Does Microsoft have the Silverlight bullet?

Its prey is the Flash player (and possibly the design application). Flash is everywhere on the desktop.

Having said that, Macromedia would not (and still Adobe doesn’t) let ISVs distribute the player for mobile devices – end users have to dig on the website for it themselves. Device manufacturers can however, come to a bundle arrangement. Despite this, mobile applications like FlashThemes (a great animated theming application for Pocket PCs which is a today screen plug in), and FlashThemes Pro (it’s bigger brother that takes over the today screen) are thriving.

This is stuff FlashThemes can do today on mobile device with flash!

FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile

Why am I mentioning mobile devices?

Microsoft says this is a “cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivery the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the web”, but apparently nolonger cross device?!

In fact, let’s look at the FAQ on the Silverlight website…
Q:”Which devices will be supported?”
A:”Device platforms are being considered based on customer feedback”

Microsoft showed WPF/E (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere), now “Silverlight”, over a year ago running on a Pocket PC device with the Windows Mobile OS. I was interested.

At least it’s cross-browser and runs on other platforms… OK just one – it supports Mac with Safari… but wait, not with Opera.

Want more WOW starts now? Go to the Silverlight website. Tell me it looks wicked awesome with that immersive cyberspace 3D stuff. Um… no. It’s based on a subset of WPF which only includes 2D support, so that video you saw is bogus. It’s a little like buying Windows Vista Basic and finding out you don’t get that one Flip 3D trick you saw on the TV commercial.

Well, at least it’s free, so it should be easy to distribute. Probably a Windows Update if Microsoft wants to get it out there quickly. If not, then it may be harder to proliferate. The new (and good) security in Windows Vista means that you need to elevate to an admin user to install it, which may present a barrier for adoption. When Flash came along years ago, lots of consumers were merrily running 95/ME/XP as admin users and it was very easy to install Flash.

The new website sadly presents the same tired-looking demos. Where’s the Microsoft equivalent of Flash (the design application, not the player)? The site mentions tools like those in Expression Studio and Visual Studio (which seems more like marketing for those tools) – there doesn’t seem to be any specific tool add-ons to make the design experience work. This is not surprising given that Visual Studio will not have designer support for the full WPF platform (released last November, alongside Vista) until probably this November.

If Microsoft really wants this to be the Silverlight bullet, it needs to have this running on mobile devices to make it permeate every aspect of the new consumer age. This means having it run on Symbian based devices. Take PhoneThemes.

PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a Symbian Series 60-based phone
PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a SmartPhone form-factor device running Windows Mobile

This is an animated theming application and DRM-protected distribution platform for mobile phones (Windows Mobile-based PDAs and phones or Symbian-based phones). It doesn’t use Flash and it can now run on even the older Symbian 40 Series devices.

Can Microsoft make Silverlight work on these devices and make an Adobe killer? Given the spin about video interaction they are singing, it’s unlikely these devices will hold up performance-wise. That makes it a race with new devices. Microsoft needs to get behind its device manufacturer partners and allow ISVs to distribute (or at least link in the installer from the web) before Adobe does a deal with someone like Nokia that wipes out Silverlight before it’s properly lit.

Media whoring over today’s shooting in the US

I knew something had happened today – I saw the headline on

I went to watch CNN on TV – the live news conference with the police chief at Virginia tech was just starting.

Questions asked (by reporters from undeclared news companies) included:
‘Can you describe the scene?’ and ‘Was it execution style?’

There’s the asking of questions that everyone is thinking but too afraid to ask, and there’s these kinds of questions – they serve no useful purpose at all. Those and the accusatory ones about campus authorities. I’d be the first to question the organisational prowess of some educational institutions, but this is not the forum for that. These guys have a campus police force.

This kind of tabloid journalism has seeped into mainstream news reporting and it is sickening.

Even CNN has gone down hill. News anchors stand infront of tacky looking multi-screen displays and ask these kinds of questions. The fundamental issue is that these news anchors don’t come over as representing the concerned voice of a nation (though they do their best to spread it on with a thick knife with an acid edge), but often as egotistical people who seem to be trying only to beat down the interviewee (or put them on a pedastal as seems to fit the mood) and raise interest in how good the show is. It stinks of insincerity. I’ve watched UK TV news go the same way.

This is not every journalist of course; just a handful. However, the fact that they are not taken to task makes me think that their ‘showmanship’ must be bringing in the bacon for the network.

In relative terms, horrible things happened in Virginia today and it’s a definate loss for the related family and friends. Systems will be improved. Sensationalising it and chipping away at the campus authorities will not bring back those people and will not necessarily even help avoid future issues.

UPDATE (Apr 17): To check up on this story today I read the most recent CNN article. It included a link to “watch how quickly these guns can be fired, reloaded” after the paragraph talking about a doctor’s quote regarding the number of bullet holes! It did not include a link to the gunman’s ‘vitriolic’ note which may have shed some light on why this happened and how to prevent it. I turned on CNN: there was the live broadcast of a Virginia Tech service going on (presumably to share the moment with those who could not attend), only to hear announcers commentating during the ‘moment of silence’ to talk about a guy being helped out of the service – why must they commentate on everything?

To catch a Wii

I recently turned my attention to getting a Nintendo Wii. For anyone that knows me when it comes to gadgets, this means that I do not stop until I’ve managed to get what I’m looking for. It will not mean that I do nothing else but hunt them on the streets, but I will schedule things around critical ‘can you Wii me now?’ calls. I did see some fun geek pack mentality on PS3 and Wii launch days – let’s call it ‘drive-by geek pack networking’, along with ‘flocking behaviour’ and it goes like this:

Scenario 1:

  • Geeks are standing outside a store waiting for it to open
  • They will know the number of likely prey inside
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • The waiting geeks get mixed feelings when saying “there are only have x units here, but I believe they will have some at xyz store” because on one hand they are happy to help out a fellow geek but on the other they are proudly guarding their kill, while of course hoping this store does in fact have the advertised quantity and that they haven’t just sent somebody extra to potentially more fruitful hunting ground

Scenario 2:

  • Geeks have just got their prize (having slept outside all week, etc)
  • They are walking out of the store with their trophy
  • Someone drives up and rolls down a window
  • Similar conversation except geek with console is thinking “yes sucker I got mine” while being genuinely helpful, and the geek in the car says “thanks” in a quite sincere way while also thinking “those bastards got one”

When one outlet runs out, the unsuccessful hopefuls all flock to the next possible venue, like voters for American/Pop Idol flock to another finalist when their chosen hopeful gets voted off.

The animalistic instinctive part in all this is that the geeks know what the other geeks are hunting without explicitly asking…

Back to my hunt…

One of the first rules of hunting gadgets at retail outlets is don’t believe what the first store assistant tells you. Yesterday from Walmart I heard “it’s hard to say”, “we wont get any today”, “the truck could show at anytime” and “it was delayed and it’s best to call between 11am and 1pm”, and not in that order.

So I called at 11:55am this morning and was told that yes today could be the day but I should call back at 12:15pm or 12:20 when they’d know for sure.

I called back at 12:25 to be told they had sold out and that the merchandise had been received at 11:30 and was on the floor at 12:00… bugger – I broke my own rule and should have invested 20 minutes going over there.

Not to be deterred I remembered that there are 4 Walmarts within a 15 minute radius, and I concluded that they would deliver quantities to more than one location, and that the deliveries may well be on the same truck.

I’d been dealing with the South location, so I tried the West location – no go – and then the East location and got “yes we have 6 left, we’ve only sold 2 and there’s no-one here”. Could this be???!?!

I got straight into the car, drove 10 minutes and I was there. This location, to which I’ve never been, is away from down-town and is in an industrial park rather than a retail park. I almost thought I was in the wrong place until I rounded the last corner.

They still had 6 left and they had no nunchuck controllers. The assistance asked me how many I wanted. Um… err… um… I almost wish there had been a way to inform those people I saw on Monday morning that they could get their system afterall.

Wii scored… now to avoid breaking my 1080p screen with a controller…

Movie Review: The Grindhouse

There is certainly an element of self-indulgence in these two movies (Planet Terror and Death Proof that make up The Grindhouse double-feature bonanza) and I believe there’s enough old-style cheesiness in the trailers to make most teenagers stay away which is good because, frankly, they’d be disappointed. There was enough cheesiness for me to give it a try though.

In Planet Terror, you can look forward to many people in the audience whispering “That’s Bruce Willis,” and even better… “That’s the guy from Lost”. They are in fact referring to Naveen Andrews who plays Sayid; here he has his English accent on display and for some reason displays a penchant for a ridiculously inexplicable and bizarre trophey that I wont reveal…

Death Proof is for the most part utterly boring and even the eventual stunt-scene (which seems to go on for no apparent reason, although that’s probably deliberate) focuses on largely one stunt for a long time. The end is pure throw-back. Kurt Russell doesn’t seem to do all that much acting – but look for him at a bar stool in the second cafe scene.

Some people will probably say that some of the worst parts of the movies are genius, but if by that they acknowledge that the movies are slow, have no character development to speak of, are boring in most places and offer some awful close up camera angles and what amounts to a not very entertaining movie, they’d be right.

For self-indulgence: Quentin Tarantino gets a cameo in both movies and does in one scene what no man, even in the worst porno, has ever done probably; Robert Rodriguez (apart from probably having the more entertaing movie) of course does every job he can (including the music) except act in it (but has a surname namesake actor do that) or provide catering.

If you’ve ever been to a grind house movie from way back (and clearly these two guys have seen too many) you may enjoy this (and critics may love it for old-style cinema replication qualities) and it did admittedly have some laugh out loud cheesy moments. However, it was not entertaining enough, much of which could be equally attributed to the excessive length.

Walmart only has a RFIDer on Wii availability

I had spoken to someone in the electronics department at Walmart last week. They said they were expecting Nintendo Wiis this morning.

I woke up early this morning knowing that Walmart would open at 7am. So…

I pulled up at 6:55 and the store was already open.

On the way in, I saw other people of the ‘appropriate type’ strolling in. I wondered if it would be a foot race to the check out, though given the fact that the store was already open, I was kind of expecting them to have sold out.

As it turns out, the department was desserted and I was the only one there, well at least for 2 minutes, at which point a young asian couple and a teenage boy both showed up just as a staff member appears at the counter.

Undeterred by the make-shift ‘There is a shortage of Wii and DS – please call Nintendo for details on ….’ sign on the display case we all asked the guy what the deal was.

He kept on repeating that it was “Hard to say”. I resisted the urge to be pedantic and go with “But still possible then?”.

So then it was time to leave the store empty handed with that… ‘perhaps I should not leave because I need to stalk the display case for any possible sign of Wiis surfacing and I can not have those other people getting one an not me’ mentality. OK, not really. In fact there’s actually a kind of instant fellowship between console hunters, though this can be quite interesting given that heavy duty gamer types can be awkward social geeks – this was evident at 7am on the PS3 launch day last year when we were all waiting outside EB Games in the cold engaging our social skills; probably to avoid de-evolving to cavemen and ripping each other’s head off for the primal prey kill.

On my way out I remembered that Walmart has begun mandating a large amount of RFID chipping on supplier palettes (not yet individual items). I don’t know how widespread the mandate is yet and I wondered if Nintendo was subject to this. With my IT head on I thought of all the smart but useless things I could have said like “This is the company that mandates RFID chips – surely you know exactly where the shipments are and when they sneeze”.

So really my point is that I am (of course…) somewhat appalled by the fact that ‘in this day and age’) Walmart did not know whether a shipment of Wiis was coming, and couldn’t show me GPS tracking of the truck in question (highway robbery anyone? OK that’s the PS3). Actually I was pretty sure that someone somewhere did now, but of course they wouldn’t dare tell the floor guy for fear that alien beings would extract his brain matter just for the chance to be able to play some human entertainment.

So Walmart may have RFID but they only still pass on a RFIDer to the customer. Yes, OK, it’s cheesy.

Network stacking your brain

Here we come Johnny Mnemonic

Ted Berger, at the University of Southern California in the US is experimenting with electronic chip brain cell replacements.

This is fascinating because his approach involves operating at what could be seen as analogous to a low level of the computer networking protocol stack, ignoring how it’s used higher up.

Amongst other thinks, the ISO layers of computer networking enables two things: I can abstract away lower levels (like a wireless medium or a physical cable) so that they all look like something that can carry IP data packets (with caveats); I can also on top of that generic platform, build other abstraction protocols like the TCP protocol (which provides for sessions with error correction) or go even futher and build web site protocols (that let your computer get this page) or Web services that allow computers to request information from each other.

Let’s say the brain talks IP packets. Think of this guy’s idea as saying that he can put in other hardware and make it look like something that talks IP packets too. He doesn’t care what the application protocols are – YOUR ACTUAL THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES – on top of this, or how the brain runs them.

He’s actually playing at a much lower level in the stack – more like the ethernet level – with the electrical signals that are occuring between brain cells. As Ted puts it: “I don’t need a grand theory of the mind to fix what is essentially a signal-processing problem,” he says. “A repairman doesn’t need to understand music to fix your broken CD player.”

He is talking about repair too. He means to develop something that can be used to replace damaged brain areas. Later this year, his super-star scientist team (some of them being involved in the early Internet networks) are testing it on rats by chemically disabling parts of the brain and then bypassing that part with his electronics to see if it works.

Many people have issues with this work. Ted gives the impression that he thinks they don’t understand this stack principal: they think it will not work because they say Ted doesn’t know how Brains fundamentally think and store memories (it seems no-one does yet); Ted is saying that it’s irrelevant because he’s just simulating the hardware that the ‘brain OS’ runs on.

If you have used Virtual PC or Remote Desktop, etc. you’ll get the idea that he is effectively emulating the hardware and has figured out the RDP protocol.

There are two big issues around emulation ‘characteristics’ that I can think of that could make replacable brain cells not work as expected. The first is that while the abstraction principle works in theory, in practice the facade can ‘crack’. For example, while you can send IP packages around your home computer network through a cable or wirelessly, the wireless method can exhibit characterisitics that are different to cable and those can have a knock on affect a higher level, e.g. interference may create signal behaviour causing a delay (or even data loss) that is significant to a higher layer (your web browser hangs waiting for a page and may not have retry code). To make this work in the brain will mean that the emulation must have the same characteristics, or at least characteristics that are within tolerance as far as the brain is concerned. The second is that even if the characteristics are within spec, the remaining deviation may actually still affect the character of the person. This could happen because the characteristics of the signal processing may contribute to the patterns and behaviour of the brain, so while a brain implant may fix something (or perhaps augment you), it could actually make you a different person – at an inconsequential level or avalanching to a different personality (as can happen with brain traumas).

I could go for a while discussing this, but there’s one other thing to get you thinking that I really must mention, and it’s somewhat philisophical.

A lot of brain surgery appears (on TV at least) to be done with the patient conscious (which I believe has something to do with it being the best way to monitor stability and the brain not feeling pain directly). Imagine that you had a surgery whereby pieces of your brain were replaced with such implants and assuming they had perfectly matching characteristics so that your behaviour is not altered. Now imagine that this process continues during the surgery until your whole brain is replaced… Remember that you are awake the whole time. Are you still you? Perhaps your brain reacts to the temporary bypasses. If you are still you, what happens if your new brain is totally removed and hooked up to bionic sensory apparatus (new eyes, ears, etc) – with a temporarly moment of sensory deprevation while you’re still conscious? You could even go for the human sensory equivalent of a keyboard, video & mouse switch. How about remote desktop from a robot in another room, across the world, or on the moon?

The major point, that gives this some extra credibility in my mind is that once a piece (or the whole of a brain) is replaced, we still wouldn’t know, and wouldn’t need to know, how the replacement is being used to do your thinking and memory storage. Even if we could monitor the activity, it is still too complicated to analyse, because there isn’t a computer powerful enough to data mine the whole thing (not even another brain perhaps), though maybe we could begin to understand the building block patterns.

They can only emulate less than a billionth of a brain’s cells on some small circuitry, so there’s a way to go yet before you can preserve your brain in a jar powered by a solar cell.


Tech in education survey doesn’t add up

According to a CNN report, computer software in 132 schools not using it one year and then using it the next, says that it didn’t help.

There are far too many variables and major overlooked factors in this experiment, despite 132 schools to make this meaningful. There has been plenty of evidence that kids can engage and learn from computers.

I believe this experimental approach is avoiding four major factors:

  • The general professional training of the teachers
  • The overall methodology or the curriculum
  • The means of measuring results
  • The general calibre of software used

Being trained to use the software is not the same as being trained to use software in education.

Computers in education are a tool that can be well used to engage student interest. This sounds like an “oh well let’s give it a go I suppose” kind of experiement.

Shatner video phone mad cow

Rogers in Canada recently announced their video phone call service on their new HSDPA high speed wireless network (with very limited coverage and even disclaimers that service make be intermittent as the network is built out).

HSDPA offers huge mobile data possibilities but video calling is the vehicle that (sadly, and clearly not learning from Three’s failure in the UK) Rogers has chosen to use because quite frankly, it’s really hard to figure out how to convince consumers to spend extra money on a new network investment.

They had William Shatner (who is Canadian – and why can’t the Canadian media resist the urge to tell everyone about someone being Canadian every time they sneeze) show up to do some kind of tongue-in-cheek launch event.

However, in a seperate media interview (and I’m paraphrasing/remembering here) he talks about science fiction become reality – bear in mind that they only had voice communicators on Star Trek, vs. say Space 1999 – but then started to go on about how text messaging was not a very warm way to communicate with people, etc. I think he was trying to say that video phone calls were much more ‘in-person’ and friendly but didn’t specifically say that as far as I remember, and remember sheep need to be herded.

I was wondering if Rogers executives were cringing at Bill’s words though. The point of having a celebrity is that it lends some persuasion to influence all those susceptible people out there. Now, imagine how much money Rogers makes from text messaging, and now Bill has told lots of people that text messaging is bad, and yet this new service is only available around Toronto…

I didn’t get to see the full media launch video, so hopefully, for Rogers’ sake, not many people will get to see this ‘mad-cow’ (see Boston Legal), i.e. confusing media clip. Yeah, OK… the texters are addicted so Rogers is safe, but it was a little like watching Denny Crane put his foot in it.

My kingdom/PS3 for a Wii?

I got a PS3 on launch day, but it came with an opportunity cost other than the cash. I (for the first time) slept overnight in my car – well from 2am to 7am – a month before to get my pre-order in. That wasn’t the cost, and it beat sitting outside in a chair or tent like most people had to in near-zero temperatures. The EB Games store I went to knew how many of PS3s and Wiis they’d be getting and I had to choose between the two systems, so I went for the PS3. That was the choice.

Since last November I haven’t seen a Wii in stock anywhere and yet I’ve been bombarded with the Nintendo commercials. Don’t they realise they’re wasting money given that it’s hard to convert ad time in to sales when there’s nothing to buy?

Nintendo is notorious for under supplying. I don’t care what they say; I believe it’s a strategy to keep demand up. It also hurts the accessory partners.

Most stores I’ve contacted (and trust me I have a list of all the relevant store’s phone numbers from my PS3 pre-order adventure) either have no idea when they’ll get their next shipment, or have a date that keeps slipping.

Would I trade a PS3 (or more) for a Wii? Well, no. My 1080p screen (to get the best PS3 and XBox 360 experience) will no doubt stick it’s nose up at the Wii’s graphics, but I’d like to have one because 1) I’m a gadget junkie so I have all the others, 2) the controller concept and games seem like fun & 3) one gets to get off the couch.

Internet Borders – use the off switch

A handful of videos offensive to the Thai king have caused Thailand to ban YouTube access in the country. Apparently such acts in Thailand can lead to serious prison time.

Apparently the king is regarded as semi-divine – he is 79 and apparently the world’s longest-reigning monarch. I kinda think the hat could make him a comedy target, but then it never hurt the British Beefeater guards at Buckingham Palace.

The Thai communications minister claims that YouTube told him that there was “much worse ridicule of President Bush on the site” which is kept there. One of the offending clips replaced the monarch’s face with a monkey’s face – imagine that with Bush and decide for yourself how many people would bat an eyelid – good ol’ USian free-speech. These are clearly different cultures. While Thailand holds its monarch in high regard, it also has a quite public thriving hospitality industry 😉 which the US would frown upon for the most part even if it has a similar industry covertly operating too (as do um… most countries?).

This brings up the discussion of Internet culture borders and jurisdiction. Quite frankly I’m surprised that a more blunt stance is not taken in Thailand (compared to say China). If YouTube is under the jurisdiction of the US constitution, which would seem to allow rights that are most definately not in line with Thai national laws and morals (once you’ve figured out who is in charge after the 18 coups in 75 years), then why would Thailand condone access to it in the first place?

If you don’t like something on TV (allowing for the fact that in some countries like UK there are watershed times during the day before which mature content is not allowed), you can turn it off. If Thailand doesn’t like US morals, they can turn it off too – in fact why did they even allow it in the first place?

These Turks know how to do it. But then again, it makes me wonder if the only really effective remaining democratic action one can take is moving country. It’s just a shame you can’t make your own with its own set of rules – ah well there’s always Second Life or um Weblo(?) but even the US Feds are starting to look into those.