Thursday, February 24, 2005

Gmail continues to improve

I wrote here, fairly early on, about using Gmail as a quick 'n dirty contact manager. It seems Google is listening to all of us quite well.

They have added the ability to store some information with each contact. --Cool and exactly what I was looking for.

Click on Contacts, then a contact name, then use the edit button to add the info you need to relate to the contact.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

OpenGeek is now closed.

Just kidding, I'm actually taking a short work vacation. Attending a conference in Vegas. (Yeah baby!)

If I go missing, and you know who I am, this is where I will be last seen.

Going to try some Texas Hold 'em this time around. Should be fun.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Broadcast Flag Appeals Case Set to Begin Next Week

You can read the brief announcement on Radio World Online.

Folks, this is an important case. Many, including myself, believe the FCC exceeded it's authority with the Broadcast Flag mandate, set to go into effect later this year. I've included a couple of links for additional reading, at the end of this piece.

What is the Broadcast Flag and what does it do?

The FCC mandates that all consumer equipment, that can handle television broadcasts, be built to honor the evil "broadcast flag". This capability allows the broadcaster to control what you can and cannot do with digital television content you recieve on your own equipment.

Watching American Idol and want to skip through the commercials? If the broadcast flag is set, you might just have to watch your timeshifted copy from start to finish assuming they even let you record one. That's right, record. Another feature of this little flag is the ability to deny recording rights on a program by program basis.

The advent of the DVR has eliminated the concept of "Prime Time" for a rapidly growing percentage of the TV watching population. Of course the networks hate this because they lose potential AD dollars on popular programs. On the other hand, most people love this because it puts TV on their time, not network time.

Being a father of 4, I can say my DVR lets me actually watch TV again, so it's not all bad. I timeshift into the late evening and watch when things have settled down. The ability to fast forward lets me enjoy the average 1 hour program in about 40 minutes.

The question at hand is the ability for broadcasters to do this. Should we allow our own devices to be controlled by the broadcasters or should our existing ability to record and watch later, as we do with VCR's today? The digital transition is enabling the media companies to revisit these questions again, with the answers having significant implications for us going forward.

If you have gotten this far, the rest of this essay attempts to communicate the implications this case will have on consumer technology and how that could affect you in the near future.

Many of their arguments will be framed around the issue of piracy, that is unauthorized copying of broadcast content. The simple truth is that people have been copying things ever since we have been able to copy. Despite this, media companies continue to see high profits and growth, making the piracy issue a red-herring. So, what drives this movement forward besides simple greed?

Control Implications: (WHY YOU CARE)

If consumer gear must adhere to a mandated set of artifically restricted capabilities, the media companies then get to dictate what we do, when we do and how we do it. However this is not the whole story. The media companies know they can generate plenty of live content that will attract people at regular times. It's harder to do with PVR enabled viewers, but not impossible.

The real reason behind this broadcast flag control is to limit competetors. Before I detail why I believe this to be so, let me first explain briefly the difference between open technology and closed technology.

Most common consumer technology is currently open technology. A VCR, for example, can record video. The recording, stored on videotape, can be played back on most any VCR. This allows everyone to produce content.

By contrast, digital technologies are increasingly closed. The information format and behaviour is determined by the software code that handles the information. Without getting too technical right now, lets just say not everyone will be able to produce and distribute digital content in the near future. It's possible today, but that ability is being attacked in our courts and legislature right before our eyes.

To sum up:

Open Technology:

Anyone can produce / distributre content. With this comes the ability to copy things; thus, the potential for Copyright Infringement exists. Good for us, not as good for the media giants.

Closed Technology

Only authorized content creation and distribution is allowed. Ordinary people are not part of this group. The potential for Copyright Infringement is sharply reduced. Bad for us, very, very good for the media giants.

Another interesting side effect of closed technology, not mentioned at all in the press, is the shrply reduced competition. If only authorized content is allowed, the existing media giants will be able to keep new content and means of distribution from sprouting up. They get to say who can compete and on what terms.

This is bad for us in that it creates an artifical scarcity of both new content and distribution which, in turn, keeps prices artifically high.

That's why this case is important. It will set the stage for our future technology direction. Will it be open or closed?

One more example:

Lets take a brief look at recorded music. Until recent court actions and market pressure forced price reductions, the average music CD was as expensive or sometimes more expensive than a full-length movie on DVD. Buying the soundtrack could be more expensive than the movie itself! Clearly the music companies want to keep their product valued as high as possible, but should they use our laws to do that, or should they be working hard to improve their value proposition?

In a free market, these questions are answered through competition and demand. We are seeing lower music prices because the movie companies put price pressure on the music companies. Cheap DVD media means cheaper music media, that's just the way it is.

However, traditional music distribution also is under pressure from Internet music distribution methods and Peer to Peer music swapping and sharing on the Internet.

The music companies are being pressured in a third way as well, in that the cost of recording music itself has dropped dramatically as well. It's possible today to produce quality music with only a modest investment in technology. The Internet allows for easy distribution to potential listeners as well. This new distribution channel has the major labels shaking in their boots because they profit from their current lock on distribution.

If artists can sell directly to the people wanting to listen, what do we need the major labels for?

Now you know why the media industry is working so hard to close our technology. To them, it's a matter of their very existance. The open nature of most personal computers, for example, makes their task very difficult. Nobody wants to buy limited machines when unlimted ones cost the same. How to solve the problem?

Get their existance mandated into law. That's what this broadcast flag represents.

If the broadcast industry can get their interests mandated, then so can the rest of the media industry.

I'm opposed to this because it limits our creative ability, while at the same time forcing us all to depend on outdated business models we will likely not need in the near future. Each wave of innovation has had to fall to the one following. Why should multi-media content be any different?

Imagine laws like this during the early industrial age. Would be still be using horses and wagons because they were threatened by cars? That's crazy isn't it?

The advent of the Internet has started another change in how we produce, consume and distribute information. Shouldn't we let it develop rather than kill it because some existing businesses find it cheaper to buy laws than compete for our dollars as they should?

I think so. If you agree, now would be a great time to contact your elected officials to remind them of this issue. The media companies are well represented and have deep pockets. If we ignore this issue, it will be decided for us and we won't like the decision. Do something --anything besides just nothing. Send a friend a link to this blog entry, mention it in conversation sometime, call your legislator, write a letter.



Thursday, February 10, 2005

HD Radio audio samples and mp3 / ogg comparison.

---> Thanks Chris! --I appreciate it.

I am still looking for quality Satellite Radio samples of both talk and music programming. Have one? Lets talk and get it on the samples page for everyone to compare. -->

Another Edit: I'm getting a lot of hits on this page. People from all over are wondering what HD really sounds like. --Please know those Ibiquity samples linked here are terrible. Despite my negative view of Digital radio, the impression I am getting is that it is a notch above satellite. Lots of folks enjoy that, meaning content is king. Looks like another essay coming soon... there is a flip side to digital (FM at least) that might prove compelling.

Have samples of HD and Satellite radio? I would love to put those here for comparison. Drop a comment or and e-mail if you can help out here. --Thanks!

There has been some discussion about HD radio audio quality and how well the codec compares to quality mp3 and ogg encoding. Here are a couple of samples to compare codec quality with:

You can find the Ibiquity audio samples here.

This file encoded with LAME, 96Kbps, high quality.

This file encoded with Ogg Vorbis, 96Kpbs.

This is the original FM source material.

Discussion is on "Search on IBOC & HD Radio"

Edit: It appears the Ibiquity samples have been encoded twice. Once passing through the HD system and then a second time being converted to mp3. I've heard from someone that has an HD radio the quality is far better than the sample linked here. That puts the quality potential for FM HD higher than both mp3 and ogg meaning near CD quality potential for many programs. Don't judge HD Radio via the Ibiquity sample quality.

Still no quality wav file samples on the net for HD radio. --Anyone want to send me one? UPDATE: I have received some good quality HD Radio samples. --Thanks Eric!

03/10/05 -- Cleanup and final updates to this page. Original material in black, updates in red, final info in green.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Why I like the Internet

Communication, plain and simple. All the other stuff is cool, but communication is key. I planned a long rant on the value of this, but lets just say I'm in a lighthearted mood this morning.

Check this guy out --funny as hell.

(Food warning. Swallow everything completely before viewing this video.)

Worthless communication? I don't think so. The guy has talent and free time. Made my day better for sure.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Interested in old / technical radio bits?

Take a moment to check out

It's a blog started to publish radio stuff, ideally older radio stuff. A lot of the material came from the original vinyl promotional releases and station production tape archives.

Generally, there is new content each week with a fairly hefty sample of stuff to listen and ponder for a while.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Time, space and childhood --Your life is as long as you think it is!

Was talking with my oldest daughter this morning. She had a bit of interesting conversation with her boyfriend about the big 20. (I only wish!) Anyway, she posed the idea that somebody at the age of 20 was, in fact, one quarter dead. After their little morning conversation ended, one thing lead to another and we got on the topic of time and perception.

How long is your life really? Does it seem long or short? This really is a matter of perception. Remember those endless days as a young person? I do. One day seemed to last forever. As an adult, too many days seem short. I've probably written about this before, but thought the whole "your life is as long as you think it is" bit was worthy of another post.

I used to think it was mostly over at 30. Time begins to pass faster and life gets busy and routine. Getting closer to 40, I realize this may not be true. We go through spurts. Some busy, some not, some slow, some fast. I happen to be entering another slower phase. Not sure what actually triggers that yet, but I am looking now because I have begun to finally realize my perception matters. In that vein, I might as well work to find the best lens to look through...

Here is the takeaway:

Your life is as long as you think it is. Having considered this, I propose an attitude that can significantly change your perception of the whole thing:

When slow times come, cherish them. Instead of tapping your foot in boredom, relax knowing you are actually gaining! Kick back and know the breaks are on. You will actually be 'here' with the rest of us for 'longer'. Interesting isn't it?

While the physical amount of time we all have does not really change, our feeling about it can and that is worth, again what you think it is.

(I know kind of goofy, but hey I'm a geek. I get to say this kind of stuff!)