I Just Want to Watch the Movie!

“Why is it so hard to just watch a movie?” I hear that a lot from otherwise happy folks who think that installing multimedia on their PCs and Macs means everything should work. But then it doesn’t – not even for SJ Mercury News reporters. Think the reason management brain-damaged the staff PCs is to keep them from watching rival SF Chronicle’s mp4 stash on company time?

As more and more of the industry turns to Internet video, making it difficult for reporters in the press to view it does climb the heights of absurdity. For example, a reporter friend of mine wanted to watch a few of the events videos on the Forum for Women Entrepreneur site with the possibility that he might be able to write a piece on women entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley. And that is just grand with me too, since I’m one myself, so I was all ready to help. Actually, I didn’t think it would take much of my time, since lots of women and men have already viewed those little events videos. “It’s a no-brainer” I thought, as long as you have Quicktime 6 or an mp4 player.

So what happened when he tried to watch a simple mp4 video on a web site? In his own words, “You may be underestimating the decrepitude of the Mercury News’ IT and my own understanding thereof…” and hence a merry chase ensued. “After waiting 10 to 15 minutes while [it] downloaded, I clicked on it only to find ‘this document format is invalid or not supported.'” Frustrating! So why can’t our poor reporter watch an FWE vid? The answer may surprise you…

Video on Demand over TCP and Jitter

A recent question to me from a “born back bencher” eavesdropping on the end-to-end groups musings asked “…how they can even believe they can accomplish a good result with TCP for VOD [Video On Demand]? Yeah they gave me good on SACK and NACK and no matter how many RFCs and drafts they quote, which I have never read, the logic still seems obtuse if the window is end to end”. Actually, this isn’t a silly question – it’s a good one in that we need to examine our environment and definitions carefully and has a lot of richness. Just what a physicist loves!

VOD isn’t just TCP, although end-to-end quality is very much based on how the customer perceives the stream (if you’re truly streaming). If you’re transiting through wireless, all bets are off – no one does good work in this area (yet) as I discuss in Buffer, Buffer, Where is the Buffer? on Byte.

But to get to the gestalt, in a video quality study I conducted several years ago we found you had to deal with VOD at several levels, from production of video for the Internet to TCP streaming optimization – in this case we used SiliconTCP here at the datacenter as well as client end (see SiliconTCP, EtherSAN, and Scalability). It’s really the big pipe / little pipe problem at the customer end that’s the bigger issue here – but we’re now in Internet infrastructure land, and that’s a hard-fought area. But in all cases, jitter is the key!

Every Pore You Take, I’ll Be Watching You…

For the drooling photophiles, it’s here – Canon’s New EOS-1Ds Mark II. Full 35mm frame, 16.7 megapixel. Dual digix processors. Dual CF cards. As one excited guy raves “What a honey”. But at $8k, is it worth selling your soul (or your car) for?

Maybe for the budding dermotologist. At 138 lines / mm, you not only see every pore in a facial shot – you can even determine if your subject has bacteria! Wow. Headshots have never been so exciting. And think of the intimate photography one could do as well…

Reminds me of the passage in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Chapter 5 (A Voyage to Brobdingnag) to wit “…very far from being a tempting sight…their skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously colored, when I saw them near, with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads.”

Uh, maybe best to use it for astrophotography – but the sizes of the pixels do matter. Are the pixels too small to integrate the light properly, so do you have to bin them together? Do you have to do serious cooling for Johnson noise? These are the mundane but serious issues.

If you’ve got the money, buy one for me and I’ll check it out for you. If you can’t afford it, the new Canon 20D just arrived too. 8.2 megapixel CMOS with state-of-the-art low noise sensor for $1,500. 1.6 crop factor. Out of stock just about everywhere, but only a 4 week waiting list. Just drop Lynne Jolitz a line at my website.

Advocates Unlock the Clubhouse at Google

Google last night hosted another Anita Borg Women in Technology meet and greet with authors Jane Margolis of UCLA and Allan Fisher of iCarnegie Inc. They were on campus to talk about their study Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing describing the trials and tribulations of women in academic computing. This discussion dovetailed quite nicely with an article I wrote last year for the San Francisco Chronicle Paving the Way for ‘Systers’, which explored the declining numbers of women in technology, especially at the managerial level, so I was quite intrigued.

Karl Schoenberger of the Mercury News SF Bureau and I three months ago had a conversaton on Tech Outsourcing and the Dwindling CS Major in Lynne’s Take on Tech. My view as expressed was that the impact of outsourcing, the loss of tech jobs, and parents refusal to pay for science degrees is interconnected. And, as I noted in my Lynne’s Take on Tech observations of Google, Tech, and Dinner a few days prior to my talk with Karl, the Systers were quite optimistic in their enthusiasm for more jobs for women in computing, stating at that time “Despite the doom and gloom headlines about outsourcing, prospects for meaningful jobs in these fields is bright.” Is it still as bright?

If You Can’t Beat Them, Go Lower

I remember when Linux was just gearing up, and many of the Sun people (who started with BSD, remember SunOS?) mocked them. I heard about what a lousy architecture it was (yes, that’s true, but what did it matter to someone who got something working for nothing?), that it wasn’t good enough for enterprise (well I’ve seen a lot of enterprise crap over the years, so that doesn’t wash), and that you’d never get it working or supported (seems that isn’t true either from the look of things).

The problem with smart people is that they can easily come up with a lot of good-sounding excuses when they don’t want to see it like it is, and what it is right now is that people don’t want to pay for free software – and I suppose that’s why it’s called “free”. This hits Sun pretty hard, since they built a pretty nice OS and want to get people to show their appreciation by actually paying for it. So it looks like Sun is taking a page from the Microsoft playbook (you know, “open source is evil, expensive, evil, and did we mention evil”) with today’s announcement.

Lions, and Spyware and Ads, Oh My!

Amusing article in the NYTimes by Saul Hansell and Timothy O’Brien discussing how impossible it is to keep malware, spyware, and adware from infecting kids’s PCs. Not that they don’t keep on trying. “You would expect that you could use these systems in a safe and sane way, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t unless you have a fair amount of knowledge, time to fix the problems and paranoia,” according to a harried computer lab supervisor.

I am impressed with the patience (or masochism) of the average American. After the 10th time painstakingly removing Wild Tangent from the kid’s PC in 1999, we decided to take a different approach. We switched the kids to BSD!

Fun Friday – Just Stand Right Here and Pitch

Well, just for the end of the week giggles, this press release came in for an “interactive CEO Pitch ‘video blog’… For CEOs that want to create brand leadership in their market space and attract new customers, strategic partners and investors, the CEO Pitch videoblog is a very powerful tool. In essence, CEOs can leverage their time by making their pitch available at any time of the day from anywhere on the planet”. Sounds supersonic.

So, what do you get, really? Well, one Internet elevator pitch video plus a page to view it plus a “rate this CEO Pitch” button and a wiki for comments (uh, oh – don’t know if I’d like my pitch page scribbled on by self-appointed critics – let them get their own page). Still, sounds pretty good, but how much? $2,995US. Ouch.

Check out MinutePitch – Your Video Screen on the Web! from , one of our partners. They offer five video pitches per month (because maybe your business isn’t stagnant but actually growing) done by you at any time via email (no appointments to keep or scenes to reshoot) with your own private page and program guide and email announcement list. It’s under your control – not someone else’s. Plus they offer professional guidance on how to improve your pitch. And it is a better value for your money.

But if you want to pay a lot more, I’m sure there are plenty of other people who’ll help you with that.

New Ventures, Pitches, and SJSU

Last week I wandered over to SJSU to listen to their panel on “The Entrepreneurial Experience: what starts up start ups?” as part of their gearing up for their Neat Ideas Fair. One of the panelist, Derinda Gaumond, workit.com founder (a business events calendar) is also a FWE member, and I and others wanted to cheer her on.

I’m actually quite familiar with the SJSU College of Business business plan competition, since I was a volunteer last year and saw a lot of interesting posters and heard some fun student pitches. I’m pleased they’re doing it again.

Last year’s SJSU New Ventures Fair pitch competition was quite interesting, since you can be more open to ideas and more forgiving of mistakes when presented by someone young and inexperienced.

TCP, Hold the Congestion Control?

In an off-list discussion in the protocols interest groups, I got involved in a rather deep discussion of packet rate, congestion control, network neutrality, jitter and choices in Internet design, which are actually quite interesting to share.

A little background here – one person asked if it was true (it is) that the cwnd (congestion window) internal stack variable doesn’t have an immediate impact on the network, because TCP updates its actual rate only once per RTT in the congestion avoidance phase, so the cwnd += SMSS*SMSS/cwnd update with each ACK is only an internal calculation. You got that?

Which went on to the question posed to me – “While I now believe that it would actually be ‘legal’ according to the spec. to implement a TCP sender like this (no one seems to say that you MUST saturate your window at all times)…”

Wait partner. Going back into the Internet Wayback Machine and chatting with some of the earlier worker bees, it turned out it actually started out this way, and congestion backoff fell right out of this.

Send it By Messenger – it’s Faster

A certain very large software company which prides itself on providing the ultimate enterprise solution in Silicon Valley now wins the “Send it By Messenger – It’s Faster” email award.

A manager at that firm sent an email to a private channel for video production. And then waited…and waited… Where was the movie?

I wanted to know that myself. So I checked the logs and found we hadn’t received any email! What happened to it? As he investigated on his end, we watched and waited, until the email popped in at 1:34pm. He was sent our email after processing and deployment to the site successfully at 1:37pm. So we got it, produced, uploaded, and displayed it. All in about 3 minutes less some odd seconds.

However, we found it took about 2 hours to get the email from his company to here. As my Physics 110B professor used to say when someone was very dullwitted, “Talk about phase lag”!

The moral of the story – before you blame the receipient of the email for blowing you off, maybe you ought to check first with your firewall guardian.

Or as the manager himself put it sheepishly afterwards, “We are the cobblers children”. However, for shoemakers they have pretty ritzy digs.