Steve Ballmer Silhouette Zune Ad

Itunes_tiedThe infamous September 2000 video of CEO Steve Ballmer going nuts at a Microsoft 25th anniversary pep rally will likely go down in tech history as one of the funniest videos ever. Now in true Web 2.0 fashion, some anonymous soul has “mashed-up” that video with the famous iPod silhouette ads to create a possible new ad for Micrsoft’s ill-conceived, and likely ill-fated Zune.


Banning Legos

John J. Miller writes about Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle, where two teachers banned the popular children’s toy Legos. Well, actually Legos were banned and then reintroduced. The explanation is really best left to the “experts”–the teachers. In an article published in Rethinking Schools, they explain it has to do with “social justice learning”. It has been a while since I was in elementary school, but I don’t remember social justice learning as part of my curriculum.

John goes on to write:

In their Rethinking Schools article, teachers Ann Pelo and Kendra Pelojoaquin describe how the kids at Hilltop built a massive series of Lego structures we named Legotown. I sensed that something was rotten in the state of Legotown when I read this description of it: a collection of homes, shops, public facilities, and community meeting places.

My children have spent a large portion of their young lives playing with Legos. They have never, to my knowledge, constructed community meeting places. Instead, they make monster trucks, space ships, and war machines. These little creations are usually loaded with ion guns, nuclear missiles, bunker-busting bombs, force-field projectors, and death-ray cannons. Alien empires have risen and fallen in epic conflicts waged in the upstairs bedrooms of my home.

Same in my home. I regularly see airplanes, tanks, buildings, and guns, but never once have my children built a community meeting place. Of course, we do live on the “Eastside” so for my children a community meeting place is not a place to get together to protest “Bush’s illegal” war, rally against global warming, or the latest misguided liberal cause. No, for them it would be going to Bellevue Square Mall or to Marymoor park to walk our dog, Diego.

The teachers go on,

The children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive.

Pelo and Pelojoaquin continue: As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

So they banned the Legos and began their program of re-education. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation, they write.

Wow! What can I say? Could we be reading too much into playtime? Of course for these two, they recognized their chance to mold pliable little minds.

Finally, the kids got their Legos back.

After months of social justice exploration, the teachers finally agreed it was time to return the Legos to the classroom. That’s because the children at last had bought into the concept that collectivity is a good thing.

Collectivity, collectivity?? Communism is what we used to call it. There is much more to this story in the National Review article. A friend of mine and I were discussing this story and he reminded me these children are our future leaders. Leaders we will have to depend on as we grow older. Heaven help us all.

Sizing up the IPTV Experience

Sean Buckley of Telecommunications magazine writes that one quote from the IPTV World Forum in London really stood out for him. That quote, from Accenture’s Arjang Zadeh, stated “quality, not content, is king.” Well, yes and no. It is not that simple, let me explain.

Why would such a quote stand out in Mr. Buckley’s mind? Well, as he goes on to explain, it hits home for him because of problems he encounters with his current provider, Comcast. Fortunately, one of the problems Mr. Buckley describes with Comcast, the transient but eerily predictable, “timeout” error when trying to access the On Demand service, can most likely be explained as an artifact of delivering a two-way service over a network originally designed to support one-way video. Press, On Demand again, and everything works fine. Strange.

IPTV is not immune from “strange” quirks either. In fact ANY digital service is subject to these “quirks”. You see with an analog TV signal (really any analog signal, but we are talking IPTV here) there is a graceful degradation of quality–without entirely interrupting the video program. Remember snow? Depending on the strength of the analog signal you have a really great picture or you have a less than great picture but you have one. In a digital system, digital cable, satellite or IPTV, the degradation is less graceful. Depending on what bits are lost, the picture may still look great, there may be “macroblocking” or the picture may drop entirely. Any of these digital artifacts may occur to cable, satellite or IPTV. Our experience in the field showed us that subscribers that came directly to IPTV from an analog service (Off Air, analog cable) were more sensitive by the digital artifacts. Those that had previous “digital experience” were less sensitive to the artifacts. Makes sense, now.

Without describing in full detail all the of mechanisms available in an IPTV system to ensure Quality of Experience (QoE), suffice it to say, there are several just at the network level which ensure the reliable delivery of packets to the IPTV STB. Of course, IPTV benefits from its inherit support of two-way traffic (unlike the CATV network to which two-way capability has been added).

Furthermore, QoE depends not only on the effectiveness of the network (core, transport, access), but the experience provided by the software platform. Just ask any subscriber of early stage IPTV deployments. Our early customers and their subscribers suffered through painful stages of learning–ours and the service providers–as the industry learned to deliver video over the telecom network reliably. These are the pains I have recently written about for the AT&T Uverse deployment.

However, content is an integral part of QoE and cannot be excluded from analysis. What we (my employer, Siemens Communications) have learned from our leading IPTV customer Belgacom, is that content remains king. This is where I believe I part ways with Messrs Buckley and Zadeh. What Belgacom learned is if licensing premium content was king, licensing exclusive content is like being galactic emperor. Through their licensing of Belgian Premiere soccer, they attracted and more importantly retain subscribers. As you might expect from any relatively new technology, there have been QoE issues at Belgacom. However, understanding that great content is part of the overall QoE has been critical to the rapid success of BelgacomTV. A lesson for all IPTV service providers.

I will have more on Mr. Zadeh’s presentation in a future post.

Apple’s next big move: Multitouch displays?

Steve Jobs definitely loves having symmetry in his product lines, so even though this seems pretty unlikely it’s not totally impossible that he’d want to bring multitouch to stuff besides the iPhone… I hate to perpetuate rumors but this one is too good not to discuss. What do you think, is this the killer feature for Leopard 10.5?

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