Sunday, 29 October 2006
I still want comedy to matter a great deal. I want it to tackle big subjects. The idea that we are making someone laugh about something does not mean we don't take it seriously. Sometimes, we can take something so seriously that the only practical way to release the tension is to make a joke. Sometimes, we can be so appalled by someone's behaviour that the only effective way to run it again in our heads is as farce. Luckily, we do not live under tyranny, but those who do so know the creative freedom the joke gives them. You can ban writing, but you can't stop people finding things funny.
Friday, 27 October 2006
My boys' blog is up for voting in the vloggies in the "children's" category. To encourage you to vote we have put up a video they made about 5 years ago called Christopher's Buttons, when Christopher invented some magic buttons, and they started working.
Do please vote for the boys.
Reading Ev's post about buying back Odeo from the VC's and refocusing on smaller faster development, along with Aaron's on how Google could decentralise I see several trends converging.
Software startups used to need lots of VC cash and time because of the old packaged software cycle, where you had big, annual releases that you sold for hundreds of dollars apiece. On the web, we have daily releases, adapting to customers and other changes in the environment, and new tools mean that an 18-year-old with an idea can get it up and running fast, then worry about scale.
Talking to various friends working in the field I am starting to see a pattern. With the trend of startup funding and team size shrinking so much, we'll end up with several startups each - a kind of personal portfolio theory - lots of small ideas, made because we can, some of which will blossom.
Update: Fred Wilson calls this being a Parallel Entrepreneur. That makes some sense, after all 'entrepreneur' means 'carrier between' - it's all about connecting ideas.
Wednesday, 25 October 2006
From this chart they conclude that 'The web is being built with PHP':
However, if you combine it with this chart:
The conclusion looks more like 'PHP programmers write lots of extra lines of code compared to programmers using other languages'.
This fits in with my experience - the PHP version of the XOXO code ended up much longer than the Python one. Also, PHP's 'inline in HTML' structure does tend to lead to 'copy and paste inheritance' rather then writing library functions.
Link via Brad Feld.
Tuesday, 24 October 2006
The European Union's plan to regulate the net as if it were TV - Television Without Frontiers - picked up a lot of attention in blogs this week, after the Times covered it. The basic idea is flawed - TV involves handing a monopoly over spectrum to organisations, so regulating how they use it makes some sense, but there is no spectrum scarcity online, all you need is a webserver. So the EU limits on local content, advertising intervals and content labelling don't fit at all.
I spoke about this on the Technorati videoblog last week, and the BBC's Pods and Blogs show last night. You can hear me about 30 minutes into this show recording (shame the BBC hasn't made it a podcast yet).
Sunday, 15 October 2006
John Dowdell graciously responded to my attack on Flash video, asking for more solid points, which is fair enough - I did rather assume that Flash video's flaws are self-evident. This post is adapted from our conversation in his comments.
First of all, let me say that Flash gets one big thing right, which is unobtrusive ubiquity. Tom Green's history is spot on about the stupidly self-destructive things that Real, QuickTime and Microsoft have done to get in your way when you want to watch video, from DRM to pop-up ads to pointless upgrade messages that don't upgrade anything. Flash started with a ubiquitous vector graphics player, and added audio as mp3, and video too, without inserting noxious upgrade messages in the way.
I'm not saying making computers play video is easy — I've lost enough nights and weekends to synchronisation and graphical representation bugs to know — but there are some egregious things wrong with FLV:
Flash frequently drops sync
In particular, if I switch focus away from the browser on my Mac, the video framerate drops to a crawl, then plays catch-up when I click back.
Dowdell puts this down to browser issues, but QuickTime handles these through a shared process on Windows - it is fixable, though takes some work.
Native video integration is weak
Scaling video always looks pixellated, and the black/white points and gamma mapping is off so it often looks washed out. (Yes, this is tricky, but it is a known problem too - here's some QuickTime notes from 2000).
Proprietary old codecs
FLV uses proprietary codecs that are well behind the state of the art, giving a bottleneck of encoding choices. Most Flash Video is encoded to the old Sorenson Spark codec (which is effectively H263 - a standard but a ten-year-old one).
Macromedia considered H264, but likely rejected it on legacy support as it is CPU intensive. The big mistake was adopting ON2 VP6 instead of MPEG4 main profile. MPEG4 has benefited from multiple encoding tools and playback clients, their codec requires proprietary encoders. If Macromedia/Adobe can adopt MPEG4 main profile in the next Flash release, great. H264 would be even better, but staying a generation behind is arguably reasonable, given CPU requirements.
Lack of editability
QuickTime was always designed with editing in mind. Apple have foolishly buried this feature, but it is there, and one advantage of MPEG4 video is that you can bring it into QuickTime, edit it, and flatten it out again without recompression. Getting video out of Flash again is a pain (some tools do it, generally with recompression).
I don't think QuickTime is the ultimate answer either, and I don't want this to become a pissing contest over individual platforms. What I want is some open standards support.
Dowdell worries about commoditization, but that is exactly what I want. If MPEG4 video playback can become a commodity, as MP3 audio is, the market can move on to compete on other grounds. Look how many Flash-based mp3 players there are out there.
The Lifeboat foundation is thinking about future threats. I was struck by this one:
A system that evolves freely is potentially very adaptable and creative. It could also become nearly anything, with consequences ranging from the annoying to the disastrous. It is likely unlimited self-evolution will need to be contained carefully even as we mine it for truly new inventions. The arrows nicely hint at a chaos-star as well as replication.
Somehow this reminded me of danah's exasperation with politics, business, academia and media. The disappointing elites she describes would see self-evolving systems as a threat. I prefer to see them as a promise of something better to come.
Saturday, 14 October 2006
This American Life is the best radio documentary series I know of (Suw Charman and Kevin Anderson agree). I heard on the radio today that it is officially becoming a podcast, and their website confirms it. Free for a week, old episodes for 99¢ each.
The word "terrorist" itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should try to avoid the term, without attribution. [...] We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as "bomber", "attacker", "gunmen", "kidnapper", "insurgent" or "militant."
George Orwell, As I Please, 2nd June 1944
Nearly all human beings feel that a thing becomes different if you call it by a different name. Thus when the Spanish civil war broke out the B.B.C. produced the name "Insurgents" for Franco's followers. This covered the fact that they were rebels while making the rebellion sound respectable.
Friday, 13 October 2006
Thursday, 12 October 2006
ORG is looking for members:
and recruiting a full-time Executive Director to build on the great work Suw Charman has been doing there bootstrapping ORG.
Wednesday, 11 October 2006
Now YouTube has Google backing, they can stop making us watch Flash video. Everyone who cares about video quality, from Hollywood, to the BitTorrent-using TV bootleggers use mpeg4. Everyone who doesn't uses Flash.
I've pointed out before how Apple screwed things up, but it is still fixable. Heres my 5 point plan.
- Apple, drop the tacky upgrade ads. Seriously, they make you look like the Giselle wannabee here. You don't need the money from the upgrades, you give away better editing tools on the Mac, and you're just pissing people off needlessly.
- GooTube, write a detection script, and give us MPEG4 quality if we have QT or another player installed. Google Video has nice MPEG4 versions, but they force you to download them completely and play later. Stop that.
- Apple, make QT play DiVX AVIs and the other MPEG4 variants. You have the codecs, you have the parsing, you have the engineers. You should have done this 5 years ago. Heck, just bundle Perian and port it to Windows.
- Google, drop your client, adopt Democracy Player and promote it.
- Everyone: forget DRM.
After all we deserve better than having to put up with Flash video.
Monday, 9 October 2006
An interview with Terry Gilliam about Good Omens (really, if someone would just give Terry $65,000,000 he could get going. Do you have $65,000,000 you don't need? Check your pockets. Maybe it's in a drawer somewhere. No? Look harder.).
Google buys YouTube, meaning a couple more chaps may suddenly have that much money lying around.
PS - Terry Gilliam's first usenet post (I watched him make it in our office's stock room).
Monday, 2 October 2006
One technique I picked up from Stuart is to register a domain (preferably your own name), and forward any email to it to your inbox. Then, when you need to give a vendor an email address, give them their name at yours, eg firstname.lastname@example.org. That way, if the subsequently get spam, or unexpected mail, you know who it was. This can confuse people on the phone though - "what's your email?" "email@example.com" "Don't you mean firstname.lastname@example.org ?" "Nope".
Dave wants a way to keep his movie reviews where he controls his own data. We have a way to do this with hReview - post the reviews on your blog, then get the vendors to read them. The smarter review sites, like Yahoo Tech are already doing this.