Saturday, October 22, 2005

MIA post

Gosh, it's been ages since I attended to my blog. I think my brain must have gone off to another planet for awhile.

There are some interesting developments in the metadata market space. Seth Goldstein and others have launched the first release of their Attention Recorder, based on the ATtention eXtension (ATX). ATX is a Firefox plugin that lets you record your own clickstreams and then selectively publish them to trusted websites. The Attention Trust is the social agenda part of this equation - to promote the view that users own their own metadata.

Elliott Masie manages somehow to be increasingly more relevant in the learning space. Recent posts have touched on nanolearning and video iPods.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

IM Gets a Boost

This week saw some interesting announcements from the Instant Messaging space. My fascination with Zipit Messenger has awakened my interest in IM, especially protocols and interoperability issues.

Google launched their own IM client called Google Talk, which is very thin on features and just ho-hum for someone like me that uses this stuff every day. Skype on the other hand introduced an SDK for IM developers that will help them address interoperability problems and leverage the Skype platform. Intel announced collaboration with Skype to ensure that its upcoming Centrino mobile line takes full advantage of Skype's technology (especially VOIP).

"It’s important not to build a walled garden."
- Janus Friis, Skype

That's an interesting statement from a company in the Internet telephony business - shows they're paying attention to applications of IM and VOIP, as you'd expect. Most people I know think Skype is a company to watch. And most people I know are Googling less as they rely more heavily on RSS. If this was Wired (and it's not), then Skype would be Wired and Google would be Tired.

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Brief Intro to Podcasting

Worked with my boss Mahboob on a podcast, providing a brief intro on the evolution of podcasting. There is a small error in my remarks. I said "RSS stands for 'Really Simple Subscription'". Of course RSS stands for 'Really Simple Syndication' - I was trying to explain the subscription process and got carried away.

Mahboob's end of the conversation suffers from a slight technical flaw, an echo effect apparently due to my not wearing headphones while recording. Apologies.

[ammended 20050820]

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Lack of Data for Proper Assessment

Can schools predict student success based only on 'exit exams'?

Consider the case of California, where passing scores in exit exams for basic math and English proficiency are now mandatory before a high school diploma can be issued. Exit exam requirements are intended to give employers, students, parents and the public assurance that a diploma signifies that students have the knowledge and skills to succeed after high school. The tests now in use measure proficiency at 8th grade level, which most students achieve even before entering high school.

Crunch time is coming for the first batch subject to this requirement. So far, about 90 percent of California's incoming seniors (the last year before graduation) have already passed at least one test. While the state knows that the remaining 10 percent still need to pass at least one of the critical exams, that don't have precise data. Says one article: "Because the state doesn't have individual student data, it can't precisely gauge how many students have passed both tests. Conversely, it can't tell how many of the seniors who haven't passed the English test are the same students who have failed the math test."

Thus the 10% figure understates the number of students who still must pass at least one portion of the exam to get a diploma - and they only have one year in which to achieve it. This lack of data is appalling, and highlights the need for continuous assessment in schools. Continuous assessment will provide better data to school administrators and will help teachers intervene earlier to help struggling students.

Statewide there is a wide disparity in pass rates by race and ethnicity, a phenomenon known in education circles as the 'achievement gap'. The biggest challenge for districts which have large immigrant populations, such as those in Southern California, will be helping English learners pass the test. Only 58 percent of incoming seniors who don't speak English fluently have passed the English test and only 70 percent have passed the math test.

Exit exams can identify whether students are minimally proficient, but by the time results are out - it's already too late. Also, the level of proficiency tested is that which students should have attained before entering high school, so the four years spent in high school classes are not optimally utilized.

California schools need to implement continuous assessment, not snapshots.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Is Radio Dead?

A lot of folks in the podcasting community suggest the death of radio is imminent. Among them is Steve Gillmor in his recent podcast "Broadband on the Run". Must be an allusion to McCartney's Band on the Run. WKRP tombstone (courtesy

Certainly there is an emergent model for podsafe music. Information wants to be free. But I believe that (Steve's co-host) Doc Searls is right, namely that the traditional model for music distribution is not dead and there will be some level of co-existence for a long time. And I think Gillmor is wrong to play Hey Jude in the background of his podcast (unless perhaps he's engaged in review and commentary). And in the same vein, Adam Curry is wrong to play mash-ups as if they were podsafe. Neither is 'fair use', and neither escapes current copyright restrictions, since I and others are being invited to download the programmes.

Moreover, I think that Gillmor's programme suffers from the 'fog of war' he seems to be declaring on copyright owners and publishers. Namely, the programme falls short of clarifying why radio is in the throes of transformation, what drives this transformation, and how radio is being transformed.

Internet radio is nothing more or less than the delivery of radio programmes via TCP/IP. That delivery can be either live or on-demand. I listen to Virgin Music via Shoutcast live on my Treo phone and that's Internet radio. I listen to downloaded BBC programmes via iPodder or iTunes and that's Internet radio. I listen to BBC live via my Windows Media player (incidentally bypassing their custom HTML player) and that's Internet radio.

In copyright terms, what's different about how I listen is not the Internet versus free-to-air delivery, or the live versus on-demand aspect. It's the packetized streaming versus download aspect. Once 'radio' content is downloaded, any notion of being able to collect royalties on the basis of number of 'listeners' is lost. With this loss of control, copyright owners are naturally reticent to release music for download. And in many cases, they have confused packetized streaming with genuine downloads.

That describes why music copyright holders resist download services, and why most streaming services have only been permitted to offer talk radio and not music programmes. But with the advent of podcasting, a new force is unleashed, and that is the ability of the podcatchers to aggregate listeners in sufficient quantity that some musicians will prefer to go direct in order to build a following. Thus they release music outside the traditional distribution system, ie- podsafe music.

Podcasting creates a commons for the exchange of music between producers and listeners. But it is not a marketplace because there is no economic model - yet.

In the early days of open source software, it was said that open source had no economic model, but that is no longer true. Today, open source integrators charge customers for maintenance and support. In my view, podsafe is going to evolve in a similar manner to open source and other commons-based activities. Podsafe distribution will become the new 'airplay' and while not generating cash directly, will stimulate revenue for artists via subscription services, licensed compilation downloads and even CD sales. Adam Curry can fairly be described as a radio DJ for podsafe music.

Radio is not dead, it is being reborn in a new distribution environment. And this distribution environment is vastly richer than the staid traditional one, with tremendous potential for personal, educational and even corporate broadcasting.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Zipit Messenger Review

My Zipit Messenger arrived via a Target Store in Eugene Oregon (where my brother lives). It was well packed in a cardboard box with a bit of bubble pack, and there was no shipping damage. The unit itself was contained in a blister pack which was heat-sealed. Zipit Messenger in blister pack

The ZM power button was easy enough to find and operate. The battery compartment is sealed with a screw, but the rechargeable battery is already installed and pre-charged. The unit has a status light to show that power is being switched on. After a few seconds the ZM logo appears on the screen and the word "Zipit" is spoken from a tiny speaker at the back of the unit.

I tested the unit in my office, which has a Wifi network. To say that ZM works right out of the box is almost an understatement. The unit immediately found two networks, mine and another nearby, and prompted me to log onto my own network. I did and was prompted to configure my IM accounts. I have an MSN and Yahoo account and configured both. The unit reported that the MSN account worked but failed for some reason to connect to the Yahoo account. Since most of my contacts are on MSN, and I don't use AOL, I left it at that.

The last step in this 'setup' was to customize my emoticons - I just left the default settings. But I did note that the emoticons are linked to six special and easily identified 'function' keys at the top of the keypad. This could be useful to create macro keys for multiple choice questions in a quiz application.

Then I was presented with my MSN buddy list and selected a colleague for my first chat using Zipit. It worked flawlessly and I was typing away just minutes after removing the ZM from its blister pack. The screen is a graphical grayscale display which is very legible. It is not backlit, but it's brightness is adjustable, and it would be fine in an office or classroom.

My complaints are that the keys are a bit klunky and to edit mistakes you need to backspace over earlier typing - there is no cursor. This of course is just a function of the software, not a hardware limitation. The keyboard might be a bit easier for big thumbs if the left and right portions were separated by a middle gap. But the display is very legible, the prompts are clearly stated, and the QWERTY keyboard layout is familiar enough for instant use. I can type at about the same speed as on my Treo 650, which has a marvelous keypad.

The keypad also includes a big ZM key in the center, which is used to bring up the buddy list while communicating. There are some other special keys, including a menu key (for configuration changes) and a pair of 'next' and 'previous' keys, which can be used to toggle two or more chat sessions. There is a directional cursor key (one single key which functions like a joystick), which is used to scroll messages in a chat session. Numeric keys, punctuation and closing a chat session required prefixing my key press with an 'Alt' keystroke - which may be conceptually challenging for small children, but is natural enough for anyone who's used a mobile phone or computer.

The clamshell cover nicely latches closed, and the unit goes into a low-power sleep mode. In this state the device is rugged enough to toss around and small enough to fit in your pocket, backpack or even a small purse. The ZM is lighter than my phone, and I eventually carried it around the whole first day without noticing the weight. While the battery appears to last for hours, I didn't test that. The unit is powered down by depressing the power button and holding it for a second or two.

The physical form factor is excellent in several respects. The unit sits firmly on a tabletop while you peck at the keys. You can easily type single-handed while doing other tasks, such as talking on the phone, or perhaps while taking written notes in a meeting or in a classroom session. The power button is nicely recessed so that the unit cannot accidentally be turned on or off. The clamshell lid latches securely closed.

I was particularly pleased with the power setup. The ZM comes with a miniature charger that supports both 120 and 240 volts - it's fully internationalized. There is a headphone jack on the back of the ZM, but there were no headphones supplied with my unit. Other than the chirpy "Zipit" welcome message, I did not really encounter any audio features.

The internal Wifi antenna seems to be very powerful. I was able to sync to more than a dozen networks while driving around in a taxi - sometimes getting 3 signals at one time. Of course, I could not log into most networks.

In summary, Zipit Messenger is rugged, contains a powerful Wifi antenna, has a well-designed and internationalized power supply, a very legible graphical screen display, and a workable keyboard including user-definable macro keys.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Rockin Radio

Truly awesome - Cruise Box sings "I heard it on a Podcast" (some profanity). All credit to Adam Curry for highlighting this excellent bit of podsafe music. I suspect this song will become an anthem - much like "I want my MTV" was in the 80s.

You want it, you got, just download it and pod it! Tell the FCC to stick it, the revolution's on!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Zipit Messenger - Quiz Handset for Classrooms?

Zipit Messenger comes in 5 colors (this is grey)
In my relentless search for a portable handheld device that supports WiFi and can be used to deliver quizzes in the classroom, I found a real gem.

It's the Zipit Messenger, developed by Aeronix. It has a variety of Instant Messaging capabilities and runs on Linux. It includes an 802.11b WiFi radio, 16-color greyscale LCD with QVGA (320x240) resolution, and a thumb keyboard with rubber buttons. Also included is a stereo DAC (digital audio converter) connected to a speaker and headphone jack. Internal battery lasts 3+ hours, and a tiny external AC charger is provided.

Not the perfect form factor for classrooms, but it retails for only US$ 99. Just imagine how cheap they'd be in quantity. Wow!

Needless to say, I bought one. When it arrives, I'll post my review. In the meantime, a favorable review from another user of the product is available.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Always On Streams a Heady Mix

Stanford University this week hosted the Always On™ conference, a confab of technical, political and VC interests. AlwaysOn's proclaimed goal is "to keep its global members in front of the most powerful players in technology, media and entertainment in an innovative blogging and social networking environment." Live webcast with chat and polling - speaker is former California Governer Jerry Brown

The live and delayed webcasts are notable not only for their content - the speakers discuss current trends in politics, media and technology (a heady mix) - they are notable for their presentation format. The video feeds include slides, online chat, and viewer polls on each speaker's persuasiveness.

For anyone who doubts that we're in the age of Web 2.0, this is a webcast to check out.

Technical Conferences to Go Online as Podcasts, the top technical audio podcast resource worldwide, announced today a first of its kind sponsorship deal with, a leading provider of Web-based access, support and collaboration services. The result will be that many major technical conferences, initially in the US, will be available as podcasts.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Unfettered Journalism in Singapore

protesters campaigning for press freedom
We've experienced an interesting lesson on press freedom in Singapore this week. Our largest local charity, the National Kidney Foundation, brought a suit against our national news organization, Singapore Press Holdings. The issue in question was an article written by local journalist Susan Long on alleged 'gold plated' toilet fixtures in the NKF's executive toilet.

Sadly, and as is often the case in Singapore, the NKF dragged Susan Long and SPH into court on a libel charge. Twice before NKF had brought similar suits against other individuals when they alleged that the NKF CEO flew first class and stayed in luxury hotels - and won settlements both times. But this time the outcome was different. NKF withdrew its suit after 2 days of court testimony revealed that the CEO was paid US$ 1m over 3 years, that he did travel first class, and yes, the toilet fixtures were indeed gold plated.

The public outrage was such that close to 40,000 Singaporeans signed an online petition calling for the CEO's resignation, and thousands cancelled their donation pledges. The CEO, his entire Board of Directors and even the patron, wife of our former Prime Minister, were all forced to resign.

The resignation of the NKF CEO, its Board and Patron brings the current saga to an appropriate close. And our current Prime Minister has spoken of the renewal that is already underway. People seem willing to put their mistrust behind them.

But this was an unusual event in Singapore - which is often criticized for lack of press freedom. In exposing the lack of transparency at NKF, journalist Susan Long has done the public a great service. Susan stuck her neck out on an issue that landed two others into court in the past, despite being correct in their assertions. And she jeapordized her editorial management and the SPH organization. Indeed, they too were dragged into court.

Fortunately, Susan was backed by strong management including her supervising editor, and an organization willing to go to court to stand up for editorial integrity. This willingness of the SPH editorial team to defend its own independence is worthy of applause.

Yesterday, as it happens, was the 160th anniversary of the Straits Times. I would judge this week's events an appropriate 'coming out' for SPH as a national news organization.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Asiapods - Let the Podcasts Begin

My company is in the preliminary stages of introducing a regular podcast on Contemporary Issues in Asian Business. The show will be a forum moderated by my CEO Mahboob Mahmood. Here's the first podcast.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Elliot Masie Promotes 'Velocity of Learning'

Elliot Masie (a pioneer in the field of instructional technology) has begun webcasting and podcasting in the runup to his Learning2005 conference, and in his first programme he talks about the 'Velocity of Learning'.

I agree with his premise that success in learning is based on the velocity of performance improvement. His first webcast focuses on improving eLearning production & design velocity. This is good (and certainly relevant to my organization). But in a blended environment, speed to competency depends critically on the classroom experience. In my view, the missing element is meaningful metrics from the classroom experience - how can you measure velocity without metrics?

Too much of today's instructional technology budget is devoted to putting PCs on desktops in multimedia labs, serving learners. Too little is spent on technology which facilitates instruction and which aids instructors. The solution?

Classroom handsets - the folks at eInstruction are exactly right in providing classroom handsets to close the loop between the instuctor and the learner. But 1st generation classroom handset solutions like eInstruction fall short in 3 critical respects:

  • they are too primitive to do a good enough job so that consistent and accurate metrics can be accumulated
  • they do not support standards and do not interoperate with other systems
  • they offer no backend database to aggregate performance metrics across programmes, classrooms, instructors and learners

Better systems are no doubt coming to classrooms. If you have some thoughts on this, I would welcome the opportunity to exchange ideas on this topic. Send me an email.

[edited 20050716]

Open Source LMS Products Worth Reviewing

Yesterday, ATutor 1.5 began shipping. This is the first release to have full support for SCORM 1.2 LMS-RTE3, with additional SCORM 2004 support coming in a future release. Lack of SCORM runtime support has in the past been the principle objection against our using an open source LMS.

My colleague Imran points out that open source LMS products Moodle and Claroline both also support SCORM 1.3 with betas for SCORM 2004 available. For companies like ours, which focus on content, it is time to review the open source market for LMS products.

As a start, we need to take a fresh look at SCORM.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Does Life Imitate Art?

Londoners on the Tube (jamielondonboy on Flickr)
I had posted some 7/7 reflections, but I decided to take them down. I prefer to return back to my main topic - learning communications.

Sincere condolences to the victims, their families, friends and loved ones.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Learning About Africa

No matter how many times I see and hear the story about poverty, hunger and AIDS in Africa, there are still so many things to learn. So it was with Live Aid in '85, Nelson Mandela's 46644 Aids Benefit in '03, and this weekend's Live8 concert. For me the most moving moment of Geldof's megashow was when Madonna performed on stage in London with Birhan Woldu, an Ethiopian whose life was saved by Live Aid in 1985.Live8 concert crowd in Paris (photo by BBC News)

'Live8 - The Long Walk to Justice' is about the impact of ordinary people on 8 elected leaders that run the institutions of world government. It is also about how technology can fuse the voice of millions into a coherent macro message. The largest ever TV audience; The busiest website in the world; The largest ever online petition; The largest ever text petition; The largest ever response to a TV show. If you missed it, check out the video online.

And sign the petition - join Bill Gates (and 30m others) in sending a strong message to the G8 Summit.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Audio Feeds from Gnomedex

image of Gnomedex stage (by Rex Hammock)

Here are a few of the interesting talks from Gnomedex:

- Dave Winer Keynote (MP3 download, thanks
- Microsoft RSS Announcement (MP3)
- Gillmor Gang Podcast (MP3 download, Steve Gillmor with Dave Winer, Adam Curry, Dean Hachamovitch, Doug Kay, and Dan Gillmor)
- Adam Curry DSC-200 Podcast (WMV streaming video coverage!, thanks to Lockergnome blogger Matt Hartley, also available as MP3 from

Also, here's the Microsoft press release that explains what their new RSS strategy is all about. A blog has been created to track Microsoft's RSS extensions. The Channel 9 Site, an unofficial channel for MS developers, has a Wiki on Longhorn RSS.

And, if you want to get a touchy feely sense about what made Gnomedex the tech event of the year, read Frank Barnako's review on

[updated 20050702]

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Earth Shook at Gnomedex

Well, California was shaking last week (from numerous earthquakes). But the podcast world shook at Gnomedex in Seattle this past weekend. For one thing, Microsoft announced that RSS is going to be built into IE 7 and future versions of its operating systems, starting with the long-awaited Longhorn release. In fact, IE 7 was shown for the first time at Gnomedex.

A couple other things happened while I was away in California. The US Supreme Court decided a landmark case on file sharing, siding with MGM against Grokster and Streamcast. I certainly applaud protection of intellectual property, and I see the decision as fairly rational behaviour that will give entertainment companies more confidence to embrace digital media distribution. It's certainly not the end of P2P, although companies like Bit Torrent may end up in court, required to show that piracy is not their intent. I think it's going to increase the number of bands producing podsafe music.

The other thing that happened is that Apple iTunes v4.9 began shipping. This version supports podcast subscriptions. Disney, ESPN and ABC News are listed among thousands of content providers. Apple can probably be relieved at the outcome of the Grokster case - they will face less competition from P2P.

The subscription model of content access looks to be on a very fast growth curve.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Open Source is a Business Process

Free software is highly visible, but it is in fact only one example of a much broader social-economic phenomenon. Yochai Benkler suggests that what we are seeing is the broad and deep emergence of a new, third mode of production in the digitally networked environment. He calls this mode "commons-based peer-production," to distinguish it from the property- and contract-based models of firms and markets. Its central characteristic is that groups of individuals successfully collaborate on large-scale projects following a diverse cluster of motivational drives and social signals, rather than either market prices or managerial commands.

Recommended to me by Simon Phipps.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

I'm still floating on air after a few days together with Steve Wozniak, Simon Phipps, Steve Gillmor and Mike Hawley. And they were all talking about Steve Jobs' Commencement Address at Stanford on 14 June. The transcript is worth reading.

A 'Snow Crash Moment' at the iX Conference

Every IT conference I've attended comes with a 'snowcrash moment' - one where a particular meme jumps from a latent to active state. I call it that because it reminds me of a Java Object being passed up for presentation to some remote user, or like data crossing from one avatar to another during a 'hypercard' exchange, or like a virus moving from metaverse to physical reality in Neil Stephensen's landmark cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.

This year's iX 2005 conference - an event I helped organize - was no different. For me it was while watching a presentation by Steve Gillmor that I realized vaguely that he was tense, petulant and somewhat evangelical in his presentation of the business opportunities inherent in podcasting. This is the same voice that Francis Coppola used to dramatic effect when promoting the 'electronic armature' of digital editing during his 'One From the Heart' period (in the early 80s, just after the 'Apocalypse Now' financial fiasco).

Gillmor postively resonated as a younger Francis and immediately re-connected me to the notion that podcasting is without a doubt a techy innovation but something that is quickly being pulled from the techies and placed into the mainstream. According to Technorati and other folks who track this stuff, podcasts are indeed going mainstream.

Reminiscent of talks I'd seen where Francis spoke so ardently about video editing on cheap betamax machines, Gillmor went on about the transformative power of having a Radio Shack studio in his shoulder bag. Sure reminded me of Silverfish.

Interior of Francis Coppola's Silverfish mobile production studio with Betamax editing tools.  Steve Gilllmor, talking podcasting at iX 2005 conference in Singapore.

According to the official website for Francis' studio, the Silverfish van was a first generation tool for transforming film production into something that was efficient, did not comromise quality, and yet was accessible to any creative person.

"The Silverfish shook up the traditional organizational structure of film production by enabling pre-production, production, and post-production to occur simultaneously. Recognizing the potential advantages of using videotape to record movie footage, the Silverfish was designed so that Coppola could review movie clips on video immediately after filming and use them to shape the next day's shooting."
But ultimately it wasn't Francis who drove the digital media revolution. It was George Lucas and his popular B-movie bankroll from Star Wars and Indiana Jones that funded so much R&D in digital media. It was Lucas's cool and calculated vision that gave us animatics, THX sound, Edit Droid (later Avid), RendermMan, motion control, digital compositing, and so much more.

So strongly did this idea resonate within me - that mainstream media is going to hijack podcasting for its own use - I spent the rest of the conference seeing Steve as a later day Francis Coppola. Francis has had a difficult professional life since the 80s but is still widely recognized as the first one to see beyond flatbed editing and into the electronic future where script, storyboard, dailies and final cut are all part of a digital continuum. Steve is certainly in the vanguard of podcasting now, but I wonder what the future holds.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Flynn Effect & The Pokemon Generation

There's an interesting article in the May issue of Wired entitled 'Dome Improvement', that explores how IQ scores seem to be going up around the world. The subject of the article, the so-called 'Flynn Effect', describes a newly observed phenomenon - average IQ scores in every industrialized country have been increasing steadily for decades.

Now I'm a bit of a push-over when it comes to blindingly simple explanations for complex phenomenon. Take for example the theory of metabolic ecology, which explains why when you correct for size and temperature, the metabolic rates of a hummingbird and a shark, or indeed a tomato plant and a tree are remarkably similar. The answer lies in a mathematical relationship between metabolism and body mass - called a quarter-power scaling law - that relates the fractal geometry of metabolic systems like lungs and blood vessels to the body mass of living things. I love that stuff. Guess I'm an Occam's razor kinda guy.

So when I read about the Flynn Effect, I had an 'aha moment'. What Flynn discovered is that every 4 years or so the standard IQ tests get redone, and that people who took the new test and retook the old test actually did better on the old test. When he enlarged the sample size and expanded it to cover tests given in a variety of countries over a 30 year period, he documented a trend that scores are increasing.

Now an IQ test is a kind of pattern recognition test. The most well-respected ones do not depend on language skills at all. So what would explain the improvement: genetics or environment? Are pattern recognition skills improving, and if so, why?

Most experts associate performance on IQ tests with genetic factors. They point out that twins living apart score closely, while different adopted children raised together do not show any relationship in their scores. But Flynn noted that small differences in genetic factors can often be 'amplified' by environmental factors. The example given is of a tall boy who is recruited for the high school basketball team, and eventually makes it to pro basketball. Here, a small genetic advantage is not enough to make him a great basketball player, but it is enough that environmental factors (eg- the attention of a good coach) conspire to groom him for a superlative capability in basketball.

His conclusion is that the wired world we live in requires us to become adept at pattern recognition, from learning to programme our VCR to learning to syncronize downloaded radio programmes to our iPods. I certainly agree with that. And he suggests that children with small advantages in visual acuity or motor response may not only be able to win at Pokemon, they may also be pushing the IQ average higher.

So, aside from the fact that I largely agree with Flynn's conclusion, I am excited at the potential of analyzing learning trends. An IQ test is the ultimate snap quiz (in the US every soldier is given the test upon induction), and yet we give it even more weight than an SAT in terms of determining success in life. Yet Flynn looked beyond the absolute value of an IQ test to its value as a trend-spotter when reviewed over a longer period of time.quiz handset allows students to respond to questions from the instructor

Suppose for example that students were given a quiz handset that they could use to answer questions presented by their instructor during every lecture. They would certainly be more engaged, and the instructor would be gathering metrics that he or she might use to spot trends. After all, the most significant challenge in teaching is to identify laggard students, so as to intervene early enough that support and remediation can be applied to pull laggards up to the level of the rest of the class.

Computerized classrooms have failed by almost any measure. Call it my simplistic approach, but I believe quiz handsets can help 'fast track' classrooms in ways that a desktop PC can't rival. Certainly they will provide us with continuous assessment metrics that are currently absent. And they are an engaging tool for the Pokemon generation.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Macromedia & Adobe Gunning for the Desktop

Macromedia has announced the 'Flash Platform', a complete system that includes everything you need to deliver rich content. Built on Java open source Eclipse (which is described as a kind of universal tool platform and an open extensible IDE), the new Flash Platform will encompass a range of authoring capabilities, effectively breaking out of the animation niche and plunging into the broader rich-media document space.

Flash Platform logo

The Flash Platform will provide developers and content authors with a universal client runtime, an openly published file format (SWF) specification, a programming model, development tools, dedicated server technology, integrated solutions, and the support of major systems integration partners, ISVs and OEMs.

It's been quite a week, starting with Apple's announcement that it would abandon IBM PowerPC architecture to embrace Intel's next generation chips. Analysts have been asking what it means (Apple's move that is), especially to Microsoft. The iTunes support for podcasts, and last week's announcement of XML as Microsoft's preferred document format have provided more puzzlers for pundits. It's easy to dismiss this Macromedia announcement as another me-too offering. But make no mistake, Macromedia and Adobe are keen to displace Microsoft's dominance on the desktop, and there seem to be a lot of tigers stalking Redmond these days.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Steve Jobs & Apple Boost Podcasting

In a landmark speech at the Annual Apple Developers Conference in San Francisco on 6 June, Steve Jobs had glowing praise for podcasting technology and the community of content developers pioneering with this new format. Keep in mind that there are now more than 10m iPods in use.

Jobs said: "iTunes goes with the iPod, and we just crossed 430m songs downloaded and played with the iPod and that is reflected in iTunes market share... it's now 82%. We recently announced something new for iTunes and iPod and it's called Podcasting. As you know the podcasting phenomenon is exploding right now."

"What is podcasting - it's been described in a lot of different ways. One way has been a Tivo for radio. You can download radio shows and listen to 'em on your computer and put 'em on your iPod, and listen to them anytime you want. Another way it's been described is Wayne's World for radio - which means that anyone, without much capital investment, can make a podcast, put it on a server, and get a worldwide audience for their radio show. And that's true too."

"We see it as the hottest thing going in radio, hotter than anything else in radio. And as you know, you can not only download shows and listen to them, you can subscribe to them. So that every time there's a new episode, it automatically gets downloaded to your computer, and it automatically gets sync'd to your iPod, the next time you dock. So it's very, very exciting."

"There are over 8,000 podcasts now and this is growing really, really fast. Now it's not just amateurs doing these things. The pros have realized that this is huge, and a list of just some of the companies doing podcasts now includes all the major radio broadcasters, the network broadcasters, major magazines, major newspapers, even major companies like Disney, Proctor & Gamble, Ford and General Motors. It's pretty exciting."

"And so what we're doing is we're gonna make this even easier, because you're not going to have to download other applications, and get all sorts of stuff together to make this happen. We're gonna build it [syndication] right into iTunes and iPod."

As Adam Curry is fond of pointing out, the 430m figure quoted by Jobs is just 2% of all music sales. So you can see the potential here - in just the music space alone, not to mention lectures, seminars, e-learning content, corporate communications, etc.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Opening the New SMU Campus with a Bang

The dean of Singapore Management University has graciously agreed to host a talk so that students can gain benefit from the wisdom of overseas speakers attending the iX 2005 conference. The format will be a panel discussion and the theme will be "Web 2.0: How XML and RSS are Transforming your Internet Experience".

It turns out that this will be the very first event at SMU's new campus, which I'm sure will help create visibility for the talk.

This is the beautiful new building for the IT school at SMU.  As you see, Singapore lives up to its hype as a tropical city of excellence.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Macromedia to make Flash into an Application Platform

Following the merger with Adobe, Macromedia is trying to enter the desktop application space, alongside a bunch of open source alternatives (eg- Open Office), but with Flash as the main data format. Today 550m PC's have Flash, and they can be updated in just weeks.

Flash runtime is going to be shared. A 'view source' option is going to be provided in web pages. Flash-based applications will be able to run on multiple platforms including desktop, phone, etc. There will be a new set of authoring tools, like document layout tools. Basically, Macromedia is challenging Microsoft on who owns the user interface.

You can learn more by listening to the first 15 minutes of this 1 hour podcast (which also analyzes Microsoft's XML announcement). Tomorrow watch for news in the public domain. For early news, check out CRN (Editor Mike Vizard is tracking this closely).

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A chat with Woz

I had a little chat with Steve Wozniak today. He's coming out for the iX 2005 conference, and I wanted to spend some time with him, explaining what content would work for our audience. But man, it's always erie speaking to Steve because it's like communicating with Thomas Edison in these sense of being in awe of the guy and his innovation capability. And we've known one another since college, so I'm not a groupee.

The conference will focus on Innovation: To Lead or to Follow. That's a huge issue for Asian IT companies. From the Japanese camera and watch companies after the war (WWII), to the Korean chaebols like Samsung today (chaebols are like Japanese keiretsu or zaibatsu), they always succeed first as fast followers. By the way if you are interested in Asian fast follower case studies, be sure to read the Wired article Seoul Machine. It's a fact that Asian companies are good followers, but Asian managers don't like to talk about reverse engineering or any of their follow fast strategies. Makes it kind of hard to organize a conference on the topic.

Steve had a great insight: ultimately technology products depend on math and science, and that Asians are great in math and science, so IT product development should be a natural. But that's not the same as innovation (of course we agree on this). It takes something unique to move from passion about a problem or technical challenge, to finding an innovative solution and then on to making it into a flourishing business. Asian companies do often start with an MBA and an IT graduate working together, but they don't usually start in garages... they're not wired for that.

It is said that in Singapore a lot of IT companies have their first experience with innovation when they go for a government grant. The folks giving the grant ask "what's the innovation" or "what IPR to you own". The so-called entrepreneurs come up with an innovation strategy as a result of needing to draft a grant application. It doesn't work, of course. Real innovation is inspired not cultivated.

There is a genuine debate in Singapore on the nature of creativity, in particular whether entrepreneurs are born or bred. This reflects the mentality of government agencies believing perhaps naively that creativity and innovation can be stimulated by grants or other incentives. Here's one quote from a recent lecture by our Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew (referring to an innovator he has known):

"Do we need more of him? Yes, I think we do. Will we have more of him? Yes, I
think we can. How? We change our mindsets, we change our educational approach,
we make venture capital available to fund such people with bright ideas. When
your venture capital, investing in California, out of 10, eight may fail, two
will succeed, then you make up for all your other failures, and that's
entrepreneurship. But it's not the same as services and industry. You have to
invent, innovate and do something which other people find useful and want and
pay for it."
He's certainly right about the formative role of the education system. As Guy Kawasaki pointed out on a visit to Singapore:

"The educational system has encouraged the society to learn and pick up
knowledge and facts but not necessarily to be creative, which is a key
factor in entrepreneurship."

I'd expect Steve to pick up on similar themes in his talk, since he shares my own interest in learning and the use of educational technology. This really comes across in his interview with Slashdot (posted first week of the millenium).

My discussion today with Steve turned to other matters. He said that Asian companies are not excellent in providing useable manuals or 'having the buttons in the right places', particularly in first generation products. Obviously, useability is something that Apple excels at, and always has. Steve bemoaned the lack of useability in Japanese cars and he compared them to their better-designed European counterparts (though if I recall correctly he once did a TV commercial for Toyota).

I asked him to speak about his recent inventions and his recent companies like Wheels of Zeus. Steve is truly a serial innovator, and it's this ability to apply his engineering passion to one problem after another that reminds me of Thomas Edison. It's a truth in the valley and indeed here in Singapore that the companies may come and go, but the people are the same bunch of folks.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Web 2.0

I work for Knowledge Platform, a small company based in Singapore. I have been asked by my company to track some emerging technologies around what is often called the 'rich media web'. As VP Media & Technology, I suppose that's to be expected. But it's a tall order, of course.

We're an elearning communications company, offering a range of services from elearning content development to digital media production services. Our typical medium of communication is Flash, but I myself am working with video - mostly Windows Media and MPEG1. All our output is for the web browser, and we typically deliver to corporate intranets or host the content on our own servers. But folks do still request CD-ROM versions.

I have been interested in XML and RSS for some time. Syndication seems to me to be as much a business model as it is a technology, and a scalable one at that. Podcasting is something that I became aware of a bit late, in January 2005, when Adam Curry and Dave Winer had already established the format for several months. I'd been following Dave's blog, but not closely enough I guess.

As one of the organizers for the iX 2005 conference happening in June here in Singapore, I began to look more closely at the podcasting space. The more I read, and the more podcasts I heard, I kept getting the feeling that RSS is fundamentally changing the way we access the Internet. And I noticed that commentators are beginning to refer to a new kind of web experience and business opportunity. The shorthand for this new web is the 'rich media web' or 'web 2.0'.

In fact, I just today learned that there's a big conference being organized for the fall in San Francisco, called Web 2.0. From the moderator (Wired's John Battelle) to the speakers Ray Ozzie (Groove), Bram Cohen (BitTorrent) and Mark Fletcher (bloglines), it looks to be a great conference.