Friday, September 28, 2007

Between the glass

I have been re-reading Manovich's Language of New Media -- it is still a great book. It's a year later and I have had some time to consider some aspects of what he has to say.

In our presentation in August, my buddy Alan Foley and I talked about DE Edcucation and the challenges/opportunities when we consider online education's potential to be better than, not just as good as -- conventional education. I have said enough on this point. But the message that we repeated is that in moving to the digital -- it is different in many ways.

I guess, now that I have spent so much time in the the digital, I am ready to revisit the analog. A friend and I were talking about graphic design, and I told him that designers "had to get down with their bad selves" -- it is about honesty, directness, clarity.

But l need to take the same advice.

What I mean is that it is time to consider the analog. I am interested in that space between the analog and the digital. Digital is....well read Manovich's book. I get stuck on terms like "sampling error" and "quantization". In converting the analog to the digital, it becomes something else. In that moment where whatever is between the two worlds, that is an interesting place.

I am back to where I was several years ago, dissatisfied with technology, and what we have chosen to do with it. A virual world run by one company, with a fake, consumerist, capitalist hype machine. So many messy questions here not answered.

Resolution. We are built for large movements, but we type on little keyboards just as I am doing right now. We are fortunately good at adapting to the things we make, but that does not mean it is ideal. We celebrate frames per second, color depth, but it still digital. It is sampled.

Between the glass lies the phosphors or lcd pixels that are activated -- by an electron beam or an electrical charge. That space is where the patterns reemerge, are stitched together by our brains. The digital is dead until we give it life.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Living in the iPhone Ghetto

I finally succumbed and bought an iPhone. It was the price cut combined with the $250.00 of gift cards that I got for my birthday a few months back. It was the untimely death of my nokia -- although one friend suggests that I wanted the phone to die so I could buy an iPhone.

What strikes me about this device is not the usual stuff that technogeeks coo over -- the multitouch screen, the thoughtful engineering (hardware and software). What strikes me is that this is perhaps the most closed device that Apple has sold in recent memory.

I think it started back a few months ago, when at Apple's developer conference, people were waiting for a development kit for the iPhone....and instead were told to develop web applications optimized for the phone. The argument was that customers using cell phones were not used to their cell phone crashing. Having an open application environment would potentially allow that to happen.

But really, we know now that this hasn't stopped legions of iPhone users from potentially voiding their warranty to install applications on their phone, and even further, untether their phone from AT&T -- which would then allow them to use their phone with T-Moble, Orange, any carrier worldwide that supports GSM.

There are other peculiarities. You can't download content other than that from the iTunes store to your phone wirelessly -- in fact, the sheer ease of which you can pay a $1.00 for a song gave me pause. I doubt I will be using that feature. This means, for instance, that while the phone is capable hardware wise of playing back streaming audio -- such as from a internet radio station -- that feature is disabled. You can't download pictures from the internet to your iPhone.

But -- I think, for myself, it comes down to the ring tone.

I have been able to upload ringtones to my cell phones for a while now that I created. Myself. No copyright issues involved. Well, with the iPhone, you can't do it. You must buy a ring tone if you want more than the one's that ship with the phone. That is ridculous.

I noticed that accessories that use the dock connector no longer work -- my two FM transmitters, my boombox that has video out -- I get a message that these devices are not designed for iPhone.

Perhaps this is because Apple is plugging the analog hole. This is where video/audio equipment has analog outs -- which allows users to re-record content, admittedly at a degraded quality. It is possible they have conceded to the media conglomerates that would like to see the removal of all analog ports (save for a head phone jack) from equipment -- so that people will only be able to transfer content digitally -- and there potentially be prevented to make copies.
My theory is deeply flawed. I know that for every encryption scheme, there is likely a way to break it, for at some point the stream has to be unencrypted for playback. So, perhaps I am simply over-reacting to the needless disabling of my current devices.

One other thing -- the ability to use the phone as a flash drive has disappeared. I know that most won't care, but I find this strange.

I think the iPhone hints at a future direction for Apple -- a further closed ecosystem where things live in this ecosystem, but can't escape easily. They will deliver what the entertainment industry has wanted for a while -- but with a Apple spin -- just enough freedom (you can copy over your existing mp3's and mpeg-4 video to the iPhone) but with some interesting restrictions.

This way of thinking is what is crippling the AppleTV by the way.

My guess is that Apple will go into the subscription business -- with ephermal downloads (watch the TV show, and it disappears in 48 hours). Plugging the analog hole makes this more feasible.

I don't hate my iPhone. It's pretty much what I've wanted in a mobile device for some time -- a phone, web browser and email client. But I am a little bit concerned about this direction, for Apple is not the only company taking this tact -- we only have to think of Microsoft's struggling Zune -- with it's potentially killer feature, 802.11 wireless -- which is hopelessly crippled.

My guess is that within two years, and likely a year, everyone who makes cell phones (Samsung, nokia, etc) will have their own iPhone device. It will be interesting to see what the rules are then.


Thursday, September 06, 2007

More on Innovation

While I am completely skeptical of the terms "Web 2.0" or "millennium learners", I think this article is an instructive example of the process of innovation, and how it is twarted.

Damn those pesky users.


Living with Anti-Innovation

Our organization is undergoing a re-organization. It is an opportunity to rethink, or retrench. Retrenching is the comfortable solution, because it is feels somewhat the same after the dust has settled. It may seem different from the outset, but it is fostered by assumptions that were prevalent before the reorganization.

This is not because we don't have smart people working on this. It is not because we don't want to change. It is because we, like most people, want to define the future by what is in front of us.

I had a conversation yesterday with an instructor who teaches painting. We talked about the digital and the analog. He made an excellent point -- that digital interfaces encourage small movements; typing on a keyboard, using a graphics tablet that is defined by the size of sheets of paper. In his world, you can involve the whole body in the process if you want, and he argued that this was better because it matched the way we are made.

Once you accept this premise, it becomes a slippery slope. Why do we use little keyboards. Sometimes it is portability -- but what about our desks? We use tools that conform to technological assumptions, and we make them work, because we are so extraordinarily able to adapt.

But, we define things based on what came before, until someone breaks the mold. Afterwards, there is the hindsight that allows us to see that "of course! it was a logical progression!", but at that point of flux -- it might seem a little disturbing, or even scary.

I think at these times, there are many forces in place that do not see themselves as "anti-innovation" -- but again, in hindsight, that is what they are. Things can't change, because that is too messy! It works well enough as it is, says the steamboat operator to the airplane pilot.