Tag Archives: MIX

Software’s Opportunity Cost

I’ve never seen this properly studied, and only rarely taken into account by software developers: the opportunity cost of committing to one service or program over another. In a word: Why is it software that’s in charge, not the data itself?

An obvious one is Twitter vs Jaiku. Which one to embrace? Jaiku actually has more features in a way than Twitter, but more people are on Twitter. And, perversely, because one of Jaiku’s features is being able to easily include your Twitter stream into Jaiku, it makes more sense to stick with Twitter as your main presence/communication service, since those updates will automatically feed into Jaiku. Jaiku loses out because it’s better.

But usually it’s a starker choice: choose one program or service over another, and you’ll find it harder and harder to reverse engines and try another. I’ve had two versions of this blog going, one on TypePad and one on WordPress, because I can’t decide which is the better service. It’s a lousy solution and often ends up confusing people and diluting the conversation. I haven’t committed to either yet, a makeshift solution made easier by tools like BlogJet, which allow me to post to both blogs, and the import/export tools that both blogging services provide. But it’s still a dumb compromise.

Worse is the commitment one makes to software. I love PersonalBrain, but I also love mindmapping tools like Freemind. And outliners like MyInfo. I also want to explore stuff like Topicscape. ConnectedText has potential too. But because I want to use them in the real world, with a real project, I don’t want to find that by committing to one I’m foregoing using the others. But that’s inevitable. There are import and export tools available to make it easier for these kinds of about turns (or occasionally starting out in one simple program and then moving the data to something heftier when the data gets too big).

But surely there’s a better way of doing this — by making data so open that we can easily move it between programs without these hurdles? Instead of the programs being the dominant tool, they become servant to the data? A case in point: I want to look through all the blog postings I’ve written in the past five years. I want them somewhere I can see them, but also some way I can index them, and view them in different ways. I want to be able throw them at a Bayesian filter to look at the language I use, the topics I choose, the arguments I present. I want to be able to view all the data as a big mind map, or a treemap, with the categories and tags as branches. I want to be able throw them at a Wiki builder so it becomes one big Wiki without me having to do anything fiddly. I want to throw all the posts into a PersonalBrain, where the links between articles turn into links between thoughts. Then I want to throw all my emails into the mix and see what pattern they make. I want to move between all these ways of looking and manipulating my stuff without me having to worry I can’t ever go back.

In short, I don’t want to commit to one program. I want my data to be in charge, and the programs themselves conform to the data, not the other way around. Perhaps this is impossible. But why should it be?

Would You Buy A Bluetooth Car From These People?

Spare a thought for the car salesperson. Nowadays they’ve got to know as much about technology as they do about cars. A recent course held by Ford in the UK called True Blue Live to train salespeople in technology has produced mixed reports. A South African motoring website called motoring.co.za reports that “by the end of the session nearly half felt “very confident” and most of the rest were “reasonably confident”. Only a few were still unsure but, importantly, conscious of the need to brush up.”

But elsewhere The Coventry Evening Telegraph (sorry, can’t find original link) reports from the same training session that “feedback after the event indicated that around 35 per cent of the sales staff who attended had little confidence in their own ability to demonstrate high-tech in-car equipment such as BlueTooth devices and voice control systems.” What’s not clear from the story is whether this was their attitude before or after the event. But you can’t help wondering whether, if the salespeople have trouble explaining Bluetooth and other features of these cars, end users actually ever understand or use any of them?

Morph: Where You Sit

I’ve been invited to join a bunch of interesting folk blogging at the Media Center Conversation, “a global, cross-sector exploration of issues, trends, ideas and actions to build a better-informed society. It’s a collaborative project that rips, mixes and mashes people from radically different spheres of activity and thought to share and learn from each other.” The idea is to “explore how society informs itself, tells its story and creates the narrative from which we extract context and meaning about our world, our neighbors and ourselves. From this exploration we seek to connect people and opportunities, to incubate ideas – and to stimulate projects and action.”

Here’s an excerpt form my first contribution: Where You Sit:

Where you are influences what you write.

I write a technology column for the online and Asian editions of The Wall Street Journal, based in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. Even my boss sometimes asks me why I don’t move to some geeky centre like Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul or Taipei.

Last time he was in town I was trying to explain to him — the diversity, the perspective it lends to geeky gadgetry fiddling with my Treo as a prematurely old woman drags a truck-sized cart of grass past my taxi window, the wow! factor when technology really does work in the real world — when a terrorist bomb went off outside an embassy less than a mile away. That stopped our conversation before I had really gotten into gear. Nothing like a bomb blast to break the mood.

Yes, I know it’s awful to quote oneself, but I just wanted to show you I’m staying busy. And actually there are some interesting folk posting to the blog, so you can ignore my stuff and read theirs if you prefer.

The Hidden Channel on MP3s

Why don’t MP3 files contain ‘hidden’ channel like DVDs do? Or do they? It would be a great way to cater to the modern remix culture, the podcasting revolution, the audio commentary and soundseeing movement.

I wrote a few months back about podentaries, my ridiculous term for what I later found was already a thriving, if somewhat limited movement. The idea is basically to offer an audio accompaniment to more or less anything, not just confined to washed-up ex-directors pontificating on their old movies (parodied imperfectly by Rob Brydon), but also to music (take it to a Beethoven concert, an alternative to the stodgy guided tour, to TV series).

But surely it’s easy enough to add an extra channel to an MP3 file, that, with some software, can be released and mixed into the original music or sound? This would solve all sorts of problems of synchronization, and allow musicians, commentators or anyone who likes to include their tuppence worth to the recording. (“Now, if you listen carefully in the background a few bars ahead, you can hear me fluffing the first few notes of my ukelele solo”).

Of course, it needn’t stop there. You could capitalize on the already burgeoning Remix Culture by releasing songs that can have their drumtrack, say, removed by listeners to turn it into a bit of chilled out ambient fun, or have the voice track mutable so karaoke enthusiasts could have a go. I’m sure this kind of thing is already available in some format or other. I just haven’t seen any.

In short, when is the MP3 player, the iTunes of our age, going to become a mini mixer so we ordinary folk who might not want to remix from the bottom up can at least redesign songs to our tastes, and, perhaps more interestingly dig into some hidden channels that tell us more about what we’re listening to?

Murdoch’s Search Engine

It’s interesting to see how Rupert Murdoch has come around to the Internet, although it does have something of the feel of the late 1990s to it: Bloomberg.com reports that

News Corp., the fourth-largest media company, is in talks to buy a controlling interest in an Internet search engine as the company seeks to build advertising sales on the Web.

The investment would be in “what we think is a wonderful search engine,” News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch, 74, said yesterday on a conference call with analysts after the company announced earnings. Murdoch said the price will be  “insignificant’” and declined to identify the business.

This is part of a $2 billion push in into the Internet, which seems to centre on plans for

a site featuring a search engine and links to Web pages focusing on News Corp.’s movie, television and sports businesses, Murdoch said. “We already have the assets to be a dominant player on the Web,” Murdoch said.

That sounds horribly like a portal of old, to me. I do hope Murdoch gets the Internet, and isn’t just grabbing it.

News Corp., Bloomberg says, has bought Intermix Media Inc. for $580 million, owner of the Web sites Flowgo.Com and My Space.com, and has also recently purchased Australian real estate Web site Real Estate.com.au for $92 million, and Scout Media Inc., a Seattle-based owner of 200 sports Web sits and 47 magazines for about $60 million.

More Things To Stuff In Your USB Port

Another visit to the  Hong Kong electronics expo thing. It really is big. I don’t think I’ve covered a third of it and I’m exhausted. Anyway, clearly I had no idea what I was talking about when I listed some gadgets you can plug into your USB port. There’s more.

The thing this year seems to be to mix n match a USB dongle. One USB drive, for example, also sports Wi-Fi. Another is also a Bluetooth dongle. Then there are the whacky things that just make the most of being a) powered by the computer and/or b) connected to the computer.

Shenzhen-based 6dragon Technology Co. Ltd (“Quality, Value and Service are not the only words we use, but these are also what we stand for”*), for example offers the following:

Massage

  • A USB vacuum (which, as the blurb puts it, ‘Can the dust of the valid clearance calculator keyboard’);
  • Several different USB-powered oxygen bars (‘Delicate style to be integrated with autos: Moreover, it is suitable to the office as well as home environment. And your taste lies here.’ Indeed);
  • The folk at 6Dragon (“If you are looking for someone to stand behind you for the long term, you will not go wrong with 6dragon!”*) also showed me a USB-radio, that looks like a dongle, but I can’t find it on their website. I see engadget were there some time ago but it was new to me.

Anyway, now you’re beginning to get an idea of what you could use your USB drive for. Go for it. Be the envy of your office-mates.

* Authentic quotes from website.