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Problem Finding, Department of

There have been so many books and things about problem-solving that we figure most problems are already solved. So we need more problems to keep all those expert problem solvers busy.

Saturday, October 30, 2004


Zen and the Art of VODIP

Here are some comments about a conversation in Ken Rutkowski’s Connected group. The subject was TV on a PC, which meant getting video content over the internet and displaying it on a TV screen. That's VODIP for short.

Any thoughts about why this area continues to have marginal adoption? –Peter Yorke

Although (the D-link DSM-320) works great for any locally stored media, it does not, at this point, have the ability to play any of this on demand content… –Joseph Guice

As more features become available, it will notify you and give you the option to update instantly… D-link DSm-320 ad. PC magazine, Nov 16, 2004 p76

A Near-Perfect Ad-on.. Wouldn’t it be great if you could enjoy its [Windows Media Center Edition 2005] features in other rooms of your house? A Windows Media Center Extender (MCX) lets you do just that. PC magazine, Nov 16, 2004 p34.

PC magazine further explains what it means by near-perfect in a table that lists 14 items of possible content on host PC and checks seven that MCX can play. Things that it can’t play include MPEG-4, Content recorded from premium channels (HBO, Etc.) and Copyright-protected DVD’s.

Thus I begin my list of ten ways you know you’re in Geeksville:

1. A vendor thinks it a marketing advantage to say that the device is unfinished but you can finish it later with updates you will have to wait for, install, and hope they include the services you want.

2. Near-Perfect means that half the things you might want are supported.

3. An explanation of what you can and can’t do takes a table.

4. TBD

No doubt more items will turn up, but these will do as a current explanation of why most people are not interested in trying to send video content from PC to TV by something other than the wired S-video route.

What does this have to do with Zen? Try a technical term: Seamless Integration. The universe can wait, I just want a VODIP technology that is one with itself.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Where is Ipod going?

Ken Rutkowski raised this question to his Connected group. Take two gedanken models from biology: cross breeding and adaptive radiation.

Cross breeding is the quickest idea source. What do you get when you cross an Ipod with---

A cellphone. You get an audio player that suspends (and keeps your place) when you get a call or IM. Automatically downloads your voice-mail and puts it into your playlist. Similarly downloads your e-mail in audio format via text-to-speech. And offers you a new delivery path for audio content. Probably too expensive for a podcast, but just what you want for info about weather and traffic, covering just the route you have specified. Maybe also well-targeted audio news related to your business, stocks, etc. And not very expensive if you accept targeted ads.

A PDA. That's obvious, but maybe the question is what do you get if you don't cross an Ipod with a PDA (and a phone)? My guess is a big inventory of PDAs.

A Lexus. You get a great audio system that immediately picks up (Bluetooth) the content you were listening to. And when you get out, the Ipod transfers output back to your ear. You and never miss a stammer on the podcast. (Notice how Podcasting changed the importance of continuity.)

A Wi-Fi net. You get a networked disk that appears on any available network. You use it to take your old Elvis music to the party. (Added benefit: drives the RIAA crazy. If they haven’t already gotten there.) You use it for backup and to take current work with you.

A digital camera. You get a convenient 60 gig hard drive to hold your pictures. You go on a trip and maybe you don't have broadband at Motel 6. Or maybe you go to Yellowstone and fill up your camera by noon. A familiy of 3 is carrying 180 gigs. Some of it is essential music, but it is backed up on the home computer. At Grandma's house you will need some space to download her Bing Crosby files. (Downloaded files are easier to get rid of than her fruitcake.)

A medallion (any style: Nokia, Adama, Olympic). You get another way to carry the thing, It can show pictures of your kids, play your personal theme music, or try out pick-up lines. Maybe the next thing in wearable computers. Fashion statement for the Geeks. Use a little Velcro on the back to attach it to your clothes.

A DVD player. You get another way to occupy the kids. Will any adults watch video on the tiny screen? I mean, besides porno. Maybe you also get a market for those virtual reality goggles. They could look like the Geordie’s visor (ST:TNG) Probably makes the kids car sick, but keeps them quiet.

No doubt you can think of more possibilities. And so can Apple, Creative, HP, and Dell. Keep in touch with Engaget for the latest hybrids.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004



Ken Rutkowski sparked an interesting discussion in his connected group with this query:
>”With the release last week of Media Center 2005 from Microsoft, the now old discussion re-emerges of whether consumers really want to watch TV on their PCs. I can understand using your PC as a storage device but do you for see people sitting behind they PC to watch TV?

>”A recent Jupiter Research survey reports that only 34 percent of online users want to record TV on their PCs to watch on their PCs’ monitors. That, however, isn’t the real question to ask. When asked about the ability to record TV on their PCs and then watch this content on their TV, the number of consumers interested changes dramatically to 51 percent.”

Here is my summary.
One issue is the meaning of PC. We must be talking about the big box PCs, because Road Warriors have been watching movies on their notebooks for years. They probably will keep doing that as long as the airlines don't all go out of business. They have been doing it with DVDs, but they may be switching now to Movielink, CinemaNow, Starz and other sources that will put content files on the hard drive.

Box PCs have three conceptual parts in this context:: Display; Management and storage of content; Acquisition.

Display: The trend is marked by the D-Link DSM-320 Wireless Media Player. The DSM-320 connects your Wi-Fi network with your home entertainment center. I hear it doesn’t work with all streaming media, but the standard practice at the cutting edge is to let the early adapters do your quality control for you.

Display is a dying issue. People will use whatever displays they want to use. Probably use several displays, depending on location and user. Someday the media will even stop doing surveys on this.

Acquisition: The trend is to VOD. “Tired of making appointment with your TV set? Tired of sitting through fifteen minutes of drivel to catch that interesting item they teased on the opening? Tired of watching the same commercial twenty times?” You are ready for Tivo.

Or maybe for VOD: The Next Generation. With Tivo you still have to plan ahead. You are limited to the current content you capture. Maybe you don’t normally record Crossfire. (Who does?) So you missed John Stewart’s visit and did not catch his penetrating intellectual plea: “You are hurting us. Stop it.”

VOD to the rescue. Webtalk Guys told me that the clip was available on Ifilm. I watched it. You can watch it. You can even watch it over and over again to plumb the depth of meaning. (Just Google on Ifilm John Stewart.)

With true VOD, you don’t plan. What you want is available on demand. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.

Charter and Comcast have recently staked out new territory in VOD. They offer VOD-cable to some of their subscribers. With VOD-cable, you can go back and watch recent shows. They do the recording for you. That’s more than you get from Tivo. And more than you get from your PC by itself. To my mind, VOD-cable sounds like a Tivo-killer. Probably sounds like that to the cable companies, too. Maybe even to Tivo. But what about Dish satellite?

I'll speculate. Cable gets to feel smug for a while. VOD-cable is hard to match with a satellite feed. But notice that SBC is selling Dish service. And SBC is only one degree of separation from SBCYahoo!, which is selling DSL and various multimedia services. Starz has already recognized that it can treat VODIP as just another way to deliver its content. Dish may follow the same plan. Subscribe to Dish and you could get its content also by VODIP. You don't even have to put up a dish if you don't want to. Or if you don't have good line-of-sight. All you need is SBCYahoo DSL.

Well, you also need a com—Oops. Sorry. I’m not going to use the C-word for something to serve non-Geeks. You need something to connect to the internet, download and store things, organize your content so you can easily find what you want, and direct it to the display you want to use. (There goes management and storage.)

Call it something like “Web TV.” Make the box look like a VCR. Give us a remote to lose. (No matter to the Geeks. We can control things with the Wi-Fi/PDA phone or the OQO. But we will try to be subtle.)

Sunday, October 24, 2004


I’m goin’ back to the wagon, boys. This flu is killing me.

Not the virus. The news. The hypernews about shortage of flu shots. It was Ted Koppel on Nightline that really brought me to the crisis. He opened his story about the disastrous shortage of flu vaccine with pictures of elderly people standing in line for flu shots. Then he moved on to the used news that the flu kills 36,000 Americans a year. (I think he meant citizens of the U.S.) He seemed to think this terrible death toll was due to a lack of flu vaccine or a failure to use it. Naturally, he thought the government should spend more money on flu vaccine.

I quit listening right there because I know that this is a historical figure based on years in which we had plenty of flu vaccine. He might have been going to nag us about how negligent we are for not getting our flu shots. But I think most of us that are healthy and old enough to watch Nightline have our own assessment about flu and flu shots. My impression is that flu is not very serious for healthy people and flu shots are not very effective anyway.

So I did a little checking. There was some hypernews last year about the flu. There was another impending disaster then. What ever came of that? Did we survive?

I checked with Keepmedia.com, a convenient archive. It turns out that used news is just as thrilling as new news. Only the dateline is changed to protect the writers. Here are a few headlines:

Vaccine shortage may not hit most work places hard. USA Today, Oct 21, 2003
Flu Shot shortage is feared USA Today, Dec. 8, 2003
Flu and Fear run Rampant No one knows when tough season will end. USA Today, Dec. 10, 2003

But with used news, you can fast-forward. Two months later, the headline was:

Flu season: In like a lion, out like a lamb. USA Today, Feb 9, 2004.

One of the great benefits of hypernews is that you get to use it coming and going. Warn of the threat. Announce the rescue.

But perhaps we were saved at the last minute by the delivery of those flu shots..

Not at all: Flu shots had little effect. USA Today, Jan. 16, 2004.

Maybe that was just a fluke. Surely the flu shots have been effective on other years. I asked Google for this search: flu vaccine research effectiveness

By scanning a few articles, I found figures suggesting that flu shots are generally found to be 35% to 55% effective. I also found articles concluding that the shots are not cost-effective for businesses in general. Apparently only about 10% of the population gets the flu in any given year. (More may have flu-like symptoms, but not the flu.)

So what do I conclude about this problem. Personally, I will not bother to get a flu shot this year. I’m 75 and technically eligible, but I am healthy and have never been sick more than 3 days with the flu. I’d rather take the 10% risk than stand in line for two hours.

But flu wasn’t the real problem here. The real problem was newshype. And I wouldn’t even call that a problem if it persuaded people to get flu shots when they are readily available. I figure there is roughly a 5% chance of benefiting (based on 10% incidence and 50% effectiveness). Not great, but better than the lottery. But newshype is irresponsible when it has elderly people standing in line for hours to get a shot that will probably do them no good. Elderly or not, if they can stand in line for 2 hours, they are probably healthy enough to fight off the flu.

So how do I deal with the problem of newshype? I wash my hands carefully, turn off the TV news, and read my Pluck feed from MyYahoo. I become a hypespotter and skip that stuff. Or follow it for my daily dose of skepticism, as I did with the beginning of Nightline.

I wish Yahoo or Google would provide a hypefilter for news. They find news items on subjects I am interested in. A hypefilter would filter out news on subjects I am not interested in. They could even use it to generate a news group: the five most frequently filtered news subjects.


10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004   11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004   12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005   01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005  

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