Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
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
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
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
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.
—posted by Dyske
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.
—posted by Dyske
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
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?
—posted by Dyske
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.
—posted by Dyske
Now there is a lot of excitement about iPad saving the publishing industry. Even though I love my iPad, I doubt that it can do anything for the print media. The only real difference between an iPad-optimized website and an iPad App is the price expectation. We come to associate the Web as a free medium whereas we expect to pay for “Apps”. But this will change rather soon. The prices of iPhone apps keep dropping, and if any apps are more than 99 cents, people complain that it’s too expensive. It’s just a matter of time before the vast majority of Apps are free.
Although the novelty of iPad magazines like Popular Science+ may be worth paying for it now, the excitement will wear off pretty soon. Ultimately I don’t think there will be any advantage with reading magazines on an App. Google has done a great job of optimizing Gmail for iPad, and I actually prefer using it within the browser over using iPad’s native email App. Gmail has many great features, some are built-in by default, while others can be added. The features like labeling and filtering would not work on iPad’s email App. There is no chat or SMS features from within the email UI either.
App-based magazines will have the same problem: While some features are going to work better on the App versions, others will be better on the Web versions. The App version could only be used on the device you installed it on, while the Web version could be accessed from any device, iPad, iPhone, or desktop. Your own machine or someone else’s. You have to manage your copy of the magazine App; installing, upgrading, and backing up. The Web version would not require any of them.
As more websites start to take advantage of HTML5, the differences between the App versions and the Web versions will be virtually none. There will be less and less reasons to publish anything as Apps.
Also, less popular magazines could create an iPad version and make it free to take the audience away from more popular magazines, which could force all the magazines to go free.
Another situation publishers are facing now is that the brand names of magazines and newspapers are less relevant now for the readers. Because of the efficiency of the search engines, I can find relevant articles in any publications. I don’t really care who published them. I’m often reading articles from magazines that I’ve never heard of. And, I surf from one publication to another.
The same phenomenon is happening on TV. Because of DVRs, we no longer care what channels our favorite shows are on. In the old days, people were loyal to certain network channels, and watched whatever shows that came on those channels. This was mostly due to the fact that we could not watch what we wanted whenever we wanted. We were at the mercy of network schedules. DVRs and other on-demand video technologies freed us from this. Now we can search and play what we want to watch, just like on the Web. The concept of “network” is no longer relevant.
The same holds true for magazines. Much of the existing conventions and our reading habits are tied to the physical limitations of printed media. Because it did not make sense to print and sell one page at a time, they published a set of articles at a certain time interval. This is no longer relevant.
Furthermore, with printed magazines, we could only buy and carry a limited number of them, so we were stuck reading everything in the magazine we bought. This too is no longer relevant. With the Internet, we have access to thousands of magazines at our fingertip. There is no reason for us to read all the articles in one magazine cover-to-cover. We can jump from one great article in one magazine to another great one in another magazine. We don’t really care who published them. In the end, it’s the content that matters. This is yet another disadvantage of App-based magazines: It’s disruptive to have to go from an App to another App. It’s much easier to surf within a browser.
In the early days of blogs, most of them had no specific topics. Now, the idea of general interest blog is almost an oxymoron. On the Web, there is no point in grouping a variety of unrelated contents because the Web itself is doing that. There has to be a good reason why you would want to group contents into one site. I would rather follow a particular writer than to follow a general news media outlet like New York Times. The latter is too general to be useful. The differences between various news media outlets are too subtle. “New York Times” is just a way to group a variety of contents, and what ties them together is their editorial vision. But the difference between their editorial vision and that of, say, “Washington Post” isn’t great enough to offer any real value in those groupings. In our digital age, such groupings are no longer relevant.
In comparison, “Engadget” and “Gawker” are groupings that make sense. Many of these popular blogs started out as ordinary blogs operated by one person, but they have now become institutions. Blogs are becoming closer to traditional media as traditional media are becoming closer to blogs. I believe somewhere between the two is the future of publishing. iPad is a great device, but I do not think that it can save the traditional business model of publishing. If anything, it will probably accelerate the demise of it.
—posted by Dyske