huge installed base of GUW, Microsoft still have a chance to bring the potential of producing and consuming weblog content (the latter more likely than the former for many) and podcast content to the real masses. Microsoft should keep working in an open way, listen and look at what is being done by the influential people (like the ones attending Gnomedex) and talk to them. Their products have to play well with other products being developed in other waters (as they seem to be doing with RSS) and along with this and perhaps more importantly, they have to make it simple. Dead nuts simple. They’ve had a good crack at this in their IE7 demo and it looked pretty good to me.

Now they’ve got to open people’s eyes, the eyes of the GUW, to the possibilities of things like weblogs, podcasts, videoblogs, screencasts.. the list is growing. Stick it in their faces and make them know that this is not some IT-only environment, give them real-world examples, push them to do more exploring. If there’s one thing that 99% of the people I know with internet access do NOT do on the internet is explore. Not only make it easy for them to explore, impel them to do it.

As far as Windows Media Player goes, make sure it handles *all* kinds of file enclosures, make it open in where it can go to find directories and search tools. Give the option of working with what is already out there like existing open podcasting directories etc. For cripes sake, get Dave Winer to give some insight into giving it the required OPML abilities. Do it while you’re on such good terms with him.

On the issue of the longevity of podcasting, my opinion is that there is an absolutely huge opportunity for education in podcasts – and I don’t necessarily mean formal course lectures. I’m talking about special interest podcasts that actually inform and educate people. I don’t think that the entertainment end of podcasting is necessarily going to sink every mass market radio station. The mainstream broadcasters may move into the podcasting realm (they are already), but the niche markets and educational opportunities are a huge untapped area just waiting for development. Sure we have a wide variety of I.T. and other ‘early adopter’ aimed podcasts, but there are lots of other passions that people have. A couple of weeks ago I thought ‘hey, I’ll go to ipodder.org and see what podcasts there are on the subject of photography‘, a passionate hobby of mine. I found one. Only ONE. And it was regarding how to build a wedding photography business – not what I was looking for.

There is scads of empty space in the podcasting realm for things OTHER than ‘My Wife and I discussing the latest entertainment news’ or ‘Listen to me bitch for 20 minutes about the people I work with’. There is room for everything. Let’s start filling it up.

I drive 50 minutes each way to work 5 days a week. My car radio has been off for probably 5 months now. But supply is running short. I have listened to almost every podcast available on IT Conversations and I’m not even in the IT business! That really means something. It has caught my interest and opened my mind. But you have to be able to keep feeding people for them to stay. The trick is to find out what most of them *really* want to eat. And it likely isn’t mass-market drive-time radio.

If there were server problems due to Apple’s Itunes 4.9 launch, then just wait until they make a Honda Civic or Chevy Cobalt with standard MP3 and wireless synching to the home PC. You will then see people get on board. Will Microsoft be a major player in enabling them when that time comes?

Virtual Earths (yes that’s plural)

June 29, 2005

I just downloaded Google’s new Google Earth courtesy of a link from (of all people) Robert Scoble. I’ve installed and played around with it and it looks a hell of a lot like MSN’s Virtual Earth demo that I watched back in May (courtesy of, btw, Robert Scoble). They’ve got a free version (the one I was playing with) and seems to do quite a bit of neat stuff. There are buttons to show lodging, streets overlayed on the satellite images etc. MSN’s product was supposed to ship in July, looks like it might be a month too late.

Mr. Mosley – pull your head out of your ass

June 24, 2005

It will be quite a while until I forget about the stunned feeling I had watching a tape of the 2005 USGP (couldn’t see it live…watched it on Sunday night). Six cars on the start line and hundreds of thousands of American fans saying “What the fu..?”. Nevermind the millions watching slackjawed as the F1 circus effectively erased much of the progress (albeit mediocre) they had made it the last five years racing in the States. I *was* impressed with the fact that Bob Varsha et al. at Speedvision were actually able to carry out their coverage without just giving up entirely. I had heard that there were several European carriers that stopped broadcasting entirely after only a portion of the ‘farce’ was run.

I read an interview with Max Mosley today and he just sounds so completely out of touch. Nine of ten teams had agreed to run with a chicane installed (yes I’m sure Ferrari felt bad having to run that race all alone…Points?…yeah sure we’ll take’em..). The FIA declared that such a course of action was unacceptable. Mosley states:

A chicane would completely change the nature of the circuit. It would involve an extra session of very heavy braking on each lap, for which the cars had not been prepared. The circuit would also not have been inspected and homologated with all the simulations and calculations which modern procedures require. Suppose there had been a fatal accident – how could we have justified such a breach of our fundamental safety procedures to an American court?

Brake wear is a problem at several circuits on the calendar. It usually involves a progressive failure not a sudden one. So I guess the Michelin teams should have raced even though they would have been going through turn 13 150kph slower than the Bridgestone runners…yeah that would have been a “safe” thing to do.

Nine out of ten teams agreed to take the risk for adding a chicane. That is completely different than having the supplier for the most important part of the car (with respect to safety AND performance) tell you that they cannot guarantee safe performance of their product. There was even talk that an offer to forfeit points and/or grid positions to the Bridgestone runners in order to have a race take place.

So the next time we talk about why F1 never took off in the States, there will be no more searching for esoteric, cultural reasons. At least we will take heart in the fact that it was the FIA and more specifically Max Mosley who kicked it in the family jewels. Amazing how he was able to do that while his head was so far up his ass.

One last note.. Three cheers for Tiago Monteiro. He told the truth in the post race interview that despite the fact that there was only 6 cars, he managed to get a podium for his team. Something that he (and his current team) will likely never see again. He wasn’t going to waste it and it showed when he sprayed champagne on his teammates and smiled and waved in spite of the boos and jeers from the bulk of the crowd. That took balls. Big ones. Good on him.

Clean-up in Aisle 3 Mr. Frankenstein

June 24, 2005

It’s hard to believe that I have actually learned enough to create the GUI for my project database application using wxPython. So I now have a library of functions I created while I was in the process of learning Python that are the real guts of it, and just this week I was able to create a pretty face for it. Moohhhoooohaaahaaahhaa…it’s alive! Well almost. It really shouldn’t be too hard to hook the two things together. What I find tough is finding enough time to do it at all. Up to this point this project has really been done during some weekday evenings before bed and sometimes during my lunch at work.

One neat thing about Python is how important a role source code documentation plays. Someone on the mailing list pointed me to an open source program that generates documentation for *my* library of functions based on my documentation in the source files and the source files themselves. This is a really useful thing to me, because working so infrequently at a project sometimes leaves me forgetting what I had done the week before or month before. This way I have good quality documentation of the function libraries I’ve generated. Wonderful. I may actually be able to do something useful with this language yet!

Instant Outlining

June 13, 2005

Dave Winer is developing an instant outliner. Sounds like a very useful concept although I’m not sure I can understand how it is supposed to work in depth. My suggestion would be to do a screencast of it. Dave…talk to Jon Udell…this would expand the discussion greatly I feel.

Putting the Brakes On

June 3, 2005

Zipping from site to site as I usually do when trying to avoid doing real work, I found myself at Sand in the Gears and had arrived there by way of Evan Erwin’s post about his top and bottom five blogs. I had arrived at Evan’s blog via a Doc Searls post. Amazing how these things work on the web. Well, in utter contrast to my normally short attention span, I spent the next 10 or so minutes reading some of the most warm, funny and well-written posts I’ve ever read. This is just a recommendation for anyone else looking for a great read. Tony Woodlief’s writing definitely gives me a higher standard to strive for in my blog posting. Needless to say I am now subscribed.