Monthly Archives: November 2007

The joy of vinyl (and Audacity)

I’m waking up my old vinyl collection with Audacity. It’s surprisingly easy once you’ve plugged everything together. If you’re set up with a Hi-Fi and computer next to each other then it’s even easier. Not quite as easy as dropping a CD straight into Itunes or Media player I’ll admit, but it actually gives me time to listen to it.

It’s been a while since I’ve been through all this stuff and it’s great to hear it again. Just sitting back and listening – what a treat.

You can find Audacity on Sourceforge at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ if you need it. The next step for me will be splitting the tracks and cleaning up the audio. Time to explore for plugins now.

Return to the specialised computer?

The Personal Computer today is relatively cheap because so many people have them. Imagine if there were only 5 computers in the world. Each of those computers would be very expensive. A specialised device for which the manufacturer would be justified in charging such a high price for as they have such a small market.

Today, many Internet sites are built on low cost Intel systems and Open Source software stacks such as LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP). Anybody with a home computer can run the same software to build their own sites or even contribute to it’s development. If it’s just a web site they want to build then they can use a low cost hosting provider or use a ready made service such as WordPress so they can easily engage in the conversation without having the trouble of managing a server. How much would the online services cost if the hardware were specialised. The hardware that can currently be low cost because so many people use it that the manufacturers can afford to build mass production plants.

Now move forward to a time when the consumer uses a device that is light, low powered and small. It doesn’t need the power of the old PC, that’s all in the cloud. Just what we all want. So what happens when the consumer stops buying the PC hardware that uses the same components as the devices in the cloud? Logically the cost of the server hardware in the cloud starts to increase as the market shrinks. Maybe we begin to see an increase in the cost of the services. Then what happens when the developers of the Open Source stack can no longer afford to buy the hardware on which they used to develop the software. The Internet runs on the contribution these people make in both their time and systems.

They could develop on the new light devices, but the software would still have to be ported to the server platforms. This also assumes that the device manufacturer has not locked it down so that it becomes a just a chunk of metal if you try to unlock it.

We need to move forward to the light devices, but somehow we also need to retain that common platform and the ability for the whole community to be able to contribute if they wish. This is not just about the benefit to the consumer, this is needed to avoid the business market stagnating.

How do you think the future will turn out? Do you think this could represent a threat to the user contribution model?

Clear product definition not Net Neutrality

The argument about Net Neutrality shouldn’t be about whether Service Providers can make deals with content providers or control the flow of traffic on their network. It should be about how this is presented to the consumer and ensuring that the consumer gets what they are told they are getting without the vague or ambiguous small print. There’s room for all sorts of products in the market place, but the consumer needs to know what they are signing up to.

Back in the early 90’s you could choose between closed services such as Compuserve or an Internet Service Provider. Compuserve was a relatively clean environment with moderated services. The Internet was the wild space where you might find some really useful stuff, but much of it was un-moderated and not always easy to find. The Internet was an open canvas with great flexibility and potential as long as you put some effort into it. Compuserve effectively conditioned the environment to ensure that the services they provided were of a reasonably consistent quality and reduced issues such as spam.
As with computer hardware, we are always pushing the limits of network capabilities, so it makes sense to prioritise traffic so that time critical data can be transmitted at a higher priority than non-time critical data. If an email takes a few minutes longer to arrive, most people wouldn’t even realise. If video stream data takes longer to arrive then you notice it. The more we push the network, the more we will need Quality of Service (QoS) measures to maximise network efficiency.

There are differences between content providers and how they run their service. Some make a big effort to ensure they can provide everybody with their content, such as using multiple providers and content delivery networks. These differences and the quality of their content can be what defines their success or lack of success.

If you have paid for an “Internet” service then you don’t expect your provider to artificially differentiate between content providers. If however you have paid for a “content specific” or “walled garden” service then you expect the promoted content to have a high quality of delivery but would accept that other content may be slow or may not even be accessible.

You are paying for the service provider’s skill in either managing an open connectivity network or identifying and negotiating for high quality content and services. There’s room for tiers within both these types of services too with value added bolt-ons such as security and storage. The walled garden network may even be free to access if it’s funded through content provider sponsorship (buying your attention). Maybe the walled gardens could offer basic Internet services such as messaging. As long as the consumer can clearly understand what they are buying then why constrain the providers’ ability to tune a service to a market?

Marketing seems to be at the heart of all this and at the moment, the consumers are getting a raw deal from confusing marketing information. The Verizon “unlimited” example is clear evidence of this.

At some point in the future, we are likely to want to ensure certain data has a clear path in the same way that we give priority to emergency vehicles even when they are going through a red traffic light. One day we may see doctors performing operations remotely and we certainly don’t want their actions delayed by somebody watching a dancing dog on YouTube.

Let’s not limit our future capabilities with wrongly focused laws.