MonthJune 2005

Chapters in podcasts: OK, that’s smart

iTunes podcast shows chaptersI realised with a start that the perfect use for podcasts is to listen to the iTunes Music Store “New Music Tuesdays”, when they have new tracks. You can hear the stuff, get an idea (at least) of whether you might like it. No effort required.

And it shows what’s in the podcast too, through a little popup in the iTunes main bar, so you can navigate rapidly through it. Now that’s classy.

“Why do you give clients a hard time?”

One of the questions I was asked after my Hotwire talk was “When you give clients a hard time, is it because you’re annoyed at them for not having a story, or with us for not getting it right?”

This threw me rather, since I couldn’t recall giving anyone a McEnroe-style chewing-out for a while, and certainly not of any clients. So I asked for elucidation. They cited an example where I’d spoken to blinkx, who wanted to tell me about their latest and greatest video search product, and I’d instead wound up questioning them pretty closely on how they would make ends meet financially since they don’t have any adverts yet must run pretty big servers. Apparently the blinkx people were fazed.

I’m surprised that they’re surprised that a journalist would just say “Oh, video search, great”, and leave it at that, as if companies had some god-given right to exist and thrive. Of course they don’t; everyone has to justify their existence, or at least keep the bills paid. Or both.

I guess my interviewing style might be rather more John Humphrys than David Frost (as satirised by Dead Ringers: “Now.. I have to be tough in asking you this.. and I apologise in advance… but is that sofa comfortable? I mean, properly comfortable?”).

But it also seems to me that that’s the only way you’re going to worm out the interesting topics, rather than the dull stuff. I had someone from a hard drive maker the other day who was determined to tell me about areal density; I was just as determined to quiz him on the potential effect of DRM on hard drive sales. Guess which I wrote about?

Humphrys was, as luck would have it, talking to a Lords select committee yesterday, which seems to have been entertaining. Links:

Daily Telegraph
Guardian Online.

Anyone got a link to a video of it?

On Microsoft, Longhorn and RSS

Over at The Register I’ve written about what Microsoft’s announcements on RSS mean for everyone else. Does the inclusion of extensions to RSS 2.0 mean it’s trying to embrace, extend, extinguish? Or does the fact that said extensions are published under a Creative Commons licence mean that there’s nothing to worry about?

And that’s before we get into the behemoth effect on newsreader companies on Windows, and security issues.. you didn’t think there were security issues with RSS? It’s going to be baked into Longhorn, so you’d better hope they’re ironed out…

For want of Part Number 09330-4945-NAIL

Went along to the nice folks at Hotwire PR to give a talk on what journalists want from PR people, and the changes coming down the track for both sets of people. (Title: “What makes a good new story – or, what’s Max Clifford got that you haven’t?”)

So: presentation, written in Keynote. Lot of thought gone into the content, and then into doing the twiddles, such as the self-typing bullet points, and the cube flips between slides.

Arrived there in plenty of time. Get out computer. (“Oh, I’ve got one of those,” said Narelle, to my astonishment. I didn’t know PR people were allowed to own Apple gear. And she’s got a Powerbook and a G4 – both at home, of course.)

Opened computer; presentation was ready, projector was there, plugged VGA plug into adaptor cable, plugged adaptor cable into Powe…. hang on, this plug doesn’t match. Um, where’s the projector cable plug go? WHERE’S IT GO?

Gah! I’d brought the old adaptor cable, which connects an iBook video output to a VGA input, instead of the new one which does a Powerbook DVI output to VGA input. Exactly how stupid is that? Else I could have just plugged it in and we’d have been underway. Thus is £1,500 computer rendered useless by absence of £ cable.

Instead I had to export to Keynote, then transfer it via USB memory stick to a Toshiba Portege. Which was amazingly thin, and remarkably slow, despite being just a year old. The nice thing: the exported file worked fine, though Powerpoint on Windows doesn’t have the cubic flip transition that Powerpoint 2004 on OSX does. Tch.

And to get the Portege to display through the project only required two IT people, and one or two restarts. Apparently this is standard.

And it’ll be powered by..

This is good news.

Wonderful irony: the fusion reactor will draw its energy from a national grid that generates huge proportions of its power through… nuclear fission.

Podcasting – now you too can hear voices in your sleep

OK, Apple’s released iTunes 4.9, which now supports podcasts. And I’ve written up this (and the tweaks to the iPod line) over at The Register.

A few considerations, if you ask me:
1) if you’re featured on the iTunes Podcast Store, you’d better be ready to serve a lot of bandwidth;
2) what happens if Osama (or less extremists) decides to get into this podcast business – who’ll know what’s being said?
what about libel by someone in the US on someone in the UK?

Others are more positive. A few links mentioning iTunes and podcasts:

Michael Gartenberg at Jupiter Research;
The Unofficial Appple Weblog

Know what still bugs me? You can’t index a podcast. People talk, and it’s not searchable. That’s frustrating on the Today program. At least it matters less with podcasts.

Yeah, what he said

Seth Finkelstein has a rather nice pre-emptive strike on the issue of pre-emptive articles about what the Supreme Court’s decision on Grokster (PDF – go read it yourself) means.

When the court’s decision finally is released, to a first approximation, there can’t be more than about a dozen things to say about the result. The top three being:

1) Industry wins, civil-libertarians say “Bad”, analysis: Court slap “pirates”.
2) Industry loses, civil-libertarians say “Good”, analysis: Congress will pass new law, slap “pirates”.
3) Muddled decision, Industry, civil-libertarians say “Good/Bad”, analysis: Some say congress should pass new law, slap “pirates”?

All that remains is to fill in the details (the fastest pundits may have already half-written articles set to go, with just the relevant quotes to add).

So, as a matter of mathematics, the number of people trying to say something about this, vastly outnumbers the basic number of things to say. The insight of power-laws is that the distribution won’t be uniform. Sure, anyone can write about it – but there isn’t much of a reason to read what anyone writes. Blog-evangelists consistently neglect this factor. Not to mention the relative privilege necessary to be able to take the time to spend pouring over a document and writing analysis.

Basically he’s saying “You’ve read three blogs, now move on and Get A Life, OK?” (BTW it’s poring, Seth.)

Finkelstein is an interesting person, with interesting things to say; subscribe now!

Two techie things I’d like to do but can’t – can you?

1) Get NetNewsWire to output the stories from a Smart List as an HTML page of links, rather than an ordered list of links within the program. This is rather like the Preaggregator concept, but applied to a Smart List, not a normal feed. (You can’t do it with Preaggregator, because a Smart List doesn’t have a feed URL.) Then I could terrify y’all with the latest bird flu stories, for example. But I suspect this is impossible without Brent Simmons’s intervention.

2) Get Spotlight to index .php files so I can find weird functions referenced from one WordPress page in another. (OK, usually they’re in the file called “functions.php”. but even so, the lack of .php indexing ain’t good. They’re only text files, but it won’t touch them.) This failure bugs me.

Update: Brent Simmons (see comments) is right: you definitely can do No.1 using Applescript. Kudos to him for making NetNewsWire so scriptable, something that few organisations, Apple included, do. The benefit though is that users can build in their own bizarre features. Which I shall do once I’ve completed this presentation on the future of journalism…

Longhorn will have RSS! Welcome to 2003!

Seems Microsoft has discovered RSS, and is going to put it in Longhorn.

Excuse me if I don’t leap out of my seat with excitement. OK, it’s true that this will mean that RSS reaches everyone (even those who don’t want it; imagine IT departments trying to lock that lot down.. will pr0n sites start RSS feeds?). True too that Microsoft didn’t really have much chance to put it into XP, unless through a service pack or a new release of its browser.. wait, it could do that! Release a new browser!

Oh, it’s going to do that. Hey ho. That’s going to be dramatic news to all those users of Firefox who’ve been getting notifications of RSS since, um, from the start.

Will Shipley (who I’ve only just discovered; how can you not like someone whose blog has the title “Call Me Fishmeal”? Yes? Literary allusion? Oh, suit yourselves..) is even more vicious, describing it as “Longhorn: Today’s Technology Tomorrow!“, saying that it seems to be a nice copy of Delicious Library.

Quoth Will:

The amazing thing is THERE IS NOT ONE INNOVATION IN THIS. 100% of the things in this screenshot are things we did first in Delicious Library, except for the über-ugly look of their shelves. That’s theirs. (And apparently you can view the BACK of the cover in theirs. Man, they are thinking OUTSIDE THE BOX!)

I’m amazed, yet appalled. Seriously, if there were ONE SINGLE THING in there that wasn’t a copy of us, I’d think maybe they came up with the idea on their own. But… exactly the same categories as we have? You couldn’t add any others? Like, say, software titles? I mean, you’re Microsoft, why would you not have a category for software? Oh, because WE didn’t think of it for you?

Zoom slider at the bottom? Couldn’t be anywhere else? Search field at the bottom? I mean, come on, guys. Sure, you moved the categories to the top, but, seriously. This is just embarrassing for you.

And an Apple employee is sort of pleased to have Microsoft copy the Safari syndication framework, which he worked on. “I’ve been Microsofted,” says Jens:

But as far as I can tell (I’m not going to install a WMV player to watch the demo) MS has just done a copy-and-paste of what we did. I guess my co-workers and I are supposed to feel flattered by this?

They couldn’t even innovate on the details of the layout. Compare the blurry photo-of-slide of Microsoft’s feed display with a similar blurry photo of Safari RSS from last year’s Apple developer conference. (Since that photo we added a search field at the top, making the resemblance even more spooky.) The main difference in the appearance is that MS had to bathe it in that unique gray boxy dorkiness of theirs.

Look, it’s not me being down on Microsoft. (Well, it sort of is, I guess.) I’m just collating opinions from people who are closer to the leading edge, I guess. Perhaps those people are never happy to be copied. Sorry, see their ideas innovated.

Updated: comments closed because spammers were hitting this post.

MPs baffled by new technology: “jamming will stop happy slapping”. No it won’t

Some dim-bulb MP is calling for schools to jam the signals from mobile phones in order, he says, to stop happy slapping.

It’s hard to explain on how many levels this is sooooo stupid.

1) ‘Happy slapping’ is done by videoing the act. Jamming the radio signal for mobiles won’t stop it.
2) It mostly happens away from schools
3) People who share it don’t send it as picture or video messages, they send it by Bluetooth, which (by contrast to a message sent over the mobile network) is free and fast.


Adrian Bailey, the Labour MP for West Bromwich West, will write this week to Schools Minister Jacqui Smith pointing out that the ability to block phone signals already exists. He will ask her to raise with mobile-phone companies, headteachers and parents’ groups the possibility of using the technology as one way of curbing the growing number of attacks in school grounds.

One hopes at least one of the mobile phone companies, headteachers and parents’ groups will have had the same thoughts and point them out in as astringent a manner as possible.

So who is this guy? (The reason he is asking these questions is because there’s been a spate of well-publicised happy slapping incidents in his constituency, so he’s trying to make it seem like he’s doing something for the local papers. I infer.) Lets see, Theyworkforyou info on Bailey:
-Very strongly for introducing foundation hospitals.
-Very strongly for introducing student top-up fees
-Very strongly for Labour’s anti-terrorism laws
-Very strongly for the Iraq war
-Quite strongly for introducing ID cards
-Very strongly for the fox hunting ban
-Very strongly for equal gay rights.

(I think that item 5 indicates further how weak his grasp of the issues where technology meets society are.)

In fact he’s already asked these questions: on 14 June (“To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if she will consult mobile phone companies on the development of new technologies to block the use of mobile phones in schools“) and on the same dayTo ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what policies are being developed to stop the bullying with mobile phones known as ‘happy slapping’ in schools“.

Answers? “There are currently no plans for the Department to begin consultation with mobile phone companies on technologies to block mobile phone use in schools” and “Happy slapping incidents may well be considered violent crimes under existing criminal law legislation, and therefore should be dealt with in the same way as other such incidents. Guidance on dealing with such incidents is available on the teachernet website and further advice to schools on violence reduction is currently being developed.
In terms of bullying by mobile phone, part of the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) remit under the funding provided by the Department is to develop innovative and practical approaches to tackling bullying, including the modern menace of bullying by text messaging. Bullying by text messages on mobile phones is also referred to in our guidance pack for schools ‘Don’t suffer in Silence’.”

The latter is the Sir Humphrey way of saying “Oh, do sod off.”

One also has to ask whether nobody at the Observer could quite bring themselves to think of the objections to his harebrained “plan” before it got to print..