1968 demo includes first public appearance of "mouse"

As non-desktop playback devices (PDAs, smart phones, tablet computers) change how we interact with digital media, now is as good a time as any to reflect on the origins of pardigms that have dominated for the last 20 years.

One important milestone was December 9, 1968. On that day, Doug Engelbart demonstrated an online computer system he’d been working on with 17 other researchers within the Stanford Research Institute’s Augmentation Research Center. To put it in perspective, this was almost a year before the first node of ARPANET (the precursor to the internet) was in place, and 14 years before the introduction of Macintosh (which popularized many of the concepts introduced on that day).

During the demo was the first public appearance of something called a “mouse”. As Doug says during one of the segments:

I don’t why we call it a mouse. Sometimes I apologize, it started that way and we never did change it.

This demonstration was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. Along with the mouse, attendees saw things like word processing (with cut/copy/paste), list/outline manipulation, hyperlinking, collaboration over a network, a “chord”-based input device, and a lot more.

It’s incredibly interesting and fun to watch what must have seemed almost like science fiction at the time, and to make the connections between the concepts and terminology in the demo and how they apply to our relationship with computers today. It’s sobering and inspirational to realize that today’s experience will appear at least as archiac 25 years from now. | Doug Engelbart 1968 demo

Digital media technologies changing the film business

DV cameras and new avenues for video distribution — web and DVD — have ignited a revolution in independent filmmaking in the same way that PageMaker and the laser printer did in publishing. Jason Kliot says this in a Wired story:

We made Chuck and Buck for a half a million dollars. If we had shot it on 35-mm film it would have cost $1.4 million. We sold it for $1.1 million — a really good profit. But if we had shot on film we would have lost money.

Power to the people, man (and hopefully a little money, too). But it’s not just the independent filmmaker that’s realizing the benefits of digital media.

I was shooting on Spy Kids, and I had a film camera, and I brought the HD camera, and side by side, printed them both out to film — this isn’t even HD projected digitally, which is far superior; this is HD transferred to film — so I could see where HD fell apart, where it still needed to be fixed, where it was like video. Instead, I was shocked to see how bad the film was. People’s faces cratered in with contrast, and extra stuff that I was noticing anyway over the years, getting worse and worse. And I was like, “Oh my god, that’s like Super-8! That’s film?” And I would show it at film festivals. It would be like an audience of 300 people, and I would say, “In the next couple minutes, everyone here’s gonna be convinced: Film is dead, and HD is the future of film.” I’d show these tests and hear the gasps. They couldn’t believe it. I’ve abandoned film forever. You can’t go back.

The revolution isn’t just about replacing film (which will be considered quaint by 2007), either. Once the world has some perspective on it, Spy Kids 2 will be seen as a movie that changed the movie-making workflow. Robert Rodriguez says this about his experience making that movie:

…once you abandon needing film, you question everything. You question the whole process, like “Why are we doing this like that? Couldn’t we do the whole sound mix in my garage?” And we did. We did the whole sound mix of the movie in my garage, we mixed it all there. I edited it in my garage, shot at home, made it much more a home movie…

Cool! | Wired story | Interview with Robert Rodriguez

Hilary Rosen says pirated music to blame for Mexican Supreme Court move

The chairman and CEO of the RIAA is claiming that pirated music is to blame for the Mexican Supreme Court’s move to quieter locale. Says Ms. Rosen:

This would be almost laughable if it were not true.

Almost laughable? As Wired notes:

…few federal officials saw it as anything more than a sensible relocation. After all, the court is located smack in the middle of Mexico City, surrounded by traffic, street vendors and crowds of tourists and commuters.

I believe this will be seen as the point at which her credibiltiy, even among her colleagues, started to erode. We all know that Ms. Rosen is power-mad and paranoid beyond reason, but — like Michael Jackson — she’s getting worse. | Wired story

Computers don't steal content, people steal content

Peter Chernin, CEO of Fox and COO of News Corp. (Fox’s parent), preached to an audience of techies at Yawndex on Tuesday. He said that Big Media and Big Tech must work together to protect content. To paraphrase:

Big Tech must stop the production of general purpose computers, and instead start making consumer-proof entertainment purchasing devices. Big Media will then take it from there, handling all of the profit, etc.

Okay, maybe that wasn’t exactly his message, but he actually did say this:

If hundreds of thousands of dresses were stolen from Wal-Mart, the police would assemble a task force that would have Winona Ryder shaking in her boots.

Sheesh. (a) It’s not nice to pick people when they’re down, especially when they’re obviously sick. (b) Winona Ryder would never shop at Wal-Mart. (c) Wal-Mart does lose hundreds of thousands of dresses each year due to “shrinkage”, a retail industry ephemism for “internal and external theft, administrative screw-ups, and vendor fraud”.

According to the 2001 National Retail Security Survey, U.S. retailers lost 1.75% of their total annual sales — over $32 million in the U.S. alone — to shrinkage. The music industry has, of course, lost $0 million since they’ve only been denied potential CD sales.

So, if the retail industry accepts shrinkage (i.e. the stealing of real goods that cost the industry real money) as a part of doing business, and the computer software industry accepts piracy (i.e. the loss of potential software sales by people that you probably don’t want as customers anyway) as a part of doing business, maybe it’s time that the media industry wakes up, smells the coffee, and starts treating consumers like an opportunity instead of a threat.

George Lucas piped at the end with comment about illegal downloading potentially impacting movie quality, at which point I swear I heard someone cough “Jar Jar!” even though I was alone. His right-on quote, however, was “Corporations are like cockroaches. They’ll survive everything”. | CNNmoney story

An unintentionally amusing article with 3ivx's CEO

In another My First MPEG-4 Article, the German site 99mac interviews 3ivx about their “miracle” 3ivx codec. The interviewer (conducting the interview via email, apparently) quotes Happy Machines’ CEO, Jan Devos, verbatim.

Happy Machines is a company that was formed in July 2000 as the official entity for developing and marketing the 3ivx codec, the goal being, using multi-dimensional mathematical compression algorithms combined with educated predictions and subjective post-processing filters relating to the way the human eye perceives and responds to movement, the development of a complex but efficient cross platform natural video encoder/decoder.

Sounds fancy. I’ll translate: “We have an MPEG-4 Video codec.”

Then there’s the problem of Mr. Devos not having any idea what the competition is going. The CEO takes a dig at DivX for being a “hacked” (it was more of a repackaging, really) version of MS MPEG-4, but that hasn’t been true for a couple of years. He says that Happy Machine’s goal was to exceed DivX in all important areas, apparently not realizing that DivX has a very good MPEG-4 Video codec that 3ivx probably can’t match.

He also doesn’t seem to understand that QuickTime 6 has an MPEG-4 Video codec of its own — they actually submitted the current 3ivx release for QuickTime’s component auto-download feature. It was rejected (of course!), but he promises to “try again” with the next release.

Performance (speed). Image quality. Interoperability. Portability. The uniqueness of the 3ivx Delta technology is that excellent results are achieved in all of these areas, without sacrificing one area for another.

Riiight. This is not a man who’s done software development, then.

Oh, and they’re not quite at the point where they make MPEG-4 files. But they could if they wanted to, the CEO assures us. | 99mac interview

And the award for Webcasters' Most Unlikely Ally goes to…

…Jesse Helms, who blocked the first version of the Small Webcasters Settlement Act (SWSA), and whose revised version was passed by both houses of Congress on 14 Nov. Although his motives were apparently to provide relief for small, conservative Christian webcasters, he’s inadvertantly provided hope for all small and non-commercial webcasters. Although the SWSA itself isn’t an adequate solution, it at least keeps the door open for one. | Salon.com

Somebody stop them! Before they aquire again!

Loudeye — that webcasting/encoding company with the impenetrably odd name — continues their feeding frenzy with the aquisition of “Streampipe”, another oddly-name company (one friend found it somewhat ecologically menacing, another remarked that it sounded like a euphemism for a male body part) that does corporate and government webcasts.

Streampipe brings Loudeye an additional 80 customers, estimated to bring in an additional $1 million per year. Loudeye traded 7.9 million shares (worth a little less than $3.3 million at market close) and a $1.1 million secured note (due 1/1/2004) for the priviledge.

Could AACplus make MPEG-4 the best streaming format for audio?

AACplus is the next evolution of AAC. It’s being used today in XM satellite radio, and it’s on its way to becoming a core audio format for MPEG-4. This is extremely good news for MPEG-4, as a source imtimate with its quality reports:

It is spectaculary better than all proprietary schemes.

AACplus uses Spectral Band Replication (SBR) technology developed by Coding Technologies, and initially deployed for MP3Pro. Although MP3Pro is dead in the water — MP3 is too hampered by its own ubiquity — MPEG-4 was built to be able to absorb new technolgoies like AACPlus. Between AVC and AACplus, 2003 is shaping up to be the year of MPEG-4. | Coding Technologies

"Where is MP4?"

Another day, another My First MPEG-4 story. It’s interesting that the author’s frame of reference is MP3 — the only thing he knows, probably — when something like QuickTime would be a far better starting point for helping readers understand what MPEG-4 is today and will be in the future.

Although the author says silly things like, “The MPEG-4 standard is the direct successor to MPEG-2” (their only similarity is in name), and “QuickTime… [is] “probably the most popular software media player” (it’s not, therefore Apple’s wholesale move to MPEG-4), there are a couple good quotes from my friends at the M4IF. | NewsFactor