Graham K. Rogers
PodcastsI fell in love with this medium the moment I became aware of it. It combines two technologies: the RSS feed (an XML file) and the digital sound file, usually MP3 format.
Apple was a major catalyst here with the use of iTunes and the provision of space on the iTMS for podcast information: the links and details are there, but the downloads are from the podcaster's own website.
I first heard music podcasts, particularly those using the Podsafe Music Network. This allows artists to provide copyright-free music for podcasts and they in turn use the music which publicises the groups. One of the better podcasts is Accident Hash and CC Chapman is at the forefront of the idea. Some of the groups are not affiliated to major labels. Some are not affiliated to labels at all. The artists have a wider potential public and a new public. As a result of this new audience some performers are now selling their music online: you can just see how this would please the RIAA.
Some older, or more established singers are also moving to this channel, like Melanie Safka (I Got a Brand new Pair of Roller Skates), who recommends iTunes and Sandie Shaw (Puppet on a String) whose work was on Accident Hash this year.
This new medium was strengthened with the arrival of ordinary people who were creating their own podcasts -- video as well as sound. While the internet has allowed us to publish online (for better and for worse) this added to the voices and ways that people in most countries worldwide were able to exercise a different freedom and reach a wider audience.
Apple added a new facet to this with the arrival of iTunesU, collaborating with several universities who now provide online course material in a wide range of subjects.
My own weekly podcasts for the eXtensions column have now reached 125 which is not bad for an experiment just to see how it would work. Just before Christmas I had dinner with the Post Database editor, Tony Waltham, and he made a suggestion that I write a column detailing the mechanics of creating a podcast: from collection and editing of information to the recording and distribution. I had previously shied away from this to avoid the idea of "blowing my own trumpet", but it may well be worth it.
I also feel that the podcast medium has a lot more mileage, as well as other channels that use such types of information. One of these is the YouTube site (there are others, similar), but this has a particular strength even though it was involved in a dispute with the Thai government during the year when someone posted some clips that were not flattering to the King.
One has to be here only for a brief time to understand just in what reverence the King is held here and so the government was bound to react strongly -- although perhaps the Minister responsible at the time was rather dogmatic in the aftermath -- but there needed also to be more comproimise from the owners of YouTube: after all, Google and Yahoo! both bent over backwards for China; why would they not do the same for the Thai request, which had more credibility than revealing details of China's political opponents.
Getting YouTube back took a while and we missed a lot of excellent information as well as an expansion of that people's access to media outlets that I like to see. With a project that I am running for one of my English classes at the Thai university I work at, the students are making their own 10-minute clips and I hope to upload these to the site sometime in late January.
Queen Elizabeth, the monarch of the United Kingdom took to the podcast a couple of years back and now has her own Royal channel on YouTube where there are about 20 videos including the first Xmas message and the most recent, uploaded a short time after it was broadcast on TV.
That short time also applies to up-to-the minute news. A case in point was the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, as well as some news that would not otherwise become news, such as examples of police violence, like unusual use of the tazer, including at least one that resulted in a death (in Canada).
LeopardAt MacWorld I had my first real look at Leopard, although it was to be longer than initially planned before it hit the streets, and there were some disappointments when it did.
Apple claimed that there were 300 improvements, while some suggest that there are many more. I keep finding new tricks to play with. It was delayed from its initial mid-year date until the end of October, although annoyingly, even with its fairly low-key introduction here (especially compared with the Tiger release), it was delayed some 18 hours -- more for some retailers -- which may be a problem with the distribution system here; or Customs; or both.
Apple may claim to have a successful operating system but, although it works better than does Vista apparently, for a lot of people there were distinct problems and some things still need fixing.
While other new installs of OS X have simply needed to use the basic "update", hundreds of users (maybe more) found that this was not satisfactory. More success was found with the "Archive and Install" method, which I had to resort to on one machine after a problem manifested itself with Parental Controls and widgets.
I needed the machine working two days later for a class where I was actually featuring widgets and how to make them. Apple did provide a remedy, but the problem itself was not fixed by the 10.5.1 update and is rumoured to be coming with 10.5.2, which (rumour again) is said to be something over 300MB. This will not help people in rural areas of Thailand where broadband has yet to reach.
On the whole, as a working system on my MacBookPro, it is fine with some minor niggles. I am still not sure about Spaces and do not like the way the behaviour seems to change, almost from day to day. I have long been used to a single desktop -- I even have problems when I use a second monitor -- so it may partly be a spatial question. I do find it useful when making a podcast or editing pictures, reserving one space for a specific function; but when I want to combine functions, I am not sure whether to use a third space or drag one set of panels to the first.
This is relatively minor, of course and that is what some moans concerning Leopard seemed to be: based on a personal aesthetic rather than an overall critical assessment. Where people were constructively critical, they did find some things that had room for improvement. Leopard as an operating system is a step forward but some of the users may want to be left behind while others have trouble keeping up. A sweeping metaphor of course, but I do see it is a flawed improvement and there is still work to be done.
MoviesThe flights to and from San Francisco allowed me to catch up with a lot of movie-viewing and I was not disappointed. Other viewing has been effected using the local cable company, True. This is a spotty service. For example, in December, there was only one movie I wanted to watch. Apart from a couple of series, one of them a repeat, and the BBC, CNN and CNBC news, the TV has been off except when I watched videos I had bought.
Some of the movies I was looking forward to seeing were disappointing, particularly Transporter 2. I do not mind suspending disbelief when it comes to some of the driving scenes, and I let it go when a plane crash into the sea did not result in the total destruction of the aircraft and those in it, but the scenes of the plane sinking into the sea and the engines floating up were, at best, disappointing. On the other hand, Jason Statham's Crank, which I also saw on the plane last January, was a lot of fun.
I rewatched One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Forbidden Planet and Torch Song Trilogy, all of which were online video purchases, while an interesting and low budget version of The Great Gatsby came my way in a local video shop.
I am looking forward to catching the third in the Bourne series as well as Beowulf, Love in the Time of Cholera, Sweeney Todd and the oddly named Coppola movie Youth without Youth. Maybe I will catch these on the flight to MacWorld.
New Year SpeculationLeaving aside a couple of work-related items, and my mother's first trip here for years, my IT year begins with MacWorld in San Francisco. Last year had the iPhone (as well as AppleTV and Airport Extreme). The feeling is that Apple will not be able to trump that, so we may be in a period of consolidation. That said, there has been a clutch of rumours concerning portable devices as well as an update to the iPhone -- both software and hardware.
Apple has two ranges of portable computers: the MacBook and the MacBookPro. These have been evolving gradually since their releases and offer some reasonable and powerful options. Cinema Displays are overdue an update.
The iPhone was Apple's first portable device since the Newton was killed, and some suggest that a combination of the technology (touch screen, software menu systems) could be applied to a PDA or an even larger device, with the idea of a tablet computer -- touch screen remember -- that could have the life that PC manufacturers were never able to instill into the device: perhaps (and I am not being anti-Microsoft here, although you are welcome to think that), the operating systems that they used could not do the job. Apple has demonstrated with the iPhone that OS X (which we may expect to be updated for the phone) is quite capable of running such a PDA-based device.
A further twist on this tablet idea comes in the form of a lightweight portable computer: something like a slim MacBook. Credence to this idea comes in the way that flash memory has been increased in size while maintaining an accessible price. If there were no hard disk and no optical disk drive, this would enable the computer to be thinner and lighter: something I would welcome with my back.
Additionally, it is rumoured that a performer at a large Apple gathering was promised a new type of laptop and spilled the beans.
We may expect some updates to the hardware and of course to the software, and one of the expected updates will be to OS X (see above). Can we expect more? Apple released Numbers last year, giving iWork a new strength (and more value). This increased the way that some users would be able to move away from Microsoft's Office (although Apple was careful not to pitch it as a replacement) with its attractive templates.
The iMovie released with iLife in the middle of 2007 was a disappointment to many as it was not an update to a loved application, but a total rewrite and, while it was a far simpler experience, it took away many of the features that users had got used to. May we expect some additions to this, as Apple surely will not continue to provide a download of the previous version for ever?
Expected also are changes to the movie systems of the iTMS, with rentals being a hot rumour: Disney and Fox have been named as probable contributors here. That of course will affect us in Thailand, not one whit.
Apple sales are increasing to the chagrin of some commentators. For a look at some of these detractors' efforts, the best source is MacDailyNews, especially as a strong rejoinder is often included. While the twin-booting systems are bringing more users over to Macs and subsequently to OS Xm they also bring with them Windows ways and get themselves into trouble when they try to use OS X with the same inputs.
Particularly here, Apple has begun to provide some in-store training, but just providing it, does not mean they will come. Extensive handouts with the purchases may be necessary. Even though Apple provides online assistance, the first move of a new user is to use, then find out. A patronising series of onscreen help such as is found in Windows is not the answer.
With the European roll-out is incomplete, that might mean that Thailand does not reach favoured nation status, which follows what is the practice here (later arrivals, no language localisation and no Apple online shop). On the other hand, this being such a difficult country to keep a secret in (at least for certain topics), it could signal that Apple is negotiating with AIS via its Singapore masters.
I would have preferred DTAC as the main local provider here even with the unlocked systems that exist in the region, but AIS no longer has the potential for political fallout that it might have done, but in any case, Apple would probably not have considered that a major problem: none of the other phone suppliers ever did.
And what of Steve Jobs? While some consider him a control freak, this is not surprising considering what happened the last time he let someone talk him into loosening the reins: he lost the company; and the company lost big time. His return and the ruthlessness he displayed in personnel and product culls were clearly instrumental in turning Apple round. Why would the shareholders ever let that go again?
It amuses me that critics are all too ready to complain about Steve Jobs but rarely these days about Steve Ballmer who is ten times the villain.
What also sets Apple apart is the attention to design that permeates the product range with a few errors on the way: you cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs. That concern with design, coupled with his appearance at last year's iPhone announcement, suggest to some that Jonathan Ive would make a great Steve Jobs replacement when he shuffles off this mortal coil, or retires from the day to day business. I do not see this, as much as I rate Ive as a high flier. He does not seem to have the ruthlessness of Jobs or Sculley or (certainly not, thank goodness) Ballmer, the monkey dance man: Ive has much more style than that for sure.
I do not imagine for the immediate future, Steve Jobs is anywhere close to relinquishing control and I would expect more to see greater consolidation and more use of his holdings in Disney and Pixar, thus moving the company to more of a media-related corporation (we see how iMovie allows export in YouTube format, for example) building on the hardwar-software combinations that are available in Apple's range of products.
Summary of the year Part One
For further information, e-mail to
To eXtensions: 2004-05
To eXtensions: Year Two
To eXtensions: Year One
To eXtensions: Book Reviews
Back to homepage