2009-01-25

The mobile computer.

I think 2009 could be the year when things will come together for the mobile phone as a computing platform. It is going to be a bit clumsy, but it does feel like the planets are aligning. Phones are becoming more powerful. They have more memory, faster CPUs, accelerated graphics, interesting sensors -- but more importantly: they have proper operating systems that allow better access for developers and affordable always-on Internet access is just around the corner.

I got an Android phone for christmas. It is a bit rough around the edges still, but it is promising. And it is a lot more exciting than when I started to look at the iPhone.

It is almost like looking at the web in its infancy. The necessary pieces are all showing up. Now we just need to play with them -- a lot; and then people will come up with all sorts of crazy and wonderful things.

This is going to be interesting.

2009-01-17

On Trondheim and search engines.

I was shocked to read an article in the press today that wasn't full of the usual nonsense about where I work and the people I've worked with the past 17 years. At some point I should probably continue the "Ancient history" series of blog postings:
Note that these were written from my point of view and a Trondheim point of view. During the time I wrote those, and shortly after, I talked to a lot of people who had comments and wanted to share their perspective.

Of course, the blogs talk about things that happened many years ago and the postings were written in an attempt to clear up some misconceptions about the origins of FAST. A lot of us went on to Yahoo! and then Google. But those are stories to be told another time :)

2009-01-16

Ableton Live 8

Just got the news that Ableton Live 8 is coming. These people just keep on impressing me.

2009-01-15

Google Trondheim closing.

Yesterday there was an announcement that Google is closing the Trondheim office.

I guess this means I will be in the market for a new job.

I haven't really paid much attention to the press coverage of this, but what little I've seen in the press (and the inevitable speculation in comments and discussions around the net) contains the usual mix of facts, distortions and speculation. I'm getting quite used to not taking that too seriously after about a decade of reading about companies I've worked for in the news and in discussion forums. It does change the way you read newspapers though.

2009-01-09

Not missing TV that much.

A few weeks ago there was a pop followed by a ticking noise and the distinct smell of fried electronic components in my downstairs living room. My ancient 17" CRT TV died after years of use. We still have a plasma TV upstairs that works perfectly well, but during the cold months we spend most of our time in the living room that has the fireplace. As a result we haven't really watched TV since christmas.

And you know what? I don't really miss it.

I've made the observation many times before that traditional TV has become increasingly irrelevant. As content becomes available via more convenient delivery mechanisms, traditional TV hasn't really kept up. There are only two real reasons for watching TV these days: news and the occasional live events.

In the past year I've moved to watching news on my iPod. I sync video podcasts to my iPod and watch the news before going to sleep in the evening. While walking to work in the morning I usually listen to audio podcasts that cover industry news. In particular Buzz Out Loud (I used to listen to This Week In Tech, and although I still download episodes, I don't really listen to them anymore unless I have exhausted all the other podcasts I follow. TWiT is such an over-rated show and you get tired of listening to Leo Laporte's love affair with his own voice and the endless navel-gazing).

As for live events, well, the Formula One season is still 76 days away and because Formula One Administration still live in the past, I won't be watching any of the races live in the upcoming season. The only way to get live coverage of the races here is to install a satelite dish and sign up for some extended package of TV channels, and I really don't see the point of doing that. I guess F1 is going to lose what little audience it still had in Norway and I don't expect that FOM are going to care. Seriously, do people still think we live in the 1980s? Come on!

I will most likely get a new TV for downstairs, but when I get around to shopping for one, the emphasis will be on a TV that works well with a computer -- one that has fairly high resolution and an appropriate set of connectors. I am thinking about perhaps getting another Mac Mini to hook up to it so I can use it to watch video podcasts etc.

As for traditional TV -- if the baseline cable service that is available in the building went away, I am not so sure I would miss it. TV really doesn't have all that much to offer anymore. There is just so much crap on TV that I don't want to watch and when there is something on that I would want to watch, it is constantly interrupted by commercials or it is aired at a time when it isn't convenient for me. Frustratingly, the TV companies aren't catching on and I think that will be their downfall. There will be plenty of opportunities for companies that do get it to do business in the coming years.

In the meantime, let's hope the content distributors understand that they need to sort out international distribution or there won't be a market where they can sell their stuff once they get their heads out of their asses.

2009-01-02

Is this the year they'll "get it"?

It is now 2009 and there is still no good way for me to legally obtain much of the content that I would like to peruse here in Norway. For instance, there's a moderately sized catalogue of TV series and movies that you can purchase or rent from the iTunes Store. A very convenient service with (at least for rental) quite acceptable terms.

But not if you are in Norway or anywhere else outside the US.

If you are outside the US it doesn't matter how much you wave your money around: the movie industry largely refuses to do business with you and you'll just have to wait until the content becomes available -- and then mainly in the shape of DVDs. There are online services in Europe as well, but they are scatter shot efforts that struggle to gain any sort of traction.

Of course, as a consumer, there are options. You can obtain the content from unauthorized sources. The most common mechanism seems to be via bittorrent these days.

Downloading content from wherever you can find it is commonplace today. I know of people who didn't even own a computer 10 years ago who now download all the TV shows they follow. Not because they are evil, not because they can't afford to buy the content legally, but because there just isn't any other way to get at the content in a timely fashion.

The content industry keeps insisting that they know best when and how you should be able to exercise your privilege of rewarding them with your money for the product they sell.

Let's talk a bit about time and how our perception of time has changed.

During the last couple of centuries the world shrunk in leaps and bounds. There was (in semi-chronological order) the telegraph, the railway, the telephone, steamships, the radio, cars, television, cell phones and then the Internet. Not only did the world shrink to the point where it makes next to no difference where in the world I live, but something happened to our perception of time and space.

Before the railway in the US, there was no real concept of "the correct time". Sure, accurate clocks, synchronized with other accurate clocks, were kept in certain places where they were needed (like observatories), but by and large clocks throughout the country (and the world) were not synchronized, and depending on where you were in the US, there would be some offsets in "local time" between neighboring towns. Towns just a couple of hours on horseback apart would have local times that differed by odd amounts of time. (Note that we are not talking about time zones).

Before the railroad and the telegraph, having synchronized clocks wasn't really something you would ever need. It took you forever to go anywhere, so if the local time was offset by 24 minutes, this had no practical consequence whatsoever.

(Interestingly, as the east and west were connected by railroad, the golden pillar that was driven down to connect the two railways, and the hammer they used to drive it down, were connected to a telegraph line -- so the very moment the pillar was driven in could be recorded far away. The day after the newspapers reported the exact time this event took place -- all in their local times).

Of course, today the concept of "correct time" is not even something we think about. It is just the way it is.

So also for the timing of movie releases. We used to live in a world where the audience wouldn't mind if you delayed the release of a movie in secondary markets. Where you could air TV shows on a different continent the season after they originally aired in the country where they were produced. But the world has gotten a lot smaller. Delayed release now increasingly equates to lost opportunity.

But I digress.

My point is that with technology comes change. Sometimes very fundamental change. But it doesn't happen all that often, so we are ill equipped to understand when fundamental changes occur and how we should react. The ever-growing significance of the Internet is such a fundamental change. Paired with digital technology coming of age and offering us obscene amounts of storage, computing power and the immense mobility of both product and consumer.

The assumptions made just a couple of decades ago about what is feasible, or even possible, are out the window. Devices and services that not even science fiction writers could imagine are commonplace today. (And if history serves as any indication, innovation is just going to keep on accelerating).

Yet society struggles to adapt. At a low level, our politicians struggle to understand what this means. We see this in the horror of uninformed lawmakers suggesting nonsense laws which then our inept representatives vote on and accept into our judicial systems. With the aid of inept scholars who apply faulty, retrospective reasoning. (Note that I do not question their knowledge of their field -- I merely think they engage in academic masturbation and struggle to exhibit signs of forward thinking intelligence). Damage that will take decades to undo because we have to wait for the current scholars of The Law to retire. People who were born in different times and who only seem to bring an endless string of terribly outdated assumptions -- worst of which is that we live in an unchanging world and that analogies for everything and anything can be found in moldy manuscripts dating from times when the kerosene lamp was still a high tech gadget.

My hope for 2009 is that it will be the year when more people "get it". When more people understand that the past couple of decades have dramatically changed the world.

My modest hope for 2009 is that the imbeciles that run the various organizations that produce and manage digital content finally wake up and at least attempt to grow a brain. It amazes me how thick you can possibly be and still not be out of business. It is awe-inspiring to see how the movie studios and the rights management organizations have managed to produce a situation here they themselves are undermining their own businesses.

The only way to end piracy is to listen to the consumer; to stop business practices that actively breed piracy.

My hope is that in 2009 someone will actually come up with the brilliant idea of actually selling content to those who want it rather than to fight so hard not to do business with them -- and to do so on terms that do not presuppose that all legitimate users are potential criminals.

Do business or please have the decency to go out of business.