As 2014 come to a close, people tend to look back and reflect on the year that was. For those who blog about technology, it’s a good time to take stock of the predictions and punditry unleashed on the world to see how much of it was on the mark and what turned out to be little more than rumor-mongering, false conclusions, and general numbskullery.
Herewith are some thoughts on my older posts and the way things turned out.
Remember them? Aereo was thought to be a serious threat to television broadcasters and cable TV providers right up to the point where they lost their case in the United State Supreme Court. Personally, I thought their argument had merit (as did the lower courts), and that if they had positioned their company as a “hardware rental” service rather than a streaming video distributor, they might have done better in their final battle. I still feel that their methodology didn’t violate copyright and was a perfectly logical (and clever) workaround. The High Court basically categorized Aereo as a cable TV company. Afterwards, though, when Aereo tried to be treated as a cable company (and obtain redistribution rights from broadcasters as guaranteed by law with proper fees, etc.), they were rebuffed once again.
So now Aereo is legally a cable company but not one that can actually become a cable company, achieving the networks’ goal of erasing Aereo from the television landscape and firing a strong shot across the bow of anyone else contemplating such tactics. My prediction: Network television will at some point be streamed on the internet, and the companies doing it will be the networks themselves.
Apple Television Set
Almost two years ago, I predicted that there would be no Apple television set, a mythic beast that is predicted on a yearly basis by other tech writers. So far, we haven’t seen one, and I still don’t see it coming. It remains to be seen what Apple will do to keep its Apple TV streaming media box competitive with the likes of Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV, and Google’s Chromecast devices, not to mention that almost all Blue-Ray players and gaming consoles can also deliver streaming video.
In the music field, Apple was far ahead of competitors with its powerful combination of iPod and iTunes. With television, the playing field is much more level, and I doubt that Apple will be able to achieve that sort of dominance without drastically changing the user experience involved in setting up and using streaming TV (more on this below).
Microsoft is now on version 3 of its flagship tablet computer, and they seem to have finally gotten it right. Reviews of the Surface Pro 3 have been largely positive, and Microsoft’s advertising has finally gotten around to actually pointing out what the device can do for customers, going so far as to point out the differences between it and the Apple MacBook Air. Good for them, I say—it’s about time that somebody produces a PC computing device that can actually withstand comparison to an Apple product. Since none of Microsoft’s OEM “partners” seems willing to produce such a device, (continuing their low price above all strategy), I applaud Microsoft for their tenacity. I use a MacBook Pro and iPad all the time, but if my employer offered the Surface Pro 3 instead of the functional-but-uninspired HP laptops they offer, I’d have one in a minute.
Microsoft Office and Mobile Computing
A while back, I predicted that if Microsoft offered a version of their Office productivity suite for Apple’s iPad, they would effectively concede the mobile computing market to Apple.
Well, pigs have flown, hell has frozen over, and Microsoft Office can now be had on IOS and Android devices.
Capitulation? I don’t think so. Much has changed at Microsoft since I wrote that particular post. In August, 2013, when Steve Ballmer announced that he would be stepping down from his position as Microsoft CEO, there was a flurry of speculation about who would succeed him. For many pundits, the likely candidate was Stephen Elop, who had just been re-employed by Microsoft after his tenure at Nokia. My thinking at that time was that it would be a bad idea to turn over the company to Elop, who had essentially gutted Nokia, preparing it for acquisition (on the cheap) by Microsoft. Other pundits claimed that Elop was essentially jumping from one “burning platform” to another.
The CEO job eventually went to Satya Nadella, former chief of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise division, a move that signals new directions and priorities for the software giant. Nadella seems to understand that mobile computing is indeed where future growth lies, but that more than anything else, mobile computing is about being connected to services and infrastructures collectively referred to as “the cloud.” To this end, he is working to make Microsoft into the dominant provider of these services, rivaled only by Amazon. The move to:
- Platform as a Service (PaaS)
- Software as a Service (SaaS)
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
- Cloud storage, backup and synchronization
- Online database and web serviceOnline conferencing, collaboration, communication, calendaring
is likely a more accurate description of the “post-PC” world than simply fretting about mobile devices and the platforms they run on. Nadella seems to have adopted this mindset, enabling Microsoft’s services and cloud platforms to run on anything, anywhere. Maybe the dinosaur can dance after all.
Dumping Cable TV
Nearly two years ago, I wrote about how I ditched cable TV and went internet-only for my television viewing. While listening to my friends complain about their rising cable TV bills, I continue to do so with no regrets. There are some caveats, though:
I. The process of subscribing to online video services and setting up devices such as the Roku or Apple TV are still too convoluted for folks who aren’t “tech savvy.” The person attempting to “cut the cable” needs to be willing to fiddle with network passwords, device ID numbers, and the process of registering their systems on various websites to achieve the functionality desired. If Apple is looking for a true television breakthrough, making this process easy and intuitive is where they could really shake things up.
II. Going “cable-free” doesn’t mean getting free television. I was surprised to read an article recently where the author made the assertion that cable-cutters are essentially freeloaders unwilling to pay for anything.
I wish. Here’s a monthly breakdown of what I pay for my “free” television:
- Midcontinent Communications (internet service): $50.16
- Netflix (premium plan with 3-disc option): $25.63
- Amazon Prime (needed to access Amazon’s “free” video content): $8.25
- Acorn TV (streaming service for lots of British TV): $4.99
That’s $89.03 in fixed monthly costs. I could drop the “three-DVD” option from my Netflix account to save $15.00 a month but would miss out on lots of documentaries and older movies that are only available on DVD.
But the spending doesn’t stop there. Soon, two shows that I enjoy, Justified and The Americans, will start their new seasons on cable’s FX channel. To see these shows without waiting a year, I’ll be paying $3.00 per episode per week, either through Amazon or iTunes. This will add another $24 per month to my fixed costs, bringing the total to within ten dollars of what I was paying for my cable TV plan before dumping it.
Of course, if I went back to cable TV, I’d still keep my Netflix and Amazon Prime accounts anyway, so my overall TV expenditure would likely be in the $150-$175 range by the time all the costs were counted. In any case, the question a user should ask before taking the plunge is, “What’s this free television going to cost me?” For some people, staying with cable or satellite TV could be the better move.
Not for me, though. My viewing preferences for things such as documentaries, British television, and old movies, (including silent classics) simply aren’t served by network or cable TV. And since I never really wanted to watch that fool who tried to get eaten alive by an anaconda, cable TV doesn’t have a lot to offer me.
The Year Ahead
So, I’ve had some hits and some misses over the past year or so. In the tech world, things move fast. Today’s rising tech star can be tomorrow’s corporate roadkill. Old dogs (I’m talking about you, Microsoft) can learn new tricks. Some technologies seem to be forever “just around the corner.” And, in case you’re wondering, that fool didn’t get eaten by the anaconda on cable TV.
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Well, it’s been quite a while since I last updated this blog. It’s been a busy summer; the HMML remodeling is now complete and we’re all in our new offices, adjusting to the renovated space. The college students are back, the leaves are turning, and the days are getting shorter. For me, this time of the year always gets me in a philosophic mood.
Recently, two totally unrelated occurrences got me thinking. The first you’re not aware of. After dragging my feet for seven years, I finally got around to completing a bicycle restoration project that I had been putting off (you can read all about it here). The second thing was the launch of Apple’s iPhone 6, which you would have to be on another planet not to have heard of.
I was reassembling and putting the finishing touches on my vintage touring bike, which I’ve owned since 1985, while listening to radio reports about the hordes of Apple fanatics lining up overnight (or paying others to stand in line for them) in order to be among the first to get their hands on Apple’s latest shiny object.
During the next days, I listened to stories about customers’ angst over whether or not the iPhone 6 can be bent by carrying it around in a pants pocket. Or whether the iPhone 6 Plus is too big to use with one hand. Or whether the new IOS update is buggy. Search for any of these topics on Google; there are thousands of folks agonizing over this stuff at any given time.
As I finished taping the handlebars of of my now-restored bike, it struck me that all these fanatics acting as if this new aluminum and glass tech toy is the be-all and end-all of their terrestrial existence will be unceremoniously discarding these very possessions in two years when their mobile phone contracts are up and Apple releases the next model.
This got me to thinking about the concept of a “prized possession” in today’s world and how it contrasts with that notion as manifested in the past. To illustrate this, I gathered a few of my things that would fit the category.
Make no mistake: Apple makes beautiful, well-designed and supremely-executed tech products. For many people, it could be argued that an iPad, smartphone, or sleek notebook computer could easily qualify as the one of their most complex and sophisticated possessions. But are they on par with cherished items that are owned long enough to become part of a person’s life story? Let’s look at some examples.
1. Restored Puch Brigadier 1978 Road Bike
We’ll start with the thing that got me thinking about this stuff. When I bought this bike in 1985, it was already seven years old. I was looking for an affordable upgrade to my heavy department-store ten-speed, and my friend assured me that this Austrian-made used bicycle was a great deal for the asking price of $150. I upgraded the components and used this bike for touring, exercise riding, and even time-trialing (which I was really bad at). In 2007, I disassembled it for restoration after using it for 22 years.
The iPhone was introduced in 2007. In the seven years that the bike has been awaiting it’s restoration, eight different iPhone models have been introduced, fawned over by users, and tossed into the bin when the next one came out.
Now the old bike is a vintage beauty with its gleaming powder-coat paint and polished components. Ready for another 20 years, by which time we’ll either be on the iPhone 17S or be communicating with cellular frontal-lobe implants (from Verizon or AT&T, free with two-year contract).
2. Girard Perregaux Automatic Wristwatch
It’s always interesting to show a younger person a watch like this and explain that no, it doesn’t need batteries and that it winds itself as you wear it. Fits right in with today’s idea of “green” products.
It’s a late 1950’s Girard Perregaux “Gyromatic” with a 17-jewel rotor-automatic Caliber 21 movement. I found this at an estate auction sometime in the 1980’s. I had it cleaned and serviced by a proper watch technician, added a new lizardskin band, and have been using it ever since. With it’s 10K gold-filled case and moire-textured dial, it’s one of the most stylish watches I own.
Of course, someone else owned it before me. On the watch’s back there is an engraving, “25 YEARS OF FAITHFUL SERVICE.” This was the “gold watch” presented to someone for reaching a milestone in their employment. I don’t know if companies do this sort of thing anymore; it’s getting difficult to find people who have been at any one company for 25 years. In any case, the watch is now a prized possession of its second owner. I suspect that after I’m gone, it will find a third.
3. Penn Levelmatic Fishing Reel
I received this as a Christmas present sometime around 1974. I had been wanting to get a more “heavy duty” reel to go after bigger fish such as bass, northern pike, and the elusive muskellunge (which has remained pretty elusive for me). At the time, this American-made reel was among the better offerings at the local sporting goods store.
Today, fishing reels are sold by the thousands in blister packs hanging from displays in big-box retailers. Things were different back then. A reel of this caliber was sold in a sturdy cardboard box—this is where you kept it during the off-season. The instruction manual for the reel had a schematic diagram of all the reel’s parts, and along with the reel, you got a tube of oil, a small container of spare parts, and a small tool used to take the reel apart. It was expected that the owner of such a reel could disassemble it, lubricate the moving parts, replace worn parts, and get it back together. The spare parts provided were the ones most likely to wear out with normal use, so the idea was that the user could keep the thing working for decades.
It’s been 40 years, and I still haven’t had to use any of the spare parts, which are still in the original cardboard box. I have lots of more modern tackle than this, but can’t bring myself to retire it. I still catch bass and northern pike with it, but so far, no muskies.
4. Nikon F2 35mm Single-Lens-Reflex Camera
Another gift, this time from one of my father’s wealthy business colleagues. He was a keen amateur photographer with a taste for the very best in equipment. I sent him some prints I had made—he sent me the 1972-vintage camera (I already had lenses that would fit it).
This was 1979, and the F2 was widely regarded as the finest 35mm SLR camera in the world (sorry Leica fans). I used it throughout college and almost daily in my commercial photography business, producing color slides by the thousands. In the early 1990’s, the then-20-year-old camera received new titanium shutter curtains and soldiered on until 2004, when I got my first digital SLR. It still works flawlessly, but has seen little use. With the demise of so many 35mm film stocks, there are fewer opportunities to use such a superb instrument today, which is a shame.
Getting back to my original thought, what will the prized possessions of the 21st century be for the young people of today? People seem to love their tech toys, but none of them will have any longevity—as I’ve said before, tech is different. Will the lifespan of people’s favorite things be measured in months rather than decades? Or will folks find other types of things to cherish forever, things like musical instruments, prized jewelry, or fine antiques?
I guess we’ll find out in 20 years or so. With luck, I’ll still be riding my vintage bike. And if someone tries to call me on my AT&T cellular implant, they’re going to get my voicemail.
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Tags: analog, bending iPhone, film cameras, gold watch, iPhone, iPhone 6, lifecycle of prducts, Obsolescence, possessions, prized possessions, vintage bikes
When I first entered college many years ago, I had dreams of becoming a newspaper reporter or editor. This was before I became really serious about photography. I had been the editor of my high school newspaper and thought of journalism as a noble pursuit—a worthy way to use my writing and editing skills for the greater good.
That may sound corny and old-fashioned, but ideas about journalism and the mass media were a bit different back then. Memories of the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon’s resignation were still fresh in people’s minds. Determined journalists, the seekers of truth, had exposed the corruption that brought those crimes to light. A few years before that, I watched as Walter Cronkite, displaying rare emotion, removed his eyeglasses, shook his head, and exclaimed, “Boy!” when the Apollo 11 lunar module landed on the moon’s surface. A few years before that, he had also removed his eyeglasses, briefly breaking eye contact with his TV audience while informing the nation of the loss of its 35th President. He then paused for a moment of deafening silence, put his glasses back on, and continued broadcasting in his calm, dispassionate manner.
Back then, there was no Internet, no cable television, and only three major TV networks. Most folks got their news from the national networks, their local newspapers and radio broadcasts. Correctly or incorrectly, people tended to believe what was in the papers and on the broadcast news—it was assumed that the reporters, editors, photographers, filmmakers and producers were honest, objective professionals attempting to present the clearest, most accurate picture of current events.
These rigid notions of objectivity, balance and detachment on the part of news reporters were being challenged just as I was getting into my first reporting course at St. Cloud State University.
My professor in that course was an admirer and proponent of what was called “The New Journalism.” This was a more literary “author-involved” style of journalistic writing popularized by the works of such writers as Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, and Hunter Thompson.
The techniques of New Journalism were diametrically opposed to the rules of “old” journalism. New journalism was often subjective rather than objective; the writer’s ideas and opinions often made their way into the story. The idea of the reporter’s detachment was also rejected—the reporter’s immersion in the story was in fact part of the story itself.In New Journalism, the writer’s involvement in the story coupled with his or her own ideas and opinions produced an emphasis of “truth over facts.”
These notions were anathema to my other journalism professor, a fellow right out of Central Casting. He was ex-military, ex-newspaper, and seemed to be a cross between television’s Lou Grant character and a Marine Corps drill sergeant. He had a booming voice, a flat-top haircut, and terrified most of his greenhorn students. He referred to himself as The Filter—if we wanted to become professional journalists, we would have to get through him.
His style of journalism was old-school all the way. Reporters and editors worked with facts, the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY and HOW information. They were supposed to use these facts to clearly and objectively explain things to the reader. Opinions were for the editorial page. Journalism’s highest duty was to provide the public with objective, balanced coverage of the known facts so that citizens could be informed about their world and form their own opinions and positions in a “marketplace of ideas.”
At my school, the traditional ideas won out. The professor who advocated for New Journalism was gone the next year and students were faced with getting through The Filter if they wanted become reporters.
About that time, I changed course, shifting from news/editorial to the advertising/public relations track within the mass communications department. Photography became more important to me than writing, and I figured that there was more creative freedom (and more money to be made) in the advertising photography business.
New Journalism didn’t succeed at my university, but it didn’t go away. You see its effects everywhere: The rise of “celebrity journalists,” the steady creep of subjectivity into news broadcasts, the increasing prevalence of “puff pieces” centered on participatory journalism, and feature stories replacing what used to be called “hard news.”
I keep hearing echos of what The Filter said about the need for an informed citizenry. To me, things have taken the path towards “more broadcasting—less information.”
And it’s getting worse.
Today, people have the ability to gather information as never before. Digital technology has made it possible to record audio, still and motion picture information at little or no cost, and devices such as today’s smartphones and tablets, coupled with internet connectivity, make it possible for anyone to be a sort of one-person news broadcaster.
We’ve seen the results. We’re inundated by Twitter feeds, thousands of blogs (like this one!) and innumerable YouTube videos. It’s sometimes mildly entertaining and at worst it’s usually just harmless junk.
Mostly, it’s cheap, and that can have very negative consequences.
Armies of volunteer “citizen journalists” wielding cameraphones can “cover” the news at a much lower cost than professionals. This has attracted the attention of large, traditional publishing and broadcasting companies looking to get more material on the air or online while saving money.
Recording Is Not Reporting
But not everyone recording video with their iPhone is a journalist. Here’s a case in point:
I recently watched a perplexing news story streamed from the internet to my television set via my Roku media player. It was about a demonstration in London by professional taxicab drivers. They had created a massive traffic jam in the city to protest the introduction of the Uber smartphone app to the United Kingdom.
The news segment was mostly silent, just video shots of snarled traffic and backed-up cars. Then, a couple of “interviews,” soundbites of angry cabbies expressing their desire to keep Uber out of London, followed by a couple of sentences from an Uber spokesperson promoting their business. No narration, no reporter on camera. That was it.
Confused? I was, not knowing what the heck Uber was supposed to be. Further investigation revealed that Uber is a car-hailing smartphone application that allows users to request what are essentially private taxicabs. Metering is done by the app on the user’s phone, not by a traditional taxicab meter, and the payment is made via the app using the customer’s credit card information with no tipping unless the rider decides to tip the driver with cash. No wonder the London cabbies were steamed.
That’s why the video segment failed as journalism. It failed most of the criteria that my old college professor had set as the standard for news reporting. It presented visuals without explanation, didn’t identify the underlying conflict and its primary players, and failed to explain to the audience WHO Uber was, WHAT it did, and exactly WHY the cabbies were angry. In the end, it was more or less “found video,” with some people talking about some unrevealed concern. The audience, unless they’re already up to speed on Uber and its activities, learns nothing and understands nothing.
Now this wasn’t someone’s blog, YouTube video or podcast. This was NBC’s news channel on Roku.
NBC. The one with the peacock. Brinkley and Huntley, remember? This is one of the biggest of the big guys, and they’re running quite a bit of stuff like this these days.
It’s The “New” New Journalism, or, to me, a sort of cut-rate “non-journalism.” My old professor would be quick to point out (emphatically) that recording is not reporting, and that material presented without explanation or context is little more than noise, which is already depressingly abundant in our world of 24-hour news channels and countless “pseudo news” outlets on the Internet.
But I’d guess that it’s less expensive than real journalism, which is why we’re seeing more and more of it. That’s a shame, because all we’ll end up with is more video, more pictures, less explanation, less understanding.
A less-informed citizenry.
I hope that real journalism can survive this “cheaper must be better” mentality that’s so prevalent these days. People need real news, stories worked on by trained reporters, checked and edited by skilled editors and producers to create real understanding of the events of the day. People should demand it. If not, perhaps one day the New York Times will change its motto from “All the News That’s Fit to Print” to “You Figure it Out.”
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Tags: balanced reporting, citizen journalism, ethics, found video, internet, journalism, London taxi protest, NBC News, New Journalism, objectivity, reporting, taxicabs, Uber