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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Wall Between Art and Science That Steve Jobs Tore Down

New York Times says “Tech Moves to the Background as Design Becomes Foremost”. This has been true for a while now as most applications have become fast enough and have more than enough features, but I think it’s relatively new for mobile devices. As Seth Godin said, these days, marketing and branding have to be built into the products themselves. Businesses cannot just go ahead and create products and then think about how to market them. Marketing has to drive the product development, which is what Steve Jobs was great at. He thought about what would appeal to people in a more emotional way, and the function took a relative backseat. Other computer companies have always made faster computers than Apple.

The traditional way of thinking about product development is to think about what people need. That is, what appeals to people’s logical side. Functional and pragmatic needs drove product development, and then once the products were made, they had to figure out how to appeal to people emotionally via marketing. So, marketing has always addressed the emotional side of the consumers. (i.e. product = logical and marketing = emotional). What Steve Jobs did was to tear down this wall. In most traditional businesses, the product development side is filled with engineers and scientists (primarily logical people), and the marketing side is filled with artists (primarily emotional people). He closed this gap and mixed them up because he himself was a fusion of the two.

I think most product engineers are now aware of how important the emotional appeal of products is, so they are trying to reach out to the artistic side. At the same time, artists too are now realizing that they cannot ignore engineering in their design. User-interface design is no longer “graphic design” but “industrial design” like designing a car. It’s no longer a matter of how to make something look pretty. They need to understand engineering in order to come up with an effective design because usability as a dimension also is emotional and aesthetic.

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

How I Choose Technologies

I’m pretty conservative when it comes to selecting any sort of technologies. My biggest concern with selecting any web development framework is the longevity of support. Most programmers select frameworks or languages that are the purest and most elegant from a theoretical or academic point of view, but in reality, they are all human products; as such, they are prone to human frivolity and vanity. There are countless great applications and operating systems that were clearly superior to most Microsoft products, but they died. Naturally, developers would want to believe that product is everything in business, but in the end, it’s more like the cherry on top; everything else actually matters more.

In my view, most of the frameworks currently available are more than good enough. The vast majority of websites don’t require serious programming. It’s mostly about pulling, pushing, and slicing data. It’s like selecting a car for your daily commute; does it really matter whether I’m driving a Ferrari, Porsche, or Honda? In terms of what these cars can do for me, it makes no difference; they can all get me from point A to B. But it does make a difference in a sense that the car I drive every day to work would probably need to be serviced/repaired often. For that, Ferrari and Porsche would be a bad idea as it would probably take a lot longer to fix (and cost more). So, I select a framework equivalent to a Honda.

I particularly avoid frameworks with a lot of hype, an equivalent of Hummer. When people become really excited about something, it is inevitably followed by a quick deflation because it’s not possible to sustain the same level of excitement for a long time. It’s like trying to sustain an orgasm for hours; what goes up quickly tends to come down quickly also. It’s better to select something that is low-key and modest if you need it to last for a while.

In contrast, broadcast design is all about whatever is the hippest and most exciting at the moment, because as soon as it airs a few times on TV, it is discarded. There is no point in designing anything that would stand the test of time. But when you design a logo, you want to resist the temptation to do something trendy, hip and exciting, because it would look dated in a few years. Young designers tend to have a hard time resisting, and the older design directors often have to curb their enthusiasm. This is necessary in IT too. We have to tell the younger programmers, “OK, let’s not get excited about this hot new programming language. We’ll see where it goes in a year or two, then decide.”

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

My Prediction on the Future of Final Cut Pro X

There are a lot of debates about the future of video editing. Many professional editors are furious about Apple’s Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) and many of them have already switched to Premiere or Avid. My prediction is that Final Cut will win eventually. This is only a temporary setback which, I’m pretty sure, Apple was well aware of before launching FCPX. From the point of view of an application developer, what they did actually makes sense. It reminds me of this concept “The Lean Startup” where you take the smallest possible step that allows you to test your hypotheses about the market, and then build it organically based on the market reactions. In this approach, you take for granted that some or even many customers would be frustrated by the sloppy and incomplete aspects of your product. The idea is that you release an incomplete product on purpose and use the market response to complete it, instead of making many assumptions about what the users are going to want (and waste a lot of money up front in making wrong assumptions).

From the point of view of postproduction companies and editors, their complaints about FCPX are understandable. FCPX requires you to fundamentally change the way they work. By doing so, what would they gain? The answer is nothing. In fact they will lose a significant amount of time and money by switching. I’m pretty sure of that. So, why switch? Because those who make the switch now will eventually become more productive; it’s just that the learning curve and the transition pain will be quite significant at the start, probably for the first 6 months or so. But in order to gain productivity from FCPX, postproduction companies would have to make a concerted effort to change the way they work. If they try to use FCPX without changing their workflow and the environment, there would not be any benefit in switching.

This is a pain that many software developers face when they release applications that require the users to change their habits. It’s always an uphill battle. Most of them fail. Many people would rather stick to what they are already comfortable with if the benefits of switching are not blatantly obvious.

There are many superior features in FCPX but most of them are probably not going to make tangible differences in terms of productivity. The two aspects of FCPX that would make tangible differences are: the new media management scheme and full multi-threading support. Both of these would require software developers to rewrite most of their code. So, I suspect that if Avid and Adobe want to do the same in the future, they would have to face the same pain Apple is dealing with now. And I bet Avid and Adobe are well aware of it, and when they decide to bite the bullet, they will lose the customers they are gaining now from Apple.

One of the major changes in FCPX is that you manage your media outside of your project. This makes perfect sense given that many of the same assets could be used in multiple projects. But one concern you might have is that having access to the entire library of assets would make it harder to find what you need especially if you are a large editorial house. Apple solved this problem by giving you a sophisticated way to organize clips: keywords. Keywords are like tags that are often used to organize blog posts. The main difference between keywords/tags and bins/folders is that the former has many-to-many relationships whereas the latter has one-to-many relationships. In a file cabinet, each file can belong to only one folder. If you want to put the same file in two different folders, you would have to make a copy of it. This is one-to-many because one folder can contain many files (but one file cannot belong to many folders). Certain things in our world are better organized with one-to-many relationships while others are better organized with many-to-many. Multiple tags are often applied to a single blog post. This very post might be tagged as technology, Apple, and video, and if you click on “Apple”, you would get all the posts I’ve written about Apple.

If you think about it, video clips should be organized with many-to-many relationships too. We should be able to apply multiple keywords to each clip, and multiple clips to each keyword. It makes perfect sense; it’s just that we’ve gotten so used to thinking of organizing clips to bins that we didn’t question it. But Apple did. Once all your clips are tagged with keywords, they can be used for any projects. Each editorial house would have to come up with their own way of tagging clips with keywords. If you design the keywords effectively, it would probably be very powerful. Saving a significant amount of time in searching for clips and scenes.

When editorial houses compare FCPX to FCP7 and try to weigh the costs and the benefits, they would not be able to figure out the benefit of this new organizational model because they have never done it. So, they would not count it as part of the benefit. The same is true for other new features. They have no experience working with them, so they cannot calculate the benefit appropriately. As they disregard all the potential benefits as zero, FCP7, Avid, or Premiere would naturally come out as the winner.

Another big advantage of FCPX is that it assumes you are working in a shared network environment. So, there are no plugins or separate tools to manage shared networked resources. All the media are imported as referenced files, leaving the original files intact in their original locations. It’s non-destructive. They adopted the file organizational philosophy from Aperture.

You can choose to generate proxies from the originals so that even if you are disconnected from the network, you can keep working. And, these proxies are automatically generated as background processes while you work, which leads to another powerful feature of FCPX: full support for multi-threading.

It works seamlessly. Even after you tell FCPX to generate proxies, you can keep editing as usual. You do not notice any difference in performance. FCPX takes full advantage of all of the processor cores available on your machine. For video editing, this is a big advantage. FCPX also lets you play back any video clips of any codecs; there is no need to transcode to your timeline codec. Even if you prefer to transcode, this can be done in the background as you work. If you are an owner of an editorial house, think of the money you are paying your editors while they wait for things to render. With FCPX, you wouldn’t have to.

But again, in order to take advantage of these features to make a tangible difference in your productivity, you would probably have to change the way you work, and the environment you work in. Your media management strategy and network design would have to be smart, flexible, and optimal for the type of projects you edit. Unfortunately Apple cannot tell you that part. Once effective workflow and infrastructure are in place to support the new paradigm, I would bet the productivity increase would be significant. And, Apple will keep building on this new paradigm while their competitors will keep supporting the old paradigm. Unless Avid and Adobe have some tricks up their sleeves, I think Apple will win.

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

Why I don’t Use Siri

The times I could really use a good voice recognition program is when I cannot look at a screen and when I cannot use my hands to type. The most common such situation is when I’m outside, on the street, or in a public space, which is normally filed with noise. Siri simply does not work in a noisy environment. If I’m inside in a quiet place, it means I’m likely sitting in front of a computer, or near one. I would then rather use the computer. It’s quicker, and also would not disturb other people in the same space. The conversation with a voice recognition system is strange; so it’s more likely to annoy other people around you. It’s not a good etiquette to use voice recognition in a quiet place with other people present, but Siri only works in a quiet place. The only exception, as my friend pointed out, is if you are driving in a car, which I never do.

Every voice recognition program is launched with a big fanfare, but they never stick. (Remember AT&T’s mLife with this big ad campaign?) For it to work, it needs to have a 99% success rate. Not just accuracy, but success rate. For instance, it can’t fail just because there is no Internet connection. It needs to work 99% of the time I try to use it. It can’t fail just because I started talking before Siri beeped.

It’s sort of like how most attempts at creating PDAs failed (including Apple’s Newton) until Palm Pilot made it good enough. In my view, voice recognition is still not ready.

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

Computers No Longer Increase Productivity

I wrote down my theory on why computers are no longer increasing our productivity.

Read at DYSKE.COM »

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

Managing Image Files

This is by far the most common technical question I receive: how to send image files like photos and logos. There are many different file formats and most people do not understand the differences. In this article, I’m going to tell you what you need to know in order to choose the right format for your purpose.

There are two ways to interpret visual information digitally. One way is to record the step-by-step instructions, like a cooking recipe. For instance, your computer writes down: “Use a blue pen with a thickness of 3 pixels. Start drawing a straight line at the location X=120 and Y=324, and end at X=450 and Y=1300.” Or, “Draw a red circle that is 300 pixels wide at the location X=324 and Y=654.” Given the instructions, another computer would be able recreate it later on its monitor. This method of recording visual information is called “vector”. But unfortunately, vector file formats are limited in what kind of information you can record. It would have to be relatively simple and flat. A picture of your face, for instance, is too complex to record in this manner.

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—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

What If You Had to Build a Website Yourself?

It doesn’t always make sense to hire a professional to design and build a website. Perhaps it’s a personal website, or it’s a side business that doesn’t generate much income, or it’s for a small non-profit organization. If you had to create a website yourself, what is the best option?

Unfortunately it’s not an easy question to answer because there are now so many different ways to build a website. 15 years ago, your only choice was to learn HTML, the language used to compose Web pages. Now, there are many tools that would allow you to entirely avoid dealing with HTML. Another thing you should avoid is getting your own Web server or even getting an account on a shared Web server. As soon as you get your own server, you immediately increase the number of things you have to learn. Since there are now many tools available that would not require you to have your own Web server, it’s not worth it. People often ask me, “I have a copy of Dreamweaver; Can I use that to create a website?” Again, don’t bother. Dreamweaver is a semi-professional tool, so the learning curve is still pretty steep. Given that there are other options, it’s not worth learning it either.

Below, I’ll introduce you to three different tools that would not require you to learn HTML or to get your own Web server.

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—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

Apple to Allow Flash as a Development Platform for iOS

This is definitely a shocker. I did not think they would do this. If they had to allow Flash, I thought they would allow Flash on their iOS Safari before allowing the developers to use Flash to build Apps. The latter, I think, has more severe consequences for Apple. If the developers can use Flash to build iPhone/iPad Apps, those who haven’t learned Objective-C would never bother to. Objective-C is a rather esoteric language. In comparison, the difference between ActionScript (Flash), Javascript, Java, and C++ are pretty minor. It will open up a huge floodgate of Flash developers to create iPhone/iPad apps.

This may sound like a good thing for Apple, but it’s not. If Flash dominates the market of iOS development platform, Apple will lose control over their developers. Even if they release new iOS or hardware technologies, they would be at the mercy of Adobe to implement them effectively. Even the timing and the speed of the propagation of these new technologies would be determined by Adobe. They could even refuse or deliberately delay the implementation of some of key technologies if that is in their own interest (e.g. because they have ties to competing technologies.). Steve Jobs implied this to some degree in his Thoughts on Flash earlier this year.

Part of what motivated this move by Apple is probably the fact that the market share of iPhones is declining in relation to Android. This is a serious matter to consider for Apple. The developers are finding comfort in the fact that Google hardly regulates the app market on Android. The last thing developers want is to work for months developing an app only to be rejected by Apple. So, a safer approach is to develop the app on Android first, then port it over to iPhone; the opposite of what many developers were doing before. So, this might be part of an effort to create the perception that Apple is going to be less of a Nazi from here on.

—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

To Flash or Not to Flash

Flash is a technology that allows you to have "rich" media on the Web such as animation. It’s commonly used for banner ads on Web pages. It was originally called FutureSplash back when it was first introduced in 1996. I remember the excitement it created then. It allowed designers to have animations on websites, and that was a big deal because this is when everyone was still connecting to the Internet through phone lines. Since then Flash was acquired by Macromedia and then by Adobe. It is one of the most successful technologies in the history of the Internet so far. But in April of this year, Apple’s CEO, Steve Jobs, made a statement about Flash that threatened the future of Flash. Apple has made a decision not to support Flash in their mobile devices like iPhone and iPad. Adobe ran an advertising campaign to counter Jobs’ curse on their product. Many Flash developers voiced their displeasure in the blogsphere. At the same time, those who agreed with Jobs scrambled to convert their Flash-based contents to HTML. What does all this mean to business owners who have no time or interest to understand the techno-jibba-jabba?

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—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page

How Popular Is Your Website?

Surprisingly this is not an easy question to answer. Suppose the data from your Web server says you get about 50 visitors a day. Is that high or low? Well, it depends. In order to figure out whether your website is “popular” or not, you would need to be able to compare your website with those of other businesses similar to yours. For instance, if you are a magazine publisher, 50 visitors a day would be quite low. Given that you have to make money from visitors seeing ads on your site, 50 visitors could not sustain your business. On the other hand, if you are a lawyer, 50 would be a lot. Lawyers typically make thousands of dollars from each client, so having 50 potential clients looking at your site every day would be good news. In other words, the number of visitors is somewhat proportionate to the amount of money the average customer spends for your business.

Another factor is your physical presence. Suppose you start an online business selling hats, and your competitor opens a store on Broadway that also sells hats. Suppose your competitor also has a simple website for his business (but he does not sell anything through it). Who would get more visitors? In most situations, the one with a retail store will. The part of the rent you pay for a retail space is essentially a marketing budget. People walk by the store and learn about your business. If your business exists only online, it’s equivalent to a store that is on the 85th floor of the Empire State Building; nobody would just happen to walk by it. With no marketing, you get zero visitors.

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—posted by Dyske   » Follow me on Twitter or on Facebook Page