February 22, 1999 -- Newsletter #16

By Joe Burns

G O O D I E S T O G O ! (tm)
February 22, 1999 -- Newsletter #16
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Please visit http://www.htmlgoodies.com
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Welcome to Goodies to Go! Sweet Sixteen!

Let me ask you a question. Would you pay $1.25 for a candy bar? Probably not. But what if someone brought it to you? You call the store and within 10 minutes a kid shows up on a bike and hands you your candy. Then is it worth a buck and a quarter to you? What about grocery shopping? Would you pay an extra 50 cents over what you're paying now to get the milk delivered to you? Think about your favorite television show. Would you pay $1 to watch it? What if you could watch it when it was convenient for you? Better yet, would you pay a $1.50 to watch that television show without commercials?

I ask you lastly about your favorite television show because of a conversation I had with the head of Information Systems at my university. He and I were talking about new technologies on the Web and he started in with his, "If you understand it, you're behind the curve" talk. The Web is starting to become concerned with the transference of video and audio more than ever. There are sites out there where you can listen to MP3 (Mpeg1 Layer 3) files of bands who are not yet signed. After you listen, you can choose a bunch of songs that you like, and presto! You receive a CD in a couple of days with the songs on it that you've chosen.

That's cool, but it's still not using the technology to its utmost potential. The computer I just bought came with a Zip drive standard. Why not just download the MP3 files from that site to the Zip drive? Better yet, if you have a computer with a CD burner (a $175 option I passed on my new computer), then you could have the CD straightaway!

Q: So why doesn't that happen?

A: Size.

A three-minute MP3 file is still a solid bunch of bytes. The download would take a long time and we're just not willing to sit there that long to hear a great song that will stream right away for free.

But what if the song file wasn't 4 megs? What if the song file was 100 K? Then a meg would be over an hour of music. That seems fair. I'd pay 10 bucks to pick ten songs and burn them right to my CD. If I had purchased that option, that is.

As my information friend often postulates, "The pipe ain't getting any bigger, so we need to make what's going through it smaller." And if you've been watching closely, that's what is starting to happen.

Have you been caught trying to play a RealVideo file and been told that the format wasn't compatible with your current RealVideo player? The reason is that RealVideo has changed their compression factor. Now you need that fancy G2 deal they offer for free at www.real.com.

Wait a minute: Compression factor?

Yeah. That's the fancy mathematical equation that turns something that was 100 K into 75 K, and potentially 3 K. RealVideo files are smaller per second than they used to be using the G2. That may not be big news to any of you who have edited video on a computer. You know how easy it is to make videos smaller, right? Set the compression through the roof, take away the sound, and make the image really, really small. Yeah -- that's a great methodology.

Where RealVideo is better is that it's smaller and still looks pretty darn good. You see, that's the trick. Make it smaller, but still make it look good.

Have you heard of VIVO? It's another streaming video format that is starting to make its way into the mainstream. It's small, looks pretty good, and runs a long time on a little byte total.

It is only a matter of time (combined with the right amount of money) before those formats come down to a consumer- friendly size. I say "money" because the music and broadcasting world will not allow these entrepreneurs to make all this cash for long.

Soon you'll be able to go into SONY music and look through their catalogue, choose the songs, and burn them right to your CD. Sure, it'll take a little fancy financial accounting to make it all happen, but they'll figure it out. But before they can make the money, they'll need to spend the cash to pay programmers to figure out the best way to get those sound files smaller and easier to listen to.

Same with television. It's only a matter of time before you'll be able to jump on the Web and download last night's Letterman Top Ten List in full video format. Would you like to see "Friends" at 7:00 AM on Saturday? No sweat. A buck and five minutes later, and its downloaded right onto your hard drive. A buck fifty and you can see it without commercials. Would you like a particular episode of "ER?" How about downloading a segment of "Dateline" without having to call Burrell's Transcripts?

I don't think I'm talking out of my ear either. Do you remember a while back when the concept of 500 TV channels was floated around? The major networks were thrilled. Each wanted 48 of the channels for themselves (that way they could offset their entire programming day by 15-minute increments). All you would do is look at a handy chart and, as long as you were within 24 hours of a program's actual air time, you could watch it starting at any 15-minute interval. So you could watch "Friends" at 7:00 AM! Cool, but bulky.

So maybe you won't have to wait for the record store to open tomorrow for that song that's stuck in your head. Maybe you won't have to watch a thousand Simpson reruns just waiting for the episode where Homer says, "Doh!" Maybe you won't even need cable. How about that? All those extra channels, gone. That I don't ever see going away. Being a duly dedicated representative of the male television viewing audience, I claim that I cannot live without the ability to surf through 64 channels every minute looking for something that is never there.

I'll quit doing it when my wife offers to get me a candy bar for a $1.25.

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That's that. See you in a week for #17!

Joe Burns Ph.D.

And Remember: Speaking of music, the first Top 40 song to include feedback was the Beatles's "I Feel Fine." It's right at the beginning: John Lennon plucks one guitar note and allows it to feedback. Then the song starts. Bonus "And Remember": "Feedback" is the smallest word in the English language to contain the letters A, B, C, D, E, and F.

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