2008-04-30

Covering the spectrum.

so now we have:
  • web pages; for your deep thoughts (ha!),
  • Blogger; for your semi-coherent utterances,
  • Flickr; for exhibititionists and peeping toms,
  • email; for people who want to sell you viagra,
  • Twitter; for your grunting noises, and
  • two dozen flavors of IM; for your private grunting noises
this begs the question: which mode of written communication are we not covering yet on the net? figure it out, call Paul Graham and watch the herd flocking in.

oh, and I signed up for a twitter-account yesterday so now I know whenever Kyosha has a Significant Event Worth Sharing in his life, hee-hee.

2008-04-29

Now you have my attention. Now you don't.

KLM insist on sending me all sorts of offers in email since I am a member of their frequent flyer program. In the beginning I would just filter and tag them in Gmail, skipping the inbox, and then occasionally read through them on the off chance that they actually had something relevant to say.

They have yet to send me anything that would be worth sending me email about.

So now I just bin all the rubbish they send me without even looking at it.

Want my attention? Get some usability-people to work on your website, fix customer-support so the support people can help passengers regardless of where the tickets were purchased, fix the frequent flyer mile registration and then send me an email.

...oh wait....nevermind.

And now all the uncool kids try...

It struck me that what Trent Reznor does must be real obvious to anyone with an IQ of about 80 when someone as uncool as Metallica figures it is time to get on board with alternative ways of distributing their music and generating an income.

On general principle, if the content they put up is worth listening to, I'll go for the free option. I'm not giving my money to Metallica. It would be wrong of me to not remember their behavior back when they could have chosen to be reasonable.

Screw you, Metallica.

2008-04-22

Audible? Inaudible more like.

I have now bought a few audio books from Audible and I have to say: the product they are selling is utter shit. If you are upset about my use of expletives, I am sorry, but it is exactly the appropriate word for describing Audible's audio books.


(Hey, Leo Laporte, if you read this posting I think you should grab the phone and talk to the people at Audible. Since you plug the bejeezus out of their products on your show they might listen to you).

I tend to read a lot. Lately I have started to listen a lot to audio books for digesting novels while travelling. It is relaxing to have someone read to you and it gives me something to pass the time while stuck in a plane for hours on end or while walking somewhere. It isn't really practical to read a book while you are walking or driving, so audiobooks come in quite handy in those situations.

This is why it pisses me off to no end when Audible have the gall to screw me over by giving me 24khz, 32kbit mono sound when I pay them about the same as a physical soft-cover book would cost me. I thought these people were in the media business? I thought they knew about these things. It is audio, for pete's sake. It isn't rocket science. And 32kbit, 24khz mono spoken word sounds pretty shitty. In fact, low sound quality is just about the LAST thing I need if I am going to listen to a book for hours. Let alone if I am going to listen to it in a noisy environment like a plane. And it doesn't help to get expensive, noise-cancelling headphones either -- it just makes it even more obvious how horribly BAD the sound is.

Not even podcasts are usually this bad, and podcasts are to audiobooks what newspapers are to books: they are cheap and they are interesting today and...well, yesterday's news tomorrow. Books, one would assume, is something you might want to hear more than once. And if not, at least if I pay good money for something and I am going to spend hours of my life listening to it, it should not suck.

This Week in Tech is 64kbit, 44.1khz mp3, The TED Talks audio downloads are 56kbit at 44.1khz. The Ricky Gervais podcasts vary from 112kbit 44.1kgz down to 64kbit 44.1khz for the ones I checked.

Come ON, Audible! People are paying for the product.

Additionally, some of their narrators have that stereotypical male movie-trailer-voice that has too many low frequency harmonics. It isn't that bad if you only have to hear one phrase of it ("coming soon, to a theatre near you") during a commercial break that you are going to skip past anyway, but when you have hours and hours of it, it becomes pretty damn annoying. It doesn't help that the guy is pathetic at reading -- making a hash of doing the various voices of people in the novel and making it physically painful to listen to.

On that shitty recording of Michael Crichton's "Sate of Fear": what are those distracting squeaky noises? Does the narrator have a constantly upset, gassy tummy or are those encoding artifacts? It is hard to tell on the standard iPod earbuds, but it makes it really hard to focus on the story when you are wondering if the narrator is going to let one rip soon.

Did any of you clowns at Audible even listen to the encoded audio? If yes, is the quality control person bloody deaf? Did he (or she) play around with firecrackers a lot as a kid?

Oh, and one more thing: the announcement at the beginning of the audio book: lose the drunk-sounding lady. Get someone who can speak normally to do the tagline, OK? Just a tip.

2008-04-20

Downtime

I don't like to travel -- I like to arrive. The travel part is just the necessary evil I have to endure in order to arrive. There are few things that are less pleasurable than travelling by airplane. In the past few weeks it feels like I have done nothing but sit on airplanes. I must have inhaled several plane-fulls of old farts, bad breath and the distinctive aroma of feet when the fat bloke in the seat behind you determines that it is time to air out his toes. Well, at least he wasn't sitting beside me, spilling over into my seat -- someone else had the pleasure of being perspired upon by him.

Arriving is a different matter. You check into the hotel, you get rid of your bags, you change into something that doesn't smell like airplane, splash some water on your face and go get some real food.

The past weeks I've driven quad bikes in the desert, enjoyed a quiet beach, I've seen Formula One cars up close and personal, fooled around on snowboard somewhere in Austria. For symmetry it would have been nice to do some quad-biking in the mountains as well, but alas, it didn't happen.

This weekend I am doing nothing. Absolutely nothing.

2008-04-10

The OOXML debate.

Over the past few weeks I have followed the OOXML debate from a distance. If this was 15 years ago, I would probably have spent some weeks reading it and then made some noise about it -- but these days I don't have the time. According to people in the know it is somewhere between 6000 and 8000 pages (depending on whom you ask). Additionally, there's all the bureaucracy surrounding the process that one would need to understand. To be quite honest, that alone is more complex than I can justify spending time on. Especially since I will probably never have to deal with this standard. There are standards in the works that are far more important to me than OOXML.

What has struck me about the debate is how woefully irrelevant it has been. The whole OOXML debate has been a giant waste of time. It is pointless. Why? Because it has not been about the merits of the specification itself. For some reason the whole debate has been largely about bureaucratic technicalities and unpleasant allegations.

Over the past couple of days I have talked to a lot of people who have involved themselves in the debate. I talked to HÃ¥kon Wium Lie, to Martin Bekkelund and to countless other people who have followed the spec, the political manouverings, or both.

I told them about my perspective and how childishly simple the whole issue is from my point of view. It can be summed up in one sentence: "make a hard-copy of the standard and tell me that it seems realistic to expect someone will be able to create a reasonable implementation".

Would you be able to digest the spec? Really? Can you, with complete confidence, tell me that you would be able to read the thing and understand the complete picture to such a degree that you would be able to architect an implementation?

I seriously doubt I could even motivate myself to try. Life is too short.

It doesn't really matter if it is 6000 or 8000 pages to me. It is simply too massive a standard to be of any use. I say this as a programmer. I could care less about the politics. A spec of that size represents an amount of information and complexity that is so massive that it would be foolish, bordering on laughable incompetence, to even think that it can be implemented fully and with a degree of correctness that can even approach the goals we pretend it aims for: complete , seamless and trouble free interoperability between different office solutions.

And this is without taking into account that the standard seems to be an attempt at describing the structure, semantics, and behavior of an existing application suite: there will be missing pieces, there will be quirks.

More importantly: there will be one reference implementation and it will not matter what the spec says because the reference implementation will be what everyone has to be compatible with.

We can pretend that it will not be so, and there are people who really do want to believe, but we have to be realistic.

I would have liked the debate to be about how you design and realize a document format for the future. I would have liked for people not to be in such a hurry. I would have liked for people to focus beyond the current market situation and to make an effort to see 20, 50, perhaps 100 years into the future.

I would really have liked the debate to have been one that discussed the merits of technology rather than being about who can endure and exploit bureaucracy the best and who is better at playing political games. Microsoft won because this is their game. This is what they are good at.

Yes, it would have taken 10 or perhaps 20 years to arrive at a sensible spec. And even that is optimistic. Given a more sensible process we could possibly be able to have parts of it working earlier than that.

And yes, we should have taken the time to do so. I know of standards that are far, far simpler than OOXML, or even ODF, which have been in the works for very long periods of time indeed. I can't say I like this, but it takes a lot of time to develop ideas properly and it is only counterproductive to entertain ideas that the process can be hurried.

But if you want a simple argument: just look at the sheer size of OOXML and tell me you get a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought of implementing it with a useful degree of correctness.