What Light Through Yonder Window Breaks

And so it is, opening with yet another horrible Shakespeare pun, that I pen this first post of 2013.  Happy New Year to you all.

Amazing, really, how the years go by.  It had been five years since my last custom PC build, and with the release of Windows 8 back in October 2012, I started getting the itch.  The casual browsing of PC components quickly turned into hours of research.  Today, I write this from an all-new custom rig, and yes, it’s running Windows 8.  Let me begin by stating I am a huge Windows 7 fan.  That was Microsoft’s flag-ship OS, and anyone who claims NT or XP hasn’t spent enough time on Windows 7.  There is no comparing the products.

So it was that after the first 20 minutes or so on Windows 8, I was pretty sure that it was going to have to go, and I would install 7 back on my computer.  No “Start Button” threw me.  I just couldn’t get over it, and the inability to close the Windows apps was mildly infuriating.  In other words, it was totally new, and I’m getting old and change is bad.  Fast-forward a few hours later…

I can’t imagine ever going back to Windows 7.  I’m not saying 8 is better, since it’s far too early in my experience with it to make that sort of a claim.  I am, however, saying that I’m enjoying several of the new features Windows 8 brings to the PC, and that even though I’m by-no-means a master, I’m enjoying learning about them and exploring once again.

Test

In summary, here’s a few reasons why – so far – I think Windows 8 is awesome:

  • Live Tiles: Far more visually engaging than an icon, and less obtrusive than push notifications.  They’re basically little RSS feeds encapsulated in small graphical tile.  Basically, when aggregated on the Start Screen, you get a nice real-time dashboard.
  • Social Integration: Much better than in previous versions of Windows or Office… Suppose I should mention I’m using the Office 2013 Customer Preview.  Basically, your contacts are pulled directly from your social networks (Twitter, Linkedin & Facebook).  Even the messaging is integrated with folks who may be online in various social sites.  The Outlook integration with LinkedIn and Facebook is also improved and easier to configure than in previous versions.
  • Desktop: Yep… Pretty much the same, with the notable absence of the “Start Button”.  Otherwise, everything that made Windows 7 great has been kept with Windows 8.  Been running for a week now, and no stability or performance issues.  Fingers are crossed here.
  • Cloud: Okay, I admit SkyDrive doesn’t have the press that iCloud has received.  Although, based on what I’ve seen so far, cloud integration with this OS blows anything else on the market away.  Even your Photos app pulls from social and SkyDrive.  All Office Documents automatically get kept in SkyDrive, and it appears as just another “Favorite” (along with Downloads and Desktop) in Windows Explorer, as well as having a custom app in the Start Screen.

PRO TIP – I know the graphic is abysmally small when viewed natively.  Just click for an enlarged image.

The Robb’d That Smiles Steals Something From The Thief

So it would seem I’m still able to choose.  A lot of people, from hackers to silicon valley billionaires, have weighed in on this topic.  I suppose the only reason I’m writing about it is because, in my opinion, I think most seem to have missed the point.  Technically, I’m still able to choose between pirating or buying copyrighted digital content.  Technically, I said, I still have options.  Legally, of course, there is the right way and the wrong way.  The problem, I suppose, is that I pretty consistently choose the wrong way.  I’m not going to sit here and write about why piracy is okay.  I don’t believe it is.

What I will write about, instead, is why I think the MPAA and the RIAA, and their international equivalents, have missed the point.  The problem is pretty clearly understood, but the way they’ve gone about trying to fix it is wrong.  As far as I can tell, governments haven’t been able to fix much of anything lately.  Let me clearly articulate the matter for our friends in Hollywood.  A lot of people like your stuff, but internet pirates offer a distribution model that is somewhat easy, provides many different types of format options,  and of course, is free.  Hollywood doesn’t.

iTunes vs Pirate BaySo what do they do?  As opposed to showing some ingenuity and entrepreneurialism, you know, like the pirates, they run to the authorities to clamp down on the internet.   I guess that’s one way to go about it, but what if those laws passed, and someone claimed their movies contained infringed-upon IP rights?  You’d think the last thing Hollywood would want to do is to mess around with laws that could engender censorship.  Like I said, the pirates are beating them at their mass media game by leveraging technology better than they are.  Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Make It Cheap: Let me get this right.  With digital content, there’s no costs for raw materials, manufacturing, packaging, labour, shipping, and retail markup, as is the case for CD’s and DVD’s.  Yet, I’m still expected to pay $10.00 for an album or $25 for a movie?  C’mon.  Consumers are dumb, but we’re not that dumb.  Make it $2.00 for an album, and $4.00 for a movie.  Sales will rocket, and piracy plummet.  It’s just good business sense.
  2. Make It Awesome: So once I buy your $4.00 movie, I should be able to select as many different formats as I want, like avi, mp4, mkv, whatever.  Always with the options for mobile, etc.  Same goes for music.  Why do I only get 256 kbps m4a files on iTunes, when I can get 320 kbps or FLAC files on the Pirate Bay or isohunt?  Give me the best quality.  Sales will rocket, and piracy plummet…
  3. Make It Open: Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a problem.  You need it because you haven’t fixed the other two issues above.  I should be able to download as many different types/formats of the content as I want, once I’ve purchased it.  I should be able to make copies to put on mp3 players, tablets, or other computers.  I should be able to give a flash drive to my friend (just like a music CD or DVD) with the files.  If I don’t want to download it, I should be able to stream it to any device with an internet connection anytime / anywhere (iCloud, yes I know, but it should work on non-Apple devices too).  Sales will rocket, and… well, you get the point.

Of course, there’s tons of other things Hollywood could do to make what they provide easier and better than internet piracy sites, but they’re either too ignorant or too greedy.  Likely both.  You can’t blame Apple or the other distributors for the prices either.  The root is the production companies.  I want to support the artists and movies I like, but I also have a fundamental issue with being taken advantage of.  They can try to take away the choice, and it might work for a little while.  Another idea might be instead to show some of that innovation and acumen that made you successful in the first place.  Beat the pirates at their own technology game, and people (who mostly want to do the right thing) will support you.

Hail Mary, And Megan

Tell the truth.  You’re a nerd, and you watched the Super Bowl because of the commercials.  It’s okay.  Apparently, you’re not alone.  Tech advertisers were pretty well-represented yesteday, and I just wanted to share a few hi-lites for those of you who may have missed the commercials… I mean, er, game.

There were more tech commercials, of course.  Google, E-TradeIntel and even Dante’s Inferno all had purchased spots for the most-watched television event in history.  At $3 Million USD for a 30-second spot, you better believe tech is where the money’s at… Although, apparently chips and beer companies do okay for themselves.  Let’s face it, that Dorito’s commercial is hilarious!!

Talent And Technology

Everyone knows that technology is meant to make our lives easier.  Arthur Clarke (English physicist and sci-fi author) wrote back in 1961 that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  A pretty insightful comment for its time, and one that continues to get more relevant as technology advances.  I might also add, however, that the most advanced technology is one that everyone can use.  Its power (and magic) lies in its simplicity.

I’ve mentioned before that I work in IT.  Often, I get a twang of jealousy when I see the sort of wonders truly talented people can develop and create using technology.  Back in early December, I took a Visual Studio and .NET framework course, so I could better understand some of the day-to-day tools the developers I work with employ.  Perhaps the most valuable learning from that course is that development not only requires skill and knowledge, the best developers are gifted with talent.  The software, language (VB or C#), and programming .concepts are all relatively easily trained.  Applying those tools and concepts to automate tasks, integrate systems and improve productivity comes not only with experience, but with an inherant ability to think in a certain way.  Skills gained from experience can account for a lot… but the best have talent.

So where does that leave the rest of us?  Writing simple ‘select’ queries in SQL?  Nah…  While developing applications and building their frameworks require a certain talent, they pale in comparitive importance to the innovative ways people like you and me use those applications and frameworks.  The whole point of Web 2.0 is about the online community.  The more people who use the tool the better.  People employ Twitter, for example, in ways I’m sure their developers never even dreamed about.  The same can be said of Facebook, LinkedIn, and just about any of the most advanced technology out there.  Their power lies in simplicity, and the users and community that take what the development teams provide, and turn it into something bigger and better.

The Tremendously Simple Twitter UI

Technology In 2010 – What To Watch

I won’t for a minute profess to having any special insights about what will become the most prolific technology in 2010 or what will end-up failing miserably.  What I can say is I’m watching a few companies and technologies in 2010, and I will be happy to share some things to watch out for with you.

  1. Microsoft’s Project Natal - Will probably ship near the end of 2010.  While it makes some lofty assertions about how it will change the face of gaming forever, whether it actually works well remains to be seen (and is the topic of much discussion already on the internet).  Still, it does have serious implications to the future of home computing and Human Computer Interaction (HCI).  A great example of this is Milo and Claire.
  2. Tablets – I think the tablet form factor is going to really explode in 2010, as wireless networking continues to improve with 802.11n and more and more Operating Systems and applications considering mobility as a key vector.  In particular, keep tabs on the JooJoo (Picture embedded below).  Its sales performance could impact whether the widely-speculated Microsoft and Apple tablets actually get launched in the coming year.
  3. Microsoft Office 2010 – If you’re not already using Office 2007, might as well hold-off on that upgrade because Office 2010 is already in beta, and we can safely assume its launch in the sometime in the next twelve months.  While Office 2007 introduced a new (and vastly improved) UI, Office 2010 is set to build on the Ribbon functionality, while also providing Microsoft Office Web Applications for both home and business users.
  4. Aggregation - This point is highly speculative, but I just don’t think the killer app is out there yet for aggregating and managing social media for end users (or corporations for that matter).  There are many aggregation services, but I don’t see one that offers a scalable and tailored UX, depending on your social media objectives.  I think 2010 is the year this service will materialize.

2009 was a crazy year in technology with an explosion in mobility and mobile applications; 3 major OS’ released – Windows 7, Snow Leopard and Chrome OS; and an immense proliferation of cloud services for both consumers and the enterprise.  There will be numerous surprises I’m sure in 2010, and you can count on me to blog about them.  Any of your own predictions?  Leave a comment, and let’s start a conversation.

The Virtual Pioneers

Having played World of Warcraft for a year and a half, it would be remiss of me not to blog about it (at least once).  I miss Azeroth, but I haven’t played WoW since March.  Unlike many who have stopped playing, I’m not embittered towards the game or other MMORPG’s at all.  In fact, I’m thinking about what MMO I will play next.  I’m even more excited about logging in one day with my children, and questing together.  Hopefully a couple of them get into gaming… I have three!

The reason I’m blogging about WoW is to provide you with a bit of perspective.  A lot of people hear the words ‘World of Warcraft’, and immediately think of some pimply-faced mouth-breathing teenage boy in a messy bedroom staring at a glowing rectangle (or two).  I can assure you that stereotype, typically, is not the case.  Personally, I had the opportunity to play with several of my close friends and coworkers.  These individuals are well into their 30’s, and are professionals with careers ranging from Holistic Nutrition to IT Management to a Film & TV Programmer at iTunes.  So?  What if several demographics play MMO’s?  That still doesn’t make it important, does it?

Absolutely.  By December 2008, total subscriptions hit 11.5 million, and while subscriber volume is important, it still takes second place to WoW’s impact on technology.  To me, MMO’s represent key aspects of what will evolve into Web 3.0.  I envision an internet where ‘social networks’ become more like online cities or towns; where avatars are more visceral, more alive; where classification and semantics are far more structured and effective than in today’s social networks; where online collaboration, competition and even artificial intelligence are more pervasive; and finally, but most importantly, where the User Experience is exponentially more engaging.

I envision this internet, because it exists today, albeit on a far smaller scale within the MMO, and millions of people playing them will want to apply their experiences to other aspects of their online experiences.  For me, I’m anxious to see more of The Secret World and Warhammer 40,000.  In the meantime, parents, girlfriends, wives, you may want to consider suspending the disbelief for awhile.  You may even want to consider playing a bit.  You never know, surfing the net may soon look something like this…

Flying Mount - World Of Warcraft

The GDGT’eers Guide – A Social Network

I joined an interesting Social Network several weeks ago.  The name of the site is GDGT.  Essentially, the concept behind the site is that a user create a profile, and proceed to add their electronic gadgets.  They can then connect with others who have similar gadgets.  Everything is there from smartphones to keyboards, or headsets to D-SLR’s.  The networkers can rate their gadgets and participate in discussions about features, tips and troubleshooting from other consumers. 

GDGT - Blackberry Bold

I`m sure you`re all thinking how great joining another social networking site would be.  Obviously, that`s not why I`m blogging about it.  I’m not here to market anything.  Instead, I want to tell you a story.  The team I work with deals with a lot of software providers on a daily basis.  I recall one occasion discussing a defect with a tech support analyst at the vendor’s call centre.  After a while of fruitless troubleshooting, he said to my teammate, “I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to go to a developer’s discussion forum, and post the issue there.”  I was pretty mad when I heard this.  We pay this company for support, and they wanted us to ‘check the net’ instead?  C’mon.

Thinking about it now, I suppose some of these consumer-facing contact centres for electronics must be jumping for joy about GDGT.  Here you have numerous social networkers troubleshooting and discussing issues on various devices on a daily basis, as opposed to engaging the manufacturer.  Some organizations could actually (long-term) begin to see a decrease in tech support costs if this network-effect catches on for GDGT or similar sites.  Funny.  Crowdsourcing is a trendy new paradigm in some development shops, but I’ve never heard it applied to contact centres before! 

The site was created by Peter Rojas and Ryan Block.  Some pretty prolific bloggers in their own right.  For a bit of fun, I`m embedding my GDGT widget on this blog.  Feel free to take a peek.

Why Standing Stones?

Standing Stones is meant to be a blog about technology.  Just as the ring at Stonehenge was a marvel of technology for its time, so too, the internet’s impact on modern society.  I can’t help but want to contribute in some small way to this phenomenon.  What then, of this blog?  Well, building on the Standing Stones theme, I thought I would write a quick note about a brick-and-mortar, but not just any store.  The store… You know the one everyone has talked about.  The Microsoft Store at the Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

From A Blackberry Camera

I actually had the opportunity to travel to Phoenix last week for a business conference.  Upon hopping off the plane from Toronto, I headed to the Scottsdale Fashion Square.  After all, business could wait.  Anyhow, the store itself is pretty non-descript.  If it weren’t filled with PC’s, Zunes and Windows 7 versions, you’d think you were in an Apple Store.  Honestly, the stuff and the staff were nice, and if you’re in the area it’s worth checking out, but don’t make any special trips.  Everything there is available online or at some other computer retailer. 

One thing worth noting is that if you do make the trip, take some time to familiarize yourself with the Microsoft Surface technology.  It’s worth it, and I believe as the novelty diminishes, so too might the price point.  As a result, this technology will only become more pervasive in a short period of time, and the fancy touchscreen-tables are there at the Microsoft store in abundance.  The only thing I was tempted to buy was the Zune HD.  It would be a bit of a showpiece in Canada, since they’re not sold here.  Ultimately, I decided not to pick it up.  The Zune Marketplace in Canada leaves too much to be desired.

Lastly, I just finished reading “Six Pixels Of Separation” by Mitch Joel.  Standing Stones is the result.  Thank you.