times on microsoft songsmith: camp machine

Microsoft SongsmithWhen Microsoft announced Songsmith at CES this year, I cringed.

The very idea of a musical MIDIscape being auto-generated as one croons seems like something that could only be dreamed up by the karaoke anti-Christ. Then there was the video they released to demo the app. Just try to watch the whole thing. I dare you.

Fortunately, Randall Stross has written a piece in the New York Times (Microsoft Songsmith Is Easy (if Painful to Hear)) that perfectly defines Songsmith: camp. 

This one passage about sums it up (but the whole article is worth a read):

How satisfying are the musical results? Microsoft lets you hear for yourself in a promotional video titled “Everyone Has a Song Inside.” The video is getting more attention than the software because it’s awful, in unintentional ways. “Notes on ‘Camp’, ” the 1964 essay by Susan Sontag, identifies a category of art that isn’t campy, just “bad to the point of being laughable, but not bad to the point of being enjoyable.” The Songsmith video is exactly that.

the yukon internet can be fast… under the right conditions

‘Twas an early Sunday morning, and all through the Horse,
Not a creature was stirring, online of course.
All modems were quiet, all routers had spare
Bandwidth to share with the community out there.

All apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, but I was inspired by my iWork 09 download at 8:30 this cold Sunday morning:

Fast iWork 09 Download

I’ll be damned. When the government sleeps, we do have a decent pipe to the real world. That organization should close more often so we can all get some real work done.

news’ view on yukon’s broadband: it’s lacking

Looking for the HorseIn an editorial on the newly-minted Yukon News site (nicely done, but that Flash header is a tad 1998), Richard Mostyn has posted a summary review of the state of the Yukon in terms of its internet and technology infrastructure (It’s the power grid and data, stupid!). His bird’s eye overview that can only lead to one conclusion: things are severely lacking up here.

Mostyn’s excellent and valuable comments come at an important moment. As other North American leaders emphasize the importance of broadband and mobile telecommunications for surviving and thriving in an evolving new economic climate, the Yukon’s leadership purview seems lost in a snow drift.

US President Obama’s view on these matters are well known. And the achievements in this sector of New Brunswick’s premier, Shawn Graham, are being recognized on a global scale. Both Fredericton (population 50,535) and Moncton (population 64,127) have been placed on the 7-city shortlist for the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF)’s “Intelligent Community of the Year” (Intelligent Community Forum Announces the Top Seven Communities of 2009).

As the Fuldafest that celebrates the Yukon’s frontier qualities winds down, it’s hard not to be disappointed by the fact that this fairy tale foreign view of our locale is still uncomfortably accurate.

social media experts: the cancer of twitter?

PNE ZombieMichael Pinto at fanboy.com is totally right about Twitter’s Achilles heel. From  Social Media “Experts” are the Cancer of Twitter (and Must Be Stopped):

Now the first symptom of this disease was what I call “social media deafness”, a state that occurs when a person’s social graph exceeds 500+ virtual friends. The result is that the person is a mile wide, but an inch deep. Suddenly the friend you use to know develops amnesia like symptoms and starts ignoring your direct messages — what was first simple Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder becomes full blown zombie like state.

So true. And I love his proposed resolution to the problem.

on the rudderless boat called microsoft

sinking-microsoft-boatYesterday, Geof Harries, posted this to Twitter:

What so many applications lack is not good UX design or programming, but rather a product vision that guides every single decision

That got me thinking about  Microsoft’s current problems: they are the result of the company’s lack of a cohesive strategy. In so many ways, from their operating system, to their desktop software, to their mobile and cloud computing efforts, the company seems to lack a solid plan of action.

The source of this deficit appears to be the company’s CEO, Steve Ballmer. He’s a man who has demonstrated that he’s capable of all form of flippant, ignorant, and misleading remark. From foolishly dismissing the iPhone outright to pathetically howling like a wounded animal in front of a huge crowd (“Give it up for me!“), this man seems more bully than boss.

This was most recently demonstrated during a second quarter call when he openly contradicted Microsoft’s chief financial officer Chris Liddell’s report that the company is laying off 5,000 employees. Retorted Ballmer: “Even as we take out 5,000 jobs, we’ll be adding a few thousand jobs…” Now that’s just plain confusing. Or, as the Register commented, “It was like the right hand not knowing – or not caring – what the left was doing.”

What’s more, Microsoft watcher Joe Wilcox reports that Ballmer’s company, “will offer no forward guidance for the remainder of fiscal 2009. Clearly, the global economic crisis has become a Microsoft crisis.” (Quick Take: Microsoft Earnings, Layoffs)

All that and a $4 billion dip in Windows revenue? Were I a Microsoft investor, I’d be worried.

I would posit that, as Geof’s point suggests, strategic confusion is the cause for Microsoft’s stumble. The company seems to be running madly off in all directions on a number of product fronts, without any form of solid leadership or cohesive vision. The company’s products themselves don’t (always) suck; they’re collectively just a grab bag of miscellaneous, disconnected efforts. Continue reading

amazing collection of inauguration pics

I just stumbled upon an amazing collection of photographs from US President Barack H. Obama’s inauguration day (The Inauguration of President Barack Obamaa). Even if you’re not into US politics, these images are worth a look. Each one is meaningful in its own right, but collected together as they are, they communicate not only the influence of America on the globe, but the hope that people around the world have in the new President.

My favourite is the shot of former President George W. Bush looking out the window of his helicopter as it departs Washington. Another amazing image is that of President Obama and his wife Michelle walking in the inauguration day parade. They look so excited, natural and, well, normal.

brilliant new feature in windows 7!

Mac OS X Icon for a Networked PCAppleInsider’s Prince McLean has composed a series of articles that compare the upcoming Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard operating systems (Windows 7 vs. Snow Leopard: Microsoft’s comeback plan. and Windows 7 vs. Mac OS X Snow Leopard: competitive origins).

As usual McLean’s work is thorough, informative, and entertaining.

Here’s my favourite excerpt from the second installment:

Actual new consumer-facing features in Windows 7 are slight enough for Microsoft to refer to “screen dimming” as [a] significant new feature related to battery life. The Windows 7 website notes, “Bright idea: With a display that dims automatically, you get longer battery life” (below). This feature has been in Windows for at least fifteen years, so it appears the company is rather desperately scraping the barrel for features it can promote in its new operating system release.

Gotta love that screen dimming.

google notebook’s demise and the dangers of living in the cloud

Google NotebookI think the the cloud (aka the “internet”) offers some of the very best opportunities for data storage and sharing. In fact, I think it represents the future of technology, beyond traditional computing. Cablevision’s legally-challenged network DVR is a great example of this.

But there is tremendous risk in committing to the cloud, as the re-trenching Google has recently demonstrated its the withdrawal of support for its its Notebook service. Notebook was a brilliant tool for collecting information, organizing it, and sharing it with others. As with most Google services, it was 100% cloud-based, so all of the data you collected and shared was stored on the internet and accessible anywhere via a web browser.

That’s incredibly convenient, but therein lies the rub: any data that’s been collected into Google Notebook is now at risk of being lost irretrievably. Google isn’t cancelling the service outright, but if the Notebook environment breaks in a future update of web browser technology, that’ll be it, all users’ Notebook data will be gone forever. Continue reading