bestkungfu weblog

Olympics on the web, live, worldwide: when?

Filed in: culture, media, sports, Wed, Aug 6 2008 13:48 PT

On the eve of the first Olympics in which live and on-demand content will be available on the web in most countries, I have to wonder how long it will be until the IOC recognizes that they should no longer bother to embargo content to match the prime-time schedules of viewers around the world.

This time, broadcast licensees in many countries will be running their own Olympics video sites (and 77 more will have a YouTube channel, restricted to their countries by geolocation). This builds on the 2004 coverage, which was spectacular in the UK, thanks to the BBC, but generally pretty poor everywhere else. It served as a good proof of concept, at least. I do think, though, that the feedback this time around will be that users will be confused, or frustrated about content not being where they expect it to be, since the networks will hold on to it until it’s been broadcast.

Hardcore Olympics fans don’t care when it’s prime time. And they get impatient when they know the event is finished, but still, they don’t see the results. On top of that, we have time-shifting technology, which evens out the playing field for everyone. So when will the IOC finally realize what’s good for them, and require broadcasters to show events online, in real time?

My guess is no later than 2016. Beijing is the largest experiment yet in web video, and they’ll have enough time to learn in time for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver/Whistler. The Winter Games are much smaller, in terms of events, participants and viewers, so this could be a great dry run. London hosts in 2012, and their infrastructure is probably much better suited to a widescale video deployment. My only question is whether there are too many signed agreements already, which would preclude a full, real-time Games.

After London, it’s hazy. The Winter Games in 2014 are in Sochi, Russia, and even six years out, I don’t have high hopes for them to take the lead in Internet distribution. That leaves the 2016 Games, which are down to Madrid, Chicago, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. All but Rio could pull it off easily, and maybe with 8 years of preparation, Rio would be ready too.

Any longer than that, and I think people the world over will start to wonder when the Olympics, an event created to sponsor international unity, will live up to its billing and put the athletes in the spotlight, even when that spotlight falls at 3am Eastern, or Central European, or Japan Standard Time.

iPod in 12 years: still won’t hold it all

Filed in: design, media, Tue, Dec 5 2006 14:36 PT

Nikesh Arora, who is Google’s VP for European operations, was quoted last week musing about the future of the iPod, saying, “In 12 years, why not an iPod that can carry any video ever produced?”

It’s a question I’ve been asking for a while now. The first time was in 2003, when I started my crusade for the personal server. I repeated myself shortly thereafter as I called out the analytical no-op that is John C. Dvorak. The situation has changed a little since that time with the video iPod, though the storage available on iPods has only doubled, from 40GB to 80GB. But the potential is there, and sooner or later, it will be realized. In fact, it needs to be realized in order to satisfy the growth needs of both the consumer electronics and entertainment industries.

On its face, the idea of an iPod that contains all recorded music is actually pretty feasible in the next decade or so. Figuring about 20,000 major releases a year, at 60 minutes a release, at 192kbps encoding, that’s only about 1.8 terabytes. I can say “only” to a number like that because I remember when an array of that size was a half million dollars, and then $50,000, and now I can buy a 2TB array at Fry’s for about $1000. A futurist can safely assume that anything available today for a grand will eventually be embedded in someone’s cerebral cortex at birth, so we’ll go with it.

Anyway, let’s say that’s all there is to it for now. In fact, let’s say that we have 100TB of disk to play with, and that’ll hold all of the major releases ever recorded. Is that what we really need? Well, probably not, for a lot of reasons. Firstly, unless it’s truly convenient to slap everything ever recorded onto a single storage device, where “convenient” means “more cost-effective than filtering it all at a central source,” then you can achieve most of what you want in, say, five years. Assuming a collaborative filtering approach à la, we’re already past the tipping point: storage is growing at a rate faster than users can fill it, and that empty disk is an opportunity to sell people what they might like.

The next piece of the puzzle, then, is the payment strategy. How do you grant access to any or all of this music, when it is in the wild? Once the bits themselves are decentralized, the commerce end of things needs to be decentralized, as well, or the entire system provides no value to users. If I am in Darkest Africa and I want to listen to the Fugees, and know that The Score is on my device, but I have no way to unlock it, that’s a problem. The only strategy that to me makes any sense is a subscription model, but even that has implicit hooks into a central certifying authority to prevent freeloading.

A bigger question is this: what role does the network play? Let’s say Apple offers a 10TB iPod that contains all of the media an average human would want. What happens next Tuesday, when it’s out of date? How do they sync up with the latest releases? We’ve been working on syncing technology for years, and we’re still not that smart about it. We’re going to need something to keep everyone with one of these devices up to date (and paid up), and the network we have isn’t really the best strategy for that.

Maybe true broadcast technology would help — say, investing in a one-way radio data infrastructure that keeps everyone informed. SPOT, on steroids. Or maybe most of the work can be done virally, by peers syncing with one another ad hoc, and without interaction. Or have media pushed to clients as they shop or dine or play. Ad-hoc sharing is a really powerful idea, as the Zune people know, though the mechanisms currently in place to restrict that sharing have reduced its value overall.

There’s a lot more to think about here. Enough to make a career of it, in fact. Where do indie labels and artists fit in? How do they add new releases to the system, and how can they hope to be compensated? What is the role of YouTube, et al., in systems like this? What if you’re an American in France, or a Frenchman in America, or just culturally calibrated enough to want both? When do the walls between nations come down, so that we can experience all the media the world has to offer?

The answer is that we’re not prepared to build a framework to support pervasive media concepts like this until a few more things shake loose. The 80% case here can be achieved in the next couple of years, if not for legal affairs and the conservatism of the rightsholders in this area. But there are big technical problems to solve, and it’s going to take a lot of coordinated thinking to analyze the infrastructural, social, legal, financial, psychological and design factors necessary to build a viable ecosystem.

We’ll get there. But it’s going to take a lot more than big portable storage devices to do it.

Why words matter

Filed in: media, politics, Mon, Nov 27 2006 23:25 PT

Two stories I found today explain why it’s important to be precise in matters of communication. It would follow that both of them are political in nature, as politics is the domain of compromise language.

The first is about a proposed agreement on Quebec’s status in Canada. The Bloc Québécois, a separatist party, had planned to make a motion in the Canadian House of Commons to recognize the province of Quebec as a nation. The word “nation” itself confers all manner of political implications, and would push Quebec further toward a legal separation from the rest of Canada than it had been. Later, the proposal was modified to indicate that Quebec is a nation that is “currently within Canada” — a phrase that would be ambiguous, if only the separatists were able to pick up their territory and move it somewhere into the Atlantic.

But on Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed language to state that Quebec is “a nation within a united Canada.” Quebec separatists are happy that they are recognized as a nation by somebody, and will certainly use that recognition to their advantage where possible. What the rest of Canada gets in return is the faith that one single word — “united” — will preserve peace and order, on an issue that may never see a full resolution.
The second story is about Hugo Chavez, who is running for re-election in Venezuela. In the article, Chavez is cited as having called George W. Bush “a devil” in front of the United Nations.

But Chavez didn’t call Bush “a devil.” He called him “the devil”. A devil is nothing to write home about: there are ten of them on the court whenever Arizona State plays Duke in basketball. However, the devil, as a definite noun, has many names — Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, you name it — but means one thing: the representation of all that is evil. Irrespective of what you thought of his speech, Chavez did pick his words carefully, and it is important to recognize that clarity of expression, lest the reader confuse the message with something substantially more imprecise.

Words often carry many meanings, both in the clear and shrouded in nuance. During times where many parties are fighting over a certain phrase, it is best to take all of those potential meanings into account, particularly from the perspective of the advocates themselves. This kind of circumspection is why making laws and standards is hard, time-consuming, and has the tendency to drive its practicioners to drink. It is when a clear message is coming from a known source, however, that it is most necessary to protect all of the intended meanings of the speaker. If we fail that, as people who pass that information along, then we become the story.


Filed in: media, personal, sports, Mon, Feb 13 2006 23:58 PT

I didn’t know it until now, but apparently minimalist techno god Richie Hawtin composed some of the music performed in the opening ceremonies of the XX Olympic Winter Games this past Saturday. Sweet.
It’s a little-known fact, usually recycled every two years or so, that I’m a hardcore Olympics geek. I worked for the US Olympic Committee for a short period in 1995, and was in Olympic House when Salt Lake City won the 2002 bid. I may still have the hat from that, which featured a logo that ended up being replaced. I carried the ’95 US Olympic Festival torch, and hope someday to carry the real one. I was quoted in USA Today in 2000 talking about the sad shape of Olympic TV coverage in the US. (CBS’ Nagano coverage was a low point; 2006 gets a B+ so far.) And I can name the sites of both winter and summer Olympics dating back to 1960.

So I’m digging out my Beijing 2008 hat tomorrow, and looking at real estate in Whistler, though that may be just a little overkill. I expect that I will spend at least a few days in Vancouver for the 2010 Games, but I’d really like to see what the Chinese will do in ’08. I was there in late 2003, and the work was already in full swing. If I miss both of them, then I suppose I’ll have to start my Olympic tourism with London in 2012, innit?

Go watch The Boondocks

Filed in: media, Mon, Dec 19 2005 00:03 PT

I am the stone that the builder refused/I am the visual, the inspiration/that made Lady sing the blues/I am the spark that makes your idea bright/the same spark that lights the dark/so that you can know your left from your right/I am the ballot in your box, the bullet in the gun/the inner glow that lets you know to call your brother ‘son’/the story that just begun, the promise of what’s to come/and I’m-a remain a soldier until the war is won

theme song from The Boondocks

If you’re not watching The Boondocks on Adult Swim, you’re not utilizing your television to its full entertainment potential. Catch up before Episode 10 airs, sometime in January (which, coincidentally, is also when I expect to come back from hiatus).

Putting faces to names

Filed in: media, music, Thu, Nov 10 2005 13:38 PT

It occurred to me the other night that my speaking gig at the Portable Media Expo and Podcasting Conference coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first episode of Staccato. Clearly, I have no choice but to do a show tonight.

I’m in Ontario through Saturday night. It should be easy to find me: just listen for a voice that sounds like mine.

Poor grammar sucks

Filed in: media, Fri, Oct 28 2005 13:55 PT

Sometimes, words fail me. And sometimes, they fail professional journalists. In article on the White Sox victory parade, we find this gem:

Some clamored onto light poles and utility boxes for a better view while dozens stood perched on the oversized windowsills of City Hall along the parade route.

Uh, no.

Clamor, according to, is a loud outcry.

The root word the author was presumably fumbling for was clamber, which means “To climb with difficulty, especially on all fours.” While the words look similar, they really couldn’t be much different in meaning. It’s rather astonishing to see this float past who knows how many editors and make it onto the AP wire with this verbal faux pas.

Rumors of my etc.

Filed in: General, media, personal, Fri, Oct 21 2005 20:02 PT

It has been brought to my attention that my last post to this weblog was exactly one month ago. So it is my intent to provide you with the most up-to-the-minute thought, in the way of atoning for this absence.

Network is the greatest movie ever.

More news as events warrant.

The One-Show Guide to Fall TV

Filed in: culture, media, Wed, Sep 21 2005 07:04 PT

I was watching the Daily Show last night, and noticed that Too Late with Adam Carolla had been pushed back from 11:30pm to midnight. This was a good move in itself for Comedy Central, since Carolla’s attempt to keep up with ex-Man Show co-host Jimmy Kimmel is the most unfunny television program ever. I’ve had surgery that was more entertaining.

So, okay, we’re back to today’s and yesterday’s Daily Show from 11 to midnight. But tonight, I saw something glorious — coming October 17th at 11:30: The Colbert Report.

Oh, hell yes!

I’m sure that Comedy Central knew where their bread was buttered: the Daily Show already runs five times a day. Soon, I have an hour of must-see TV, four nights a week. Which should roughly double my viewing.

Bringing down the house… network

Filed in: media, personal, projects, Sun, Aug 14 2005 21:53 PT

The only constant is change.

This is true, at least, for my home network. I’m doing a little housecleaning

Athlon 64, Gentoo Linux
Media server. Contains a Hauppauge PVR-250 MPEG-2 recorder board. Runs (or ran) MythTV and stores all of my ripped MP3s and movies. The AMD64 port of Gentoo, while very good for standard Linux apps, is maddening when used as a MythTV server.
Vaio SR-17, Windows XP Pro
Intended as my sometimes Windows machine, I managed after many hours to get XP to run on it, but it ignores its keyboard and touchpad when I plug in any peripherals.
Xbox, GentooX
It works, but at 64MB of RAM, it’s not what you’d call beefy. Compiling the MythTV client took four days.
PowerBook G4, Mac OS X Tiger
I love my Mac, but it pretty much guarantees I won’t have a seamless media experience.
Athlon XP, Windows XP Home
Print server. Also not my property: it’s Kristen’s desktop. (Not that we own a desk anymore.)
PowerBook G3 Wallstreet, Mac OS X 10.1
It’s got a pretty display. Too bad it can’t run anything.
It’s a TiVo. Enough said.
Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox 720, Windows Mobile 2003 SE
It’s networked, has remote access software, and plays media files. I gotta work it in somewhere.

I aspire to ownership of a network that does everything I want with everything I have, without need for another purchase. Sure, I could get a Media Center PC, but then I’d have to deal with a different set of hassles, and wouldn’t get closer to my goals, which are that every machine:

  • can run Linux, Windows and Mac apps, both command-line and GUI, either locally or via remote connection
  • can print
  • (including the Pocket PC) can access media files or watch live TV from the media server
  • can access video from the TiVo
  • can run an Ajax-capable browser

This has proven to be quite an engineering chore. The Vaio, which has a broken PC Card cage, can only be connected to the network via either a USB wireless card or a direct FireWire connection — and when either is attached, the keyboard and mouse go AWOL. So it’s not a very useful Windows box. In fact, it’s barely a useful cat-warmer.

The Linux machine, stable as it is, doesn’t make my life much easier, either. Upgrading the kernel means usually breaking the ivtv driver needed for MythTV, which means I have to go ask some brilliant guys very nicely for a patch to get back up and running again. The front-end functionality, which allows client machines to watch recorded and live TV remotely, works great — when the server is working. Except for the PowerBook, where it crashes. So that sends us back to the drawing board.

I had thought of upgrading the wife’s PC to XP Pro so I can run my Windows apps using Remote Desktop Connection (RDC). Then, I’d just fix the Vaio, fix the Linux server, and then go back to scratching my head as to how to get everything to play together. But then, I had an epiphany: something that would meet my needs, get me much closer to my wants, take a few big but easy steps, and has more boxes and arrows than an IBM site map. So, here’s the plan:

  1. The Linux server goes to… Windows XP. (Hold on, we’ll get back to Linux in a bit.) I will turn on RDC. I will install Media Portal, which will record shows from the capture card; Orb, which will let me watch shows from outside the home network, including in low-bandwidth situations; and any other hip, cool media app that only works on Windows. I will install TiVo to Go, which will let me transfer files from the TiVo to DVD. I’ll share my MP3 collection via iTunes and Bonjour (formerly Rendezvous). And I will set up shares for my MP3s, DVDs, and recorded TV.
  2. The Vaio goes back to Linux. I’ll pull the hard drive, install a Linux distribution onto it from a desktop machine, then reinstall the drive. The box will get the wireless adapter; the FreeNX Server, which allows low-bandwidth remote connections; and a copy of the NX client, which works with both VNC and RDC.
  3. The Xbox will run Xbox Media Center, which happily munches on nearly any media, served from any kind of share, now including iTunes Bonjour shares.
  4. The PowerBooks will each get an NX client.
  5. The TiVo will get a shiny new hard drive with a shiny new kernel and a program called “vserver”, allowing me to run TivoTool, which plays recorded shows inside the iTunes interface.
  6. The older PowerBook will get a copy of XPostFacto, which allows older Macs to run newer versions of OS X (and which people should have seen as a sign that OS X on x86 wasn’t going to be that hard). It will run iTunes, including the podcasting features, and not much else.

There’s really nothing needed on the Pocket PC side, since it has what it needs to be a good streaming client. I already keep a playlist of Internet radio stations that I can listen to in any room.

I’m only missing one piece to this puzzle, though what I’ve set out will get me most of the way there. I need a streaming server which can transcode on the fly to feed media at multiple bitrates to the clients on my local network. If I can get a 256kbps transcode of existing files, then the old PowerBook and the Pocket PC can be live media clients, as well. Anything that can stream Windows Media, Real, QuickTime or MPEG is sufficient to feed all of my clients.

A leading candidate is VLC, which does all of the above and runs on anything. I may just need to write a Web app to spawn VLC instances to meet the bandwidth parameters of my selected clients — which sounds really hard, but I think it’ll be pretty straightforward.

All of this stuff may seem like overkill, and it totally, totally is. Don’t try this at home. It’ll give you a headache. But I’ve had that headache for about five years now, and it’s time to release the pressure. I’ve always been proud to be just a little bit ahead of the mainstream when it comes to what I can do with computers for home entertainment purposes. If this system works the way I want it to, I think I’ll be about two years ahead of what will be common.

What’s hard for a geek like me to deal with these days is how much work it takes to stay that far ahead. Everything is just moving so fast.

Anyway, updates to follow. If it all works, I’m going to have kickass visual aids.

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